This chapter explores three cultures—Native American, African, and European—and the events that brought the cultures of Europe and Africa to the Americas.
Section 1 introduces the early civilizations of Mesoamerica and North America. Using DNA, radiocarbon dating, and other evidence, researchers believe that the earliest Americans came from Asia 15,000 to 30,000 years ago. When early Americans learned how to raise crops, they abandoned their nomadic ways and began establishing communities. As time passed, villages grew, governments developed, social classes appeared, and America's first civilizations emerged. In Mesoamerica, the Olmec, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec developed sophisticated cities and trade networks. Early North American societies included the Hohokam and Anasazi of the Southwest, the Adena and Hopewell cultures of the Eastern Woodlands, and the Mississippians of the Mississippi River valley.
Section 2 describes how various Native American cultures developed as communities adapted to their North American environments. Climate and surroundings influenced how Native American cultures established villages, built shelters, and obtained food. In the dry Southwest, corn was important to the survival of some groups, while the Pacific Coast cultures thrived off fish that flourished in the coastal waters and rivers. Farther inland, hunting and gathering was the way of life for groups such as the Nez Perce and Yakima. Some Native Americans were nomads who migrated with buffalo herds. The cold environment of the Far North forced the Inuit to depend on hunting, while Native Americans in the Eastern Woodlands combined hunting, fishing, and agriculture to provide their livelihood. The Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands were divided into two major language groups—Algonquian and Iroquoian.
Section 3 examines the early West, Central, and Southern African cultures. Trade routes along West Africa's vast savannah helped foster the development of large trading settlements. Three empires—Ghana, Mali, and Songhai—arose from the prosperity of West Africa's gold and salt trade. Along West Africa's southern coast, smaller states and kingdoms developed in the dense forests of Guinea. The rich farmlands and tropical climate allowed these people to produce food surpluses, which they traded for copper and salt. In Central and Southern Africa, many villagers lived along rivers in close-knit communities. While slavery existed in African society before Arabs or Europeans began purchasing enslaved Africans, the introduction of Islam, the gold trade, and European sugar plantations profoundly affected the African slave trade.
Section 4 reviews several developments that helped Europe organize into centralized governments and embark on world exploration. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe suffered social and political fragmentation. Feudalism and the manorial system helped to erode the power and wealth of Europe's central governments. Around A.D. 1000 improvements in technology increased crop yields, reviving trade in Europe and promoting the growth of towns. When the Pope launched the Crusades, he unknowingly sparked a trade revolution. Contact with the civilizations of Eastern Europe and the Middle East increased western Europeans' demand for Eastern goods and motivated Europe to develop a money-based economy. As trade increased in Europe and towns grew, feudalism declined. With increased wealth and power, rulers began to create unified, strong central governments. By the mid-1400s, Portugal, Spain, England, and France were looking for a trade route to Asia that would bypass Muslim kingdoms. The Renaissance promoted advances in technology that made lengthy explorations possible.
Section 5 describes early European encounters in America. Archeological evidence suggests that the Vikings were the first Europeans to explore the Americas. In the late 1400s, Christopher Columbus landed his Spanish ships in the Bahamas and mistakenly thought he had reached the Indies. By the early 1500s, the Spanish had explored the major Caribbean islands, established colonies, and begun exploring the American mainland. A treaty with Portugal confirmed Spain's claim to the Americas. Amerigo Vespucci's explorations along the coast of South America proved that the land mass was not Asia. Other explorers, such as Ponce De Leon, Vasco de Balboa, and Ferdinand Magellan, headed to the newly-named continent. European colonists in the Americas impacted the world's ecosystems and altered cultures worldwide. These interactions, called the Columbian Exchange, would prove to be both beneficial and catastrophic.