Before
Christopher Columbus

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Christopher Columbus wanted to reach the Indies by traveling west. The story behind why  he wanted to travel to the Indies began many years before.

Palestine was captured by the Turks. The Turks were Moslems who followed the teachings of Mohammed. This upset the Christians and Jews who felt the Holy Land should belong only to them. In 1095 the Pope called the Christians to fight the Turks. This resulted in a 200 year war called the Crusades.

During the Crusades, Europeans traveled to the Far East lands of India and China. They had never seen such wonderful lands as this area that they called the Indies. They discovered spices, silks, jewels, and perfumes in this new land. They wanted to bring these amazing items back home to their families.

The only trouble with carrying goods back home was the route between the Indies and Europe was dangerous. To travel by land Europeans had to cross deserts and mountains. Even if they traveled by sea, they had to carry the goods by land between the Red and Mediterranean Seas.

Years later in the 1200's an Italian named Marco Polo traveled through the Indies. He visited Cathay. After returning home he wrote a book about his experiences. Polo's travels did not make a big impact on the European world until much later because very few people read his book.

This changed in 1450 when the printing press was invented. Marco Polo's book was one of the first printed. Many Europeans read Polo's book. A big interest in the East was on the Europeans' minds. People wanted to obtain the spices, silks, jewels, and perfumes from the Far Eastern lands.

Christopher Columbus was one of the Europeans who read Marco Polo's book. After reading the book, he felt the world was not flat as most of the world thought it to be.

Two other inventions were created around 1450. The compass could tell sailors which direction they were traveling. The astrolabe showed sailors just where their ship was at any time. These two inventions made sea travel much easier. Because of the new sailor instruments, Columbus could try out his idea that the world was round and sail west to find the Indies.

Activities with this page:

  1. Japan and the Spice Islands in the Pacific Ocean were explored by the Crusaders. Make a spice and glue picture. With a pencil draw a simple picture or design on a piece of paper. Spread glue on one area of the drawing at a time. Cover the glue with a spice. Gently shake off the excess. Repeat these steps with each area in the drawing using different spices until the entire surface of the drawing is covered. See some examples below.

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  1. Make a charm with salt dough and spices. To make the salt dough mix 2 cups of plain flour, 1 cup of salt, and cups of warm water. Mold a portion of the dough into a sphere. Flatten this until the dough is the shape of a coin. Press spices into the dough into interesting designs. Allow to dry overnight. The drying process can is faster if the dough is baked in an oven heated to 350 for 10 to 15 minutes.

  2. Build a compass. Partially fill a saucer with water. Slide one end of a magnet along the length of a large sewing needle in the same direction 20 times to turn the needle into a magnet. Place the newly magnetized needle on a cork or foam and float it on the water in the saucer. Watch as the needle settles into a north-south pattern.

  3. Create a Astrolabe  -
    The Mariner's Museum  http://www.mariner.org/age/stu_activity2.html (This site has a pattern and a worksheet with questions to help you understand how the astrolabe works.)
    Treasure Gallery:  Champlain's Astrolabe  http://www.civilization.ca/membrs/treasure/222beng.html

  4. Take the online quiz on this material.

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