Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations

The period before the arrival of Europeans

Category: History

The vast territory between Northern and South Carolina and the central part of the state of New England were similar concerning their environment. It was covered with immense woods. Marshy coastal plains, wide in the south, were narrowed up to a narrow strip in the north.

Having cleared away the ground felling and burning trees, people organized settlements surrounded with extensive kitchen gardens, adjoined with fine springs. In the spring, after planting grain crops, the most part of people moved to temporary settlements built along the coast or on steep coasts of the rivers. There they spent summer, being busy with fishing and gathering molluscs in huge amounts. They dried the most part of extraction and prepared for the future winter.

In September Indians came back to the settlements for harvesting maiz, beans, vegetable marrows, pumpkins, crops celebrating holidays. Autumn was the period of collective hunting, gathering wild fruits and nuts in the neighboring woods clearing underbrush by an annual burning out. Considering such system of housekeeping, we cannot say that Europeans arrived in absolutely uninhabited land.

As in pre-European times, nowadays lowlands and wide river valleys were and are most densely occupied places of the whole area. However the big surprise is caused by the fact that the biggest concentration of the population has been found out to the northeast of modern New York where the coastal plain represents rather narrow strip.

If James Muni’s calculations are true, the population density on the coast of modern states of New York and Connecticut reached 90 people per 100 square kms, in coastal areas of Virginia and Northern Carolina – about 35 people per 100 square kms. Kreber believes, that such population density in the northeast can be charged by the fact that the narrow coastal plain with the heights located in the neighbourhood provides many opportunities for getting food.

In late autumn Indians moved to the hunting territories where rivers began to flow, closer to severe highlands where they dwellt during winter time frequently using caves. The western border of this area is formed with spurs of the Appalachian Mountains reaching the coast of New England. This cross-country terrain was seldom visited by Indians, and archeologic researches with all evidence confirm it.

However a coastal strip, the rivers, lakes provided waterways by which the wood tracks, news, goods and people got to remote settlements. It is possible to believe that the geographical environment similar to the one described, promoted the development of cultures few distinguished from each other. Regional distinction as archeologists have established, is traced mainly in ceramics, and early historical documents specify only some distinctions of non-material features.

One of the most obvious distortions of the facts in popular descriptions of this area concerns the character and the sizes of sociopolitical units in a native social system. The question is about the maps tribes’ accommodation. They create an impression, that originally there were big independent regional groups or tribes whereas actually there is information, saying that social units of natives were insignificant.

The territory, on which these groups lived, represented the land near the rivers with inflows and rare watersheds, slopes of hills and the sea coast. Coastal sites usually were lesser, than the plots far from the sea. To the south of New England long houses1 were Indians’ dwelling places. It specifies that these located groups consisted of several big families using the ground together.

Cultural connections between adjoining groups of Indians were carried out by waterways. The important place in these connections was occupied with related relations, especially between several main family communities. As in Virginia, and in the south of New England these « notable families », probably, made a top of the arising socially differentiated society. Polygamy was authorized to the leader, he collected tribute from his people to accept and treat visitors. During religious holidays the leader supervised over ceremonies.

Between several local neighbor groups there were appearing political connections in the form of relationship established through marriages between their leaders. On this basis in the precolonial period there were breeding unions though they did not bring, probably, economic gain. Due to weak development of sociopolitical integration such unions, probably, broke up quickly. The map of American Indian tribes refers to, probably; a later period of time. The word “Delawares” used in this research unites a number of local groups in XVIII century the rest of which have formed an American Indian tribe of Delawares.


1 Long houses, the big long quadrangular houses containing before colonization of Northern America the big family units. For the first time have been described by L.G.Morgan as one of attributes patrimonial building Indians.

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