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The Age of Discovery or the Age of Exploration, part of the early modern period and largely overlapping with the Age of Sail, was a period from approximately the 15th century to the 17th century, during which seafarers from a number of European countries explored, colonized, and conquered regions across the globe. The extensive overseas exploration, particularly the European colonization of the Americas, with the Spanish and Portuguese at the forefront, later joined by the Dutch, English, and French, marked an increased adoption of colonialism as a government policy in several European states. As such, it is sometimes synonymous with the first wave of European colonization.
European exploration outside the Mediterranean started with the maritime expeditions of Portugal to the Canary Islands in 1336, and later with the Portuguese discoveries of the Atlantic archipelagos of Madeira and Azores, the coast of West Africa in 1434, and the establishment of the sea route to India in 1498 by Vasco da Gama, which initiated the Portuguese maritime and trade presence in Kerala and the Indian Ocean.
During the Age of Discovery, Spain's transatlantic voyages by Christopher Columbus from 1492 to 1504 marked the start of Americas colonization. The Spanish Magellan expedition later achieved the first circumnavigation of the globe between 1519 and 1522, a major seamanship feat that significantly impacted European perceptions of the world. These discoveries led to numerous naval expeditions across the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, and land expeditions in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Australia that continued into the late 19th century, followed by the exploration of the polar regions in the 20th century.
European exploration spurred global trade and colonial empires, initiating the Columbian exchange between the Old World (Europe, Asia, and Africa) and the New World (the Americas) and Australia. This exchange involved the transfer of plants, animals, human populations (including slaves), communicable diseases, and culture across the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.
The Age of Discovery and European exploration, mapping of the world, shaping a new worldview and facilitating contact with distant civilizations. Simultaneously, the spread of new diseases, especially affecting Native Americans, led to significant population declines. The era saw widespread enslavement, exploitation and military conquest of native populations concurrent with the growing economic influence and spread of European culture and technology.
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