It was gradually accepted during the 20th century that the Americas were discovered by the Vikings; but it seems likely that before this date, Irish monks had made the journey, taking the same route. Here (in a ten minute video) Caleb Howells lucidly summarizes the main evidence (which I found convincing, as I stated in the comments!):
Yet knowledge of the existence of the Americas was apparently forgotten in Europe by the Renaissance - or, if not forgotten, then withheld or suppressed.
Rudolf Steiner made some interesting remarks on this matter in 1917:
A particularly good home for spiritual life, protected against all possible illusions, was Ireland, the island of Ireland, in the first Christian centuries. More than any other spot on earth it was sheltered from illusions; and that is why so many missionaries of Christianity went out from Ireland in those early times.
But these missionaries had to have regard for the simple folk among whom they worked — for the peoples of Europe were very simple in those days — and also to understand the great impulses behind human evolution. During the fourth and fifth centuries Irish initiates were at work in central Europe and they set themselves to prepare for the demands of the future. They were in a certain way under the influence of the initiate-knowledge that in the fifteenth century — in 1413, as you know — the fifth post-Atlantean epoch [i.e. the 'modern' era - BGC] was to begin.
Hence they knew that they had to prepare for a quite new epoch, and at the same time to protect a simple-minded people. What did they do in order to keep the simple people of Europe sheltered and enclosed, so that certain harmful influences could not reach them? The course of events was guided, from well-instructed and honourable sources, in such a way that gradually all the voyages which had formerly been made from Northern lands to America were brought to an end.
Whereas in earlier times ships had sailed to America from Norway for certain purposes (I will say more of this to-morrow), it was gradually arranged that America should be forgotten and the connection lost. By the fifteenth century, indeed, the peoples of Europe knew nothing of America. Especially from Rome was this change brought about, because European humanity had to be shielded from American influences.
A leading part in it was played by Irish monks, who as Irish initiates were engaged in the Christianising of Europe. In earlier times quite definite impulses had been brought from America, but in the period when the fifth post-Atlantean [modern] epoch was beginning it was necessary that the peoples of Europe should be uninfluenced by America — should know nothing of it and should live in the belief that there was no such country.
Only when the fifth post-Atlantean [modern] epoch had begun, was America again “discovered,” as history says. But, as you know very well, much of the history taught in schools is fable convenue [false consensus], and one of these fables is that America was discovered for the first time in 1492.
In fact, it was only re-discovered. The connection had been blotted-out for a period, as destiny required.
Steiner seems not to have realized that Irish monks had themselves visited America; but does suggest that they knew of it and deliberately did not record or disseminate their stunning information about another continent to the laity.
Steiner believes that this decision was made for good reasons; because it was spiritually-desirable (a matter of 'destiny') that Europe develop separately for another millennium before being exposed to the revolutionary knowledge of the New World.
As I say, interesting...
I find it interesting that knowledge of the New World discovered by the Irish monks and then later by the Vikings was forgotten in both instances, which lends credence to Steiner's idea.
There's a great scene in one of the Vikings series I watched recently (I know, I know) in which a pagan fundamentalist Viking discovers Iceland during a spiritual voyage of sorts.
Convinced he has found "the land of the gods", the fundamentalist convinces a handful of Vikings to settle the land and build a utopian community that adheres strictly to the Norse religion. Unfortunately, it doesn't take the settlers long to revert to their old Viking ways of vengeance and self-interest. His vision of a perfect pagan community shattered, the disillusioned fundamentalist journeys into a cavern system beneath a volcano to "find the gods". At the very heart of the volcano, he ends up finding a stone cross and a gold chalice instead. Naturally, the pagan fundamentalist is devastated by the discovery.
While I was watching the scene, I could not understand how the cross could have ended up in Iceland before the Vikings. I chalked it up to fictionalization but vowed to do a little research on the matter. Well, this post basically did the research for me. The cross the pagan fundamentalist encounters was put there by Irish monks. And if the monks made it to Iceland, then there's no reason to believe they couldn't have made it to North America.
@Frank - I think I read that when the Vikings arrived in Iceland, they may have found a few monks already there, but certainly they found remains left behind by them: the Vikings knew they were not the first to discover Iceland - but they were the first to settle it.
The Icelanders have, for different reasons, a small but significant percentage of Irish ancestry, which was considered to be due to some Vikings taking wives in the Irish kingdom of the Norsemen, then perhaps taking them up to Orkney en route.
There is no reason to think that the Irish were the first. Indeed, if the Irish made it, then the obvious next question must be, "Well, if they did it, and the Vikings did it, who else did it?" Or might have done it.
Portuguese fishermen seem to have been fishing the Grand Banks for many centuries. They could take the southerly route from Portugal - the same one Columbus took - and then surf the Gulf Stream north to the incredibly fertile Grand Banks. They could fish there for a few weeks, then head home - or to Iceland, or to the Orkneys, or to Copenhagen, to sell their fish.
And it is only our chronological parochialism that makes us think the knowledge common among fishermen in Portugal (for who can tell how long?) would have been limited only to them. It is little known but well established that there was for thousands of years (and for that matter, is still) a seafaring civilization that stretched all along the Atlantic littoral of Europe, from Scandinavia all the way down to West Africa, and that penetrated the Med at least as far as Mallorca. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians and Greeks seem all to have traded with that Atlantean culture, and to have established trading entrepots of their own - in Southern France, North Africa, and Iberia - to facilitate commerce with the Atlanteans.
There is furthermore no reason to think that the Atlanteans were not routinely in contact with North America. It just isn't that hard to get to America from Europe and back, either by the southern route that piggybacks the Gulf Stream, or the northern route that hops the islands. This commerce with North America could go all the way back to the Minoans and Mycenaeans.
Our ancestors were just as smart as we are, if not lots smarter. And they knew the natural world far more intimately and deeply and familiarly than we do. There is no reason to think that they could not have been traversing the Atlantic for thousands of years, with the same sort of organic knowledge as informed the remarkable navigators among the Polynesians.
To me, it seems obvious then that the base case, the starting presumption of all our archeological investigations of this topic, should be that there has been travel to and fro across the Atlantic for at least as long as there have been humans on either side of it.
After all, we take the colonization of the New World by the Siberians as no big deal; an obvious solution to the question. But, as a former professional outdoorsman, I can tell you that the journey of the Siberians to Alaska and back, over centuries, was a *massive* achievement. These things happen by small steps that are therefore unremarkable, even to those who take them. But they add up to achievements that seem incredible in prospect, even as - once their factuality has been established - in retrospect they seem rather obvious.
Never forget the blond Mandans, in Missouri. This all goes way, way back.
It's long seemed strange to me the *vehemence* in the response to any suggestion of early transatlantean contact. The 'cocaine mummies' in particular are fascinating, verging on forensic proof of contact. Yes, there could be some unsuspected explanation but how could this not be exciting to anyone interested in the the roots of history? There is mostly awkward silence however.
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