The annual Ancient Roman market at the Sexaginta Prista Fortress in Bulgaria’s Ruse does justice to the fact that the Romans, for all their might, had a cuisine that was “Pre-Columbian”. Photo: Ruse Regional Museum of History
When a person from the “Old World" (Africa, Asia, Europe) goes to the United States, they invariably come across the term “Pre-Columbian" at some point, regardless of their profession or the reason for their visit.
Chances are they had hardly ever been familiar with the notion of the “Pre-Columbian" Era before that. Unless perhaps they are a historian aware of the “Columbian Exchange" across the Atlantic.
This omission is an inadequacy in the present-day perception of world history that has to be rectified!
The term “Pre-Columbian" should be applied to pre-1492 Europe and the rest of the “Old World" just as much as it is applied to the “New World", i.e. the Americas.
The argument for this is way too obvious and self-explanatory: the “Columbian Exchange" changed Europe, and, by extension, Asia and Africa, way too profoundly – regardless of how few present-day residents of these continents may realize it.
Nonetheless, now ever archaeological discoveries and the history of the Antiquity on the territory of present-day Bulgaria suggest how important to learn to perceive what used to be “Pre-Columbian Europe” and what it was like:
In the most simplistic but still one of the most important realities of Pre-Columbian Europe, the Ancient Thracians and the Romans who conquered them had a diet that was devoid of beans, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, sunflower, turkey, you name it.
And the round ship, or cog, used by Venice, Genoa, and other European states in the High and Late Middle Ages was the precursor to the development of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, that is, the type of ships famously used by Christopher Columbus to cross the Atlantic, and by the other pioneering European explorers from the Age of Discovery.
What really got me thinking about how badly the term “Pre-Columbian" needs to be applied to Europe (even with respect countries such as Bulgaria that are 2,000 kilometers away from the Atlantic Ocean) was precisely these two stories we covered at ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com:
These two stories nearly coincided, and in both cases the term “Pre-Columbian" came up – an extreme rarity for Bulgaria, especially given the fact that the term “Pre-Columbian" doesn’t even exist officially in the Bulgarian language!
You could try using it but people would probably take it to refer to the country of Colombia in South Africa, rather than the state of affairs in Europe before America was “discovered" and that “discovery” changed everything. (“Discovered” and “discovery” are in quotes here but I would still shy away from the current extremes of political corrections, and would stick to basic common sense – from the point of view of those who “discovered” it, it was a “discovery”.)
The civilizations of the Native Americans in North and South America were wiped out after the arrival of the Europeans – indeed, partly due to new exposure to diseases to which they had no immunity.
Yet, the fact of the matter is that through the Columbian Exchange the Native Americans still changed the lives of the inhabitants of the “Old World" just as profoundly as the latter changed theirs. Just the example of tobacco and smoking provides plenty of evidence to back that point.
That is why the term “Pre-Columbian" should be used with respect to Europe, and not just by scholars but also by politicians, the general public, and the common folk: people in Europe (as well as Africa and Asia) should really do justice to the fact that after the “discovery" of America influence was a two-way street in all kinds of fields, in all kinds of ways.
Better yet, the mutual influence, or penetration between the “Old" and the “New World" was multivectoral, even resembled a Brownian motion in a sense – regardless of the presence of mighty European empires which destroyed the existing Pre-Columbian empires, and even their cultures.
Thus, pre-1492 Europe was just as “Pre-Columbian" as the pre-1492 Americas, and the Europeans, and by extension, the Asians and the Africans, must do justice to that mutual change that has been unlike anything before and anything after the year Columbus reached Hispaniola.
Why is it important to put forth and really perceive the notion of a “Pre-Columbian Europe”, and a “Pre-Columbian Old World”, for that matter? For two simple reasons.
First, to acknowledge what really happened, the true scope of the “Columbian Exchange” change, and its two-way, or multidirectional nature.
Second, to acknowledge the invaluable contribution that the civilizations of the Native Americans made to humanity, and their achievements that ran parallel to those of the civilizations in the Old World but with fewer (known) resources, and fewer space and neighors to communicate with and learn from.
Unfortunately, people in Europe and the rest of the “Old World" are not accustomed to the perception of the Pre-Columbian state of affairs.
Take my native Bulgaria, whose tremendous archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage going back to the Neolithic and Chalcolithic civilization of 7,000 – 5,000 BC we at ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com are working to reveal to the world.
In a country as far away from the Atlantic Ocean as Bulgaria, the beans that came over through the Columbian Exchange are nowadays deemed a super-traditional Bulgarian crop, with bean soup perhaps the top national cuisine dish, and so is the sunflower, the tomatoes, the peppers, you name it.
That’s regardless of the fact that by the time of the Age of Discoveries, the former medieval Bulgarian Empire had been conquered and oppressed by the Ottomans.
Peppers have become so “Bulgarianized” that it’s gone even international – in Russia, red peppers cultivated by the Native Americans are known as “Bulgarian peppers"…
In spite of its very rich, long, and diverse history, today’s Bulgaria is a relatively small piece of the Old World. Yet, its lack of perception of a “Pre-Columbian Europe" is probably typical of the same lack that reigns all over the European continent, not to mention Asia and Africa.
That is why when in 2016, the Museum of History in Danube city of Ruse used an expression equivalent to “Pre-Columbian" to speak of the menu of the Roman legionnaires and the Roman Era residents of the city of Sexaginta Prista, and then shortly afterwards the Black Sea MAP underwater archaeology expedition found the “Pre-Columbian" round ship sunken on the bottom of the Black Sea in Bulgaria’s exclusive economic zone, it really struck me:
Why aren’t people talking of a Pre-Columbian Europe?
Archaeological and historical evidence even from as far east as Bulgaria indicates that they should! And that this notion should be common.
That would be the only way to really do justice to the achievements of the Native American civilizations, and to the true scope and meaning of the Columbian Exchange – easily the greatest inter-cultural and inter-civilizational exchange in the entire human history.