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Bjarni Herjólfsson (fl. 10th century) was a Norwegian explorer who is the first known European discoverer of the mainland of the Americas, which he sighted in 986.


Bjarni was born to Herjulf, whose father was Bard Herjólfsson, and Thorgerd in Icelandmarker. Bjarni's home country was Norwaymarker, though he visited his father every summer in Iceland.

Discovery of America

Bjarni is believed to have been the first European to see North America. The Grœnlendinga saga ('Greenlanders Saga') tells that he was sailing from Iceland to visit his parents as usual, except he came home and his father had gone with Eric the Red to Greenland. So he took his crew and set off to find him.. But in that summer of 985 or 986, Bjarni was blown off course by a storm with no map or compass. He saw a piece of land that was not Greenland. It was covered with trees and mountains and although his crew begged him to, he refused to stop and look around. Since no one in his crew had been to Greenland before, they had to search for it. Although he managed to regain his course, he reported seeing low-lying hills covered with forests some distance farther to the west. The land looked hospitable, but Bjarni was eager to reach Greenland to see his parents and did not land and explore the new lands. He reported his findings both in Greenland and in Norway, but no one at the time seems to have shown interest in them.

Legacy for Leif

Ten years later, however, Leif Ericson (Leifur Eiríksson) took Bjarni's claims more seriously. He bought the ship that Bjarni had used for the voyage, hired a crew of 35 people and set out to find the land. The result is thought to be the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadowsmarker in Newfoundlandmarker. This is the first known attempt at settlement by Europeans on the mainland of the Americas. (The North American island of Greenland was settled much earlier.)


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