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World Explorers: Erik the Red & Leif Erikson

5 minutes

(female narrator) Around the year 1000, 500 years before Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic, Erik the Red and his son, Leif Erikson, founded settlements in Greenland and North America. Historians now recognize them as two of the greatest explorers of all time and Leif Erikson as the first European to reach the New World.

(Describer) Titles: PBS Education. World Explorers: Eric the Red and Leif Ericson.

(Describer) As a map zooms in on northern Europe, a pointer on a timeline goes to 1000.

Erik the Red and his son, Leif Erikson, were Norwegian Vikings. Although the term "Viking" is associated today with ruthless raiders, the original Vikings were seafaring traders and explorers.

(Describer) A wooden ship crosses rough seas.

Vikings sailed thousands of miles in all kinds of weather in small, open wooden ships, powered by oars and the wind. Only the bravest, most skillful, and lucky sailors from this period survived to tell their tales. Erik the Red was born in Norway around the year 950, and as a young boy, migrated with his family to settle in Iceland. When he was 32, he was banished from his community for three years following a bloody dispute over land. He decided to sail west to explore an island he had heard rumors about that is now called Greenland. What he found was a land of fjords-- long, deep harbors along the shore-- and pastures that looked a lot like his native Norway. He also encountered people living there called the Inuit. At first, the Inuit accepted the newcomers, but that would soon change. When Erik returned to Iceland, he spoke glowingly of the land he had found, describing seas full of fish, seals, and whales, and lush valleys of grassland, perfect for raising cattle, sheep, and horses. Erik did not discover Greenland, but he was the first to colonize it. A good salesman, he assembled a fleet of ships filled with settlers, animals, and all the tools and necessities for building a new community. In 985, after surviving storms and gales, they settled at two places in Greenland called the East and the West Settlements, building houses and barns made from stone. Erik became the leader of the new land and started a family. His second son, Leif, was born and, following family tradition, his last name came from his father's first name.

(Describer) Ericson from Eric.

(Describer) Ericson from Eric.

Leif Erikson was destined to become as adventurous as his father. Leif attended school in Norway, where he became a devout Christian. With the encouragement of the king of Norway, Leif returned to Greenland to teach Christianity to his father's people. Returning, he was blown westward by a huge storm and landed on an unknown shore. It was the continent we now call North America. Leif and his hearty band of shipmates explored this new land, but the people they met drove them away violently. Finally, they found a safe harbor on the northern tip of present-day Newfoundland, which they named Vinland for its dense grapevines. Being late in the year, they were forced to spend the winter.

(Describer) Glaciers float in a bay.

In the spring, they returned to Greenland and told of what they had found. Some people of Greenland decided to create settlements in Vinland, but Leif himself never returned. He stayed in Greenland and, along with his mother, built the first Christian church there. Meanwhile, the settlers in Vinland did not last long. Archaeological evidence suggests that war between them and the native people forced them away. The community that Erik the Red established in Greenland, however, continued for 500 years. Yet, about the same time Columbus was preparing for his historic voyage to the Indies, these Viking colonies were finally abandoned as well. Increasingly cold winters and clashes with the Inuit forced the colonists to move away. Although Columbus is known as the first European to arrive in North America, historians and archaeologists now have proof that Leif Erikson beat him to it by nearly 500 years. Accessibility provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

(Describer) Titles: PBS Education. World Explorers. Eric the Red and Leif Ericson. Accessibility provided by the US Department of Education.

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Five hundred years before the arrival of Christopher Columbus, Erik the Red and his son Leif Erikson explored areas of Greenland and North America. Now regarded as two of the greatest explorers of all time, the Norwegian explorers established settlements across the Atlantic. Part of the "World Explorers" series.

Media Details

Runtime: 5 minutes

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