By: Taylor Clark, Rachel Saldaña, Hannah Bewley, Sam Bates, Sierra Sims

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The Columbian Exchange was an exchange of people, crops, diseases, ideas, cultures, and animals. The people that were exchanged were Africans sold into slavery to work on sugar plantations and farm other crops that had been traded between Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. These Africans were needed because of the exchange of diseases that Europeans brought to the Americas. With immune systems that were unfamiliar with these new illnesses, the Natives died off and new slaves were brought overseas from Africa. Mestizos were people of European and Native American blood and showed the blending of culture from the Old World to the New World. Ideas that were brought to the Americas were techniques to rule the peoples via government and laws. There were many animals that were exchanged between civilizations to make the lives of farmers simpler. For example, horses; cattle; and pigs were brought from Europe to the New World to make manual labor not so intensive. With this constant exchange across the Atlantic Ocean, simpler means of planting and reaping became known to Native Americans because of newly introduced animals of labor. The forced migration of animals from the Old World to the New World changed ecosystems, formulated new processes of harvesting crops, and led civilizations to discover alternate food sources.

The hard-working conditions of ancient peoples were made slightly easier with the transportation of cattle, horses, donkeys, and pigs. Cattle, specifically oxen and cows, ensured that farming was an easier and shorter process by pulling heavy plows for early farmers. The horses that explorers like Christopher Columbus brought to areas such as Central America provided Native Americans with ample reasons to abandon agriculture and transition back to their nomadic roots. Since horses seemed to thrive in North and South America, it was only logical for farmers from Europe to continue to use horses for farming and transportation. They also used donkeys for farming to pull wagons and plows. The forced migration of pigs from the West to the Americas by explorers like Hernando de Soto was extremely beneficial to the New World’s economy as they altered food production immensely. With their ability to reproduce quickly and indifference to meals, pigs were the ideal farm animal for ancient farmers who were trying to completely restart their lives in the New World.

Much to the dismay of elite European traders, the chieftain of Panama reported that the most useful import from Spain to his civilization was not the horse but rather, the chicken. He praised the chicken egg and its multiple applications to the lives of his people. Along with the chicken, there were multiple birds that Europeans brought to the Americas thinking that they were unimportant when compared to labor animals. Among these were the sparrow, the rock pigeon, and the guinea fowl. These birds were brought to the New World, sometimes unintentionally, and proved to enhance the lives of both the Natives and the newly moved Europeans by providing them with game that could be hunted for food without the use of much energy. Sheep and goats, although seemingly more important than birds because they are farm animals, were somewhat disregarded at first because they could not be used for difficult toil. Eventually, Europeans and Native Americans alike recognized that these two animals were exceedingly valuable to both family life and industry. The milk that both sheep and goats produced provided sustenance for ancient peoples and their families. Sheep proved to be of even more value to Native Americans when they began using the wool that was provided to them from the sheep for their actively growing textile industry.

A drastic change in ecosystems occurred with the spread of animals across the world. New animals were brought to areas that were mostly untouched by herds, so the resources of those areas were depleted when vast amounts of animals were introduced. Luckily for some areas in the New World, particularly South America, the introduction of animal herds were beneficial to the ecosystems by clearing invasive species introduced from the Columbian Exchange. In Hawaii, however, the ecosystem was ruined by imported pigs. The hogs were introduced by Captain James Cook to certain parts of Hawaii, but the pigs eventually spread to multiple other areas of Hawaii. The pigs lavishly ate the resources of Hawaii until the plants became close to extinction.

The exchange of animals changed the world immensely because new ideas on daily life were traded between cultures. Animals intertwined with everything else that was traded throughout the Columbian Exchange. The more crops that were brought over, the more animals that were needed to help tend to the crops. Slaves were then brought over to assist the animals in farming. European and Native American techniques for farming were then mixed to form a desired farming routine. Cultures were also intertwined as the trade of animals became more popular. While there were some positive and some negative effects from the movement of animals, one cannot deny that the overall effect of the Columbian Exchange forever intertwined the civilizations of the world.


Works Cited

Pickeral, Tamsin. "The Conquistadores." The Encyclopedia of Horses. First Edition, 1998. Print.
  • This book remarked upon the introduction of horses to the Americas by Christopher Columbus and other explorers.


Green, John. "The Columbian Exchange: Crash Course World History #23." Crash Course. 28 June 2012. Video. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQPA5oNpfM4>
  • This Youtube video relayed the fact that animals of labor were important to the Native Americans, especially the Incas, because the llama was the only animal that they could previously use to transport heavy goods, but the llama could only carry up to 100 pounds.


Clavery, Christopher. "Hawaii Animal Imports." Hawaii Animal Imports. 27 September 2012. Web. <www1.american.edu/ted/hawaii.htm>
  • This website showed the effects of the introduction of pigs to Hawaii because of their intake of almost all of the plants they could reach.


Crosby, Alfred. "The Columbian Exchange." The Columbian Exchange. 2009-2012. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. 27 September 2012. Web. <www.gilderlehman.org/history-by-era/american-indians/essays/Columbian-exchange>

  • This website spoke about the fact that domesticated animals were not introduced to the New World until the Columbian Exchange and that the llama and alpaca were the closest thing Native Americans had to farm animals.

Stearns, Peter N., Michael Adas, Stuart B. Schwartz, and Marc Jason Gilbert. World Civilizations: The Global Experience. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.
  • The textbook provided an accurate summary of the animals that were traded among Europeans and Native Americans, and the effects that these animals had on the civilizations they inhabited.



Primary Source

Goodwin, M. R. Mary. "Colonial Williamsburg Digital Library." Colonial Williamsburg. September 28, 2012. Web. <http://research.history.org/DigitalLibrary/View/Index.cfm?doc=ResearchReports$5CRR0069.xml>
  • This primary source outlined the importance of the distribution of animals to the Americas.