Age of Discovery
15th century to the early 17th century
The Age of Discovery refers to a period in European history in which several extensive overseas exploration journeys took place. Religion, scientific and cultural curiosity, economics, imperial dominance, and riches were all reasons behind this transformative age. The search for a westward trade route to Asia was one of the largest motivations for many of these voyages. Christopher Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492 lead to the discovery of a New World, and created a new surge in exploration and colonization. World maps changed as European powers such as England, France, Spain, the Dutch, and Portugal began claiming lands. But there were also negative effects to the Europeans’ arrival in the New World. Europeans encountered, and in many cases conquered and enslaved, native peoples of the new lands to which they traveled.
Advancements in ships, navigational instruments, and knowledge of world geography grew significantly. Vessels of the Age of Discovery continued to be built of wood and powered by sail or oar, and, on occasion, both. Medieval navigational tools such as the compass, kamal, astrolabe, cross-staff, and the mariner’s quadrant were still used but became replaced by more effective tools. Newer tools such as the mariner’s astrolabe, traverse board, and back staff soon provided better navigational support in determining longitude and latitude. These tools, along with improved maps enabled explorers to travel the vast oceans as never before. The Age of Discovery created a new period of global interaction, and began a new age of European colonialism that would intensify over the next several centuries.