First contact (anthropology)

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For other uses, see First contact (disambiguation).

In anthropology, first contact is the first meeting of two cultures previously unaware of one another. Notable examples of first contact are those between the Spanish Empire and the Arawak (and ultimately all of the Americas) in 1492; and the Aboriginal Australians with Europeans in 1788 when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney.

Such contact is sometimes described later by one or both groups as a "discovery", particularly by the more technologically developed society. In addition it is generally the more technologically complex society that is able to travel to a new geographic region to discover and make contact with the generally more isolated, less technologically developed society, leading to this frame of reference. However, some object to the application of such a word to human beings, which is why "first contact" is generally preferred. The use of the term "discovery" tends to occur more in reference to geography than cultures; for an example of a common discovery debate, see Discoverer of the Americas.

The historical record indicates that when one culture is significantly more technologically advanced than the other, this side will be favored by the disruptive nature of conflict, often with dire consequences for the other society. The introduction of disease can also play a role and has worked to the advantages of both lesser technologically advanced and more technologically advanced societies, e.g. negatively for indigenous American civilizations and positively for Africans and some others.[1]

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  1. ^ See, for example, Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. The indigenous Americans, particularly in the Caribbean (and island peoples in general) lived in relative biological isolation compared to Europeans who were exposed to pathogens that spread across Eurasian trade routes. Africa had a similar but different internal interplay and was also exposed from the northeast to pathogens from Eurasia which worked until the late nineteenth century.