The Columbian Exchange
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Aztec drawings of smallpox victims.
Teosinte (on the left) was the inedible native grass which the people of central Mexico successfully bioengineered into edible primitive maize (on the right), one of the ancient world's greatest technological accomplishments.
Vincent Van Gogh intended his painting The Potato Eaters as a tribute to Dutch peasants, saying "it speaks of manual labor, of how they have honestly earned their food." The food they honestly earned was the potato—native to South America—which provided the cheap calories needed to sustain Europe's working class for centuries.
Smallpox, the greatest conquistador of all.
The ships of Columbus became the first vessels of the Columbian Exchange, reconnecting the ecosystems of the New and Old Worlds.
Pangaea, the original supercontinent. 180 million years ago the Americas began drifting away, beginning a process of divergent evolution that would only be reversed through the intervention of humans after 1492.
Hernán Cortés, conqueror of the Aztecs.
Francisco Pizarro, conqueror of the Inca.
A sixteenth century drawing by half-Spanish, half-Indian historian Waman Puma captured the violence of the Spanish conquest of the Inca.
When Hernando De Soto wandered the Mississippi Valley from 1539-42, he encountered the dense settlements of Mississsippian peoples. The landscape may have looked like this, with fortified, mounded urban centers surrounded by carefully tended fields of corn. When Europeans returned to the area a century later, they found few people in a wilderness overrun by buffalo.