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Historian: Christopher Columbus May be Norwegian

March 5, 1991

OSLO, Norway (AP) _ Norwegians have been miffed for centuries about Christopher Columbus stealing credit from Leif Ericsson for discovering the New World.

But a Norwegian maritime history writer said Tuesday it really makes no difference because Columbus may have been Norwegian.

Tor Busch Sannes does not claim to have definitive proof. Instead, he cites a series of coincidences, historical fact and imaginative interpretation he hopes historians will investigate further.

His book, ″Christopher Columbus - A European from Norway?″ suggests that Columbus was a Norwegian nobleman named Christopher Bonde who discovered America in 1477, not in 1492.

Columbus actually undertook a voyage north of Iceland in 1477, according to the World Book Encyclopedia. Sannes argues that voyage could have reached Canada or New England 15 years before Columbus laid anchor in the West Indies in 1492.

″America is getting ready to celebrate the 500th anniversary (of Columbus’ discovery) 15 years too late,″ said Sannes.

The book has generated considerable news coverage, skepticism and amusement in Norway. Some see it as belated revenge for overlooking the Viking seafarer Ericsson’s discovery of North America nearly 500 years earlier.

Many Norwegians believe Ericsson was one of their countrymen. But historians believe he was actually born in Iceland of a Norwegian father.

Knut Utstein Kloster, the millionaire shipowner who funded Sannes’ work, said he didn’t know whether Columbus was a Norwegian, and neither did Sannes. ″But this is an exciting story that should inspire researchers and others to carry on work with the theory,″ he said.

″Circumstantial evidence cannot be considered definitive proof,″ agreed Sannes. ″But I hope that the possibility will be seriously researched by historians.″

Sannes’ publisher, Norsk Maritimt Forlag A.S., prints about two books a year, mainly on maritime history.

History books generally say Columbus was born in 1451, the son of an impoverished weaver from Genoa, Italy, named Domenico and his wife Suzanna.

Historians dispute the details of the explorer’s clouded childhood. Several countries - including Spain, Portugal and Italy - claim him as a native son. Sannes said the historical evidence could just as easily lead to a conclusion that Columbus was born in Norway.

″The most convincing evidence was Columbus’ coat of arms,″ said Sannes. In the position designating a father’s lineage, it bears an emblem identical to that used by the Bonde family, he said.

Sannes said Columbus’ father could have been a member of the noble Bonde family who he believes fled to Italy in the 1400s to avoid persecution in Norway.

Sannes cited other bits of evidence: Columbus never wrote in Italian, he called himself a foreigner in southern Europe and he was a described in some biographies as tall, fair and blue-eyed, typical Nordic characteristics.

″I believe what I wrote,″ Sannes said at a news conference to introduce the book, which is being translated into English. ″There is nothing in history to show he was not born in Norway.″

The book suggests that Columbus was invited to join the 1477 Iceland expedition because he learned to sail in Nordic waters as a Norwegian youngster in Nordfjord, on Norway’s midwestern coast.

Nordfjord’s mayor, Nils R. Sandal, is skeptical of such theories. ″I think we’ll drag our feet for awhile before raising any Columbus monuments in Nordfjord,″ he said, adding jokingly that town residents should search their attics for any Norwegian-language letters written by Columbus.

Self-educated historian Svein-Magnus Grodys first suggested Columbus might have Norwegian roots in 1969, when he discovered what might be a link between the Bonde family in Norway and the Columbus family in Italy.

″When my publisher asked me to investigate the validity of that claim, I naturally thought he was kidding,″ said Sannes.

However, he said, two years of research revealed coincidences and historical facts that could be used to support parts of Grodys’ theory.

Sannes said documents on Columbus gathered by Genoa residents in the 1930s mentioned the Norwegian Bonde family and other associates of the explorer with ties to Norway.

Sannes said Columbus’ son Fernando, in a biography of his father, wrote that the explorer never wanted to disclose where he was born, but called himself a man of the sea.

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