For years, schoolchildren around the world have been taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America. It is essential to sift through the multiple claimants to this achievement to understand better why this is a highly contentious claim. Doing so will also explain why the Vikings don’t get credit for discovering America.
Vikings don’t get the credit for discovering America because their descendants were not dominant in America at the time the question was decided. Moreover, Columbus was deemed more critical to opening the continent to European colonization by the Anglo-Saxon groups that dominated America.
This article will explain the basis of the claim that the Vikings discovered America, consider the problematic nature of multiple claims to discovering America, and reveal why Christopher Columbus came to be seen as the discoverer of America.
Also see Why Did the Vikings Invade Paris? to learn more.
When Did the Vikings Discover the Americas and Where?
The Vikings discovered the Americas at Newfoundland in the 11th century. They called their settlement Vinland, meaning “Land of Wine,” because of the availability of grapes in the region. Facing hostility from native people, they stayed a few years before returning to their Norse homelands.
The Vikings are the first known European people to settle anywhere on the American continent. They arrived at Newfoundland island in present-day Canada in the 11th century, over 500 years ahead of Columbus’ voyage to the Americas.
The Icelandic sagas establish the Norseman Bjarni Herjólfsson as the first European to sight the American mainland in 985. The same sources also mention that in 1000, another Norseman, Leif Eriksson set out on the expedition that would establish a short-lived Viking colony at Newfoundland.
The Vikings called the area Vinland, meaning “Land of Wine,” because of the availability of grapes for making wine in the region. Architectural digs have found reliable signs of a Norse settlement in the area. The site, L’Anse aux Meadows, is now recognized as a site of historical importance by UNESCO. 
The discovery of a Runestone with Viking inscriptions in Minnesota in 1898 led to speculation that the Vikings had traveled much further south than initially thought. 
But this claim is disputed by scholars. In all likelihood, the Vikings returned to their homelands just a few years after settling in Vinland, owing to the hostility they faced from native people.
Also see Were All Vikings Bad or Evil? to learn more.
How Did the Vikings Discover America if People Were Already There?
The Vikings did not discover America. They were merely the first Europeans to do so. When they arrived in America, there were already millions of people settled there. These people were the descendants of Asian people who had traveled to America from Siberia thousands of years earlier.
Millions of people had been living on the continent for thousands of years when the Vikings arrived in America. These Native Americans were the descendants of Asian hunters who had traveled to Alaska from Siberia across the Bering Sea between 13,000 and 35,000 years ago.
The ancestors of today’s Native Americans are not widely recognized as the discoverers of America because the story of America’s discovery is usually told from the perspective of the descendants of the European Settlers who dominated American society.
Since the original discoverers of America were hunter-gatherers, they also did not leave behind surviving textual or oral histories of their achievements. It is only through genetic studies tracing the movement of early humans over long spans of time that these facts have been established.
Also see Vikings vs Celtics: What’s the Difference? to learn more.
Why Is Christopher Columbus Credited With Discovering America?
Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering America because Italian-Americans effectively lobbied the American government to recognize Columbus as the discoverer of America. Also, it was Columbus’ voyage that opened up the Americas to European colonization.
Over the years, there have been many claimants to the discovery of America. Competing claims were often advanced by different communities of settlers of European origin who were well-established in America by the 19th century.
The Irish, for instance, held that St. Brendan had sailed to America in a small boat, known as a coracle, as early as the 7th century. The Welsh believed Madog ab Owain Gwynedd had landed in Alabama a few hundred years before Columbus and the Scots that Henry Sinclair reached Massachusetts in 1398.
Recently, amateur historians have claimed that the Chinese admiral Zheng He arrived in America with a large Chinese fleet over a hundred years before Columbus. These claims have been conclusively debunked as a hoax. 
A more credible narrative advances the claim that Polynesian islanders traveled to America beginning in the 11th century. Ironically, this discovery was made by accident when scientists conducting genome studies of the humble sweet potato discovered that it had traveled from South America to Oceania around this time.
However, resolving the conundrum of who actually discovered America was not as straightforward as it seems for 19th-century Americans. This was especially so as they were not sympathetic to Native American claims to the discovery of America.
There were also several technical considerations to decide between in making a claim. Columbus, for instance, had never actually set foot on the North American mainland; he had merely discovered the sea route to it. Columbus himself believed he had found a passage to India.
Among the dominant groups of Americans after the War of Independence, made up of the descendants of Anglo-Saxon Northern Europeans, John Cabot was another strong nominee. But his cause was harmed by his association with England at a time when the country was trying to break its ties with the old country.
Columbus’ case was forcefully advanced by the Italian-American communities in America at the time. Despite being relative outsiders compared to the Anglo-Saxons, the Italian-American lobby eventually managed to successfully establish Christopher Columbus as the discoverer of America.
Today, Columbus’ legacy is strongly disputed. Many Americans, and the American states of Hawaii and Alaska, do not celebrate Columbus Day. And there is increasing acceptance of the view that the descendants of Native American people were the first humans to discover and settle the Americas.
The Vikings don’t get credit for discovering America because the descendants of Native Americans got there before them.
Also see Why Did the Vikings Die Out? to learn more.