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The writings of Marco Polo depicted China and Japan as advanced, opulent societies with streets of marble and roofs of gold. Yet Columbus carried worthless trinkets with him on his voyage. Could Columbus have brought glass beads and cheap bells to trade with the Great Khan? Definitely not. But that’s exactly what he would bring if he was expecting to find people who were technologically inferior to the people of Europe. In fact, that’s what the Portuguese had brought to Africa to barter with the natives—and Columbus knew it.


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