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Lands of Red and Gold ( http://www.alternatehistory.com/decadesofdarkness/ ) is an ongoing work of Alternate History by Jared, also the author of Decades of Darkness, and posted on Alternate History Dot Com. Its premise is that the serendipitous mutation of a native Australian plant during the Neolithic enabled the development of urban civilizations on the Australian landmass similar to those in China, the Middle East and Mesoamerica.
The timeline starts several millennia ago, when a tribe of Australian aborigines begins to domesticate a local crop called the red yam (Dioscorea chelidonius) in the Murray River basin. This results in the development of a sedentary culture based on irrigated agriculture and the raising of waterfowl. Gradually, the knowledge of agriculture spreads to neighboring tribes, and by 2500 BCE a genuine civilization emerges, complete with cities, complex social structures, and centralized political rule.
Over the following millennia this civilization waxes and wanes, evolves into newer forms, generates offshoots, and generally turns Australia into a different place from the one we know. The first contact with European explorers takes place in 1618, and from that moment world history is going to take a different course.
Lands of Red and Gold features the following tropes:
- Death World: Amazingly, Australia becomes even more of a Death World (at least, for Europeans) than it is in our universe; not only are all the usual suspects still there, but native diseases that the Aururians have built up resistance to are fatal to the Europeans. When the explorers bring them back home, they cause the equivalent of the European arrival to the New World, in reverse.
- For Want of a Nail: The mutation of a humble plant changes the history of a continent.
- Istanbul Not Constantinople: Australian toponyms are not the ones we are familiar with. The continent itself is known as Aururia.
- Kill'Em All: After the Aururian plagues strike the Old World, a large percentage of the historically important figures of the 1620s drop dead, from King Charles I of England to Cardinal Richelieu to almost the entire House of Hapsburg. This will obviously have significant effects in the long run.
- The Plague: This alternate Australia is home to deadly diseases that will be let loose upon the world after contact is made.
- Proud Merchant Race: The Nangu or Islanders, and also the Dutch (the two seem to recognise a certain commonality of purpose, despite their different cultures).
- Pyramid Power: A certain group of headhunters...
- Shown Their Work: Impressive amounts of research have gone into this timeline, and the author isn't afraid to let it show.