This video is part of a series of 16 animated maps.

View series: The Age of Discovery

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North Atlantic sailings prior to Christopher Columbus

This map is part of a series of 16 animated maps showing the history of The Age of Discovery.

Before Christopher Columbus’ voyage, the coast of America had already been visited by several hundred European sailors, and traces of their presence are visible today. However, their various journeys did not inspire long-term interest in these lands.

In the 9th century, Scandinavian navigators, and in particular the Norwegians, sailed a long way westward into the Atlantic Ocean. Leaving the Faroe Islands, they sailed to Iceland, where the first settlers arrived around 870.

In the second half of the 10th century, the Vikings founded several settlements on the southern coast of Greenland.

The sagas, which were written two centuries later by Icelandic monks, told of expeditions to lands located even further to the west: Helluland, Markland and Vinland, now thought to be the areas known as Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland.

Archaeological discoveries in the Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland seem to confirm that the Vikings reached these regions around the year 1000.

With the particularly cold weather conditions beginning in the 14th century, the Scandinavian colonies on Greenland disappeared and knowledge of the sea routes near the polar region was lost.

During the 15th century, in response to a high demand for cod in Europe, fishermen from Portugal, the Basque country, Brittany and Britain sailed further into the North Atlantic Ocean to find schools of fish.

By the middle of the century, they were regularly fishing off the Icelandic coast and from 1470 onwards, they sailed close to the North American shores, especially around Newfoundland.

The Basques, Bretons and English fishermen crossed the Atlantic by sailing due west in order to reach the fishing areas, while the Portuguese sailed from the Azores in the South.

But at that time, no one realised that these lands on the far edge of the Atlantic Ocean were, in fact, the first signs of a new continent.