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Chapter 1: A Continent of Villages
Prehistory – 1500
Mr. Logan Greene
AP United States History
West Blocton High School
Chapter Objectives
• List the evidence for the hypothesis that the Americas
were settled by migrants from Asia
• Review the principal regions of the North American
continent and the human adaptations that made
social life possible in each of them
• Discuss the reasons why organized political activity
began in farming societies
• Know the factors that led to the Iroquois Confederacy
• What was life like for Natives prior to European
Settling the Continent
• Approximate population of 70 million in 1492, mostly in
South America and present day Mexico
• Extremely diverse populations across North America
– Different language
– Food
– Societies
• North and West: Hunter/Gatherers, mainly nomadic
• Northeast: Primarily fished and gathered
• South: Farmed, used mainly techniques and crops gathered
from Mesoamerica (Mexico)
Settling the Continent
• The 70 million strong native population of the
Western Hemisphere were represented by
approximately 2,000 differing cultures
• There was not a single physical characteristic that
united all the native peoples with a variety of skin
colors and builds although most shared a common
dark straight hair type and dark eyes
• Once Europeans realized the Western Hemisphere
was indeed a “New World” questions arose over the
origins of the native peoples
• As early as 1590 the idea of a land bridge being the
origin of native peoples was proposed
• Modern day genetic studies show high similarities
between Asian and Native American peoples with
movement most likely occurring approximately
30,000 years ago
• This would match with the presence of a land bridge
from Asia to Alaska known as Beringia
• Beringia was dry and perfectly suited for mammoth
and other large mammals
• It is highly likely that the large mammals travelled
over first and then nomadic Asian tribes followed
their food source across the bridge into North
• Later when glaciers melted these groups travelled
down a route close to the Rocky Mountains and
then spread across the continent (although it is also
possible they moved in boats along the Pacific
• Two further migrations
– 5000 BC: Athapascan migrate and are the ancestors of
the Navajos and Apaches
– 3000 BC: Inuits migrate in boats across the Bering
straight (Beringia had disappeared) and colonize Alaska
and upper Canada
• It is believed these three total migrations brought
the ancestors of all later Natives to the Americas
North American Technology
• Early archaeological finds in North America are
similar to Asian finds of the same periods
• However, “Clovis” technology of sophisticated
blades and arrowheads appeared approximately
10,000 years ago and spread throughout the
continent quickly allowing the hunting of large
game more efficiently
Ways of Life
• About 15,000 years ago there was a giant global
warming trend which ended the Ice Age
• The giant mammals that dominated the Ice Age
could no longer sustain themselves in the drastically
warmer climate
• As these animals became more scarce Natives in
North America became more sophisticated at
hunting and also focused more on the North
America bison
Ways of Life
• As the Ice Age ended the modern day southwest
United States desert formed
• The cultures who settled here founded
sophisticated hunting and gathering strategies to
survive in the brutal conditions
• Their groups were normally small and survived on
roots and small plant life in addition to trapping
small the small desert animals
Ways of Life
• East of the Mississippi America was one vast forest
• Groups here were larger than in the desert
• These native groups survived by hunting small to
medium game and gathering the berries and nuts
and other edible plant life that defined the area
• The evolution of farming in North America began in
the highlands of Mexico about 5,000 years ago and
radically changed the ways of life for the native
• Even in this early stage of farming the Mexican
societies had a vast array of crops including corn,
squash, beans, and cocoa with corn being by far the
most important
• The Mexican’s new found skills spread quickly
across the continent
Effects of Farming
• Farming drastically changed the North American
continent in several ways:
1. Tribes became less nomadic as they stayed in areas to
cultivate crops
2. Tribes became larger and more separated into family
clans as farming could support larger units
3. Societies grew as crops and jobs had to be managed
throughout the year
4. Jobs became separated by gender as men hunted and
defended and women farmed
5. Separation of groups grew and rivalries emerged over
land and territory
Farming Revolution?
• Historians formerly attached the idea of a
“Revolution” to the change over to famring in North
• This can be misleading as the term revolution
implies a quick change when archaeological
evidence points to a change taking thousands of
years that was originally resisted by many tribes but
eventually accepted
The Anasazi “The Ancient Ones”
• The Anasazi are an excellent example of farming
extending out past the fertile areas of the continent
• The Anasazi existed from around 1200 BC to around
1300 AD in the deserts of the southwest United
• Midway through their existence the tribe switched
from hunter gathering to densley populated areas in
cliff dwellings known as pueblos and sophisticated
irrigation farming
Other Southwestern Tribes
• Other tribes that existed and successfully flourished
in the southwest were the Mogollon and Hohokam
• The Mogollon were the first to develop a settled
farming system in the area and utilized elaborate pit
dwellings to help with water conservation and to
adapt to the harsh climate
• The Hohokam farmed and produced beautifully
detailed pots and apparently had a flourishing trade
network with the giant civilizations of mesoamerica
The Eastern Woodlands
• The Eastern Woodlands natives created
sophisticated farming cultures built on hunting
• The Adena began the practice of farming in the area
but quickly died out
• Following the Adena the Hopewell appeared and
began the practice of producing large elaborate
burial mounds
• As well, the Hopewell established large trade
networks that existed as far as the Rocky Mountains
Mississippian Culture
• As the Hopewell declined in the 5th century AD
several new innovations (the bow and arrow, a new
variety of corn, and flint hoes) led to the emergence
of a new native powerhouse culture: The
• The Mississippians created settled urban centers
such as Cahokia and Moundville, Alabama with
huge mounds and complex farm areas
• Just like the Anasazi they were complex societies
with, societal structure, urban centers, and trade
Eve of Colonization
• In 1492 on the eve of colonization the American
continents had vast areas of populated Native
American cultures
• The best way to categorize it is through regional
differences of the following areas:
– Southwest
– South
– Northeast
• The Southwest was dominated by the arid
• However, the Ansazi and other Pueblo Indians had
been cultivating their fields for centuries by the
time of the European arrival while also still hunting
and gathering
• The groups lived in familial clans and had secret
spiritual groups that along with elders governed the
clan groups
The South
• The South is the most suitable area for farming in
the North American region
• Groups here practiced settled farming and hunting
gathering societies ruled by elder chiefs in the
Mississippian fashion
• As the Mississippians disappeared their
descendants emerged as dominant groups:
– Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Powhatan,
The Northeast
• The Northeast has a varied geography of lakes, rivers,
mountains, and valleys coupled with a shorter mild summer
and cold winters
• Farmers, hunter gathers, and fishermen
• One group dominated the area: The Iroquois Confederacy
• The group was founded when several tribes continually
fought over land
• By the eve of colonization the Confederacy became one of
the most powerful political entities in the world
Chapter Objectives Revisited
Chapter Objectives
• List the evidence for the hypothesis that the Americas were settled by migrants
from Asia
– Genetic testing and archaeological evident (similarity of tools)
• Review the principal regions of the North American continent and the human
adaptations that made social life possible in each of them
– Northeast: Fishing and farming
– Southwest: Irrigation to farm
– Southeast: Major farming and hunting
• Discuss the reasons why organized political activity began in farming societies
– More people in groups close to home, must protect and manage food
• Know the factors that led to the Iroquois Confederacy
– Serious violence led to the need to create a solid political force
• What was life like for Natives prior to European arrival?
– Many different cultures, relatively peaceful, advanced linguistic cultures