Famously, when Columbus (and several other European explorers) landed in the New World, they thought they'd reached Asia. Hence, for example, our use of the word "Indians" for the local peoples. Even those who didn't believe Columbus's claim of being able to sail west to Asia must have questioned their beliefs for a moment: after all, he'd landed somewhere, and where could it be but Asia?

Eventually, though, it became obvious that it wasn't Asia, and the European powers got down to business exploring and claiming and colonizing and such.

But what exactly tipped them off? What were the things they pointed to and said, "I don't think this is Asia, because..." Were there Europeans who were well-travelled or well-educated enough to accurately know what China looked like, and to know that this wasn't it? Did they hear reports from the East along the lines of "We don't know who you're talking to, but it isn't us"? How did they know that the stories of magical lands to the East weren't simply exaggerated, or that they hadn't landed in a poor, unsettled equivalent of the Philippines, off the Asian coast?

How did the Europeans deduce that they'd discovered a new continent, rather than arriving in Asia?

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    Interesting follow-up question to Why did Christopher Columbus think he had arrived near Japan?. At the very least, improved clocks (Longitude Prize) would have forced the truth eventually. But I'm thinking they were clued on before that somehow. Nov 5, 2014 at 22:24
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    Remember that most educated Europeans were well aware that the Earth was most likely of much greater circumference than Columbus had convinced Queen Isabella of. Nov 5, 2014 at 22:25
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    @PieterGeerkens Indeed, improved longitude tracking (some precursor to that particular prize) would have the absolute last point at which the myth could have been maintained. Nov 5, 2014 at 22:29
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    @PieterGeerkens If you think you've travelled further (due to storms, trade winds, etc) than you have, you might still think you arrived in Asia until local qualities of land and people indicate otherwise. Nov 5, 2014 at 22:46
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    Actually the contemporaries of Columbus was aware that the Earth is round and had an approximation of circumference. Columbus's underestimated this value due to calculation mistakes, though India is closer, and that is why he though that the western ways is a good idea. However others had more realistic estimates. I guess it was suspicious from the start that he made some huge mistake.
    – Greg
    Nov 6, 2014 at 1:30