When Columbus "discovered" the New World, the Old World had little to no knowledge of it. What little was known was perhaps Greenland, and - based on accurate knowledge of the size of the world - a vast expanse of unknown between Europe and East Asia, which was assumed to be empty ocean until Columbus proved otherwise, setting off the Age of Discovery and the associated mania with finding unknown lands, some of which proved true (Australia, Antarctica).

At this time, what did the New World know of, or speculate about the Old World? They were reasonably advanced, for example the Mayans were very good at Astronomy, and so may have known the size of the world. If so, they would have realised they occupied a narrow strip of land surrounded by a vast, unknown expanse. Did they know this, and if so what did they speculate would be there?

  • Probably nothing. Only central and southern American cultures might have had some knowledge about the size of the earth, but even if they did, they never ventured out and could not tell what was across (if anything) the ocean, nor did they have any incentive to find out. Probably we don't even have any sources about what they thought on the matter, because there is so little written evidence. But i don't really know, don't take my word for it, and i'd love to be proven wrong.
    – Matthaeus
    Jan 21, 2015 at 13:55

1 Answer 1


How would you know this? For most tribes, being illiterate and having no writings, the only way would be to ask them, and of course by that time they would know about you, so you have spoiled the experiment, so to speak.

That said, the Mayans did have codices that recorded their myths and fables, notably the Popul Vuh, sometimes called "The Dawn of Life", in which their civilization was created by gods that came from the east over the sea. So, the Mayans at least definitely believed in a world beyond the sea, but this was a mythological belief, not firm knowledge.

  • I have edited the question to clarify that I am also interested in what they speculated was there, such as the Popul Vuh. Jan 21, 2015 at 23:50

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