Pre-Columbian era

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The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continent, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the Early Modern period.

Archaeology of the Americas Study of the archaeology of North, Central and South America and the Caribbean

The archaeology of the Americas is the study of the archaeology of North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. This includes the study of pre-historic/Pre-Columbian and historic indigenous American peoples, as well as historical archaeology of more recent eras.

History of the Americas aspect of history

The prehistory of the Americas begins with people migrating to these areas from Asia during the height of an Ice Age. These groups are generally believed to have been isolated from the people of the "Old World" until the coming of Europeans in the 10th century from Iceland led by Leif Erikson and with the voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

Upper Paleolithic Subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age

The Upper Paleolithic is the third and last subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. Very broadly, it dates to between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago, according to some theories coinciding with the appearance of behavioral modernity in early modern humans, until the advent of the Neolithic Revolution and agriculture.

Contents

While the phrase "pre-Columbian era" literally refers only to the time preceding Christopher Columbus's voyages of 1492, in practice the phrase is usually used to denote the entire history of indigenous American cultures until those cultures were extinguished, diminished, or extensively altered by Europeans, even if this happened long after Columbus. The alternative terms precontact, precolonial, or prehistoric Americas are also used; in Latin America, the usual term is pre-Hispanic.

Christopher Columbus Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer

Christopher Columbus was an Italian navigator and colonist who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon. While pursuing a route to the Far East, he discovered a viable sailing route to the Americas, then unknown to the Old World. He led the first European expeditions to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, initiating the opening of the New World for conquest and settlement by Europeans and the permanent European colonization of the Americas.

Indigenous peoples of the Americas Pre-Columbian inhabitants of North, Central and South America and their descendants

The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian peoples of North, Central and South America and their descendants.

Ethnocide refers to extermination of national culture as a genocide component.

Many pre-Columbian civilizations were marked by permanent settlements, cities, agriculture, civic and monumental architecture, major earthworks, and complex societal hierarchies. Some of these civilizations had long faded by the time of the first permanent European colonies and the arrival of enslaved Africans (c. late 16th–early 17th centuries), [1] and are known only through archaeological investigations and oral history. Other civilizations were contemporary with the colonial period and were described in European historical accounts of the time. A few, such as the Maya civilization, had their own written records. Because many Christian Europeans of the time viewed such texts as pagan, men like Diego de Landa burned them, even while seeking to preserve native histories. Only a few hidden documents have survived in their original languages, while others were transcribed or dictated into Spanish, giving modern historians glimpses of ancient culture and knowledge.

Civilization Complex state society

A civilization or civilisation is any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification imposed by a cultural elite, symbolic systems of communication, and a perceived separation from and domination over the natural environment.

Agriculture Cultivation of plants and animals to provide useful products

Agriculture is the science and art of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago. After gathering wild grains beginning at least 105,000 years ago, nascent farmers began to plant them around 11,500 years ago. Pigs, sheep and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Plants were independently cultivated in at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture in the twentieth century came to dominate agricultural output, though about 2 billion people still depended on subsistence agriculture into the twenty-first.

Monument type of structure either explicitly created to commemorate a person or important event, or used for that purpose

A monument is a type of—usually three-dimensional—structure that was explicitly created to commemorate a person or event, or which has become relevant to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage, due to its artistic, historical, political, technical or architectural importance. Examples of monuments include statues, (war) memorials, historical buildings, archaeological sites, and cultural assets. If there is a public interest in its preservation, a monument can for example be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Many indigenous American peoples continue traditional practices while evolving and adapting to the modern world.

Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merging or assimilation of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths. Syncretism also occurs commonly in expressions of arts and culture as well as politics.

Modern history Era from ca. 1500 until present

Modern history, the modern period or the modern era, is the linear, global, historiographical approach to the time frame after post-classical history. Modern history can be further broken down into periods:

Historiography

Before the development of archaeology in the 19th century, historians of the pre-Columbian period mainly interpreted the records of the European conquerors and the accounts of early European travelers and antiquaries. It was not until the nineteenth century that the work of men such as John Lloyd Stephens, Eduard Seler and Alfred P. Maudslay, and of institutions such as the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology of Harvard University, led to the reconsideration and criticism of the European sources. Now, the scholarly study of pre-Columbian cultures is most often based on scientific and multidisciplinary methodologies. [2]

John Lloyd Stephens American explorer, writer, and diplomat

John Lloyd Stephens was an American explorer, writer, and diplomat. Stephens was a pivotal figure in the rediscovery of Maya civilization throughout Middle America and in the planning of the Panama railroad.

Eduard Seler German academic

Eduard Georg Seler was a prominent German anthropologist, ethnohistorian, linguist, epigrapher, academic and Americanist scholar, who made extensive contributions in these fields towards the study of pre-Columbian era cultures in the Americas. He is most renowned for his foundational studies concerning the ethnography, documents and history of Mesoamerican cultures, for which he is regarded as one of the most influential Mesoamericanist scholars active around the turn of the 20th century. Seler laid many fundamentals in understanding and deciphering the aztec pictorial script. A main contribution was the re-discovery and analysis of the basic aztec calendar system: the existence of two aztec calendars, a 365-day solar profane resp. a 263-day lunar religious calendar. He also noted from the sources, that the ceremonial killing victim figures alleged by Spanish priests and military in their chronicles were most probably vastly exaggerated propaganda. Much later, that was confirmed by excavations end of the 20th century.

Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Archaeology museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology is a museum affiliated with Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Founded in 1866, the Peabody Museum is one of the oldest and largest museums focusing on anthropological material, with particular focus on the ethnography and archaeology of the Americas. The museum is caretaker to over 1.2 million objects, some 900 linear feet of documents, 2,000 maps and site plans, and approximately 500,000 photographs. The museum is located at Divinity Avenue on the Harvard University campus. The museum is one of the four Harvard Museums of Science & Culture open to the public.

Settlement of the Americas

Asian nomads are thought to have entered the Americas via the Bering Land Bridge (Beringia), now the Bering Strait, and possibly along the coast. Genetic evidence found in Amerindians' maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) supports the theory of multiple genetic populations migrating from Asia. [3] [4] Over the course of millennia, Paleo-Indians spread throughout North and South America. Exactly when the first people migrated into the Americas is the subject of much debate. One of the earliest identifiable cultures was the Clovis culture, with sites dating from some 13,000 years ago. However, older sites dating back to 20,000 years ago have been claimed. Some genetic studies estimate the colonization of the Americas dates from between 40,000 and 13,000 years ago. [5] The chronology of migration models is currently divided into two general approaches. The first is the short chronology theory with the first movement beyond Alaska into the Americas occurring no earlier than 14,000–17,000 years ago, followed by successive waves of immigrants. [6] [7] [8] [9] The second belief is the long chronology theory, which proposes that the first group of people entered the hemisphere at a much earlier date, possibly 50,000–40,000 years ago or earlier. [10] [11] [12] [13]

Americas Landmass comprising North America, Central America and South America

The Americas comprise the totality of the continents of North and South America. Together, they make up most of the land in Earth's western hemisphere and comprise the New World.

Bering Strait strait between Russia and Alaska, United States

The Bering Strait is a strait of the Pacific, which separates Russia and Alaska slightly south of the Arctic Circle at about 65° 40' N latitude. The present Russia-US east-west boundary is at 168° 58' 37" W. The Strait is named after Vitus Bering, an explorer in the service of the Russian Empire.

Mitochondrial DNA DNA located in cellular organelles called mitochondria

Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in mitochondria, cellular organelles within eukaryotic cells that convert chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Mitochondrial DNA is only a small portion of the DNA in a eukaryotic cell; most of the DNA can be found in the cell nucleus and, in plants and algae, also in plastids such as chloroplasts.

Artifacts have been found in both North and South America which have been dated to 14,000 years ago, [14] and accordingly humans have been proposed to have reached Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America by this time. In that case, the Eskimo peoples would have arrived separately and at a much later date, probably no more than 2,000 years ago, moving across the ice from Siberia into Alaska.

North America

Archaic period

Simplified map of subsistence methods in the Americas at 1000 BCE
hunter-gatherers
simple farming societies
complex farming societies (tribal chiefdoms or civilizations) Ameicas 1000 BCE crop.png
Simplified map of subsistence methods in the Americas at 1000 BCE
  complex farming societies (tribal chiefdoms or civilizations)

The North American climate was unstable as the ice age receded. It finally stabilized by about 10,000 years ago; climatic conditions were then very similar to today's. [15] Within this time frame, roughly pertaining to the Archaic Period, numerous archaeological cultures have been identified.

The unstable climate led to widespread migration, with early Paleo-Indians soon spreading throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct tribes. [16] The Paleo-Indians were hunter-gatherers, likely characterized by small, mobile bands consisting of approximately 20 to 50 members of an extended family. These groups moved from place to place as preferred resources were depleted and new supplies were sought. [17] During much of the Paleo-Indian period, bands are thought to have subsisted primarily through hunting now-extinct giant land animals such as mastodon and ancient bison. [18] Paleo-Indian groups carried a variety of tools, including distinctive projectile points and knives, as well as less distinctive butchering and hide-scraping implements.

The vastness of the North American continent, and the variety of its climates, ecology, vegetation, fauna, and landforms, led ancient peoples to coalesce into many distinct linguistic and cultural groups. [19] This is reflected in the oral histories of the indigenous peoples, described by a wide range of traditional creation stories which often say that a given people have been living in a certain territory since the creation of the world.

Over the course of thousands of years, paleo-Indian people domesticated, bred and cultivated a number of plant species, including crops which now constitute 50–60% of worldwide agriculture. [20] In general, Arctic, Subarctic, and coastal peoples continued to live as hunters and gatherers, while agriculture was adopted in more temperate and sheltered regions, permitting a dramatic rise in population. [15]

Middle Archaic period

Major cultural areas of the pre-Columbian Americas:      Arctic Northwest Aridoamerica Mesoamerica Isthmo-Colombian Caribbean Amazon Andes PreColumbian American cultures.png
Major cultural areas of the pre-Columbian Americas:      Arctic     Northwest     Aridoamerica     Mesoamerica     Isthmo-Colombian     Caribbean     Amazon     Andes

After the migration or migrations, it was several thousand years before the first complex societies arose, the earliest emerging about seven to eight thousand years ago.[ citation needed ] As early as 6500 BCE, people in the Lower Mississippi Valley at the Monte Sano site were building complex earthwork mounds, probably for religious purposes. This is the earliest dated of numerous mound complexes found in present-day Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida. Since the late twentieth century, archeologists have explored and dated these sites. They have found that they were built by hunter-gatherer societies, whose people occupied the sites on a seasonal basis, and who had not yet developed ceramics. Watson Brake, a large complex of eleven platform mounds, was constructed beginning 3400 BCE and added to over 500 years. This has changed earlier assumptions that complex construction arose only after societies had adopted agriculture, become sedentary, with stratified hierarchy and usually ceramics. These ancient people had organized to build complex mound projects under a different social structure.

Late Archaic period

Artist's reconstruction of Poverty Point, 1500 BCE Poverty Point Aerial HRoe 2014.jpg
Artist's reconstruction of Poverty Point, 1500 BCE

Until the accurate dating of Watson Brake and similar sites, the oldest mound complex was thought to be Poverty Point, also located in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Built about 1500 BCE, it is the centerpiece of a culture extending over 100 sites on both sides of the Mississippi. The Poverty Point site has earthworks in the form of six concentric half-circles, divided by radial aisles, together with some mounds. The entire complex is nearly a mile across.

Mound building was continued by succeeding cultures, who built numerous sites in the middle Mississippi and Ohio River valleys as well, adding effigy mounds, conical and ridge mounds and other shapes.

Woodland period

Hopewell mounds from the Mound City Group in Ohio Mound City Chillicothe Ohio HRoe 2008.jpg
Hopewell mounds from the Mound City Group in Ohio

The Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures lasted from roughly 1000 BCE to 1000 CE. The term was coined in the 1930s and refers to prehistoric sites between the Archaic period and the Mississippian cultures. The Adena culture and the ensuing Hopewell tradition during this period built monumental earthwork architecture and established continent-spanning trade and exchange networks.

In the Great Plains, this period is called the Plains Woodland period.

This period is considered a developmental stage without any massive changes in a short period, but instead having a continuous development in stone and bone tools, leather working, textile manufacture, tool production, cultivation, and shelter construction. Some Woodland peoples continued to use spears and atlatls until the end of the period, when they were replaced by bows and arrows.

Mississippian culture

Cahokia, the largest Mississippian culture site Cahokia Aerial HRoe 2015.jpg
Cahokia, the largest Mississippian culture site

The Mississippian culture was spread across the Southeast and Midwest from the Atlantic coast to the edge of the plains, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Upper Midwest, although most intensively in the area along the Mississippi River and Ohio River. One of the distinguishing features of this culture was the construction of complexes of large earthen mounds and grand plazas, continuing the moundbuilding traditions of earlier cultures. They grew maize and other crops intensively, participated in an extensive trade network and had a complex stratified society. The Mississippians first appeared around 1000 CE, following and developing out of the less agriculturally intensive and less centralized Woodland period. The largest urban site of this people, Cahokia—located near modern East St. Louis, Illinois—may have reached a population of over 20,000. Other chiefdoms were constructed throughout the Southeast, and its trade networks reached to the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. At its peak, between the 12th and 13th centuries, Cahokia was the most populous city in North America. (Larger cities did exist in Mesoamerica and South America.) Monk's Mound, the major ceremonial center of Cahokia, remains the largest earthen construction of the prehistoric Americas. The culture reached its peak in about 1200–1400 CE, and in most places, it seems to have been in decline before the arrival of Europeans.

Many Mississippian peoples were encountered by the expedition of Hernando de Soto in the 1540s, mostly with disastrous results for both sides. Unlike the Spanish expeditions in Mesoamerica, who conquered vast empires with relatively few men, the de Soto expedition wandered the American Southeast for four years, becoming more bedraggled, losing more men and equipment, and eventually arriving in Mexico as a fraction of its original size. The local people fared much worse though, as the fatalities of diseases introduced by the expedition devastated the populations and produced much social disruption. By the time Europeans returned a hundred years later, nearly all of the Mississippian groups had vanished, and vast swaths of their territory were virtually uninhabited. [21]

Historic tribes

Cultural areas of pre-Columbian North America Nordamerikanische Kulturareale en.png
Cultural areas of pre-Columbian North America

When the Europeans arrived, indigenous peoples of North America had a wide range of lifeways from sedentary, agrarian societies to semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer societies. Many formed new tribes or confederations in response to European colonization. These are often classified by cultural regions, loosely based on geography. These can include the following:

Numerous pre-Columbian societies were sedentary, such as the Pueblo peoples, Mandan, Hidatsa and others, and some established large settlements, even cities, such as Cahokia, in what is now Illinois. The Iroquois League of Nations or "People of the Long House" was a politically advanced, democratic society, which is thought by some historians to have influenced the United States Constitution, [22] [23] with the Senate passing a resolution to this effect in 1988. [24] Other historians have contested this interpretation and believe the impact was minimal, or did not exist, pointing to numerous differences between the two systems and the ample precedents for the constitution in European political thought. [25] [26] [27]

Mesoamerica

One of the pyramids in the upper level of Yaxchilan Yaxchilan 1.jpg
One of the pyramids in the upper level of Yaxchilán

Mesoamerica is the region extending from central Mexico south to the northwestern border of Costa Rica that gave rise to a group of stratified, culturally related agrarian civilizations spanning an approximately 3,000-year period before the visits to the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus. Mesoamerican is the adjective generally used to refer to that group of pre-Columbian cultures. This refers to an environmental area occupied by an assortment of ancient cultures that shared religious beliefs, art, architecture, and technology in the Americas for more than three thousand years. Between 2000 and 300 BCE, complex cultures began to form in Mesoamerica. Some matured into advanced pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Olmec, Teotihuacan, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huastec, Purepecha, Toltec, and Mexica/Aztecs. The Mexica civilization is also known as the Aztec Triple Alliance, since they were three smaller kingdoms loosely united together. [28]

Atlantes at Tula, Hidalgo Telamones Tula.jpg
Atlantes at Tula, Hidalgo

These indigenous civilizations are credited with many inventions: building pyramid-temples, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, writing, highly accurate calendars, fine arts, intensive agriculture, engineering, an abacus calculator, and complex theology. They also invented the wheel, but it was used solely as a toy. In addition, they used native copper, silver and gold for metalworking.

Archaic inscriptions on rocks and rock walls all over northern Mexico (especially in the state of Nuevo León) demonstrate an early propensity for counting. Their number system was base 20 and included zero. These early count-markings were associated with astronomical events and underscore the influence that astronomical activities had upon Mesoamerican people before the arrival of Europeans. Many of the later Mesoamerican civilizations carefully built their cities and ceremonial centers according to specific astronomical events.

The biggest Mesoamerican cities, such as Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan, and Cholula, were among the largest in the world. These cities grew as centers of commerce, ideas, ceremonies, and theology, and they radiated influence outwards onto neighboring cultures in central Mexico.

While many city-states, kingdoms, and empires competed with one another for power and prestige, Mesoamerica can be said to have had five major civilizations: the Olmec, Teotihuacan, the Toltec, the Mexica and the Maya. These civilizations (with the exception of the politically fragmented Maya) extended their reach across Mesoamerica—and beyond—like no others. They consolidated power and distributed influence in matters of trade, art, politics, technology, and theology. Other regional power players made economic and political alliances with these civilizations over the span of 4,000 years. Many made war with them, but almost all peoples found themselves within one of their spheres of influence.

Regional communications in ancient Mesoamerica have been the subject of considerable research. There is evidence of trade routes starting as far north as the Mexico Central Plateau, and going down to the Pacific coast. These trade routes and cultural contacts then went on as far as Central America. These networks operated with various interruptions from pre-Olmec times and up to the Late Classical Period (600–900 CE).

Olmec civilization

The earliest known civilization is the Olmec. This civilization established the cultural blueprint by which all succeeding indigenous civilizations would follow in Mexico. Pre-Olmec civilization began with the production of pottery in abundance, around 2300 BCE in the Grijalva River delta. Between 1600 and 1500 BCE, the Olmec civilization had begun, with the consolidation of power at their capital, a site today known as San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán near the coast in southeast Veracruz. [29] The Olmec influence extended across Mexico, into Central America, and along the Gulf of Mexico. They transformed many peoples' thinking toward a new way of government, pyramid-temples, writing, astronomy, art, mathematics, economics, and religion. Their achievements paved the way for the Maya civilization and the civilizations in central Mexico.

Teotihuacan civilization

The decline of the Olmec resulted in a power vacuum in Mexico. Emerging from that vacuum was Teotihuacan, first settled in 300 BCE. By 150 CE, Teotihuacan had risen to become the first true metropolis of what is now called North America. Teotihuacan established a new economic and political order never before seen in Mexico. Its influence stretched across Mexico into Central America, founding new dynasties in the Maya cities of Tikal, Copan, and Kaminaljuyú. Teotihuacan's influence over the Maya civilization cannot be overstated: it transformed political power, artistic depictions, and the nature of economics. Within the city of Teotihuacan was a diverse and cosmopolitan population. Most of the regional ethnicities of Mexico were represented in the city, such as Zapotecs from the Oaxaca region. They lived in apartment communities where they worked their trades and contributed to the city's economic and cultural prowess. Teotihuacan's economic pull impacted areas in northern Mexico as well. It was a city whose monumental architecture reflected a monumental new era in Mexican civilization, declining in political power about 650 CE—but lasting in cultural influence for the better part of a millennium, to around 950 CE.

Maya architecture at Uxmal Uxmal-mexico.jpg
Maya architecture at Uxmal

Tarascan/Purepecha Civilization

Initially, the lands that would someday comprise the lands of the powerful Tarascan Empire were inhabited by several independent communities. Around 1300, however, the first Cazonci, Tariacuri, united these communities and built them into one of the most advanced civilizations in Mesoamerica. Their capital at Tzintzuntzan was just one of the many cities—there were ninety more under its control. The Tarascan Empire was among the largest in Central America, so it is no surprise that they routinely came into conflict with the neighboring Aztec Empire. Out of all the civilizations in its area, the Tarascan Empire was the most prominent in metallurgy, harnessing copper, silver, and gold to create items such as tools, decorations, and even weapons and armor. Bronze was also used. The great victories over the Aztecs by the Tarascans cannot be understated. Nearly every war they fought in resulted in a Tarascan victory. Because the Tarascan Empire had little links to the former Toltec Empire, they were also quite independent in culture from their neighbors. The Aztecs, Tlaxcalans, Olmec, Mixtec, Maya, and others were very similar to each other, however. This is because they were all directly preceded by the Toltecs, and they therefore shared almost identical cultures. The Tarascans, however, possessed a unique religion, as well as other things.

Maya civilization

Contemporary with Teotihuacan's greatness was that of the Maya civilization. The period between 250 CE and 650 CE was a time of intense flourishing of Maya civilized accomplishments. While the many Maya city-states never achieved political unity on the order of the central Mexican civilizations, they exerted a tremendous intellectual influence upon Mexico and Central America. The Maya built some of the most elaborate cities on the continent, and made innovations in mathematics, astronomy, and calendrics. The Maya also developed the only true writing system native to the Americas using pictographs and syllabic elements in the form of texts and codices inscribed on stone, pottery, wood, or perishable books made from bark paper.

Aztec/Mexica/Triple Alliance civilization

With the decline of the Toltec civilization came political fragmentation in the Valley of Mexico. Into this new political game of contenders to the Toltec throne stepped outsiders: the Mexica. They were also a desert people, one of seven groups who formerly called themselves "Azteca", in memory of Aztlán, but they changed their name after years of migrating. Since they were not from the Valley of Mexico, they were initially seen as crude and unrefined in the ways of Nahua civilization. Through political maneuvers and ferocious martial skill, they managed to rule Mexico as the head of the 'Triple Alliance' which included two other Aztec cities, Texcoco and Tlacopan.

Latecomers to Mexico's central plateau, the Mexica thought of themselves, nevertheless, as heirs of the civilizations that had preceded them. For them, arts, sculpture, architecture, engraving, feather-mosaic work, and the calendar, were bequest from the former inhabitants of Tula, the Toltecs.

The Mexica-Aztecs were the rulers of much of central Mexico by about 1400 (while Yaquis, Coras and Apaches commanded sizable regions of northern desert), having subjugated most of the other regional states by the 1470s. At their peak, 300,000 Mexica[ citation needed ] presided over a wealthy tribute-empire variously estimated at 5–8 million people in total a population of 8–12 million. The actual population is never more than an estimate. The modern name "Mexico" comes from their name.

Their capital, Tenochtitlan, is the site of modern-day Mexico City. At its peak, it was one of the largest cities in the world with population estimates of 200–300,000. [30] The market established there was the largest ever seen by the conquistadors on arrival.

South America

Geoglyphs on deforested land in the Amazon rainforest Fazenda Colorada.jpg
Geoglyphs on deforested land in the Amazon rainforest
Muisca raft. The figure refers to the ceremony of the legend of El Dorado. Gold Museum, Bogota (36145671394).jpg
Muisca raft. The figure refers to the ceremony of the legend of El Dorado.

By the first millennium, South America's vast rainforests, mountains, plains, and coasts were the home of millions of people. Estimates vary, but 30–50 million are often given and 100 million by some estimates. Some groups formed permanent settlements. Among those groups were Chibcha-speaking peoples ("Muisca" or "Muysca"), Valdivia, Quimbaya, Calima and the Tairona. The Muisca of Colombia, postdating the Herrera Period, Valdivia of Ecuador, the Quechuas and the Aymara of Peru and Bolivia were the four most important sedentary Amerindian groups in South America. From the 1970s, numerous geoglyphs have been discovered on deforested land in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil, supporting Spanish accounts of a complex, possibly ancient Amazonian civilization. [31] [32]

The theory of pre-Columbian contact across the South Pacific Ocean between South America and Polynesia has received support from several lines of evidence, although solid confirmation remains elusive. A diffusion by human agents has been put forward to explain the pre-Columbian presence in Oceania of several cultivated plant species native to South America, such as the bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) or sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). Direct archaeological evidence for such pre-Columbian contacts and transport has not emerged. Similarities noted in names of edible roots in Maori and Ecuadorian languages ("kumari") and Melanesian and Chilean ("gaddu") have been inconclusive. [33]

A 2007 paper published in PNAS put forward DNA and archaeological evidence that domesticated chickens had been introduced into South America via Polynesia by late pre-Columbian times. [34] These findings were challenged by a later study published in the same journal, that cast doubt on the dating calibration used and presented alternative mtDNA analyses that disagreed with a Polynesian genetic origin. [35] The origin and dating remains an open issue. Whether or not early Polynesian–American exchanges occurred, no compelling human-genetic, archaeological, cultural or linguistic legacy of such contact has turned up.

Norte Chico civilization

The ancient city of Caral Caral-Supe in Peru.jpg
The ancient city of Caral

On the north-central coast of present-day Peru, Norte Chico or Caral (as known in Peru) was a civilization that emerged around 3000 BCE (contemporary with urbanism's rise in Mesopotamia.) It is considered one of the cradles of civilization in the world. [28] It had a cluster of large-scale urban settlements of which the Sacred City of Caral, in the Supe valley, is one of the largest and best studied sites. Norte Chico or Caral is the oldest known civilization in the Americas and persisted until around 1800 BCE.[ citation needed ]

Valdivia culture

The Valdivia culture was concentrated on the coast of Ecuador. Their existence was recently discovered by archeological findings. Their culture is among the oldest found in the Americas, spanning from 3500 to 1800 BCE. The Valdivia lived in a community of houses built in a circle or oval around a central plaza. They were sedentary people who lived off farming and fishing, though occasionally they hunted for deer. From the remains that have been found, scholars have determined that Valdivians cultivated maize, kidney beans, squash, cassava, hot peppers, and cotton plants, the last of which was used to make clothing. Valdivian pottery initially was rough and practical, but it became showy, delicate, and big over time. They generally used red and gray colors; and the polished dark red pottery is characteristic of the Valdivia period. In its ceramics and stone works, the Valdivia culture shows a progression from the most simple to much more complicated works.

Cañari people

The Cañari were the indigenous natives of today's Ecuadorian provinces of Cañar and Azuay. They were an elaborate civilization with advanced architecture and complex religious beliefs. The Inca destroyed and burned most of their remains. The Cañari's old city was replaced twice, first by the Incan city of Tumebamba and later on the same site by the colonial city of Cuenca. The city was also believed to be the site of El Dorado, the city of gold from the mythology of Colombia. (see Cuenca)

The Cañari were most notable for having repelled the Incan invasion with fierce resistance for many years until they fell to Tupac Yupanqui. Many of their descendants are still present in Cañar. The majority did not mix with the colonists or become Mestizos.

Larco Museum houses the largest private collection of pre-Columbian art. Lima, Peru. Museolarco.jpg
Larco Museum houses the largest private collection of pre-Columbian art. Lima, Peru.

Chavín civilization

The Chavín, a Peruvian preliterate civilization, established a trade network and developed agriculture by 900 BCE, according to some estimates and archeological finds. Artifacts were found at a site called Chavín in modern Peru at an elevation of 3,177 meters. The Chavín civilization spanned from 900 to 300 BCE.

Muisca people

The Chibcha-speaking communities were the most numerous, the most territorially extended and the most socio-economically developed of the pre-Hispanic Colombians. By the 8th century, the indigenous people had established their civilization in the northern Andes. At one point, the Chibchas occupied part of what is now Panama, and the high plains of the Eastern Sierra of Colombia.

The areas which they occupied in Colombia were the present-day Departments of Santander (North and South), Boyacá and Cundinamarca. This is where the first farms and industries were developed. It is also where the independence movement originated. They are currently the richest areas in Colombia. The Chibcha developed the most populous zone between the Maya region and the Inca Empire. Next to the Quechua of Peru and the Aymara in Bolivia, the Chibcha of the eastern and north-eastern Highlands of Colombia developed the most notable culture among the sedentary indigenous peoples in South America.

In the Colombian Andes, the Chibcha comprised several tribes who spoke similar languages (Chibcha). They included the following: the Muisca, Guane, Lache, Cofán, and Chitareros.

Moche civilization

The Moche thrived on the north coast of Peru from about 100 to 800 CE. The heritage of the Moche is seen in their elaborate burials. Some were recently excavated by UCLA's Christopher B. Donnan in association with the National Geographic Society.

As skilled artisans, the Moche were a technologically advanced people. They traded with distant peoples such as the Maya. What has been learned about the Moche is based on study of their ceramic pottery; the carvings reveal details of their daily lives. The Larco Museum of Lima, Peru has an extensive collection of such ceramics. They show that the people practiced human sacrifice, had blood-drinking rituals, and that their religion incorporated non-procreative sexual practices (such as fellatio).

Tiwanaku Empire

Gate of the Sun in Tiwanaku Zonnepoort tiwanaku.jpg
Gate of the Sun in Tiwanaku

The Tiwanaku empire was based in western Bolivia and extended into present-day Peru and Chile from 300 to 1000. Tiwanaku is recognized by Andean scholars as one of the most important South American civilizations prior to the birth of the Inca Empire in Peru; it was the ritual and administrative capital of a major state power for approximately five hundred years. The ruins of the ancient city state are near the south-eastern shore of Lake Titicaca in Tiwanaku Municipality, Ingavi Province, La Paz Department, about 72 kilometres (45 mi) west of La Paz.

Inca Empire

Holding their capital at the great cougar-shaped city of Cuzco, Peru, the Inca civilization dominated the Andes region from 1438 to 1533. Known as Tawantinsuyu, or "the land of the four regions", in Quechua, the Inca civilization was highly distinct and developed. Inca rule extended to nearly a hundred linguistic or ethnic communities, some 9 to 14 million people connected by a 40,000 kilometer road system. Cities were built with precise stonework, constructed over many levels of mountain terrain. Terrace farming was a useful form of agriculture. There is evidence of excellent metalwork and even successful brain surgery in Inca civilization.

95 - Machu Picchu - Juin 2009.jpg
The iconic Machu Picchu, symbol of the Inca civilization.

Cambeba

Also known as the Omagua, Umana and Kambeba, the Cambeba are an indigenous people in Brazil's Amazon basin. The Cambeba were a populous, organized society in the late Pre-Columbian era whose population suffered steep decline in the early years of the Columbian Exchange. The Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana traversed the Amazon River during the 16th century and reported densely populated regions running hundreds of kilometers along the river. These populations left no lasting monuments, possibly because they used local wood as their construction material as stone was not locally available. While it is possible Orellana may have exaggerated the level of development among the Amazonians, their semi-nomadic descendants have the odd distinction among tribal indigenous societies of a hereditary, yet landless, aristocracy. Archaeological evidence has revealed the continued presence of semi-domesticated orchards, as well as vast areas of land enriched with terra preta. Both of these discoveries, along with Cambeba ceramics discovered within the same archaeological levels suggest that a large and organized civilization existed in the area. [36]

Agricultural development

Early inhabitants of the Americas developed agriculture, developing and breeding maize (corn) from ears 2–5 cm in length to the current size are familiar today. Potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos (a husked green tomato), pumpkins, chili peppers, squash, beans, pineapple, sweet potatoes, the grains quinoa and amaranth, cocoa beans, vanilla, onion, peanuts, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, papaya, and avocados were among other plants grown by natives. Over two-thirds of all types of food crops grown worldwide are native to the Americas.[ citation needed ]

The natives began using fire in a widespread manner. Intentional burning of vegetation was taken up to mimic the effects of natural fires that tended to clear forest understories, thereby making travel easier and facilitating the growth of herbs and berry-producing plants that were important for both food and medicines. This created the Pre-Columbian savannas of North America. [37]

While not as widespread as in other areas of the world (Asia, Africa, Europe), indigenous Americans did have livestock. Domesticated turkeys were common in Mesoamerica and in some regions of North America; they were valued for their meat, feathers, and, possibly, eggs. There is documentation of Mesoamericans utilizing hairless dogs, especially the Xoloitzcuintle breed, for their meat. Andean societies had llamas and alpacas for meat and wool, as well as for beasts of burden. Guinea pigs were raised for meat in the Andes. Iguanas and a range of wild animals, such as deer and pecari, were another source of meat in Mexico, Central, and northern South America.

By the 15th century, maize had been transmitted from Mexico and was being farmed in the Mississippi embayment, as far as the East Coast of the United States, and as far north as southern Canada. Potatoes were utilized by the Inca, and chocolate was used by the Aztecs.

Genetics

Schematic illustration of maternal (mtDNA) gene-flow in and out of Beringia, from 25,000 years ago to present. Map of gene flow in and out of Beringia.jpg
Schematic illustration of maternal (mtDNA) gene-flow in and out of Beringia, from 25,000 years ago to present.

The haplogroup most commonly associated with Indigenous Amerindian genetics is Haplogroup Q1a3a (Y-DNA). [38] Y-DNA, like mtDNA, differs from other nuclear chromosomes in that the majority of the Y chromosome is unique and does not recombine during meiosis. This has the effect that the historical pattern of mutations can easily be studied. [39] The pattern indicates Indigenous Amerindians experienced two very distinctive genetic episodes; first with the initial-peopling of the Americas, and secondly with European colonization of the Americas. [40] [41] The former is the determinant factor for the number of gene lineages and founding haplotypes present in today's Indigenous Amerindian populations. [41]

Human settlement of the Americas occurred in stages from the Bering sea coast line, with an initial 20,000-year layover on Beringia for the founding population. [42] [43] The micro-satellite diversity and distributions of the Y lineage specific to South America indicates that certain Amerindian populations have been isolated since the initial colonization of the region. [44] The Na-Dené, Inuit and Indigenous Alaskan populations exhibit haplogroup Q-M242 (Y-DNA) mutations, however are distinct from other indigenous Amerindians with various mtDNA mutations. [45] [46] [47] This suggests that the earliest migrants into the northern extremes of North America and Greenland derived from later populations. [48]

See also

Related Research Articles

Olmecs Mesoamerican civilization

The Olmecs were the earliest known major civilization in Mesoamerica following a progressive development in Soconusco. They lived in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, in the present-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco. It has been speculated that the Olmecs derive in part from neighboring Mokaya or Mixe–Zoque.

The Huastec or Téenek, are an indigenous people of Mexico, living in the La Huasteca region including the states of Hidalgo, Veracruz, San Luis Potosí and Tamaulipas concentrated along the route of the Pánuco River and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

La Venta archaeological site

La Venta is a pre-Columbian archaeological site of the Olmec civilization located in the present-day Mexican state of Tabasco. Some of the artifacts have been moved to the museum "Parque - Museo de La Venta", which is in nearby Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco.

Mesoamerican chronology Divides the history of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica into several periods

Mesoamerican chronology divides the history of prehispanic Mesoamerica into several periods: the Paleo-Indian, the Archaic, the Preclassic or Formative (2500 BCE–250 CE), the Classic (250–900 CE), and the Postclassic (900–1521 CE), Colonial (1521–1821), and Postcolonial (1821–present). The periodization of Mesoamerica is based on archaeological, ethnohistorical, and modern cultural anthropology research. The endeavor to create cultural histories of Mesoamerica dates to the early twentieth century, with ongoing work by archeologists, ethnohistorians, historians, and cultural anthropologists.

Mesoamerican languages languages indigenous to the Mesoamerican cultural area; not genetically related; includes 6 major families (Mayan, Oto-Mangue, Mixe–Zoque, Totonacan, Uto-Aztecan, Chibchan) as well as various smaller families and isolates

Mesoamerican languages are the languages indigenous to the Mesoamerican cultural area, which covers southern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize and parts of Honduras and El Salvador and Nicaragua. The area is characterized by extensive linguistic diversity containing several hundred different languages and seven major language families. Mesoamerica is also an area of high linguistic diffusion in that long-term interaction among speakers of different languages through several millennia has resulted in the convergence of certain linguistic traits across disparate language families. The Mesoamerican sprachbund is commonly referred to as the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area.

Mesoamerican pyramids pyramid-shaped structures of ancient Mesoamerica

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Pre-Columbian art art of the Pre-Columbian civilizations

Pre-Columbian art refers to the visual arts of indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, North, Central, and South Americas until the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and the time period marked by Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas.

Mesoamerica Cultural area in the Americas

Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica, and within this region pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas. In the 16th century, European diseases like smallpox and measles caused the deaths of upwards of 90% of the indigenous people. It is one of five areas in the world where ancient civilization arose independently, and the second in the Americas along with Norte Chico (Caral-Supe) in present-day Peru, in the northern coastal region.

Geography of Mesoamerica geographic area and features of Mesoamerica, a culture area in the Americas inhabited by complex indigenous pre-Columbian cultures, such as, the Olmec, Teotihuacan, the Maya, the Aztec and the Purépecha

The geography of Mesoamerica describes the geographic features of Mesoamerica, a culture area in the Americas inhabited by complex indigenous pre-Columbian cultures exhibiting a suite of shared and common cultural characteristics. Several well-known Mesoamerican cultures include the Olmec, Teotihuacan, the Maya, the Aztec and the Purépecha. Mesoamerica is often subdivided in a number of ways. One common method, albeit a broad and general classification, is to distinguish between the highlands and lowlands. Another way is to subdivide the region into sub-areas that generally correlate to either culture areas or specific physiographic regions.

Olmec alternative origin speculations Alternative archaeological hypotheses on the origin of Olmec civilization

Olmec alternative origin speculations are non-mainstream theories that have been suggested for the formation of Olmec civilization which contradict generally accepted scholarly consensus. These origin theories typically involve contact with Old World societies. Although these speculations have become somewhat well-known within popular culture, particularly the idea of an African connection to the Olmec, they are not regarded as credible by mainstream researchers of Mesoamerica and are considered fringe theories.

Cerro de las Mesas human settlement in Mexico

Cerro de las Mesas, meaning "hill of the altars" in Spanish, is an archaeological site in the Mexican state of Veracruz, in the Mixtequilla area of the Papaloapan River basin. It was a prominent regional center from 600 BCE to 900 CE, and a regional capital from 300 CE to 600 CE.

Chiapa de Corzo (Mesoamerican site) Zona Arqueológica de Chiapa de Corzo

Chiapa de Corzo is an archaeological site of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica located near the small town of Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas.

Feathered Serpent mayan or aztec god of the west, winds, and rain

The Feathered Serpent was a prominent supernatural entity or deity, found in many Mesoamerican religions. It was called Quetzalcoatl among the Aztecs, Kukulkan among the Yucatec Maya, and Q'uq'umatz and Tohil among the K'iche' Maya.

The pre-Columbian history of the territory now comprising contemporary Mexico is known through the work of archaeologists and epigraphers, and through the accounts of the conquistadores, clergymen, and indigenous chroniclers of the immediate post-conquest period. While relatively few documents of the Mixtec and Aztec cultures of the Post-Classic period survived the Spanish conquest, more progress has been made in the area of Mayan archaeology and epigraphy.

Painting in the Americas before European colonization

Painting in the Americas before European colonization is the Precolumbian painting traditions of the Americas. Painting was a relatively widespread, popular and diverse means of communication and expression for both religious and utilitarian purpose throughout the regions of the Western Hemisphere. During the period before and after European exploration and settlement of the Americas; including North America, Central America, South America and the islands of the Caribbean, the Bahamas, the West Indies, the Antilles, the Lesser Antilles and other island groups, indigenous native cultures produced a wide variety of visual arts, including painting on textiles, hides, rock and cave surfaces, bodies especially faces, ceramics, architectural features including interior murals, wood panels, and other available surfaces. Many of the perishable surfaces, such as woven textiles, typically have not been preserved, but Precolumbian painting on ceramics, walls, and rocks have survived more frequently.

The first forms of economic organization in prehispanic Mexico were agriculture and hunting activities. The first men who inhabited the Mexican lands and part of Central America were great builders and later on creators of some of the biggest civilizations of that time, however the economy of that time was based on the commercial activities, the division of society in classes and the importance that generated in the economy the so-called Tlatoani.

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Bibliography