Latest research shows that Central Asian Muslim scholar Abu Raihan al Biruni discovered the Americas hundreds of years prior to Christopher Columbus – the Spanish explorer who has always been credited with the discovery.
According to the research, Al Biruni had proposed a theory in 1037, at the age of approximately 70 years, but he was too old to travel himself at the time.
An article by S Frederick Starr in History Today says al Biruni who was born in modern-day Uzbekistan was the first person to officially suggest that a landmass existed beyond Europe and Asia.
The scholar’s navigational skills and expertise in geography led him to conclude that Europe, Africa and Asia only accounted for two-fifths of the world.
The article states that al Biruni’s knowledge of both Middle-Eastern and Indian languages, as well as being trained in mathematics, astronomy, mineralogy, geography, cartography, geometry and trigonometry under great scholars like Ahmad al Farghani, gave him deep insight into the sciences of various fields and civilizations.
According to the article, al Farghani had calculated the width of one degree of longitude at the equator which enabled him to deduce the circumference of the earth.
After centuries, Columbus used these calculations, which were less precise than al Biruni’s, to prove that it was small enough for him to circumnavigate.
However, according to Starr, the Spanish explorer wrongly assumed the readings in Roman miles rather than Arab miles, which caused him to understate the actual perimeter of the earth by 25 per cent. This finding or deliberate misreading helped Columbus obtain funding for his voyage.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2014.