Christopher Columbus

While some communities prefer to celebrate this week with racist themes (whether Dia de la Raza or Native American Day), it properly is held in memory of Christophy Columbus, the Admiral of the Seas and the greatest explorer of all time. (Though a good argument can be made that it should be Ferdinand & Isabella Day, in commemoration of the granting agency.)

Isabelle, the Catholic Queen of Castille, Aragon, the Isles, and the Land of the Ocean

The success of Columbus is the success of markets and globalization. As the Mamaluke and Ottoman Sultans accelerated the decline of Islam by blockading the Silk Road connecting the Occident to the Orient, the Iberian monarchies attempted to find a new, oceanic route to the largest economies of the world. (Venice’s failed strategy of negotiating via arms with the Turks to reopen the silk road ultimately becoming moot.) Christopher Columbus, granted three ships (the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria) eventually discovered the new world, though the hoped for landings in Calcutta, Nanjing, or Kyoto were not to be.

Others had crossed the oceans before. Those ex-Siberians we now call “American Indians” first of all, of course, and later Polynesians who brought chickens and endtrail readings too. The Vikings landed, fought, and died, the Basque were cathcing a lot of cod from somewhere, and there are the theories about Admiral Zheng He

But Columbus, uniquely,ended the civilizational apartheid which had separated the Americas from the Old World since the end of the stone age migrations. Because of Columbus, and of course Ferdinand and Isabelle, the world changed. The barbarous empire of the Aztecs would soon fall, and even more importantly the English would follow in time, exporting the common law to the United States and Canada.

Thank you, Christopher Columbus.

24 thoughts on “Christopher Columbus”

  1. “Polynesians who brought chickens and endtrail readings too.”

    This one is not widely held in the archeology departments, though how the Polynesians could get to Rapa Nui and not just a little further, I'm not sure.
    Personally, I subscribe to it. I also think the idea of boats being used to spread down the west coasts is too under-weighted.

  2. Elam,

    The Marquesans who made it to Rapa Nui were believed to have been a cannibalistic lot. So maybe their line ended at Rapa Nui (and hence never made it farther).

    Or, the few that made it on boats to the Americas could have been assimilated into the land-based cultures — which weren't so far off genetically, since they all derived from the same stock in east Asia.

    Dan, Don't you think it's funny that our nation's name is attributed to a German's misspelling of an Italian cartographer's name? I suppose we could just as easily been the United State of Columbia….

  3. An excerpt from Storey, A.A., et al. (2007). Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile. PNAS, 104(25), 10335-10339:

    “Two issues long debated among Pacific and American prehistorians are (i) whether there was a pre-Columbian introduction of chicken (Gallus gallus) to the Americas and (ii) whether Polynesian contact with South America might be identified archaeologically, through the recovery of remains of unquestionable Polynesian origin. We present a radiocarbon date and an ancient DNA sequence from a single chicken bone recovered from the archaeological site of El Arenal-1, on the Arauco Peninsula, Chile. These results not only provide firm evidence for the pre-Columbian introduction of chickens to the Americas, but strongly suggest that it was a Polynesian introduction. “

    (The full text is available for free online)

  4. Dan,
    Thanks for the link to the article. The oldest settlements found on the western coast of S. America show a lot of evidence of being fishermen and traders. I don't think the folks at Rapa Nui came to S. America, but I mention it because to come that far with such favorable winds, why not go further. The Polynesians spread out to the Pacific from Gran Hawaii (Taiwan), there is no reason not to think that they did not trade S. America. Or that earlier peoples may have made it across the Pacific.

  5. I wouldn't be too hard on the Native American community; Columbus' arrival started the process of their world ending. Until they finish learning how to be themselves in the new world that followed, they're going to be sore about it.

    What they really need to do is sit down and TALK with the Italian-American community. And keep talking until they both understand and appreciate each other's points of view. When they can celebrate the same holiday at the same table, everybody will be better off (especially those people who enjoy both pasta and indian fry bread).

  6. Michael,

    The native american community, except for occasional pot-shots against science [1], is too powerless to do anything. And its exogomy rate is fast enough that it the community is becoming extinct, even as a mestizo population, in the United States.


    Somewhat relatedly, one of the greatest mysteries in my mind is why the new world's population was so reduced by smallpox from the Spanish when contact between new and old world populations had happened at least twice before (the Vikings and the Polynesians), and potentially much more.


    Yup! I forgot I heard it from you, but you were the source!


  7. 1st point: If they're going extinct, there's even less reason to pile on them. And I think part of learning to be themselves in this new world is making peace with exogamy, much the same way as Anglos have had to make peace with non-WASP immigrants– like the Italians.

    2nd point: The length and depth of exposure with Columbus and company was greater than with the Polynesians and Norse. That made for more opportunities for smallpox to be passed along.

    If you think about it, Jared Diamond's theory about how these diseases leaped to our ancestors works the same way. It was only when we were living and working with certain animals, day in and day out, in densely populated areas that their diseases could leap to us.

  8. I agree with Michael. The specific circumstances required for disease transmission are probably why.

    And besides, everybody knows the Vikings had a hand washing compulsion.

  9. I thought that was the Scots? Shakespeare said it himself when he cast Lady Macbeth as the first clean freak:)

  10. I imagine the overwhelming male nature of Spanish colonization would have led to more vigorous intercommunal mixing than the more sex-balanced experience of Vinland, say… Is there any data on the democide of Indians in the British colonies as opposed to Spanish ones, with numbers of male and female colonists as well?

  11. You'd have to ask Colin Farrell!

    But, there's no doubt sex is a great way to transmit disease. Probably my favorite.

    There are so many other factors like livestock or what was happening in the country of origin – hot virus. Also, the Spaniards enslaved indigenous peoples. I don't know how much of that the Northern Europeans did, but I don't think it was as common. The North American Indian tribes were probably more widely dispersed versus the islands where some of he first big outbreaks took place.

  12. The democide in N. America was likely just as pervasive as in the rest of the Americas and occurred before the British or French showed up.
    When DeSoto traveled throughout the SouthEast (pigs in tow), he reported villages along the banks of the Mississippi every hundred yards or so. By the time the French explorers got there, nothing. The east coast saw a lot of active trade between Indians and fishermen before any substantial settling was attempted. In the time Squato spent abroad after being kidnapped, his entire village and the surrounding ones disappeared.
    A great resource on all the latest thinking on this stuff is the book “1491”

  13. Yup! I forgot that! From the Atlantic Monthly excerpt, I also remember that he did not encounter buffalo — presumably their numbers were smaller before the die-off.

    Presumably the sickness first became widespread in Mexico, and radiated out from there along trade routes, with explorers helping out here and there…

  14. The proctologist called. He found your head.

    Your article is ridiculous, there is nothing to celebrate Columbus for. He was a murderer and he was not even a very good sailor.

  15. Dan may know this site. There is a lone Indian mound just north of Vermillion, South Dakota. It was supposedly, at least when I was in school, inhabited by these little midget Indians who were exceptionally good shots with their little bows and arrows. I figured maybe there maybe a couple of hundred of these puny guys, but now, after reading about 1491, I'm adjusting my number. I think there must have been about 500,000 of them.

    Anyway, I loved that Indian mound. This Columbus jerk killed them.

  16. You're thinking of Spirit Mound [1,2], which is beautiful.

    I was describing a short story by Lovecraft, “The Mound,” [3] which my parents (who both went to USD) thought was too similar to the Indian legend to be chance.

    PS: Catholicgauze shares his thoughts on Columbus [4].


  17. On the THOMAS JEFFERSON HOUR a few weeks ago, a guest talked about how- by the time Lewis and Clark passed through- many of North Dakota's tribes were having to consolidate to survive. The biggest Mandan city had already been abandoned after smallpox-related depopulation.

    As for the subject of piling on, I may have been too harsh in characterising your criticisms that way. I do wonder, though. . . suppose an alien civilization landed in Europe 500 years ago. They brought technology and diseases we couldn't conceive of, decimated our ancestors, and took over. It seems all-too-conceivable that our alternate-universe selves might be in the same boat as the Native Americans in our timeline; stuck trying to figure out who we are in a world we didn't create and facing extinction (one way or another) if we fail.

    I'm not saying you should be echoing Dixie's sentiments. Quite the opposite, I think the Native Americans' side of the story adds to the enormity of what Columbus' voyage represents in human history: the Big Bang of Global Civilization. Just try to show a bit more compassion for those who got burned by it, that's all. Thanks.

  18. Finally, BlogSpirit works for me again!

    I look at Columbus's discovery of the Americas like I look at the Black Death. I'm glad for the ultimate indirect results (a culture that respects individual rights, etc.) but am horrified by the tragedies that occurred.

  19. While I was fishing up by Bismarck I found a lost page from Lewis and Clark's journal. It says they were sailing up the Missouri and they couldn't figure out where they were on their map. On a knoll they noticed a lone Indian intently watching them, so they waved and shouted “how”, and he responded, “Uppa oars.” So they lifted their oars and beached their boat. Once they got to the top of the knoll they opened up their map and explained they could not figure out where they were. The Indian peered at the map and placed a fingertip at their approximate location. The Indian explained, “Silly white men, from here you go north duh go tah Canada and south duh go tah Nebraska. So they drew a line.

  20. Pre-history was a series of monstrosities. Thank God we are done with it.

    Tamerlane's conquest [1] set back the Ottomans, crippled the Persians and Mongols, and distracted the Ming — miraculously for the Christians, he appears to have attacked everyone but them, and by delaying the Ottoman advance while weakening competitor civilizations.. Imagine instead of battling the Ottomans he had swept into Russia, Poland, Austria, etc.

    For that matter, imagine the Islamic blockade that ended late antiquity had involved a more aggressive colonialism (not just Taranto and Sicily, but trading towns on the European coast).

    History's a series of disasters. Hopefully we can be done with it.


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