- Pre-Columbian North America
Pre-Columbian means ‘before the time of Columbus’ and refers to the period of North American history before the region was discovered by Christopher Columbus at the end of the 15th century.The first people to arrive in America crossed over a strip of land, known as Beringia, between America and Eurasia about 40 000 years ago. It is now covered by the Bering Strait. The people were nomads who hunted large animals such as mammoths and bison. They had only basic tools made of stone.About 6000 BC some groups of people began to rely more on gathering wild fruits, nuts and vegetables for food. They also began to settle in permanent villages. They made a wider range of tools, from stone and animal bone, simple copper items, and baskets and nets from wild plants. This period, which is known as the archaic period, lasted from c. 6000 to 1000 BC, though in some parts of North America, especially the desert regions of California, people had a similar lifestyle until the arrival of the first Europeans.Elsewhere, a major change in society began from about 1000 BC. Although hunting and gathering were still the main source of food, agriculture began about this time. Goods were taken long distances across the country to be traded (= exchanged for other goods). Society became much more complex and developed differently in different regions. The people buried their dead in earth mounds, similar to the barrows of Stone Age Britain, and often put precious objects in the mounds with them. These developments are known as the Woodland tradition.The period from 800 AD until the arrival of European settlers was one of even greater change. More widespread agriculture, and the growing of crops such as corn, beans and squashes, allowed the development of much larger villages and towns. Cahokia, Illinois, may have had a population of up to 30 000 people. In these settlements temples were built on top of earth mounds. More than 120 temples were built at Cahokia alone. The style may have been influenced by temples in Central America. Large circles of wooden posts have also been found, which may have acted as a calendar, similar to Stonehenge in England. Another important site is Moundville, Alabama, built by people now known as the Moundbuilders. About 3 000 people were buried at this site, many with pottery and copper axes.In Colorado and Arizona people began to live in houses built with adobe (= mud bricks) in the sides of cliffs. The best preserved of these can still be seen at Mesa Verde. Canals and ditches were dug to take water into the desert so that corn, vegetables and also cotton could be grown there. They made baskets and sandals, and elaborate painted pottery. The Anasazi were the most developed people and traded their goods as far away as Mexico for feathers and copper. They were the ancestors of the modern Pueblo people. In the 16th century the Athabaskan tribes moved down from Canada. These were the ancestors of the modern Navajo and Apache tribes.Although Columbus is traditionally believed to have been the first European to discover America there is good evidence that Vikings had settled in Canada long before. The remains of a Viking settlement have been found at L’Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland, Canada. The Viking stories say that while they were in America they met ‘Skraelings’, probably Inuit peoples.The arrival of people from Europe caused serious problems to the pre-Columbian peoples. The Europeans took their land in order to build settlements, and over time they controlled almost all of North America, putting the native peoples on a few reservations. In addition, the Europeans brought diseases that the Native Americans could not overcome, and many died.White Americans today know about Native-American peoples, or Indians as many still call them, from the time when they came into contact with Europeans. Most know little about the Americans of the pre-Columbian period.
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