Ancient Documents Suggest Italian Sailors Knew of America 150 Years Before Christopher Columbus

Old Map Exploration Concept

Ahead of Columbus Day, findings pose further questions of what the explorer really expected to find on his voyage.

New analysis of ancient writings suggests that sailors from the Italian hometown of Christopher Columbus knew of America 150 years before its renowned ‘discovery.’

Transcribing and detailing a, circa, 1345 document by a Milanese friar, Galvaneus Flamma, Medieval Latin literature expert Professor Paolo Chiesa has made an “astonishing” discovery of an “exceptional” passage referring to an area we know today as North America.

According to Chiesa, the ancient essay – first discovered in 2013 – suggests that sailors from Genoa were already aware of this land, recognizable as ‘Markland’/ ‘Marckalada’ – mentioned by some Icelandic sources and identified by scholars as part of the Atlantic coast of North America (usually assumed to be Labrador or Newfoundland).

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Terrae Incognitae, the discovery comes ahead of Columbus Day 2021, alternatively celebrated as Indigenous Peoples’ Day across many states in the US. The findings add more fuel to the fire for the continuing question of ‘what, exactly, did Columbus expect to find when he set out across the ocean?’ and come following a period in which his statues have been beheaded, covered with red paint, lassoed around the head and pulled down, set on fire and thrown into a lake.

“We are in the presence of the first reference to the American continent, albeit in an embryonic form, in the Mediterranean area,” states Professor Chiesa, from the Department of Literary Studies, Philology and Linguistics at the University of Milan.

Galvaneus was a Dominican friar who lived in Milan and was connected to a family which held at the lordship of the city.

He wrote several literary works in Latin, mainly on historical subjects. His testimony is valuable for information on Milanese contemporary facts, about which he has first-hand knowledge.

Cronica universalis, which is analyzed here by Chiesa, is thought to be one of his later works – perhaps the last one – and was left unfinished and unperfected. It aims to detail the history of the whole world, from ‘Creation’ to when it was published.

In translating and analyzing the document, Professor Chiesa demonstrates how Genoa would have been a “gateway” for news, and how Galvaneus appears to hear, informally, of seafarers’ rumors about lands to the extreme north-west for eventual commercial benefit – as well as information about Greenland, which he details accurately (for knowledge of the time).

“These rumors were too vague to find consistency in cartographic or scholarly representations,” the professor states, as he explains why Marckalada wasn’t classified as a new land at the time.

Regardless though, Chiesa states, Cronica universalis “brings unprecedented evidence to the speculation that news about the American continent, derived from Nordic sources, circulated in Italy one and half centuries before Columbus.”

He adds: “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.

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

“These details could be standard, as distinctive of any good land; but they are not trivial, because the common feature of northern regions is to be bleak and barren, as actually Greenland is in Galvaneus’s account, or as Iceland is described by Adam of Bremen.”

Overall, Professor Chiesa says, we should “trust” Cronica universalis as throughout the document Galvaneus declares where he has heard of oral stories, and backs his claims with elements drawn from accounts (legendary or real) belonging to previous traditions on different lands, blended together and reassigned to a specific place.

“I do not see any reason to disbelieve him,” states Professor Chiesa, who adds, “it has long been noticed that the fourteenth-century portolan (nautical) charts drawn in Genoa and in Catalonia offer a more advanced geographical representation of the north, which could be achieved through direct contacts with those regions.

“These notions about the north-west are likely to have come to Genoa through the shipping routes to the British Isles and to the continental coasts of the North Sea.

“We have no evidence that Italian or Catalan seafarers ever reached Iceland or Greenland at that time, but they were certainly able to acquire from northern European merchant goods of that origin to be transported to the Mediterranean area.

“The marinarii mentioned by Galvaneus can fit into this dynamic: the Genoese might have brought back to their city scattered news about these lands, some real and some fanciful, that they heard in the northern harbors from Scottish, British, Danish, Norwegian sailors with whom they were trading.”

Cronica universalis, written in Latin, is still unpublished; however, an edition is planned, in the context of a scholarly and educational program promoted by the University of Milan.

Reference: “Marckalada: The First Mention of America in the Mediterranean Area (c. 1340)” by Paolo Chiesa, 16 July 2021, Terrae Incognitae.
DOI: 10.1080/00822884.2021.1943792


View Comments

  • I am from a town in Newfoundland Canada that is Over 500 years old. It should be safe to say Yes others were there before. John Cabot for instance.

  • I always told my history teacher. It's kinda impossible. To discover a land when people have been living there for thousands of years. And that is not arguable.

  • There are two archaeological sites in Newfoundland that are definitely remains of
    old Viking settlements

  • The 7000 year old remains of people in the Windover Bog settlement in Florida, originally thought to be Native Americans, actually have European DNA markers.

  • Columbus set out to find a route to Asia by going to the sea of India. There was no Pacific ocean or country called India at the time. His discovery changed the world. The greatest of all time.

  • When yall gonna stop lying Esau the white man knew because they knew that the Northern Israelite Kingdoms 10 tribes today's modern day American native Indians Hispanics from islands Mexico central and South America were here where no man ever dwelt and would take roughly 1.5 years to roughly get to the America's yall need quit lying these people mentioned here are the true Jews the Chosen people of Father Ahayah and his Son the King of Kings Yashaya who by the way both are black. Just like the Southern Tribes of Judah ie American blacks who by the way the tribe of who yall call Jesus Levi ie Hatians and tribe of Benjamin ie Jamaicans west indie blacks shame on yall

    2 Esdras 13:39-45 KJV

    39And whereas thou sawest that hee gathered another peaceable multitude vnto him;

    40Those are the ten tribes, which were caried away prisoners out of their owne land, in the time of Osea the king, whom Salmanasar the king of Assyria ledde away captiue, and hee caried them ouer the waters, and so came they into another land.

    41But they tooke this counsaile amongst themselues, that they would leaue the multitude of the heathen, and goe foorth into a further countrey, where neuer mankind dwelt,

    42That they might there keepe their statutes, which they neuer kept in their owne land.

    43And they entred into Euphrates by the narrow passages of the Riuer.

    44For the most high then shewed signes for them, and held still the flood, till they were passed ouer.

    45For through that countrey there was a great way to goe; namely, of a yeere and a halfe: and the same region is called Arsareth

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