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Age of Exploration


  • Originally published 08/12/2013

    19th century manuscript sheds new light on ‘Champlain’s Astrolobe’ thought lost by French explorer

    An Ottawa historian’s discovery of a 19th-century manuscript previously unseen by scholars has shed new light on the 1867 unearthing of “Champlain’s Astrolabe,” the navigational instrument famously — though controversially — believed to have been lost by French explorer Samuel de Champlain during his pioneering journey up the Ottawa River exactly four centuries ago this year.The 13-centimetre-wide, 629-gram circle of brass, repatriated from a U.S. collection in 1989 for $250,000 by the Canadian Museum of Civilization, is widely considered one of country’s most important and evocative historical artifacts — though there is no direct proof it ever actually belonged to Champlain, the 17th-century founder of New France.And Carleton University historian Bruce Elliott’s discovery of an 1893 document penned by Capt. Daniel Cowley — an Ottawa Valley steamboat entrepreneur who had been a key part of the astrolabe saga when it was found 26 years earlier — appears to strengthen the case against Champlain’s ownership of the object....

  • Originally published 01/25/2013

    Clues to prehistoric human exploration found in sweet potato genome

    Europeans raced across oceans and continents during the Age of Exploration in search of territory and riches. But when they reached the South Pacific, they found they had been beaten there by a more humble traveler: the sweet potato. Now, a new study suggests that the plant's genetics may be the key to unraveling another great age of exploration, one that predated European expansion by several hundred years and remains an anthropological enigma.Humans domesticated the sweet potato in the Peruvian highlands about 8000 years ago, and previous generations of scholars believed that Spanish and Portuguese explorers introduced the crop to Southeast Asia and the Pacific beginning in the 16th century. But in recent years, archaeologists and linguists have accumulated evidence supporting another hypothesis: Premodern Polynesian sailors navigated their sophisticated ships all the way to the west coast of South America and brought the sweet potato back home with them. The oldest carbonized sample of the crop found by archaeologists in the Pacific dates to about 1000 C.E.—nearly 500 years before Columbus's first voyage. What's more, the word for "sweet potato" in many Polynesian languages closely resembles the Quechua word for the plant....

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