The Age of Discovery (or the Age of Exploration), also known as the early modern period, was a period largely overlapping with the Age of Sail, approximately from the 15th century to the 17th century in European history, during which seafaring Europeans explored, colonized and conquered regions across the globe.
The extensive overseas exploration, with the Spanish and Portuguese at the forefront, later joined by the Dutch, English, and French, emerged as a powerful factor in European culture, most notably the European colonization of the Americas. It also marks 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.
A main event in the Age of Discovery took place when Spain sponsored the transatlantic voyages of Christopher Columbus between 1492 and 1504, which saw the beginning of the colonization of the Americas. Years later, the Spanish Magellan expedition made the first circumnavigation of the globe between 1519 and 1522, which was regarded as a major achievement in seamanship, and had a significant impact on the European understanding 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 overseas exploration led to the rise of international trade and the European colonial empires, with the contact between the Old World (Europe, Asia, and Africa) and the New World (the Americas), as well as Australia, producing the Columbian exchange, a wide transfer of plants, animals, food, human populations (including slaves), communicable diseases, and culture between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. The Age of Discovery and later European exploration allowed the mapping of the world, resulting in a new worldview and distant civilizations coming into contact. At the same time, new diseases were propagated, decimating populations not previously in contact with the Old World, particularly concerning Native Americans. The era saw the widespread enslavement, exploitation and military conquest of native populations concurrent with the growing economic influence and spread of European culture and technology.