We are often impressed by a person who is the “first” to do something. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay are renowned as the first to reach the summit of Mt. Everest in 1953. Christopher Columbus is famous for his success as the first to reach the Americas in 1492. Magellan’s expedition was the first to circumnavigate the globe in the 16th century. This desire to be “first” is at the forefront of exploration, but being first is a matter of perspective. Columbus and the leaders of 15th century Europe did not know about the Vikings who established a settlement in what is now Newfoundland, Canada, 500 years before Columbus arrived.
Captain Malaspina speculated about how the indigenous people of North America first arrived by migrating on rafts and via a land bridge. However, most European explorers did not consider that the presence of First Nations communities meant that someone had definitely arrived before them! Primacy (and therefore the right to claim territory and resources) was a matter that only included other European powers. This has had a great impact on how we are taught history. Accounts of discovery that are written down are the only ones many cultures are willing to believe.
Some researchers have presented other views of history. Norwegian Tor Heyerdahl set out to prove his theory that prehistoric cultures and ancient civilizations had contact via ocean-going vessels, and that they travelled, populating new regions of the globe. In 1947, he and his crew made the journey from Peru to Polynesia aboard the Kon-Tiki. In 1970, he successfully sailed the reed ship RA II from Morocco to Barbados to show it was possible that Africans could have reached the Americas in ancient craft. Not everyone agrees with such theories, but testing them is a form of exploration in itself.