The term discovery is controversial as it implies a passivity on the part of indigenous populations, who were "found" by Europeans. This asymmetrical view denies an autonomous existence to indigenous populations before the arrival of Europeans. Since the early 1990s, historians have increasingly replaced the term "discovery" with "encounter", which is perceived as more neutral and implying a reciprocity rather than the subject-object relationship implied by the term "discovery". The term "encounter" is also free of the ideological connotations that terms such as "conquest" and "expansion" imply, and "encounter" is compatible with a transcultural approach to global history. The adoption of a more neutral term does not, however, alter the fact that a process of European penetration into regions of the world previously unknown to Europeans did occur, and through this process Europeans "discovered" for themselves new species and ecosystems, and new peoples and societies. During this process, European perceptions of the encountered "others" were dominated from the outset by a hierarchical perspective. "Diversity" in the sense of divergence from European norms usually implied "inferiority". "Otherness" was associated in the minds of Europeans with lower levels in the hierarchy of civilization.
In the second half of the 15th century, Europe entered an age of discovery which resulted in new, increasingly dense relationships with territories and populations all over the world. This also involved geographical, geological and other discoveries, as knowledge of the shape and layout of the world and the location of resources entered the Western consciousness. But there was also an important ethno-anthropological aspect to the discoveries, as the variety of peoples and forms of social organization affected European reflections on human society, culture, religion, government and