In my world, I would like to have a certain configuration and I wonder if it's plausible or not.

There is a continent with a climate similar to the Amazonian basin, covered by a very dense forest. This climate covers much of the continent. It is inhabited by natives tribal societies scattered around. The rest is made of different type of tropical and subtropical forests. I would like the continent to stay relatively unsettled.

The problem is that it's part of a bigger world. His close neighbour is a large continent with many civilizations. The most advanced of these countries have a level of advancement similar to 15th century Europe. These civilizations trade with other continents by the sea and some of the trading routes goes along the coast of the jungle continent. However, these people live in temperate climates and are not accustomed to the hot/humid weather. I guess they might establish some trading ports like the Europeans did when they began expansion in Africa, India and Asia but not much more.

  • Considering that some areas on the east coast are drier. They could be easier to settle.
  • The area is somewhere between 1,5 to 2 million sq km.

  • The continent has many unique species not found anywhere else because it was separated form the other landmasses long ago. It's different but there is nothing that is considered more dangerous than our own Amazon.

Is it plausible that this continent is still mostly unsettled and still populated by hunter-gatherers?

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    TL;DR of all these answers: it's impossible that they didn't even try, wouldn't make sense, but it's absolutely plausible that they tried and failed and gave up. You have to make up some good reason for this failure. – o0'. Feb 9 '15 at 10:55
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up vote 15 down vote accepted

1 word: Disease.

Disease is your friend in this instance. In the real world, the prevalence of disease in the temperate climates is, well, tempered by the arrival of winter every year, which kills lots of carrying vectors of disease.

The tropical parts of the world have no such protection, and, since humans have been living in tropical areas such as Africa for hundreds of thousands of years, local diseases are particularly well adapted to infect humans. For sailors and would be colonizers from Europe, unaccustomed to the local disease load, this was almost certain death. Crew losses due to disease during the 16th century ranged up to about half of the crew. (!)

Every fresh boatload of would-be colonizers would be struck just as hard. Europe did not make any serious inroads into Tropical Africa until after Pasteur's germ theory of disease laid the basis for thinking scientifically about combating disease. Even the survivors would be left weakened and at risk for the next bout of disease.

  • But could they eventually resist these diseases and if yes, how long could it take ? – Vincent Feb 9 '15 at 4:26
  • @Vincent, edited answer slightly to answer comment. – Serban Tanasa Feb 9 '15 at 4:34
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    Wasn't it exactly the opposite situation the felled the Aztec empire? – Samuel Feb 9 '15 at 5:12
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    A problem with the disease theory is that the explorers would take it back home, where it could run rampant through a population with no immunity. As happened with Columbus & syphilis, and probably several Roman-era plagues. One way to get around this would be to make the vector something that can't take cold winters, as with malaria-carrying mosquitos. – jamesqf Feb 9 '15 at 7:32
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    Oh, and if it's a 15th century culture... Well, just how much European settlement was there in the Amazon basin up until say the second half of the 20th century? – jamesqf Feb 9 '15 at 7:34

Its plausible, depending on your setting. As @SerbanTanasa pointed out, disease is a terrible thing.

But...

Another solution to make it harder to colonize would be to increase the danger-levels of the area, in a manner of speaking. What if the continent were like fantasy-Australia, basically smothered in dangerous creatures and feral wildlife? The poor disease-stricken sailors would have to fend off these wild creatures while being undermanned and underarmed. Even worse would be to make these creatures vectors for the aforementioned diseases!

Just make sure you leave a bit of meat on the bone for those poor playe- I mean sailors. Otherwise they might just give up entirely.

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    The dense vegetation is not ideal for large predator. But having a spider the size of a monkey would scare the hell out of them. – Vincent Feb 9 '15 at 4:48
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    @Vincent They don't need to be large to kill. They don't even need to be predators, your monkey-spiders for instance, or even nigh-invisible poisonous snakes. – Feaurie Vladskovitz Feb 9 '15 at 4:56
  • If we're modelling Australia, maybe make even small cute things, like platypuses, have poisonous barbs. Even the plants are hostile. The settlers can become paranoid that almost anything could kill them. Paranoid people can be very good at causing problems for themselves and others. – AlbeyAmakiir Feb 10 '15 at 0:05

Additionally to other answers providing difficults to the arrival of the colonizer or the stablishment of settlements, consider providing no them with no incentives to colonize:

  • colonizers find no valuable minerals.
  • the crops from their home don't adapt to the soil, native crops are wild and a bad for being cultivated.
  • difficult fisheries, catch is not appreciated by the colonizers.
  • In the wet climate, the animal furs are difficult to treat and most of them get spoiled.
  • Another possibility would be religion/superstition. Maybe the native wear colors and/or ornaments that, by pure luck1, to the colonizers are too similar to items that are tabu or related to evil gods.

Of course, you do not need to make all the continent without minerals, fertile soil, etc., but only a considerable chunk near the shores.

1: Or maybe not by luck, it could be a reminiscence of a long forgotten "first contact".

In addition to disease, and crazy bugs, you might consider Geographical Constraints as well.

If your continent is ringed by mountains, with the only gaps being violent discharges of the rivers (not smooth sailing), this could be prohibitive. One argument against this is the rain-shadow effect, so you'll have to devise a weather pattern that is either recycling itself over the continent (not likely), or other mechanisms, which do exist. Perhaps the mountains are just steep, but low (100m) cliffs, etc.

There would be little interest from the merchants to try to use resources from the interior of the continent, if it's a pain in the butt to extract them and haul them over low, steep mountains/cliffs or out via very turbulent river waters - maybe even waterfalls.

  • Btw, this is also a factor in Africa. Most rivers weren't navigable very far inland. – user3082 Feb 9 '15 at 9:36
  • Agreed, it was called the black continent, because it was hardly penetrated and so unknown, with so many geographical (and other) showstoppers - deserts, lack of at-the-time-needed resources, etc. – Mikey Feb 9 '15 at 9:38
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    Another significant geographical feature would be wind and ocean currents - put a sufficiently powerful current or wind in the way and it might become almost impossible to sail to this continent. – glenatron Feb 9 '15 at 16:02
  • Oh, very good, I hadn't thought of that. Trade currents & winds directed travel and colonization for a very long time. +1 and thanks. – Mikey Feb 9 '15 at 18:04

I'd suggest hazardous plants and creatures could work well here in addition to the other answers.

If virtually every spider can kill you. Fruit with really subtle differences might taste delicious, or might kill you with one bite, snakes that look like hanging creepers, etc.

The natives know what to avoid. What to eat, how and where to walk, what areas to avoid, etc.

Intruders without a native guide (or even with them since they have a history of assuming they know better and ignoring the guide) would quickly perish to these hazards that would seem obvious to a native who has grown up around them and may not even think to warn them.

"What do you mean he walked through there? Those are clearly Panam rushes. Look at the serrations and purple markings near the root. They scratched him? We've got 30 minutes to amputate both his legs or he's almost certainly going to die."

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