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Pre-Columbian Societies and Transatlantic Encounters

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Presentation on theme: "Pre-Columbian Societies and Transatlantic Encounters"— Presentation transcript:

1 Pre-Columbian Societies and Transatlantic Encounters

2 Early Inhabitants of the Americas
The most widely accepted theory of how humans first came to the American continents is that they crossed from northeastern Asia on a land bridge, the Bering isthmus, exposed during the last “ice age,” 40, BP. Over the millenia, people spread across the whole of the Americas. As temperatures warmed and sea levels again rose, the Bering isthmus was covered, leaving American populations to develop entirely independent of populations in the rest of the world.

3 Early Inhabitants of the Americas
These original inhabitants of the Americas developed an astonishingly diverse array of cultures. Despite their isolation from each other, populations in the Americas developed along a remarkably similar timeframe as their “old world’ counterparts- by 5000 BC some American peoples were engaging in intensive sedentary agriculture, and building complex civilizations as sophisticated as any in the old world.

4 American Indian empires in Mesoamerica, the Southwest, and the Mississippi Valley
As in the old world, empires rose and fell through the arc of American history. Most notably for the history of the United States are the civilizations that arose in Mesoamerica (Mexico and central America), the Southwest, and through the Mississippi River valley. The common thread for the rise of these empires was maize agriculture.

5 Mesoamerica The birthplace of maize agriculture was in Mesoamerica, which is also where the most advanced, densely populated empires developed. Civilizations like the Olmec, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec ruled over vast empires at various points in Mesoamerican history. Their accomplishments in architecture, mathematics, and astronomy rivaled virtually any in the world.

6 Southwest In what is today the Southwest of the United States, several advanced agricultural civilizations flourished- among them the Hohokam, Mogollon, and the Anasazi (Pueblo) peoples. The Anasazi are known for their cliff dwellings, hundreds of individual apartments carved in the sides of sandstone cliffs, and for innovative irrigation of their crops in the water-starved desert. The height of Anasazi sophistication peaked around 1100 AD.

7 Mississippians Contemporaneous with the Anasazi of the Southwest were the Mississippian cultures, which arose in the central river valley and along its tributaries. The Mississippians are generally considered one of the most highly sophisticated cultures of pre-Columbian North America. The Mississippians built large towns with monumental earthen architecture and ruled by a complex political and religious hierarchy. The largest Mississippian site is Cahokia, in present Illinois.

8 American Indian cultures of North America at the time of contact
Although still vigorously debated, the archaeological and proto-historical records suggest a population of 1-2 million in North America (excluding Mexico) on the eve of contact. Mesoamerica, by contrast, is thought to have supported a population of million, which along with South American populations brings a grand total of around 50 million for the Americas as a whole.

9 American Indian cultures of North America at the time of contact
Irrespective of the numbers debate, it is known that the elaborate cultures that developed in the Southwest, and among Mississippians, like those at Cahokia, had fragmented and declined in sophistication by the time the Europeans arrived. It is thought that a continent-wide prolonged drought, beginning ca. 1150, precipitated this decline. The earliest European explorers did encounter some substantial population centers in North America, but apparently only a remnant of what had existed at the height of the Anasazi or Mississippian empires.

10 American Indian cultures of North America at the time of contact
Although there were no empires in North America comparable to those in Mesoamerica, hundreds of distinct cultures inhabited every corner of what would become the United States and Canada. Despite the absence of large empires, many native groups in North America maintained complex socio-political arrangements. The Iroquois, for example, developed a confederate political organization among its five member nations, to handle both internal disputes and external threats. A complete picture of pre-Columbian North America, however, is difficult to ascertain, in part because of how contact between the old and new worlds unfolded.

11 First European contacts with Native America
In October of 1492, Genoese mariner Christopher Columbus, sailing for Spain, landed on an island in the Caribbean, initiating the first sustained, widespread contact between American natives and the Old World. The impetus for Columbus’ expedition had been to find a western route to the riches of Asia. Thinking he had landed in the “Indies,” he referred to the people he encountered as Indians. Subsequent expeditions by Columbus and others confirmed that these lands across the Atlantic were indeed “new” lands unknown to Europeans.

12 First European contacts with Native America
It is impossible to overestimate the impact of sustained contact between these previously isolated continents. The interactions of old and new world peoples, technologies, plants, animals, and biological forces that occurred in the so-called “Columbian Exchange” irrevocably altered the course of humankind. American agriculture- corn, potatoes, beans, melons, tomatoes, and tobacco, among others- revolutionized diets across the globe and led to a population explosion in the centuries following their introduction. On the other hand, Old world diseases- smallpox, cholera, typhus, and many more- utterly decimated American populations, who had little genetic immunity against any of these diseases.

13 First European contacts with Native America
Some scholars estimate that epidemic disease reduced the American populations by 90%- populations as a whole reached their nadir in the early 1900s. Since the initial contact in North America was quite sporadic, it is very difficult to determine the full effects of the epidemics diseases unleashed on native American populations. In some instances centuries passed between initial contact and sustained relations with Europeans. Archaeology and a meager historical record offer some clues that populations in North America were reduced significantly, but historians largely lack the ability to definitively describe the effects of this prolonged “proto” historical era.

14 Spain’s Empire in North America
The historical record is much clearer, if still incomplete, for the areas first colonized by the Spanish. Following Columbus, the Spanish rapidly began establishing plantation colonies on several Caribbean islands. Using a model already established in colonial ventures in the Madeiras and Canary Islands, the Spanish conquered and enslaved the native population to toil on sugar plantations. When disease began to significantly reduce native populations- in many cases 100% annihilation- the Spanish began to import enslaved Africans to their Caribbean colonies.

15 Spain’s Empire in North America
Spain’s colonial empire in America expanded significantly beginning in the early 1520s, with Hernan Cortes’ overthrow of the Aztecs. With the conquest of the Inca in the 1530s, and various other expeditions through the 16th and 17th centuries- Spain controlled a empire that extended across much of the Americas. The wealth these colonies produced altered the global economy, making Spain the most powerful nation in Europe through most of the 16th century. But similarly aspiring European nations- namely England and France- also wanted to get in on the action.

16 French colonization of Canada
France’s earliest expeditions to America produced little results- they were primarily looking for the northwest passage- a supposed water route across the American continent, to the riches of Asia. It was not until the early 1600s that France began a sustained presence in North America, when Samuel de Champlain founded the Quebec colony in the St. Lawrence River Valley. The earliest French colonies at Quebec and Montreal were primarily engaged in the fur trade. For this reason, the relationship between the French and Native Americans was quite different than the Spanish model of outright enslavement. The fur trade did not require nearly the labor force compared to agricultural production or mining, so the numbers of French in America remained relatively small. And since the natives were essential to procure the furs, The French actively sought trading and military alliances with various groups in Canada, most notably the powerful Huron. Despite their limited presence, the French managed to maintain their colonies, and in fact substantially enlarged their American holdings following claims in the Great Lakes regions and especially following Robert La Salle’s expedition down the Mississippi River in La Salle claimed the river and its tributaries for France, and the stage was being set for an eventual showdown over the North American interior, as English settlements along the coast began to expand westward.

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