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Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was a navigator and explorer whose famous 1492 voyage from Spain to the West Indies marked the beginning of successful European colonization of the Americas. On 12 October 1492, Columbus and his crews aboard the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria made landfall in the Bahamas. Upon his return to Spain, news of the explorer's discoveries captivated Europe. Though Columbus was not the first European to discover the Americas, his four voyages helped open trans-Atlantic navigation and facilitated European conquest of the New World. He made three subsequent journeys to the New World, "discovering" many islands in the Caribbean and mapping the coast of Central and South America.

Columbus was the initiator and namesake of the Columbian Exchange—the rapid exchange of plants, animals, and diseases between the Old and New Worlds that began with Columbus's journeys. The uneven biological and ecological impacts of the Columbian Exchange largely accounted for the divergent fates of Indians, Europeans, and even Africans after 1492. Thus, the impact of Columbus extended far beyond his "discoveries" of new lands.

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