Viking ships are the earliest vessels known to have crossed the Atlantic. Norwegian exploration of the Atlantic resulted in the discovery of Iceland by 860 A.D. By 930 A.D., 10,000 Vikings settled in the new land and created the new republic of Iceland. Sea travel between Norway and Iceland became the norm.
Eric the Red sailed from Iceland in 982 A.D. and discovered Greenland. By 985 A.D., he convinced settlers to join him in the new country. In 1002 A.D., Eric's son, Leifr discovered a new land called Vinland. What we know of the explorations of Eric the Red and Leifr Eiriksson was written down centuries later in sagas (prose narratives recording the deeds of historic and legendary figures and events in the heroic age of Norway and Iceland) that were passed down from generation to generation. Many aspects of the sagas give them authenticity: there are accounts of the Vikings' seafaring talents, their early knowledge of astronomy, and accounts of Leif Ericsson's first landing in North America. There is no other record of Europeans sailing to America until the time of Columbus. The sagas have geographical details about the new lands that are quite accurate and validated by modern-day discoveries of Viking-type settlements in Newfoundland.
According to the sagas, Eric the Red left Norway to live in Iceland, but was forced to leave in 982 A.D. because he killed someone and had frequent quarrels with powerful families. During his travels, he discovered a land he called Greenland. He explored there for three years and returned to Iceland to convince settlers to join him.
By late 985 A.D. and early 986 A.D., Eric left Iceland with 25 ships loaded with families, livestock, and belongings. Only 14 ships survived the journey and a new colony was started with 300 people. The colony prospered and established trade routes with Norway.
One of these settlers was a man named Heriolf. His son did not initially join him on his journey to Greenland, but sailed later from Iceland to find the new colony. While sailing, the son, Biarni Heriolfsson was blown off course and located an unknown land. It is possible he accidentally discovered the eastern coast of Canada. Years later, Eric's son, Leifr, asked Biarni about his voyage and backtracked on Biarni's course to explore the coast of present-day Canada. He then sailed south and discovered an island he called Vinland (present-day Newfoundland). Eventually a colony was founded in Vinland that lasted for three years. The Vikings traded with the native population known as Skraelings. In time, the Skraelings became unfriendly and the Vikings were forced to abandon their colony and return to Greenland. Vikings continued to sail to Canada for timber after this timeframe.
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