Yes, Christopher Columbus’ travels completely changed the world because they led Western European powers to colonize the Americas, but Columbus and his crew were not the first Europeans to reach the American continent. Vikings were, about 500 years before Columbus.
The Gokstad Viking Ship, late 9th century, Viking Ship Museum, Oslo — Source: promare.org
Around the year 985, a merchant sailor from Iceland called Bjarni Herjólfsson was on his boat with his crew, going from Iceland to Greenland, when there was a big storm.
The boat was pushed away from Greenland, and Herjólfsson and his men saw a huge land mass covered with forests. Herjólfsson, however, did not stop to explore that new land, instead finding his way back to Greenland. According to what is known today, that was probably the first time Europeans had seen America.
Bjarni Herjólfsson told his story to others and about 15 years later another man from Iceland, called Leif Erikson, decided to go back and explore that new land. So it was that Vikings first landed on the American continent around the year 1,000 and founded a camp in the area that is Newfoundland in Canada today.
Christian Krohg, Leiv Eiriksson Discovers North America, 1893, National Museum of Art, Oslo
This story was then told in a book written by Adam of Bremen in the 1070s, and in the Icelandic Sagas of Erik the Red and of the Greenlanders in the 13th century.
In 1960, Norwegian archeologists proved that there was some truth in the story, when they discovered an ancient Viking camp near a small fishing village called L’Anse aux Meadows, in the area where Erikson had been.
L’Anse aux Meadows Location — Source: britannica.com
The evidence they found between 1960 and 1968 confirmed that this was a Viking camp from around the year 1,000, which proved that Vikings had sailed to the American continent about 500 years before Christopher Columbus.
Excavation of buildings at the site © National Library of Norway/Ingstad Collection
Reconstructed earth houses on the site — Photo by Dylan Kereluk
L’Anse aux Meadows became a World Heritage site in 1978, which the UNESCO describes as “the first and only known site established by Vikings in North America and the earliest evidence of European settlement in the New World. As such, it is a unique milestone in the history of human migration and discovery.”