Did American Indians Discover Europe Long Before Columbus?
by Jack Forbes

According to a new book, just hot off the press, America, north and south, have long been populated by intensely adventurous and inventive people who were themselves explorers, colonists, and developers of civilizations.

The First Americans explored and settled the entire American hemisphere including each and every inhabitable island, a story of epic proportions. But there is still more to their story?

The American Discovery of Europe takes up the saga of American travel and exploration in ancient times. The primary focus of this new book of mine is to present evidence relating to American voyages to European waters from about 9,000 years ago to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries of our own era.

The story of Native American voyages and adventures in the Caribbean and Atlantic, some going back perhaps thousands of years, can be seen as part of a revolution taking place in the very notion of what constitutes the history of the Americas. Here we see the Original Americans as being actors in the drama of human history; as discoverers in fact (a title seldom-heretofore reserved for them).

Readers may be amazed at the information about American maritime activity, with advanced sea-going cultures extending back in time to at least 7,500 years ago in the area of northeastern New England through Labrador (where, apparently, the first toggle-headed harpoons were used anywhere on earth).

The Atlantic Seaboard generally, southward to Brazil, and the Caribbean region, provide evidence of vital sea¬going cultures largely unknown to modern historians and the general public. But also the Inuit or Eskimo-related peoples of the Greenland region provide data indicating superb maritime accomplishments, including the circumnavigation of Greenland and navigation in difficult polar waters, extending apparently to the North Sea of Europe.

The arrival of Americans in Europe before 1492 suggests that a revision of American history is in order. Not only did Columbus himself respond directly to contact with an American Indian man and a woman whom he met in Ireland in c. 1477, after their voyage from the west, but the evidence of other arrivals was cited by the European cosmographers who influenced navigators seeking a sea route to the west.

The American story in Europe also includes the very substantial numbers of Indigenous Americans who reached that continent as captives, visitors, emissaries, and sailors after 1492 and who have had a powerful genetic, cultural and intellectual impact upon European developments.

This part of the story has been severely neglected by scholarship which has remained largely unconcerned about Original American influences upon European physical and cultural evolution.

The American Discovery of Europe will require a reevaluation about how American history, including the history of the Americas, is written and taught. Certainly it is an exciting .project, which opens up thousands of years of new time-depth for historians and others to work in, breaking down the notion that only archaeologists should deal with pre-1492 America's past. Even more, it transforms Native Americans from mere objects which are acted upon into actors participating not only in American history, but in world history as well.

Growing up as a mixed-blood of part-Native American ancestry, living among relatives with unique and original opinions, exposed to very strong and independent aunts and cousins willing to break with popular conventions, and living in the midst of Mexicans of Indigenous origin in the countryside of El Monte, California, I was led thereby at an early age to explore sources about ancient America, north and south, with an openness of mind, an openness which soon brought me into conflict with books which pretended that "American'' history commenced in Europe and that the Pilgrims and the Jamestown adventurers were the "first Americans."

The Native Americans were consciously transformed into enemies and aliens who were not seen as being .actors in the drama of American history except as enemy warriors or victims of a triumphant imperialism.

All during high school and college I grappled with the Eurocentric orientation of most history texts, until, finally, with my first book, Apache, Navajo, and Spaniard, I was able to approach American history from a perspective which ignored current boundaries and which accepted the possibility that Native Americans were legitimate actors in their own history and not simply foil or environment for European adventurers.

The field known as "the new American Indian history" grew partly from that beginning.

The great challenge that we face as twentieth-first century scholars is to be able to shift history away from the practice wherein each dominant group seeks to impose its own vision of the past, and instead to make the story of an entire land, a whole continent, or even the entire globe the focus of our research. This is what The American Discovery of Europe attempts to do.

It's objective is not only to tell part of the story of ancient America, but to open up our minds to what the very concept of "American" really means, showing that we do live in a very old part of the Earth, and a part which has had a significant history which we should no longer dismiss as "prehistory" or ignore because "Indians" were only "savages" after all.

The American hemisphere and its original peoples are the focus of this work. I invite the reader to join me in an adventure, a discovery of what riches are to be found when we extend our horizon beyond the intellectual borders conceived in colonialism.

The American Discovery of Europe is now out in the stores. If it does not get ignored, it should forever change the way the history of the Americas is defined and taught.

© Jack Forbes is the author of numerous books and articles. He is of Powhatan, Delaware, and other ancestry. His latest book is from the University of Illinois Press.

from News From Indian Country April 16, 2007