Just a few days ago on DeviantArt, I found this map by MoshiDungo:

enter image description here

The title of the map is What if the Americas colonised Europe? As the title explicitly implies, it shows a pre-Columbian Europe being colonized by American sailors, rather than the other way around. Unfortunately, the cartographer wasn't clear on what the points of departure are to make this possible, which raises the question:

What point of departure, or pointS of departure, would I need for Native American tribes to sail across the Atlantic and stake their claims on Europe?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ They would need to get out of the stone age a one or two thousand years before the classical world, which means that the point of departure would have to be some somewhere in 4th millennium before the common era, or even earlier. Basically, they would need to somehow anticipate the civilization revolution in the Fertile Crescent. Sadly, we know next to nothing of the situation of North American Indians in the 4th millennium before the common era... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 2:03
  • $\begingroup$ Is it possible to change the topography of at least one of Europe and the East Coast of America? The ratio of coast to land, and the way resources were scattered, forced Europeans to prioritize sea travel. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 2:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "Point of departure" has two relevant meanings. One is a location on the coast of America that would be a good starting point for a low-tech voyage to Europe. The other, specific to alternate history writing, is the time, place, and circumstances at which the alternate history first deviates from real history. Which is meant here? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ @PatriciaShanahan Both. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ An important point if you are writing a story is how do these native Americans know there is any land over the sea and why do they want to go to such a remote location? Similar issues applied to ancient Rome who could have crossed the Atlantic but for these two issues. $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 11:37

6 Answers 6


It depends on two things; their sailing technology, and their geopolitics. If they haven't yet learned how to sail against the wind, they must go with the prevailing winds; meaning they have to sail northeast from the Americas, then turn southeast somewhere near Greenland. If they can sail against the wind, it may be advantageous to take the southern route; if something goes wrong you can turn back and have the wind help you get home.

Their geopolitics matters for the same reasons it mattered to the Europeans in real life. Spanish colonists left from Spain, English Colonists left from England. So to decide where on the east coast of America they leave from, you have to decide which tribe specifically you're talking about. The Huron aren't going to leave from the same harbors as the Aztecs.


They could leave from just about anywhere on the east coast. All they need to do is get far enough offshore to pick up the Gulf Stream https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream That will carry them to somewhere near the European coast, and with luck they will be close enough to see land. (Or use the flights of birds &c to deduce that land is near.) Of course they will need to pack plenty of provisions, or fishing lines.

For a similar crossing of the Pacific, note how tsunami debris from Japan washes up on the West Coast: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-35638091


Many points of departure, but central to the issue is the building of ships.

While the advantages of water-borne traffic are plentiful, the geography of the Mediterranean favored the development of ships. If you perhaps had an empire that was around the Gulf of Mexico the way the Roman surrounded the Mediterranean, that might give them a motive to innovate that no known American culture had, but there was nothing in the history of the Americas to hint that such a thing was even possible. (The Mississippian Mound-Builders only shortly predated the contact with Europe on a historical scale, and all evidence is that the agriculture necessary for even that level of chiefdom was new.)

The subsequent development in Europe turned heavily on trade. Especially trade with the Far East. The motive for the developments in shipping and navigation that made Columbus's voyages possible was to cut out the middleman. The geopolitics of introducing that level of trade would be a large alteration.

Finally, what motive would have they to sail east ? Columbus's to sail west turned on two points:

  1. Knowing the earth was round
  2. Looking for a cheaper and easier route to the Far East.

Because the Americas run north and south, there is no way they could think that sailing east would be a simpler trade route. Plus the astronomical knowledge


Anywhere will do

I asked a very similar question before. I had a fixed point of origin (Haiti) and asked for the most likely landing spot. But your question, like mine, does not have an answer. Let's examine the evidence, and take my map of Columbus's voyages from the New World to the Old:

columbus' journeys

The different arrows represent prevailing winds (broad grey) and ocean currents (narrower blue) respectively. Columbus' return trips are imposed on top. And what you find is that he barely followed any of these 'logical routes'.

From this evidence I have surmised that prevailing winds/currents make a particular route easier, but not any of the others impossible. Your ship heads in the direction you steer it in. Going directly against the wind won't work for a sailing ship, but if you decide a course in that direction, what you do is you alternately go to either sides of that course, so you move in a zigzag pattern and end up going in that direction. That is until the wind changes again; prevailing does not mean exclusive.


The better the ship, the sharper you can go against the wind, but it's all but requisite for a sailing vessel capable of crossing the Atlantic in both directions to be capable of doing more than just follow where the wind leads it.

So view this from the perspective of your Native American civilisation. Maybe it's Aztecs, maybe it's the Guanahatabey. Whatever their reasoning for crossing the Atlantic; they would have had something they expected to find. And that something would have (theorised) coordinates. So they would go wherever they wished to go, and if that imagined destination happened to be at the place of real-world Europe, then that's where they land.

So a Tupi country (located in Brazil) with legends of great riches somewhere to the north-east would end up in Europe. As would an Inuit trying to find the origin of the Vinlanders. As would an Nahua in search of Quetzalcoatl, and so would a Cueva civilisation that, after a Chinese expedition left them and further communication in that area was blocked by the Hawaiian Empire, realising that the world is round, set course east instead. Whatever reason you imagine for your alt history civilisation to cross the Atlantic, if that reason has them set course for a specific village in Ireland, then do not worry about the currents or their point of origin. If they have the technology to even cross the ocean, then they will end up wherever they want to end up.

  • $\begingroup$ Pre-modern navigation is a lot harder than that. Whether in getting where you want or even figuring out where you are. They would certainly TRY to get to certain coordinates, but it's not that easy. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary I didn't mean coordinates literally. But if the reason for crossing the Atlantic involved a destination due northeast, then the ship would have gone northeast. Prevailing winds/currents do not matter when you have a place you want to be, as Columbus demonstrates. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 18:58

Various theories of contact:

There is lots of good stuff here, so I'm just adding, not displacing.

  • One point of difference is based on the idea that the Egyptians may have crossed to the new world, and it's at least possible. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thor_Heyerdahl In this scenario, a small group of Egyptians either journeyed to the new world and stayed, stimulating cultural changes leading to better technological developments and a yearning to someday return to the homeland, or they returned but left a lasting impression. Given a few centuries, small details (like exactly where Egypt WAS). would get lost, but the idea of trans-Atlantic travel and a bigger world would be there. I can envision a similar scenario with the Greeks or Minoans (although some adjustments would need to be made for unseaworthy ships) in a kind of Odyssey journey.
  • Eskimos traveling along the ice sheets fishing could "find" the 'New East' and bring back word of it's existence. Prevailing winds make the journey there relatively easy, but back kinda hard. Irish mythology suggests a series of colonizations (their early mytho-history is called the book of invasions) and I would imagine Amerind settlements in Ireland as a preview of future colonizing. Tech and cultural influences could be brought back in celtic and Roman times, leading to a flourishing culture in the 'Old West'. What influences you want for a hybrid celtic/Amerind society would be yours, but contact would be at a point where Amerinds wouldn't be overwhelmed by Western technological superiority. Trade would be important and the prevailing winds might mean the Amerinds would settle northern Europe and the Europeans might still settle in South America, but how that would play out is up to you. I imagine a Western Roman empire propped up by trade routes to the Americas standing tall and an Eastern Roman Empire trading with Asia.
  • Earlier voyages by pre-Christian Vikings where the Vikings settled further south and established a larger presence would have similarly infused tech and cultural awareness into the new world, but I imagine the Western vikings clinging to their traditional faiths while Euro-vikings went Christian. The two break off relations, and Europe suffers a worse Bubonic plague or Mongol invasion. European diseases sweep the New world early and the American populations recover early. Amerinds have higher tech, so a recovering America with higher tech and a growing population voyages to a depopulated Europe.

Following the arrows on your map back, where do they lead?

enter image description here


And this makes perfect sense. Who has giant ocean going boats? Who is not afraid of cold oceans? Who embarked on a huge continent-spanning expansion by water in the 1200s? The Thule people, aka the Inuit.


thule expansion

Over just a few hundred years, the Thule people expanded from their starting point in Alaska to occupy the entirety of coastal Northen canada, their expansion extending all the way to Greenland.

And if the Thule began their migration only in 1200, it seems unlikely they spread east simply to find iron...Instead, the Thule developed a thriving, intricate network of settlements across the Arctic. For Friesen and Arnold, this is evidence that the Thule expanded in order to recreate the ideological and economic lives that they had enjoyed in their origins along the Bering Strait. And in just a century they did, not only by inhabiting land from the Bering Strait to Greenland, but through explorations to the northern edges of the continent.

So really, the point of departure 100 years before was Alaska. But the point for their ocean-spanning voyage of the expansionist Thule people was Greenland.

This no doubt what Dailey would call "head canon" but I like the idea that on reaching Greenland and encountering the Dorset people who lived there, the Thule adventurers who continued east to Europe would take some Dorset with them. The Dorset were different.

“The first people were giants
Their chests were broad and their hands could grab seals whole
They walked with spirits on the ice and never fell through
Though they were strong, they did not possess the tools of war
And the new people drove them back from the sea”

—Excerpt from “An Oral History of Baffin Island” https://greetingsfromthewasteland.wordpress.com/2015/09/18/the-dorset-culture/


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