The diverse geography of the Americas resulted in the emergence of many varied and highly advanced civilizations. Some of these early civilizations were wiped out by diseases introduced to the Americas by European expeditions.
Section 1 The Peoples of North America
Many historians believe that the first settlers of the Americas arrived from Asia across a land bridge that formed in the Bering Strait during the last Ice Age. These first inhabitants were hunters and gatherers who later learned to farm. The varied geography resulted in the emergence of many distinct cultures. In North America, these early inhabitants included the Inuit people near the Arctic Circle, the Anasazi people of the Southwest, the Hopewell peoples of the Ohio River valley, and the Iroquois of the Northeast. The Iroquois built villages of longhouses and had a highly organized alliance called the Iroquois League. The Anasazi are noted for their multi-story pueblo dwellings built of stone and adobe.
Section 2 Early Civilizations in Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica refers to areas of Mexico and Central America that were civilized before the arrival of the Spaniards. Mesoamerican civilizations appeared beginning around 1200 B.C. with the Olmecs. The most advanced were those of the Maya and the Aztec. Mayan civilization flourished between 300 and 900 A.D. The Maya built splendid temples and pyramids and had a sophisticated calendar. By the twelfth century, the Aztec had begun to migrate to the Valley of Mexico. The Aztec built temples and pyramids as well as roads made of stone. They controlled many semi-independent territories. The arrival of the Spaniards in the sixteenth century brought diseases against which the Aztec had no immunity. Devastated by these diseases, the Aztecs were defeated by the Spaniards, who then destroyed much of Aztec civilization.
Section 3 Early Civilizations in South America
Civilizations existed in South America for several thousand years before the Inca built the region's most spectacular civilization. The Inca started as a small community high in the mountains of Peru. In the 1440s, they launched a campaign of conquest that eventually brought the entire region under their control. The Incan emperor controlled an army of 200,000 soldiers and a highly centralized government. Incan society was highly regimented, with clearly defined roles for women. Terraced farms were a source of livelihood for most people. The Inca built impressive cities and roads spanning nearly 25,000 miles. After the first Spanish expeditions, smallpox decimated the Inca. The remaining population was no match for the firearms of the Spanish, who quickly defeated them and established a new Spanish colony.