THE NEW WORLD: HISTORY BEFORE COLUMBUS: SPANISH AMERICA we have seen how three types of civilization have been evolved on the outer margin of that great central plain which has affected them all. The men of Europe, in their endeavour to acquire and save more energy, made direct contact with the others, and incidentally discovered America. The question now arises, Why was it that Europeans discovered America before the Americans discovered Europe ? Or we may put the question in another form, and ask, Why were the natives of America undesirous or incapable of controlling energy outside their own land ? An examination of the geographical facts supplies the answer; we shall see that the conditions were, and are, so different that the course of the history was likely to be quite different also.
What, then, are the geographical facts that have been of importance ? One of the most important, if not the most important, is just the very obvious one that the New World is smaller than the Old, and spe cially that there is very little land in the desert belts. The conditions are comparable with those which exist in South Africa : owing to the small amount of land there, and the absence of land to the east, there is little that can be called desert, and therefore no place where an early civilization might develop. The existence of the desert area in the north of the Old World, within which developed the early civilizations, was due in part to the fact that there was a great compact mass of land,— and the central portion of a vast extent of land is bound to be drier than the margins,—and in part to the existence of a great stretch of land in North Africa lying in the trade-wind zone, and so situated that it had the great heart land. of Asia to north-eastwards.
Now in the New World there is not a great compact mass of land at all comparable with that of the Old World; both the areas in the latitudes of the desert belts are of slight extent east and west; that in the north is the narrowest part of the continent, and that in the south is about the breadth of Africa in the same latitude ; more important still, there is no land to the eastward of either. Instead of being dry regions, they
are, in fact, wet on their eastern sides, where the trade winds strike first. Thus the really desert areas are naturally small in extent. In South America they occupy only a narrow strip along the west coast ; in North America the arid regions, though not quite so narrow, are still small. The extent in each case is modified by the relief, which also helps to determine the extent of other types of region.
The configuration of the lands in the New World in its general outline is very simple, though of course subdivision is necessary if we would understand how it has acted as a control. In each continent there are three great highland areas separated by lowland. Along the west coast run the Cordillera, broader in North America, especially in the middle section, narrower and higher in South America, bordered in each case by ranges of higher mountains ; the Rocky Mountains being merely the series of ranges which mark the eastern edge of the broader middle section of the Cordillera of North America. To the east of the Cordillera in each continent are two much older highlands worn down to a lower level—in South America the plateaus of Guiana and Brazil, and in North America the Appalachian Highlands and the great Laurentian " shield," which is, in fact, so low that Hudson Bay, the central area, is invaded by the sea, and it is only by a stretch of the imagination that we can call it a plateau at all. The Cordillera has, in fact, been ridged up against the hard old rock masses to the east, and where these are absent, in the region of the West Indies, the Cordillera spread out and form more widely separated ranges, which in parts are so low that they are either just above sea-level, as in Central America, or have only their higher parts above water, as in the great curve of the West Indian Islands, or are entirely submerged.