History of the Americas

History of the Americas

The history of the Americas is the collective history of North and South America, including Central America and the Caribbean. It begins with people migrating to these areas from Asia and possibly Oceania during the height of an Ice Age. These groups are generally believed to have been isolated from peoples of the "Old World" until the coming of Europeans in the 10th and 15th centuries.

The ancestors of today's Native Americans were hunter-gatherers who migrated into North America. The most popular theory asserts that migrants came to the Americas via the Bering Land Bridge, Beringia, the land mass covered by the cold ocean waters in the Bering Strait. Recent research indicates the first migrants may have crossed from Europe around 14,000 years ago. Small Paleo-Indian groups probably followed the mammoth and other prey animals. It is possible that groups of people may also have traveled into North America on shelf or sheet ice along the northern Pacific coast.

Cultural traits brought by the first immigrants later evolved and spawned such cultures as Iroquois on North America and Pirahã of South America. These cultures later developed into civilizations. In many cases, these cultures expanded at a later date than their Old World counterparts. Cultures that may be considered advanced or civilized include: Cahokia, Zapotec, Toltecs, Olmec, Aztecs, Purepecha, Chimor, and the Inca.


Migration into the continents

The timeframe for the of arrival of the first group of people to enter the Americas has been subject to much debate. It is generally believed that the first migrants were Asian nomads who crossed the Bering Land Bridge to reach North America. For most of the 20th century, scientists considered the first culture in the Americas to be the Clovis culture, with sites dating from some 13,500 years ago.

Recent archaeological finds suggest multiple waves of migration, some of which have been tentatively dated to as early as 40,000 BCE. Evidence at the Monte Verde site in southern Chile indicates a human presence in southern South America by 12,500 BCE. Several other early Paleo-Indian artifacts have been found in both North and South America. Radiocarbon dating tests are still inconclusive on some archaeological sites identified as earlier than the Clovis remains. [http://www.cyberwest.com/cw09/v9scwst1.html] [http://www.nps.gov/bela/html/history.htm] All theories agree that the Inuit and related peoples arrived separately and at a much later date, probably around the 5th or 6th century CE, moving across the glaciers from Siberia into Canada.

Archaic period

Several thousand years after the first migrations, the first complex civilizations arose as hunter-gatherers settled into semi-agricultural communities. Identifiable sedentary settlements began to emerge in the so-called Middle Archaic period around 6000 BCE. Particular archaeological cultures can be identified, with some of the classifications including the Paleo-Indian period, Archaic Period and Woodland Period.


Civilizations were established long after migration. Several large, centralized civilizations developed in the Western Hemisphere : Norte Chico, Chavin, Nazca, Moche, Huari, Quitus, Cañaris, Chimu, Pachacamac, Tiahuanaco, Aymara and Inca in the Central Andes (Ecuador,Peru and Bolivia); Muisca in Colombia ; Olmecs, Toltecs, Mixtecs , Zapotecs, Purepecha, Aztecs and the Maya in southern North America).

The capital of the Cahokians, Cahokia - located near modern East St. Louis, Illinois may have reached a population of over 20,000. At its peak, between the 12th and 13th centuries, Cahokia may have been the most populous city in North America. Monk's Mound, the major ceremonial center of Cahokia, remains the largest earthen construction of the prehistoric New World. Far larger cities were built by the Maya and Aztecs. Cities of the Aztecs and Incas were as large as the largest in the Old World, with estimated populations of 300,000 in Tenochtitlan. The market established there was said to have been the largest ever seen by the conquistadors when they arrived.These civilizations developed agriculture as well, breeding maize (corn) from having ears 2-5 cm in length to perhaps 10-15 cm in length. Potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, beans and avocados are the most popular of the precolumbian agriculture. They did not develop extensive livestock as there were few suitable species; however the guinea pig was raised for meat in the Andes. By the 15th century CE, maize had been transmitted from Mexico and was being farmed in the Mississippi River Valley, but further developments were cut short by the arrival of Europeans. Potatoes were raised by the Andeans and chocolate by Mesoamericans.

North America



;Pueblo people The Pueblo people of what is now the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico, living conditions were that of large stone apartment like adobe structures. They live in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and possibly surrounding areas.



Chichimeca was the name that the Mexica (Aztecs) generically applied to a wide range of semi-nomadic peoples who inhabited the north of modern-day Mexico, and carried the same sense as the European term "barbarian". The name was adopted with a pejorative tone by the Spaniards when referring especially to the semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples of northern Mexico.



;Zapotec The Zapotec emerged around 1500 years BCE. Their writing system influenced the later Olmec. They left behind the great city Monte Alban.

;Olmec The Olmec civilization emerged around 1200 BCE in Mesoamerica and ended around 400 BCE. Olmec art and concepts influenced surrounding cultures after their downfall. This civilization was thought to be the first in America to develop a writing system. After the Olmecs abandoned their cities for unknown reasons, the Maya, Zapotec and Teotihuacan arose.

;PurepechaThe Purepecha civilization emerged around 1000 AD in Mesoamerica . They flourished from 1100 AD to 1530 AD. They continue to live on in the state of Michaocan. Fierce warriors, they were never conquered and in their glory years, successfully sealed off huge areas from Aztec domination.

Maya history spans 3,000 years. The Maya may have collapsed due to changing climate in the end of the 10th century.

;Toltec The Toltec were a nomadic people, dating from the 10th - 12th century, whose language was also spoken by the Aztecs.

Teotihuacan (4th century BCE - 7/8th century CE) was both a city, and an empire of the same name, which, at its zenith between 150 and the 5th century, covered most of Mesoamerica.

;Aztec The Aztec having started to build their empire around 14th century found their civilization abruptly ended by the Spanish conquistadors. They lived in Mesoamerica, and surrounding lands. Their capital city Tenochtitlan was one of the largest cities of all time.

outh America

;Norte ChicoThe oldest known civilization of the Americas was established in the Norte Chico region of modern Peru. Complex society emerged in the group of coastal valleys, between 3000 and 1800 BCE. The Quipu, a distinctive recording device among Andean civilizations, apparently dates from the era of Norte Chico's prominence.

;Chavín The Chavín established a trade network and developed agriculture by as early as (or late compared to the Old World) 900 BCE according to some estimates and archaeological finds. Artifacts were found at a site called Chavín in modern Peru at an elevation of 3,177 meters. Chavín civilization spanned from 900 BCE to 300 BCE.

;IncaHolding their capital at the great city of Cusco, the Inca civilization dominated the Andes region from 1438 to 1533.Known as "Tahuantinsuyu", or "the land of the four regions," in Quechua, the Inca culture was highly distinct and developed. Cities were built with precise, unmatched 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.

European discovery and colonization

Thousands of years after the Indians arrived, the continent was rediscovered by Europeans. Initially the Vikings established a short-lived settlement in Newfoundland, with some evidence suggesting the Norsemen penetrated as far as Minnesota, either coming down from Hudson Bay or going west through the Great Lakes. Theories exist about other Old World discoveries of the New World, but none of these are considered proven. For further information, see Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact.

It was the later voyage of Christopher Columbus that led to extensive European colonization of the Americas and the genocide of its inhabitants. [Kane 1999, pp. 81-103] [Ward 1997, pp.97-132] While it is known that many immigrants and discoverers had already come to this new world of the Americas, that it has been "discovered' many times, Columbus came at a time in which many technical developments in sailing techniques and communication made it possible to report his voyages easily and to spread word of them throughout western Europe. It was also a time of growing economic rivalries that led to a competition for the establishment of colonies.

The mass death of the Native Americans from slavery, disease and war led to severe changes in the population and ethnic identity of America's inhabitants. The slave labor of Americans killed by European incursions was replaced by that of sub-Saharan African peoples through the slave trade. Native populations became increasingly minor as the European and African slave populations grew rapidly. The dominance of White Americans continued through the period of widespread independence from European rule, begun in the late 18th century by the United States.

There is a substantial difference though, between the English and Spanish areas and models of colonisation. While Native Americans suffered death, slavery and exploitation throughout the Americas and were virtually exterminated almost everywhere, Native Americans, along with Mestizos, now make up the majority of the population in many Central and South American countries.Fact|date=August 2007 More importantly, the Southern parts were much more populated before European colonisation (50m) compared to the North (2m).

The number of Native Americans is increasing now in the U.S. by actual population growth, changing enrollment laws, and from the immigration from Spanish America, especially from Mexico, though the definition being applied to them is Hispanic.

Modern history

Colonial period

17th to 19th century colonies in the New World:
*British North America / Thirteen Colonies
*Danish West Indies
*New Netherland
*New France
*Colonial Brazil (1500 – 1815)
*Spanish Main
*Spanish West Indies
*Captaincy General of Guatemala
*Viceroyalty of Peru (1542 – 1824)


The formation of sovereign states in the New World begins with the United States Declaration of Independence of 1776. The American Revolutionary War lasted until 1783. The Spanish colonies won their independence in the first quarter of the 19th century, in the South American Wars of Independence. Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín led their independence struggle. Although Bolivar attempted to keep the Spanish-speaking parts of the continent politically unified, they rapidly became independent of one another as well, and several further wars were fought, such as the War of the Triple Alliance and the War of the Pacific. In the Portuguese colony Dom Pedro I (also Pedro IV of Portugal), son of the Portuguese king Dom João VI, proclaimed the country's independence in 1822 and became Brazil's first Emperor. This was peacefully accepted by the crown in Portugal, upon compensation.

Effects of slavery

Slavery has had a significant role in the economic development the New World after the colonization of the Americas by the Europeans. Slaves helped build the roads upon which they were transported. The cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane harvested by slaves became important exports for the United States and the Caribbean countries.

20th century

North America

As a part of the British Empire Canada immediately was at war in 1914. Canada bore the brunt of several major battles during the early stages of the war including the use of poison gas attacks at Ypres. Losses became grave, and the government eventually brought in conscription, despite the fact this was against the wishes of the majority of French Canadians. In the ensuing Conscription Crisis of 1917, riots broke out on the streets of Montreal. In neighboring Newfoundland, the new dominion suffered a devastating loss on July 1, 1916, the First day on the Somme.

The United States stayed apart from the conflict until 1917, joining the Entente powers. The United States was then able to play a crucial role at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 that shaped interwar Europe.

Mexico was not part of the war as the country was embroiled in the Mexican Revolution at the time.

{see|Roaring Twenties|Great Depression|Cristero War

The 1920s brought an age of great prosperity in the United States, and to a lesser degree Canada. But the Wall Street Crash of 1929 combined with drought ushered in a period of economic hardship in the United States and Canada.

From 1936 to 1949, this was a popular uprising against the anti-Catholic Mexican government of the time, set off specifically by the anti-clerical provisions of the Mexican Constitution of 1917.

Once again Canada found herself at war before her neighbours, however even Canadian contributions were slight before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The entry of the United States into the war helped to tip the balance in favour of the allies.

Two Mexican tankers, transporting oil to the United States, were attacked and sunk by the Germans in the Gulf of Mexico waters, in 1942. The incident happened in spite of Mexico's neutrality at that time. This led Mexico to declare war to the Axis nations and entered the conflict.

The destruction of Europe wrought by the war vaulted all North American countries to more important roles in world affairs. The United States especially emerged as a "superpower".

The early Cold War era saw the United States as the most powerful nation in a Western coalition of which Mexico and Canada were also a part. At home, the United States witnessed convulsive change especially in the area of race relations. In Canada this was mirrored by the Quiet Revolution and the emergence of Quebec nationalism.

Mexico experienced an era of huge economic growth after World War II, a heavy industrialization process and a growth of its middle class, a period known in Mexican history as the "El Milagro Mexicano" (Mexican miracle).

The Caribbean saw the beginnings of decolonization, while on the largest island the Cuban Revolution introduced Cold War rivalries into Latin America.

During this time the United States become involved in the Vietnam War as part of the global Cold War. This war would latter prove to be highly divisive in American society, and American troops were withdrawn.

Canada during this era was dominated by the leadership of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Eventually in 1982 at the end of his tenure, Canada received a new constitution.

Canada's Brian Mulroney not only ran on a similar platform but also favored closer trade ties with the United States. This led to the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement in January of 1989.

Mexican presidents Miguel de la Madrid, in the early 80s and Carlos Salinas de Gortari in the late 80s, started implementing liberal economic strategies that were seen as a good move. However, Mexico experienced a strong economic recession in 1982 and the Mexican peso suffered a devaluation. Presidential elections held in 1988 were forecast to be very competitive and they were. Leftist candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, son of Lázaro Cárdenas one of the most beloved Mexican presidents, created a successful campaign and was reported as the leader in several opinion polls. On July 6, 1988, the day of the elections, a system shutdown of the IBM AS/400 that the government was using to count the votes occurred, presumably by accident. The government simply stated that "se cayó el sistema" ("the system crashed"), to refer to the incident. When the system was finally restored, the PRI candidate Carlos Salinas was declared the official winner. It was the first time that a non-PRI candidate was so close to win the presidency.

In the United States president Ronald Reagan attempted to move the United States back towards a hard anti-communist line in foreign affairs, in what his supporters saw as an attempt to assert moral leadership (compared to the Soviet Union) in the world community. Domestically, Reagan attempted to bring in a package of privatization and regulation to stimulate the economy.

The End of the Cold War and the beginning of the era of sustained economic expansion coincided during the 1990s. On January 1, 1994 Canada, Mexico and the United States signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, creating the world's largest free trade area. In 2000, Vicente Fox became the first non-PRI candidate to win the Mexican presidency in over 70 years.

The optimism of the 1990s was shattered by the 9/11 attacks of 2001 on the United States, which prompted military intervention in Afghanistan, which also involved Canada. Canada did not support the United State’s later move to invade Iraq, however.

Central America

Despite the failure of a lasting political union, the concept of Central American reunification, though lacking enthusiasm from the leaders of the individual countries, rises from time to time. In 1856-1857 the region successfully established a military coalition to repel an invasion by U.S. adventurer William Walker. Today, all five nations fly flags that retain the old federal motif of two outer blue bands bounding an inner white stripe. (Costa Rica, traditionally the least committed of the five to regional integration, modified its flag significantly in 1848 by darkening the blue and adding a double-wide inner red band, in honor of the French tricolor).

In 1907 a Central American Court of Justice was created. On December 13, 1960, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua established the Central American Common Market ("CACM"). Costa Rica, because of its relative economic prosperity and political stability, chose not to participate in the CACM. The goals for the CACM were to create greater political unification and success of Import Substitution Industrialization policies. The project was an immediate economic success, but was abandoned after the 1969 "Football War" between El Salvador and Honduras.

A Central American Parliament has operated, as a purely advisory body, since 1991. Costa Rica has repeatedly declined invitations to join the regional parliament, which seats deputies from the four other former members of the Union, as well as from Panama and the Dominican Republic.

outh America

In the 1960s and 1970s, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay were overthrown or displaced by U.S.-aligned military dictatorships. These dictatorships detained tens of thousands of political prisoners, many of whom were tortured and/or killed (on inter-state collaboration, see Operation Condor). Economically, they began a transition to neoliberal economic policies. They placed their own actions within the U.S. Cold War doctrine of "National Security" against internal subversion. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Peru suffered from an internal conflict (see Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement and Shining Path). Revolutionary movements and right-wing military dictatorships have been common, but starting in the 1980s a wave of democratization came through the continent, and democratic rule is widespread now. Allegations of corruption remain common, and several nations have seen crises which have forced the resignation of their presidents, although normal civilian succession has continued.

International indebtedness became a notable problem, as most recently illustrated by Argentina's default in the early 21st century.

In recent years South American governments have drifted to the left, with socialist leaders being elected in Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, and a leftist president in Argentina and Uruguay. Despite the move to the left, South America is still largely capitalist.

With the founding of the Union of South American Nations, South America has started down the road of economic integration, with plans for political integration in the European Union style.

ee also



*Kane , Katie " [http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0882-4371%28199921%2942%3C81%3ANMLDSC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-%23&size=LARGE Nits Make Lice: Drogheda, Sand Creek, and the Poetics of Colonial Extermination] " "Cultural Critique", No. 42 (Spring, 1999), pp. 81-103 doi:10.2307/1354592
*Churchill, Ward "A Little Matter of Genocide" 1997 City Lights Books ISBN 0872863239

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