The New World
The first people to discover the New World did not then lose it — they stuck around for the yummy mammoth meat they'd followed across the Bering land bridge. But depending on which research you read (and believe), you might be shocked by the roster of visitors who allegedly came and went afterward.
Every schoolchild knows the tale of the Norse explorers who sailed to Greenland and Iceland at the turn of the 11th century. Speculation that such sailors made it to Newfoundland during that century is borne out by the remains of the L'Anse aux Meadows settlement and the tales of both Vikings and indigenous peoples.
But Columbus's line of precursors didn't end with a Norse expedition from Greenland, at least not if you believe some (admittedly shaky) hypotheses. According to one well-known (and largely debunked) book, Chinese sailors beat Columbus to the New World by 71 years [source: Finlay]. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given voice to the fringe view that Muslims contacted Latin American civilizations three centuries before the Italian explorer first set sail [source: Tharoor].
A bit more mainstream are those who argue that Polynesians might have reached South America before any European stepped foot in the Americas. Although some potential proof of the hypothesis has been dealt a few blows of late, the Polynesians were prodigious sailors and settlers; when compared to their other deeds, such a feat certainly does not seem beyond their abilities [source: Smith].
Whatever the case, we know at least one group after the Bering Strait migrants found the Americas long before Columbus and didn't stick around for long. The New World might seem like a rather large thing to forget (actually, they recorded the discovery in their sagas), but the Vikings likely received some encouragement on their way out — from the fierce descendants of the first migrants [source: Parks Canada].
Author's Note: 10 Times Humanity Found the Answer (and Then Forgot)
It's unfortunate that so many of these examples came from the Western world. This is a consequence not of a lack of great inventions from the rest of the world — quite the opposite, in fact. Rather, because of such a continuity of civilization and preserved culture in places like China and India, it was difficult to find examples of answers that had actually been lost — although those who value cultural antiquities might argue that such is happing today in China. In places where it did happen, tragically — I'm thinking here of the despoiling effect of the African slave trade or the post-Columbian loss of so much Native American material culture — it is no easy task to find clear accounts of what exactly was lost.
To end on a more positive note, human minds are inexhaustibly fertile and somehow find a way to inventively solve persistent problems, whether that means reinventing the wheel or rendering it obsolete. So long as we can turn that resourcefulness away from destruction, we as a species can continue to progress.
- 10 Scientifically Sound Weather Superstitions
- 10 Things We Thought Were True Before the Scientific Method
- Did human intelligence peak thousands of years ago?
- Did the Chinese beat Columbus to America?
- How the Antikythera Mechanism Worked
- How Steam Technology Works
- What Were the Famous Blaise Pascal Inventions?
More Great Links
- BBC News. "1,000-year-old Onion and Garlic Eye Remedy Kills MRSA." March 30, 2015. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-32117815
- Beck, Julie. "Roman Plumbing: Overrated." The Atlantic. Jan. 8, 2016. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/01/ancient-roman-toilets-gross/423072/
- Beschizza, Rob. "Technoporn: Greek Fire." Wired. Dec. 29, 2006. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.wired.com/2006/12/technoporn_gree/
- Boyer, Carl Benjamin. "The History of the Calculus and Its Conceptual Development." Courier. 1959.
- Bruegmann, Robert. "Central Heating and Forced Ventilation: Origins and Effects on Architectural Design." Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. Vol. 37, No. 3. Page 143. October 1978.
- Connor, Steve. "Solved: The Mystery of Why Stradivarius Violins Are Best." The Independent (UK). July 1, 2008. (Jan. 27, 2016) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/solved-the-mystery-of-why-stradivarius-violins-are-best-858329.html
- Ehrlich, Steven D. "Willow Bark." University of Maryland Medical Center. Aug. 5, 2015. (Jan. 24, 2016) https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/willow-bark
- Encyclopedia Britannica. "Antonio Stradivari." Dec. 31, 2015. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.britannica.com/biography/Antonio-Stradivari
- Encyclopedia Britannica. "Greek Fire." Oct. 20, 2015. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.britannica.com/technology/Greek-fire
- Encyclopedia Britannica. "Heron of Alexandria." April 14, 2014. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.britannica.com/biography/Heron-of-Alexandria
- Encyclopedia Smithsonian. "Stradivarius Violins." (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmah/stradv.htm
- Finlay, Robert. "How Not to (Re)Write World History: Gavin Menzies and the Chinese Discovery of America." Journal of World History. Vol. 15, No. 2. Page 229. 2004.
- Marchant, Jo. "Decoding the Antikythera Mechanism, the First Computer." Smithsonian Magazine. February 2015. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/decoding-antikythera-mechanism-first-computer-180953979/?no-ist
- Marchant, Jo. "In Search of Lost Time." Nature. Vol. 444. Nov. 30, 2006. (Jan. 27, 2016) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6662826_In_Search_of_Lost_Time
- Martin, Craig. "The Aeolipile as Experimental Model in Early Modern Natural Philosophy." Perspectives on Science. Sept. 24, 2015. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/POSC_a_00206
- National Geographic Channel. "From Aqueducts to Oil Rigs: Greek Fire." (Jan. 24, 2016) http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/the-link/videos/greek-fire/
- Palermo, Elizabeth. "Who Invented the Steam Engine?" Live Science. March 19, 2014. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.livescience.com/44186-who-invented-the-steam-engine.html
- Parks Canada. "L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site." July 24, 2015. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/nl/meadows/natcul/saga.aspx
- PBS. "Ancient Computer." April 3, 2013. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/ancient-computer.html
- PBS. "The Roman Empire in the First Century: Baths." 2006. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/baths.html
- Radiological Society of North America. "Researchers Use CT to Recreate Stradivarius Violin." Nov. 28, 2011. (Jan. 24, 2016) https://www2.rsna.org/timssnet/media/pressreleases/pr_target.cfm?id=562
- Rayner, Emma. "AncientBiotics – A Medieval Remedy for Modern Day Superbugs?" The University of Nottingham. March 30, 2015. (Jan. 24, 2016) https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/news/pressreleases/2015/march/ancientbiotics---a-medieval-remedy-for-modern-day-superbugs.aspx
- Saint Louis University. "History of Calculus." Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. Jan. 9, 2010. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://mathcs.slu.edu/history-of-math/index.php/History_of_Calculus
- Smith, Roff. "Chicken DNA Challenges Theory That Polynesians Beat Europeans to Americas." National Geographic. March 19, 2014. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/03/140318-polynesian-chickens-pacific-migration-america-science/
- Smithsonian Channel. "Danger Lurks in a Roman Latrine." (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/videos/category/science/sharing-toilets-with-friends-and-evil-spirits/?no-ist
- Suddath, Claire. "A Brief History of Toilets." Time. Nov. 19, 2009. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1940525,00.html
- Sullivan, Walter. "The Mystery of Damascus Steel Appears Solved." The New York Times. Sept. 29, 1981. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.nytimes.com/1981/09/29/science/the-mystery-of-damascus-steel-appears-solved.html
- Texas A&M University. "Mystery Solved: Chemicals Made Stradivarius Violins Unique, Says Professor." Nov. 29, 2006. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://phys.org/news/2006-11-mystery-chemicals-stradivarius-violins-unique.html
- Tharoor, Ishaan. "Muslims Discovered America Before Columbus, Claims Turkey's Erdogan." The Washington Post. Nov. 15, 2014. (Jan. 24, 2016) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/11/15/muslims-discovered-america-before-columbus-claims-turkeys-erdogan/
- University of Puget Sound. "Antikythera Mechanism: Researchers Find Clues to an Ancient Greek Riddle." Nov. 30, 2014. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://phys.org/news/2014-11-antikythera-mechanism-clues-ancient-greek.html
- Verhoeven, J.D. et al. "The Key Role of Impurities in Ancient Damascus Steel Blades." JOM: The Member Journal of the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society. Vol. 50, No. 9. Pages 58-64. 1998. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/9809/Verhoeven-9809.html
- Wadsworth, Jeffrey and Oleg D. Sherby. "On the Bulat – Damascus Steels Revisited." Progress in Materials Science. Vol. 25, No. 1. Pages 35-68. 1980. (Jan. 27, 2016) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0079642580900146
- Wenz, John. "Analysis of Ancient Poop Indicates That Roman Plumbing Was Highly Overrated." Motherboard. Jan. 9, 2016. (Jan. 24, 2016) http://motherboard.vice.com/read/pooping-indoors-didnt-prevent-illness-in-ancient-rome
Eric Rudolph evaded the FBI for seven years, after planting bombs in Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama. HowStuffWorks looks at what drove him to kill.