History and Biogeography
Human history is intricately linked to biogeography. Climate and the history of land masses on Earth have had large roles in shaping human history and evolution. For example, there was once a land bridge over the Bering Sea that connected Asia to North America. Scientists believe that about 10,000 years ago people crossed that land bridge as they hunted herds of large mammals like mammoths, mastodons and bison.
Here is where the story gets a little controversial: while most scientists agree that these people were the first humans in North America, and their descendents spread southward into Mexico and South America, there are some other theories out there. Spearheads that were found in Clovis, New Mexico were dated to 13,500 years ago, meaning humans must have been in North America much earlier than previously thought. Other archeological finds in Monte Verde, Chile and in Washington state are evidence for an earlier crossing of the land bridge, or reaching North America by sea instead of land. Read more about these theories here.
The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Alaska protects area that was part of the ancient land bridge between Asia and North America. Image from here.
Trade is one of the dominant forces that shaped our world into what it is today. Explorers ventured into unknown territories, countries were seized and colonized, and political alliances were formed because people wanted things. What things? Well, everything, but especially spices. The spice trade between ancient civilizations in Europe, northern Africa, and Asia went on for centuries before the Americas were "discovered" by Europeans. Cinnamon from Sri Lanka, turmeric from Pakistan and India, cardamom from India and ginger from China were highly sought-after spices that made Europeans go gaga. Ginger was so highly prized in medieval times that one pound of ginger cost the same as a live sheep.
Turmeric from Pakistan.
Vanilla and chocolate are both native to the Americas, and became important trade items in the 1500s. Both are now cultured in Africa and Asia, with different varieties such as Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla. We're not sure, but we're guessing baked goods were not so tasty before the discovery of chocolate and vanilla.
Chocolate (Theobroma cacao) pods. The beans are inside the white fleshy parts.