The First Americans-Prehistory to 1492 summary and notes




The First Americans-Prehistory to 1492 summary and notes


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The First Americans-Prehistory to 1492 summary and notes


The First Americans-Prehistory to 1492


Section 1- The First Americans


From about 2 million to 10,000 years the northern half of the world was covered with glaciers. In some places the glaciers were 1 to 2 miles thick. The 56 mile strip of water that now separates Alaska from northeastern Asia was the site of a land bridge called the Bering Straight. Large herds of mammoth, bison and caribou wandered across the land bridge in search of Asian hunters who depended on these animals for food followed them into the America’s.


Hunter-gatherers- they killed mammoths, musk oxen, saber-tooth cats, bison, and other large animals. To add to their diets they gathered seeds, berries, nuts and the roots and bulbs of plants. The hunter-gatherers made their own tools and weapons. They used wooden poles as spears and hardened the tips by placing them in fire. They made animal hides into clothing and tents.


Archaeologists- scientists who searched for traces of people’s from the past, believe that these bands of hunter-gatherers gradually spread south until about 15,000 years. By about 8,000 years ago, people were living in both North and South America.


About 10,000 years ago the Ice Age ended. The earths’ temperatures gradually warmed, the ice melted, the glaciers shrank. The Bering Straits once again were covered with water. No more people would come to the America’s on foot. The large animals of the Ice Age began to become extinct. The Hunter-gatherers began to fish and hunt smaller animals. They built permanent shelters and stored food to make it last longer.


The first farmers- the hunter-gatherers became farmers, growing maize- the first corn. Also beans- very important in their diet, and squash.


Culture- is a total way of life a people follow to satisfy their needs. By at least 2,000 years ago there were two major Native American cultures living in the present day U.S. the mound builders and the Anasazi.


The Mound Builders- began settling in the Midwest and southeast about 2,700 years ago. They take their name from the monuments of earth and dirt that they buried their dead. They reach from a few feet to 100 feet.


Artifacts- an object made by humans that represent their culture.


Adena- were a mound building people who lived in present day Ohio and western West Virginia. They grew some crops such as sunflowers, pumpkins, and tobacco. They were hunter-gatherers.


The Hopewell Mound Builders- relied heavily on farming for food. Their earthwork were larger, their art more advanced and their religious ceremonies more organized. Around 500 AD both the Hopewell and the Adena disappeared. Scientists suggest an illness, war, or a change in climate for their decline.


The Mississippi Culture- known as Temple Mound Builders- they built temples and homes for their important leaders. Cahokia culture was the largest group of mound-builders, 40,000 people in Illinois River.


The Cliff Dwellers- they lived in rugged land of present day Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.


Anasazi- “The Ancient Ones” lived in pueblos meaning “Village” on sides of cliffs. Archaeologists think it may have been for protection from invaders.


At the height of their development the Anasazi grew corn, squash, beans, tobacco, and cotton. Anasazi artists crafted pottery and jewelry from stone, shell and metal. No one knows why the Anasazi began to leave their cliff dwellers in about 1300. There may have been a drought or an enemy may have invaded.


Section 2- Native American Culture Groups


A nation of Native Americans was usually made up of people who spoke the same language and shared other cultural traits. The most important division in a nation was the clans were related to one another by a common ancestor.


Shamans- religious leader, which was thought to have close contact with the spirit world. Received power from dreams- or spirit world.


Different Groups of Indians-


The Aleuts- Alaska, Aleuts were mainly hunters but they also gathered berries and clams.


The Inuit- Canada, they lived near the sea and hunted seal, walruses, and whales.


The Subarctic Indians- the caribou was their most important source of meat. They also hunted moose, deer, beaver, and rabbit.


The Northwest Coast- lived in Pacific Northwest- Salmon made up a large part of their diet along with sea otters, seals, bear, and moose.


Northeast Native Indians- developed Graved Totem Poles- which were wooden posts with carvings of faces- they honored their dead. Potlatch- showed their wealth- a feast at which the host family gave valuable gifts to members of the community.


The Great Basin- the Great Basin was home to the Shoshone, Paiute and Ute’s. These people were called “Digger Indians” because they dig for their food.


The Southwest- two lifestyles, they were either farmers or hunter-gatherers. One of the largest nations called the Pueblos, included Hopi and Zuni. Pueblos were skilled farmers.


The Plains- west from Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Plains were Sioux, Pawnee, Crow, Cheyenne and Comanche. These Indians were great hunters of buffalo, antelope and elk. Plains Indian invented the Tepee- which is a coned shaped tent made from buffalo skins. Spanish first brought horses to the plains Indians in 1600. Radically changed their way of life.


The Northeast Woodlands- the Iroquois and Algonquin were the two main cultures of the Northeast Indians. Iroquois Nation- Hiawatha a Mohawk leader suggested banding together for protection and strength against their enemies, white men.


Six nations make up Iroquois Nation-Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, and Tuscarora. The Iroquois League has been called the first true representative form of government in North America.


Wampum- beads on threadlike straps of animal tendon. They traded like it was money.


Kivas- religious room.


Section 3- Empires of the South


Tenochtitlan was the capital of the Aztec culture.


Civilization is a group of people with an advanced culture.


The Maya- Central America, 200 cities. The population- 10 million they were skilled farmers. From their Ancestors they learned to grow beans, squash, sweet potatoes and avocados.


Cocoa beans- used as a type of money the Maya were master builders. Pyramids were temples where Mayan priests conducted religious ceremonies. Religion and Science. Mayans believed Gods control the sun, rain, and other forces of nature. Mayan priests were also skilled mathematicians. Using dots and dashes, they developed a system of numbers before anyone else in the America’s.


The Aztec- Mexico, the Aztec built their empire between 1300 and 1520. The Aztecs were wondering hunter-gatherers. Tenochtitlan- their capital had more than 100,000 people.


Cultural Advancements-


Causeways- or raised highways over water.


Aqueducts- they built a system of channels or big pipes for flowing water, to bring fresh water from the mountains. The Aztecs built their wealth and power on trade and conquest also in Gold. Conquered people paid tribute- a tax Aztec society has a rigid class system.


  1. Nobles- inherited their position- Government official’s priests and warriors.
  2. Commoners
  3. Enslaved


Montezuma and the Aztec Decline


Montezuma was not a popular emperor. Many of his people resented him for demanding tribute. In 1520, the Aztec empire was under attack, and Montezuma was killed in his palace. Herman Cotes, a Spanish warrior seized the riches of the Aztec empire.


The Inca- The largest empire in the Americas was the one created in South America by the Inca. The Incan empire conquered many of its subjects by peaceful means. The Inca were farmers. Before sending soldiers the Incan rulers would send an ambassador to persuade the people to surrender. Often those who surrendered were allowed to keep their own rulers. The Incan ruler governed from the capital city of Cuzco, high in the Andes.



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