Pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the
history and prehistory of the
Americas before the appearance of
significant European influences on the American continents, spanning
the time of the original settlement in the
Upper Paleolithic period to
European colonization during the Early Modern period.
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
Americas cultures until those cultures were exterminated, diminished,
or extensively altered by Europeans, even if this happened decades or
centuries after Columbus's first landing. For this reason the
alternative terms of Precontact Americas, Pre-Colonial
Americas are also in use. In areas of
Latin America the
term usually used is Pre-Hispanic.
Many pre-Columbian civilizations established hallmarks which included
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), 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 heretical, men like Diego
de Landa destroyed many texts in pyres, 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
Indigenous American cultures continue to evolve after the
pre-Columbian era. Many of these peoples and their descendants
continue traditional practices while evolving and adapting new
cultural practices and technologies into their lives.
1.1 Settlement of the Americas
1.2 North America
1.3 Archaic period
1.3.1 Middle Archaic period
1.3.2 Late Archaic period
1.3.3 Woodland period
1.3.4 Mississippian culture
1.3.5 Historic tribes
1.4.3 Maya civilization
1.4.4 Aztec/Mexica/Triple Alliance civilization
1.5 South America
1.5.1 Norte Chico or Caral
1.5.7 Tiwanaku empire
1.5.8 Inca Empire
2 Agricultural development
4 See also
Major cultural areas of the pre-Columbian Americas:
Cultural areas of pre-Columbian North America
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
Settlement of the Americas
Settlement of the Americas
Settlement of the Americas and Paleo-Indians
Further information: Genetic history of indigenous peoples of the
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
DNA (mtDNA) supports the theory of multiple genetic
populations migrating from Asia. Over the course of millennia,
Paleo-Indians spread throughout North and South America. Exactly when
the first group of 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. 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 New
World occurring no earlier than 14,000–17,000 years ago, followed by
successive waves of immigrants. 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.
Artifacts have been found in both North and South America which have
been dated to 14,000 years ago, 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.
Main article: North American prehistory
Further information: List of archaeological periods (North America)
Further information: Aboriginal peoples in Canada § History,
Native Americans in the United States
Native Americans in the United States § History, and
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. 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. 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. During much
Paleo-Indian period, bands are thought to have subsisted
primarily through hunting now-extinct giant land animals such as
mastodon and ancient bison.
Paleo-Indian groups carried a variety
of tools. These included distinctive projectile points and knives, as
well as less distinctive implements used for butchering and hide
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. 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. These
species were very nutritious, and they now constitute 50–60% of all
crops in cultivation worldwide. In general, Arctic, Subarctic, and
coastal peoples continued to live as hunters and gatherers, while
agriculture was adopted in more temperate and sheltered regions. But
wherever it was adopted, plant cultivation permitted a dramatic rise
Middle Archaic period
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. 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 in 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, often developed stratified hierarchy, and generally
also developed ceramics. These ancient people had organized to build
complex mound projects from a different basis.
Late Archaic period
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
Mississippi Valley. Built about 1500 BCE, it is the
centerpiece of a culture extending over 100 sites on both sides of 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
Ohio River valleys as
well, adding effigy mounds, conical and ridge mounds and other shapes.
Main article: Woodland period
Hopewell mounds from the
Mound City Group in Ohio
Woodland period of North American pre-Columbian cultures refers to
the time period from roughly 1000 BCE to 1000 CE in the eastern part
of North America. The term "Woodland" 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.
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.
Main article: Mississippian Culture
Cahokia, the largest
Mississippian culture site
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
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 New World. 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
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.
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:
Arctic, including Aleut, Inuit, and Yupik peoples
Numerous pre-Columbian societies were sedentary, such as the Pueblo
Hidatsa and others, and some established large
settlements, even cities, such as Cahokia, in what is now Illinois.
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,
with the Senate passing a resolution to this effect in 1988. 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.
Further information: Mesoamerican chronology
One of the pyramids in the upper level of Yaxchilán
Atlantes at Tula, Hidalgo
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
New World 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
is also known as the
Aztec Triple Alliance, since they were three
smaller kingdoms loosely united together.
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
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
Main article: Olmec
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
San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán near the
coast in southeast Veracruz. 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.
Main article: Teotihuacan
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
Main article: 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
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 Mayans also evolved 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 highly perishable books made from bark paper.
Aztec/Mexica/Triple Alliance civilization
Main article: Aztec
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 fighting
skills, they managed to become the rulers of
Mexico as the head of the
'Triple Alliance' (which included two other "Aztec" cities, Texcoco
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 presided
over a wealthy tribute-empire variously estimated at 5–8 million
people in total a population of 8–12 millions. The actual population
is never more than an estimate. The modern name "Mexico" comes from
Their capital, Tenochtitlan, is the site of modern-day capital of
Mexico City. At its peak, it was one of the largest cities in
the world with population estimates of 200–300,000. The market
established there was the largest ever seen by the conquistadors on
Main articles: Pre-Columbian Peru, Inca Empire, and Muisca
See also: Andean civilizations
Geoglyphs on deforested land in the Amazon rainforest
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
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
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 have not
emerged. Similarities noted in names of edible roots in Maori and
Ecuadorian languages ("kumari") and Melanesian and Chilean ("gaddu")
have been inconclusive.
A 2007 paper published in
PNAS put forward
DNA and archaeological
evidence that domesticated chickens had been introduced into South
Polynesia by late pre-Columbian times. These findings
were challenged by a later study published in the same journal, that
cast doubt on the dating calibration used and presented alternative
DNA analyses that disagreed with a Polynesian genetic origin.
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
Norte Chico or Caral
Main article: Norte Chico civilization
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 six cradles of civilization in the world. 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.
Main article: Valdivia culture
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
Main article: Cañari
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)
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.
Main article: Chavín culture
The Chavín, a South American 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.
Main article: 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 Mayan and Inca empires. 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.
Main article: Moche culture
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
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).
Main article: Tiwanaku empire
Gate of the Sun in Tiwanaku
Tiwanaku empire was based in western
Bolivia and extended into
Chile from 300 to 1000. Tiwanaku is recognized by
Andean scholars as one of the most important South American
civilizations prior to the Inca Empire; 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
Main article: Inca Empire
Holding their capital at the great cougar-shaped city of Cuzco, 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.
The iconic Machu Picchu, symbol of the Inca civilization.
Main article: Cambeba people
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
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.
Columbian Exchange and List of pre-Columbian engineering
projects in the Americas
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.
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.
While not as widespread as in other areas of the world (Asia, Africa,
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.
Schematic illustration of maternal (mtDNA) gene-flow in and out of
Beringia, from 25,000 years ago to present.
Main article: Genetic history of indigenous peoples of the Americas
See also: Y-
DNA haplogroups in Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The haplogroup most commonly associated with Indigenous Amerindian
Haplogroup Q1a3a (Y-DNA). 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. 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. The former is the determinant factor for the number
of gene lineages and founding haplotypes present in today's Indigenous
Human settlement of the
New World occurred in stages from the Bering
sea coast line, with an initial 20,000-year layover on
the founding population. The micro-satellite diversity and
distributions of the Y lineage specific to South America indicates
Amerindian populations have been isolated since the
initial colonization of the region. The Na-Dené,
Indigenous Alaskan populations exhibit haplogroup Q-M242 (Y-DNA)
mutations, however are distinct from other indigenous Amerindians with
DNA mutations. This suggests that the earliest
migrants into the northern extremes of North America and Greenland
derived from later populations.
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
Indigenous peoples of the Americas portal
Indigenous peoples of North America portal
Aboriginal peoples in Canada portal
List of pre-Columbian cultures
Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America
Pre-Inca cultures in Peru
Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact
1491: New Revelations of the
Americas Before Columbus authored by
Charles C. Mann
Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts authored by Daniel K.
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^ "Study confirms Bering land bridge flooded later than previously
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^ Wells, Spencer; Read, Mark (2002). The Journey of Man - A Genetic
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^ Lovgren, Stefan (March 13, 2008). "
Americas Settled 15,000 Years
Ago, Study Says". National Geographic News.
^ Meltzer, David J. "First Americans". Encarta Online Encyclopedia.
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^ Fagundes, Nelson J.R.; Kanitz, Ricardo; Eckert, Roberta; et al.
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^ "Atlas of the Human Journey". National Geographic. Archived from the
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^ "Journey of mankind". BradShaw Foundation.
^ Bryant, Vaughn M., Jr. (1998). "Pre-Clovis". In Gibbon, Guy E.
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^ Wilford, John Noble (April 4, 2008). "Evidence Supports Earlier Date
for People in North America". The New York Times.
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^ Breitburg, Emanual; Broster, John B.; Reesman, Arthur L.; Stearns,
Richard G. (1996). "Coats-Hines Site: Tennessee's First Paleo-Indian
Mastodon Association". Current Research in the Pleistocene. 13:
^ Fagan, Dr. Brian; Durrani, Nadia (2016). People of the Earth: An
Introduction to World
Prehistory (fourteenth ed.). Routledge.
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^ "Native Americans: The First Farmers". AgExporter. Allbusiness.com.
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^ Hudson, Charles M. (1997). Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun:
Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto and the South's Ancient Chiefdoms. University of
Georgia Press. ISBN 978-0-8203-5290-9.
^ Daly, Janet L. (1997). "The Effect of the
Iroquois Constitution on
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original on July 2, 2017.
^ Woods, Thomas E. (2007). 33 Questions about American History You're
Not Supposed to Ask. Crown Forum. p. 62.
^ "H. Con. Res. 331" (PDF).
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^ Shannon, Timothy J. (2002). Indians and Colonists at the Crossroads
of Empire: The Albany Congress of 1754. Cornell University Press.
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^ Clifton, James A., ed. (1990). "The
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^ Rakove, Jack (July 21, 2005). "Did the Founding Fathers Really Get
Many of Their Ideas of Liberty from the Iroquois?". History News
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Haplogroups are defined by unique mutation events such as single
nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. These SNPs mark the branch of a
haplogroup, and indicate that all descendents of that haplogroup at
one time shared a common ancestor. The Y-
DNA SNP mutations were passed
from father to son over thousands of years. Over time, additional SNPs
occur within a haplogroup, leading to new lineages. These new lineages
are considered subclades of the haplogroup. Each time a new mutation
occurs, there is a new branch in the haplogroup, and therefore a new
Haplogroup Q, possibly the youngest of the 20 Y-chromosome
haplogroups, originated with the SNP mutation M242 in a man from
Haplogroup P that likely lived in
Siberia approximately 15,000 to
20,000 years before present
^ Viegas, Jennifer. "First
Americans Endured 20,000-Year Layover".
Discovery News. Archived from the original on March 13, 2012.
Archaeological evidence, in fact, recognizes that people started to
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New World around 40,000 years ago, but rapid
expansion into North America didn't occur until about 15,000 years
ago, when the ice had literally broken
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life in Asia but which contained seeds of the new cultures that would
eventually appear throughout the Americas
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Na-Dené) is probably due to secondary expansions of haplogroup A2
Beringia area, which would have averaged the overall internal
variation of haplogroup A2 in North America.
^ Torroni, Antonio; Schurr, Theodore G.; Yang, Chi-Chuan; et al.
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Mitochondrial DNA Analysis Indicates
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