Columbian Exchange  

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The Columbian Exchange was a dramatically widespread exchange of animals, foods, human populations (including slaves), communicable diseases, and ideas between the Eastern and Western hemispheres that occurred after Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas. It was one of the most significant events concerning ecology, agriculture, and culture in all of human history. Christopher Columbus' first voyage launched an era of large-scale contact between the Old and the New Worlds that resulted in this ecological revolution: hence the name "Columbian" Exchange.

The Columbian Exchange greatly affected almost every society on earth. New diseases introduced by Europeans (many of which had originated in Asia) to which indigenous people had no immunity, depopulated many cultures. Data for the pre-Columbian population in the Americas is uncertain, but estimates of its disease-induced population losses between 1500 and 1650 range between 50 and 90 percent.

On the other hand, the contact between the two areas circulated a wide variety of new crops and livestock which supported increases in population. Explorers returned to Europe with maize, potatoes, and tomatoes, which became very important crops in Eurasia by the 18th century. Similarly, Europeans introduced manioc and the peanut to tropical Southeast Asia and West Africa, where they flourished and supported growth in populations on soils that otherwise would not produce large yields.

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