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Gunnbjörn Ulfsson

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Summer in the Greenland coast c.1000
by Carl Rasmussen

Gunnbjörn Ulfsson (fl. c. 10th century), also Gunnbjörn Ulf-Krakuson, was a Norwegian settler of Iceland. He was reportedly the first European to sight Greenland. A number of modern place names in Greenland commemorate Gunnbjörn, most notably Gunnbjørn Fjeld.[1]


The only reference to Gunnbjörn is from the Book of Settlement of Iceland (Landnámabók). It is stated that his sons lived in Iceland's West fjords and a note is made that Gunnbjörnssker are named after him. Gunnbjörn was blown off course while sailing from Norway to Iceland. He and his crew sighted islands (Gunnbjörn's skerries) lying between Iceland and Greenland, and reported this find but did not land. If the islands are considered part of Greenland -- a debatable proposition -- this sighting would have been the first European connection with North America. The exact date of this event is not recorded in the sagas. Various sources cite dates ranging from 876 to 932. The first records of purposeful visits to Gunnbjörn's skerries were made by Snæbjörn Galti around 978 and soon after by Erik the Red who also explored the main island of Greenland, and soon established a settlement.[2][3] The islands were later completely destroyed by volcanic eruption.

Waldemar Lehn (1911–2005), professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba and an expert in atmospheric refraction and mirages, argued that the skerries Gunnbjörn saw could be explained as the sighting of Greenland's coast via the refraction of a superior mirage.[4] Such phenomena were not unknown to the Norse, who called them hillingar.[5] If so, this would have been the first European sighting of North America.


  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 10. Chicago. 1955. p. 858.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. ^ "Greenland's Lost Islands". The History of Nothing. September 22, 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  3. ^ "Gunnbjörn Ulf-Krakuson & Greenland". University of Victoria, Medieval Mapping Project. 31 January 2012. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  4. ^ Lehn, Waldemar (Jul 2000). "Skerrylike mirages and the discovery of greenland". Applied Optics. 39 (21): 3612–9. Bibcode:2000ApOpt..39.3612L. doi:10.1364/ao.39.003612. PMID 18349932.
  5. ^ Seaver, Kirsten A. (2014-11-30). The Last Vikings: The Epic Story of the Great Norse Voyagers. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 16–17. ISBN 9781784530570.