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Mysterious Text Suggests Europeans Knew of America Long Before Columbus Set Sail

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Exactly how and when people settled in North America is a topic of much fascination for experts, and now a new analysis of ancient documents is shedding light on some lesser known details of this long-contested timeline.

A document written by a Milanese friar, dated to around 1345, has been found to contain what looks like a reference to the Atlantic coast of North America – suggesting Italian sailors were already aware of the continent some 150 years before Christopher Columbus set sail for it.
Entitled Cronica universalis and authored by Galvaneus Flamma, the work is written in Latin and is currently unpublished. In it, Galvaneus attempts to detail the history of the entire world, from its creation to the 14th century.

"We are in the presence of the first reference to the American continent, albeit in an embryonic form, in the Mediterranean area," says Paolo Chiesa, a professor in the Department of Literary Studies, Philology, and Linguistics at the University of Milan.

Galvaneus writes about a land called Marckalada, west of Greenland, which matches up with the Markland region mentioned by several Icelandic sources. It most probably refers to modern-day Labrador or Newfoundland.

The thinking is that the friar heard about Marckalada or Markland through contacts and information passed on from Genoa, on the Italian coast just south of Milan. It raises the question of exactly what Columbus might have been expecting to find when he set sail to the west in 1492.
While the document is limited by the knowledge of the time – it suggests giants roam Marckalada, for example – it fits in with other accounts of this North American region, such as the Grœnlendinga Saga, a significant Icelandic text.

"What makes the passage [about Marckalada] exceptional is its geographical provenance: not the Nordic area, as in the case of the other mentions, but northern Italy," Chiesa writes in the study.

"The Marckalada described by Galvaneus is 'rich in trees', not unlike the wooded Markland of the Grœnlendinga Saga, and animals live there."

This is in contrast to descriptions of other lands in the North at the time, like Greenland was known to be "bleak and barren", despite there being no evidence Italian seafarers ventured there.

Columbus himself was born in Genoa, though he set sail on his famous voyage from Spain, and it's not inconceivable that he would have picked up tales of a North American land from the mariners who frequented the port.

Genoa was known to have good contacts with the north, as shown by the advanced geography of the charts drawn there at the time of Galvaneus, backing up the idea that the friar did indeed know what he was writing about.

It doesn't seem as though Italian or Catalan sailors ever landed in Iceland or Greenland, but they're likely to have heard tales from those parts on trading routes – even if Marckalada or Markland wasn't well known enough to make it into any official documents around the same time.

"These rumors were too vague to find consistency in cartographic or scholarly representations," says Chiesa.

The research has been published in Terrae Incognitae.

Dominic T:
Very interesting, thanks for sharing. It has long been known that Europeans reached the Americas before Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492. Scientists say a new dating technique analysing tree rings has provided evidence that Vikings occupied a site in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1021AD, exactly one thousand years ago !

Hi Tac,

Thanks for creating this topic.

I have more of an interest in these things than most Americans. I am a third generation American of 100% Italian descent, and my paternal grandparents came from the Genoa area.


The article itself can be seen here:

The new thing is that a nordic saga made it's way to Italy. That's interesting but perhaps not as sensational as it sounds.

The idea that Columbus heard of that is not part of Chiesa's article and in my eyes pure speculation. If so, why did he announce his expedition to find a sea passage to India?

The site in Newfoundland Dominic T is talking about is L'Anse aux Meadows:




--- Quote from: Altamura on November 13, 2021, 02:18:28 am ---The idea that Columbus heard of that is not part of Chiesa's article and in my eyes pure speculation. If so, why did he announce his expedition to find a sea passage to India?

--- End quote ---

Hi Alta and folks,

I thought the same thing when I read this topic yesterday. Columbus was looking for a trade route with the East Indies. Also, he wanted to avoid the Venetians, who controlled many of the eastbound trade routes. Of course, Genoa and Venice were bitter enemies during that time period. That rivalry is the reason why Marco Polo is famous today.

However, there is another theory that I thought of yesterday that may explain this seeming contradiction. Perhaps Columbus was aware of this. But maybe he thought that this new land was small or just an island to the north (west of Greenland). Perhaps he didn't think that this new land (if he was aware of it) extended all the way down to the southern tip of South America. After all, his route took him much further south than Newfoundland. It is possible that he thought that there was nothing but ocean between Europe and the East Indies (with an island or 2 to the north), and that he could sail all the way there. Most modern scholars feel that Columbus mis-judged the size of the Earth. He knew that the Earth is a sphere, but he got the size wrong. He thought that it was much smaller.



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