The encounter between Europe and the Americas that commenced in 1492 is perhaps the closest analogy we can find in the world's history to the possible experience of an interplanetary contact between civilizations. The expressions we still use today, "Old World" and "New World," aptly convey the enormous difference between the Americas and the Eurasian land mass, and the utter isolation in which they had developed. The peoples and civilizations of the Americas had developed wholly independently of the Old World; in spite of repeated speculation about Egyptian, Phoenician, or other contacts in ancient time, no evidence of such contact has ever been found. (The one prior contact that can be proved, the Norse landings around AD 1000, had almost no impact on the Old World, and no perceptible impact on the New World.) Even the ecological systems of the hemispheres were drastically unalike, with different animals, different food plants, and--with catastrophic consequences for the native peoples of the Americas--different diseases.
As an instance of contact between worlds, the European experience in the Americas offers both positive and negative experiences and lessons. These experiences, however, are not balanced evenly between the native inhabitants of the two hemispheres. For Europeans, the discovery of the New World was almost entirely a boon. From it they drew gold, silver, new foodstuffs, and new lands to settle. The gold and silver were quickly dissipated, but the n
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