Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations

The history of North American Indians

Category: History

By the time America was discovered by Europeans it had been populated with many American Indian peoples.

The majority of researchers recognize that this settling was the result of several migratory waves of small groups of Paleolithic hunters from Northeastern Asia along the bridge of Bering. The question of time of the settling hasn’t finally been solved however. This problem has actively been studied by archeologists, linguists, anthropologists and ethnographers of many countries. Russian archeologists’ researches have great value for its decision. Discussions have arisen about the time of the first settling of America. Assumptions made by scientists give dates from 20 000 BC till 40 000 BC.

The similarity of North American Indians anthropological type to the race of Asia speaks about Asia being the ancient home of the people who discovered and occupied The New World 25000 – 30000 years ago. They both have similar rather dark color of skin — varying from yellow, yellowy-brown  to reddish-brown, — rigid strait black hair , absence or comparative scarcity of vegetation of their bodies, dark pigmentation of eyes, protruding cheekbones and  wide faces. On the basis of these distinctions researchers allocate americanoids and the Asian branch mongoloids, considering, that the former race have kept initial prototype features of the mongoloid race to greater extent than modern mongoloids of East Asia.

On the territory of two Americas within some  millennia the set of local variations of this protomongoloid type was generated, united in three races by a number of features; North American, Central American and South American – differing in height, skin color and other features. In Northern America, in spite of the presence of local variants, there was the classical type of American Indians differing generally in high height, strongly profiled aquiline nose, with face more profiled horizontally. Indians of prairies – moderately-long-headed, tall, with a direct cut of eyes and an aquiline nose are considered as typical representatives of the type. The Indians of Central and South Americas have kept features of the paleoamerican race to greater extent: they are of middle height or undersized (except for tall Patagonians).

Considerably later after the basic waves of immigrants to Northern America there came Aleuto-Eskimos making the second part of americanoids but much closer to the mongoloids of Asia in a lot more number of features. Visible features of the Asian origin of Indians, convincing materials produced by American linguists E.Sepir and M.Suadesh establish relationship of American Indian languages with languages of peoples of Asia.

By the time of discovering The New World by Europeans the aboriginal population had been characterized by extreme language diversity.

About 2200 languages have been established on the territory of two Americas. Many generations of americanists were engaged in studying and classification of these languages. J.Powell, F.Boas, E.Spir, M.Suadesh, J. Grinberg — in the USA, Paul Rivet — in France and a Czech scientist Chsstmir Loukotka. As a result of these researches the increasing similarity between languages of primordial inhabitants of America was found and they were united in a decreasing number of the big language families. According to M.Suadesh’s latest classification,all languages of americanoids break up into 110 groups – families which can be united in five big linguistic lines, except for three isolated languages in South America (tinigua, omuurana and nambiquara). In the latter ones he sees the rests of the first wave of immigrants to the New World. After them separate groups of americanoids’ ancestors speaking five big language line consistently moved (by Suadesh): Macro-Caribbean, Macro-Arawaquian, Macro-Cetchuan, Macro-Maya and Basque – dene.

  1. Suadesh reasonably explains the fact of having many languages of the population of The New World as the consequence of moving, split, and isolation of these groups on the extensive territory of two American continents.

Nowadays the facts collected by the archeological science allow us to track consecutive change of American Indian societies progressively developed on the territory of Northern America during almost eleven millennia. Archeologists have established coexistence of two most ancient Paleo-Indian cultural traditions on the territory of the continent: 1) the culture of large game hunters with the centre in a prairie zone and 2) unspecialized hunters – collectors of the Cordilleras culture in the Pacific Northwest. They existed till VIII millennium BC and became a basis for all subsequent locally differentiated cultures developed on big territories of the wood zone in the east, on the plateau, in the Big Basin, in the southwest and the northwest of the continent.

The history of Indians in the east of the continent — on the territories of the wood zone of Northern America — and in the southwest (present-day states of Arizona and New Mexico) is especially intensively investigated by archeologists. In these areas there were centers of the highest for Northern America developments of the American Indian cultures rendering huge influence on the further development of American Indian tribes of other parts of the continent and on formation of American Indian tribes, nowadays known by the historical and ethnographic data.

In the history of the American Indian population on the territories of the east wood zone of the continent, to the east from steppes, archeologists trace three consecutive periods: archaic, of woodland and  Mississippi cultures . The archaic period (VIII — I millennia BC), replaced cultures of Paleo-Indian — hunters on a large game; it is characterized as the period of unspecialized appropriating facilities effectively using natural diverse riches of woods and reservoirs of the moderate climate.

Hunting, fishery, collecting wild-growing cereals and fruits supposed substantially a settled life, and together with it development of such crafts, as tree processing, manufacturing of stone vessels, bone products and ornaments. The funeral stock of this period speaks about development of a dead people’s cult and allows us to admit presence of rudiments of social differentiation by the end of the period. Development of this culture in the east wood zone had reached the maximum point by the beginning of II millennium BC. In the area of Great Lakes in III-I millennia BC the ancient copper culture appeared which moved then to the north.

During the first millennium BC archaic cultures of the wood zone of Northern America are replaced by so-called woodland cultures developing on the huge territory from southern Canada up to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Atlantic up to steppes. Variants of the woodland culture took place as well in the steppe zone in the northeast of the continent. They existed in the northeast till the discovery of Northern America.

Woodland cultures were a continuation of the development of cultural traditions of the previous period, but agriculture and ceramics added to hunting, collecting and fishery as main kinds of occupations. A new feature of this cultural tradition was the construction of sepulchral barrows. The stock of burial places testified the development of social differentiation. In cultures of early woodland appropriating kinds of economics were more important, but also value of agriculture gradually grew. On the basis of distinctions in the ratio values of agriculture with hunting – fishery – collecting, regional distinctions in American Indian cultures of this period developed. In the areas far from pools of the rivers in the north and the east, agriculture had smaller value.

In the valleys of the Mississippi, Ohio and Illinois rivers agriculture got the increasing value. American Indian cultures of the woodland period had reached the highest point by VII century AD in the valley of the Ohio River. Archeologists divide their history into two stages: the first stage of sepulchral barrows (X century BC-III century AD), their builders are called edema, and the second stage of sepulchral barrows (III-VII centuries AD) of the so-called Hopewell type. Hopewell cultures represented blossoming cultural traditions of the woodland. Their characteristic attributes are fortified earthen embankments of the big settlements, development of crafts — processing of copper, silver, meteoric iron — and applied arts (ceramics, clay and stone sculptures); the big sepulchral barrows and the complex funeral ceremony reflect the presence of social differentiation. The Hopewell stage influenced the formation of cultures of a steppe zone and the east of the continent.

Woodland cultures existed in steppes till X century BC, and in the northeast till the discovery of the continent by Europeans.

At the end of VII century AD we can see the cultural centre moving from the Ohio valley middle and the lower watercourse of the Mississippi and the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The period of VII-XV centuries AD is characterized by the development of the so-called Mississippi culture on the Mississippi river. It is mainly the agricultural culture developing as synthesis of the previous Hopewell culture achievements and loans from Mesoamerica. But the borrowed exotic elements were processed and adapted to local traditions.

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