Who Really Discovered America? That's the title of a documentary that aired on the History channel. I've written before about people who may have discovered America long before Columbus or even Leif Ericsson in a post titled Discovering America...again and again. The History channel documentary features some more people who may have discovered America.
For example, the show highlighted a map that is supposed to be a copy of a Chinese map from the early 15th century that shows the Americas. It's difficult to prove whether or not the map is a genuine copy of a 15th century Chinese map and many historians are skeptical, but if it really is a copy of an early 15th century Chinese map, the Chinese must have been at least somewhat familiar with the Americas.
The show also featured the story of a Welsh prince named Madoc who allegedly sailed to America and landed in what is now Mobile Bay in Alabama. While the story is generally considered to be a legend, some people feel there is evidence to support it. They point to the remains of stone buildings that may have been Welsh in design, as well as the Mandan indian tribe. Some of the Mandans were said to have blue eyes and light skin. There are no full blooded Mandans today though, so this is difficult to confirm now.
Another claim featured suggests that Japanese people may have discovered America thousands of years ago. The patterns on pottery shards excavated at Valdivia, Ecuador and on Japan's Kyushu island by Smithsonian archaeologist Betty Meggers matched so well, she posited that Japanese people reached Ecuador 6300 years ago. She has also uncovered DNA evidence. Read more about that here.
Another claim suggests that Polynesians discovered the coast of South America at least as far back as 1321 AD and possibly earlier than that. The evidence? Chicken bones dated to be from 1321 - 1407 AD. It's thought that chickens were not native to South America, but the evidence suggests that chickens arrived in South America before the Spanish conquistadors did.
In addition to that, South American sweet potatoes have been found in Polynesia, and the Polynesian word for sweet potato, kumala, is similar to the indigenous Peruvian word for sweet potato, cumal. The Polynesians were a great seafaring people and it is very possible and quite likely that they reached South America before the Spanish. Read more about the evidence of Polynesians in South America here and here.
What may have been the most interesting theory suggested on the program is the Solutrean theory. The Solutreans were a prehistoric people who lived in what is now southwestern Europe. It has been suggested that the Solutreans may have come to North America approximately somewhere between 22,000 to 17,000 years ago. The Clovis people, a name for the earliest known inhabitants of North America, had spearheads that are similar in style to the earlier Solutrean spearheads. It's thought by some that the Solutreans may have discovered North America and that the Clovis people were their descendants. The Solutreans may have been able to reach North America from Europe by boating along the pack ice that extended from the Atlantic coast of France to North America during the last glacial maximum.
It has long been thought by many that the first Americans were prehistoric Asians who probably crossed a land-ice bridge into North America around 13,500 years ago. But if the Solutrean theory is true, it would mean that prehistoric Europeans discovered North America much earlier.
Of course, it's also possible that the Solutrean theory has no merit because the Clovis people may have independently developed a style of toolmaking that just so happened to be similar to that of the Solutreans (I guess there's really only so many ways you can make a spearhead). Read more about the Solutrean theory here and here.
Overall, Who Really Discovered America? was an interesting documentary. If you ever come across a rerun of it, it might be worth a watch.
I found another interesting link while looking up information for this post. An archaeologist in South Carolina found artifacts there that were dated to being over 50,000 years old. Read about that find here.