Message #40:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Intro to Amerind (Part I)
Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 20:01:59 -0700
Encoding: MIME-Version: 1.0 


Article 56 of 104

From:          "Paul E. Pettennude" 
Date:          1996/12/16
Message-Id:    <01bbeb63$2a6878c0$4794d9ce@tekdiver>
Organization:  Netcom
X-Netcom-Date: Mon Dec 16 12:12:16 PM PST 1996
Newsgroups:    sci.archaeology.mesoamerican

I am submitting this introduction to the American Indian for those of
you who are interested in pursuing the subject.  Much has been said
regarding the probabilities that cultural contact from outside the "New
World" occurred from the Asian mainland, the Pacific basin, Polynesia
and Africa. As you read the following introduction, keep in mind the
extraordinary uniqueness which permeates the indigenous American mind. 
There was nothing in his culture or lifestyle which is common with the
"Old World".  A few threads of similarity exist between the high
cultures of Mesoamerica and ancient Asia, but these are but a handful. 
There is no direct evidence that any contact with the "Old World"
predates the coming of the Vikings and later Christopher Columbus.

Native Americans, peoples who are indigenous to the Americas. They also
have been known as American Indians. The name Indian was first applied
to them by Christopher Columbus, who believed mistakenly that the
mainland and islands of America were part of the Indies, in Asia.

This article focuses on the peoples native to North America, Mesoamerica
(Mexico and Central America), and South America. The indigenous
population at the time of European contact is estimated, the general
physical characteristics of native American peoples are described, and a
summary is given of what is known about their arrival and early
prehistory in the Americas. The major culture areas of North, Central,
and South America are discussed, and a survey follows of the traditional
ways of life of Native Americans. Social and political organization are
considered, as well as their food, clothing, and housing, their trade,
religion, and warfare, and their crafts, visual arts, music, and dance.
Finally, the history of Native Americans after European contact and
their condition today in North and Latin America are examined.

Early Population It is estimated that at the time of first European
contact, North and South America was inhabited by more than 90 million
people: about 10 million in America north of present-day Mexico; 30
million in Mexico; 11 million in Central America; 445,000 in the
Caribbean islands; 30 million in the South American Andean region; and 9
million in the remainder of South America. These population figures are
a rough estimate (some authorities cite much lower figures); exact
figures are impossible to ascertain. When colonists began keeping
records, the Native American populations had been drastically reduced by
war, famine, forced labor, and epidemics of diseases introduced through
contact with Europeans. Physical Traits Native Americans are physically
most similar to Asian populations and appear to have descended from
Asian peoples who migrated across the Bering land bridge during the
Pleistocene epoch, also known as the Ice Age, beginning perhaps some
30,000 years ago. Like other peoples with Mongolian characteristics,
Native Americans tend to have light brown skin, brown eyes, and dark,
straight hair. They differ from Asians, however, in their characteristic
blood types.  Because many Native Americans today have had one or more
European-Americans or African-Americans among their ancestors, numerous
people who are legally and culturally Native American may look fairer or
darker than Mongolian peoples or may have markedly non-Mongolian facial

Over the thousands of years that indigenous peoples have lived in the
Americas, they have developed into a great number of local populations,
each differing somewhat from its neighbors. Some populations (such as
those on the Great Plains of North America) tend to be tall and often
heavy in build, whereas others (for example, many in the South American
Andes and adjacent lowlands) tend to be short and broad chested;
furthermore, every population includes persons who vary from the
average. Some physical characteristics of Native American populations
have been influenced by diet or by the environmental conditions of their
societies. For example, the short stature of some native Guatemalans
seems to result at least in part from diets poor in protein; the broad
chests and large hearts and lungs of native Andeans represent an
adaptation to the low-oxygen atmosphere of the high mountains they

Earliest Migrations

Evidence indicates that the first peoples to migrate into the Americas,
coming from northeastern Siberia into Alaska, were carrying stone tools
and other equipment typical of the middle and end of the Paleolithic
period. These peoples probably lived in bands of about 100, fishing and
hunting herd animals such as reindeer and mammoths. They probably used
skin tents for shelter, and they must have tanned reindeer skins and
sewn them into clothing similar to that made by the Inuit-parkas,
trousers, boots, and mittens. These peoples probably were nomadic,
moving camp at least several times each year to take advantage of
seasonal sources of food. It is likely that they gathered each summer
for a few weeks with other bands to celebrate religious ceremonies and
to trade, compete in sports, gamble, and visit. At such gatherings,
valuable information could be obtained about new sources of food or raw
materials (such as stone for tools). Such news might have led families
to move into new territory, eventually into Alaska and then farther
south into the Americas.

Evidence for the earliest migrations into the Americas is scarce and
usually not as clear as archaeologists would wish. Evidence from the
comparative study of Native American languages, as well as analysis of
some genetic materials, suggest that these earliest migrations may have
taken place around 30,000 years ago. More direct evidence from
archaeological sites places the date somewhat later. For example, in the
Yukon, in what is now Canada, bone tools have been discovered that have
been radiocarbon-dated to 22,000 BC. Campfire remains in the Valley of
Mexico, in central Mexico, have been radiocarbon-dated to 21,000 BC, and
a few chips of stone tools have been found near the hearths, indicating
the presence of humans at that time. In a cave in the Andes Mountains of
Peru, near Ayacucho, archaeologists have found stone tools and butchered
animal bones that have been dated to 18,000 BC. A cave in Idaho, in the
United States, contains similar evidence-stone tools and butchered
bone-dated to 12,500 BC. In none of these sites do distinctive American
styles characterize the artifacts (manufactured objects such as tools).
Artifacts having the earliest distinctive American styles appeared about
11,000 BC and are known as Clovis stone blades.

Major Culture Areas To understand how different peoples live and how
their societies have developed, anthropologists find it convenient to
group societies into culture areas. A culture area is first of all a
geographical region; it has characteristic climate, land forms, and
biological population-that is, fauna and flora. Humans who live in the
region must adapt to its characteristics to obtain the necessities of
life: No one can grow grain in the Arctic or hunt seals or whales in the
desert, but people can survive in the Arctic by hunting seals, or in the
desert by gathering foods such as cactus fruits. Each culture area,
then, has certain natural resources as well as the potential for certain
technologies. Humans in the culture area use many of its resources and
develop technologies-and social organizations-to fit the area's physical
potential and its hazards (such as winter cold). Neighboring peoples
learn of one another's inventions and begin to use them. Thus, societies
within a given culture area resemble one another and differ from those
in other regions.

The Americas may be divided into many culture areas, and these divisions
may be determined in different ways. Here, nine areas are used for North
America, one for Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America), and four for
South America.

North America The culture areas of North America are the Southwest, the
Eastern Woodlands, the Southeast, the Plains, the
California-Intermountain region, the Plateau, the Subarctic, the
Northwest Pacific Coast, and the Arctic. The Southwest

The Southwestern culture area encompasses Arizona, New Mexico, southern
Colorado, and adjacent northern Mexico (the states of Sonora and
Chihuahua). It can be subdivided into three sectors: northern (Colorado,
northern Arizona, northern New Mexico), with high, pleasant valleys and
pine forests; southern (southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, adjacent
Mexico), with deserts covered with cactus; and western (the
Arizona-California border area), a smaller area with desert terrain cut
by the valley of the lower Colorado River.

The first known inhabitants of the Southwest hunted mammoths and other
game with Clovis-style spearpoints by about 9500 BC. As the Ice Age
ended (about 8000 BC), mammoths became extinct. The people in the
Southwest turned to hunting bison (known as buffalo in North America)
and spent more time collecting wild plants for food. The climate
gradually became warmer and drier, and a way of life-called the
Archaic-developed from about 8000 BC to about 300 BC. Archaic peoples
hunted mostly deer, small game, and birds, and they harvested fruits,
nuts, and the seeds of wild plants, using stone slabs for grinding seeds
into flour. About 3000 BC the Southwesterners learned to grow maize
(also known as corn), which had been domesticated in Mexico, but for
centuries it was only a minor food.

About 300 BC, some Mexicans whose culture was based on cultivating
maize, beans, and squash in irrigated fields migrated to southern
Arizona. These people, called the Hohokam, lived in towns in
adobe-plastered houses built around public plazas. They were the
ancestors of the present-day Pima and Tohono O'Odham (Papago), who
preserve much of the Hohokam way of life.

The peoples of the northern sector of the Southwestern culture area,
after centuries of trading with the Hohokam, had by AD 700 modified
their life into what is called the Anasazi tradition. They grew maize,
beans, and squash and lived in towns of terraced stone or in adobe
apartment blocks built around central plazas; these blocks had blank
walls facing the outside of the town, thereby protecting the people
within. During the summer many families lived in small houses at their
fields. After 1275 the northern sector suffered severe droughts, and
many Anasazi farms and towns were abandoned; those along the Rio Grande,
however, grew and expanded their irrigation systems. In 1540 Spanish
explorers visited the descendants of the Anasazi, who are called the
Pueblos. After 1598 the Spanish imposed their rule on the Pueblos, but
in 1680 the Pueblos organized a rebellion that kept them free until
1692. Since that time, Pueblo towns have been dominated by Spanish, then
Mexican, and finally United States government. The Pueblos attempted to
preserve their culture: They continued their farming and, in some towns,
secretly maintained their own governments and religion. Twenty-two
Pueblo towns exist today.

In the 1400s, hunters speaking an Athapaskan language-related to
languages of Alaska and western Canada-appeared in the Southwest, having
migrated southward along the western Great Plains. They raided Pueblo
towns for food and-after slave markets were established by the
Spanish-for captives to sell; from the Pueblos, they learned to farm,
and from the Spanish, to raise sheep and horses. Today these peoples are
the Navajo and the several tribes of Apache.

The western sector of the Southwest is inhabited by speakers of Yuman
languages, including the isolated Havasupai, who farm on the floor of
the Grand Canyon; and the Mojave, who live along the lower Colorado
River. The Yuman-speaking peoples inhabit small villages of
pole-and-thatch houses near their floodplain fields of maize, beans, and

Eastern Woodlands. The Eastern Woodlands culture area consists of the
temperate-climate regions of the eastern United States and Canada, from
Minnesota and Ontario east to the Atlantic Ocean and south to North
Carolina. Originally densely forested, this large region was first
inhabited by hunters, including those who used Clovis spearpoints. About
7000 BC, with the warming climate, an Archaic culture developed. The
peoples of this area became increasingly dependent on deer, nuts, and
wild grains. By 3000 BC human populations in the Eastern Woodlands had
reached cultural peaks that were not again achieved until after AD 1200.
The cultivation of squash was learned from Mexicans, and in the Midwest
sunflowers, amaranth, marsh elder, and goosefoot and related plants were
also farmed. All of these were grown for their seeds, which-except for
those of the sunflower-were usually ground into flour. Fishing and
shellfish gathering increased, and off the coast of Maine the catch
included swordfish. In the western Great Lakes area, copper was surface
mined and made into blades and ornaments, and throughout the Eastern
Woodlands, beautiful stones were carved into small sculptures.

After 1000 BC the climate became cooler and food resources scarcer,
causing a population decline in the Atlantic part of the region. In the
Midwest, however, groups of people organized into wide trading networks
and began building large mound-covered tombs for their leaders and for
use as centers for religious activities. These peoples, called the
Hopewell, raised some maize, but were more dependent on Archaic foods.
The Hopewell culture declined by about AD 400.

By 750 a new culture developed in the Midwest. Called the Mississippian
culture, it was based on intensive maize agriculture, and its people
built large towns with earth platforms, or mounds, supporting temples
and rulers' residences. Across the Mississippi River from present-day
St. Louis, Missouri, the Mississippians built the city of Cahokia, which
may have had a population of 20,000. Cahokia contained hundreds of
mounds. Its principal temple was built on the largest, a mound 30 m (100
ft) high and roughly about 110 m (about 360 ft) long and about 49 m
(about 160 ft) wide (the largest such mound in North America, now part
of Cahokia Mounds State Park, Illinois). During this time period, maize
agriculture also became important in the Atlantic region, but no cities
were built.

The presence of Europeans in the Eastern Woodlands dates from at least
AD 1000, when colonists from Iceland tried to settle Newfoundland.
Throughout the 1500s, European fishers and whalers used the coast of
Canada. European settlement of the region began in the 1600s. It was not
strongly resisted, partly because terrible epidemics had spread among
the Native Americans of this region through contact with European
fishers and with Spanish explorers in the Southeast. By this time the
Mississippian cities had also disappeared, probably as a consequence of
the epidemics.

The Native American peoples of the Eastern Woodlands included the
Iroquois and a number of Algonquian-speaking peoples, including the
Lenape, also known as the Delaware; the Micmac; the Narragansett; the
Shawnee; the Potawatomi; the Menominee; and the Illinois. Some Eastern
Woodlands peoples moved west in the 19th century; others remain
throughout the region, usually in their own small communities.

The Southeast

The Southeast culture area is the semitropical region north of the Gulf
of Mexico and south of the Middle Atlantic-Midwest region; it extends
from the Atlantic coast west to central Texas. Much of this land once
consisted of pine forests, which the Native Americans of the region kept
cleared of underbrush by yearly burnings, a form of livestock management
that maintained high deer populations for hunting.

The early history of the Southeast is similar to that of adjacent areas.
Cultivation of native plants was begun in the Late Archaic period, about
3000 BC, and there were large populations of humans in the area. In 1400
BC a town, called Poverty Point by archaeologists, was built near
present-day Vicksburg, Mississippi. Like the Mississippian towns of 2000
years later, Poverty Point had a large public plaza and huge earth
mounds that served as temple platforms or covered tombs.

The number of Native Americans in the Southeast remained high until
European contact. Maize agriculture appeared about 500 BC. Towns
continued to be built, and crafted items were widely traded. The first
European explorer, the Spaniard Hernando de Soto, marched around the
Southeast with his army between 1539 and 1542; epidemics introduced by
the Spaniards killed thousands.

Southeastern peoples included the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw,
the Creek, and the Seminole, known as the Five Civilized Tribes because
they resembled European nations in organization and economy, and because
they quickly incorporated desirable European imports (such as fruit
trees) into their way of life. The Natchez, whose elaborate
mound-building culture was destroyed by Europeans in the 18th century,
were another famous Southeastern people.

The Plains

The North American Plains are the grasslands from central Canada south
to Mexico and from the Midwest westward to the Rocky Mountains. Bison
hunting was always the principal source of food in this culture area,
until the wild bison herds were exterminated in the 1880s. Most of the
Plains peoples lived in small nomadic bands that moved as the herds
moved, driving them into corrals for slaughter. From AD 850 onward,
along the Missouri River and other rivers of the central Plains,
agricultural towns were also built.

The customs of the Plains peoples have become well known as the
stereotyped "Indian" customs-the long feather headdress, the tepee (also
spelled tipi), the ceremonial pipe, costumes, and dancing. These peoples
and their customs became well known during the 19th century, when
European-Americans invaded their lands and newspapers, magazines, and
photography popularized the frontier.

Among early Plains peoples were the Blackfoot, who were bison hunters,
and the Mandan and Hidatsa, who were Missouri River agriculturalists. As
European colonists took over the Eastern Woodlands, many Midwest peoples
moved onto the Plains, among them the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the
Arapaho. Earlier, about 1450, from the valleys west of the Rockies, some
Shoshone and Comanche had begun moving onto the Plains. After 1630 these
peoples took horses from Spanish ranches in New Mexico and traded them
throughout the Plains. The culture of the Plains peoples of the time
thus included elements from adjacent culture areas.

The California-Intermountain Area

The mountain ridges and valleys of Utah, Nevada, and California resemble
one another in the pine forests of the mountains and the grasslands and
marshes in the valleys. An Archaic way of life-hunting deer and mountain
sheep, fishing, netting migratory birds, harvesting pine nuts and wild
grains-developed by 8000 BC and persisted with no radical changes until
about AD 1850. Villages were simple, with thatched houses, and in the
warm months little clothing was worn. The technology of getting,
processing, and storing food was sophisticated. Basketry was developed
into a true art. On the California coast, people fished and hunted sea
lions, dolphins, and other sea mammals from boats; the wealth of
resources stimulated a well-regulated trade using shell money.

The Paiute, Ute, and Shoshone are the best-known peoples of the
Intermountain Great Basin area; the tribes of California include the
Klamath, the Modoc, and the Yurok in the north; the Pomo, Maidu, Miwok,
Patwin, and Wintun in the central region; and the "mission tribes" in
the south, whose European-given names were derived from those of the
Spanish missions that sought to conquer them-for example, the Diegue–o.

The Plateau Region

In Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington, western Montana, and adjacent
Canada, mountains are covered with evergreen forests and separated by
grassy valleys. As in the Great Basin, the Archaic pattern of life
persisted on the Plateau, but it was enriched by annual runs of salmon
up the Columbia, Snake, Fraser, and tributary rivers, as well as by
harvests of camas (western United States plants with edible bulbs) and
other nutritious tubers and roots in the meadows. People lived in
villages made up of sunken round houses in winter and camped in mat
houses in summer. They dried quantities of salmon and camas for winter
eating, and on the lower Columbia River, at the site of the present-day
city of The Dalles, Oregon, the Wishram and Wasco peoples kept a market
town where travelers from the Pacific Coast and the Plains could meet,
trade, and buy dried food.

Plateau peoples include the Nez PercŽ, Walla Walla, Yakama, and Umatilla
in the Sahaptian language family, the Flathead, Spokane, and Okanagon in
the Salishan language family, and the Cayuse and Kootenai, or Kootenay
in Canada (with no linguistic relatives).

The Subarctic

The Subarctic region comprises the major part of Canada, stretching from
the Atlantic Ocean west to the mountains bordering the Pacific Ocean,
and from the tundra south to within about 300 km (about 200 mi) of the
United States border. The eastern half of this region was once heavily
glaciated, and its soil and drainage are poor. No agriculture is
possible in the Subarctic because summers are extremely short, and so
the region's peoples lived by hunting moose and caribou (a North
American reindeer) and by fishing. They were nomadic, sheltering
themselves in tents or, in the west, sometimes in sunken round houses
(as in the Plateau region). To move camp, they used canoes in summer and
sleds in winter. Because of the limited food resources, Subarctic
populations remained small; even the summer rendezvous at good fishing
spots drew only hundreds, compared to the thousands of persons who
gathered at seasonal rendezvous in the Great Lakes or Plains regions.

The peoples native to the eastern half of the Subarctic region are
speakers of Algonquian languages; they include the Cree, Ojibwa (also
known as the Chippewa), Montagnais, and Naskapi. In the western half
live speakers of northern Athapaskan languages, including the Chipewyan,
Beaver, Kutchin, Ingalik, Kaska, and Tanana. Many Subarctic peoples,
although now settled in villages, still live by trapping, fishing, and

Northwest Pacific Coast

The west coast of North America, from southern Alaska to northern
California, forms the Northwest Pacific Coast culture area. Bordered on
the east by mountains, the habitable land is usually narrow, lying
between the sea and the hills. The sea is rich in sea mammals and in
fish, including salmon and halibut; on the land are mountain sheep and
goats, elk, abundant berries, and edible roots and tubers similar to
potatoes. These resources supported a dense population organized into
large villages where people lived in wooden houses, often more than 30 m
(100 ft) long. Each house contained an extended family, sometimes with
slaves, and was managed by a chief. During the winter, villagers staged
elaborate costumed religious dramas, and they also hosted people from
neighboring villages at ceremonial feasts called potlatches, at which
gifts were lavishly given. Trade was important, and it extended toward
northern Asia, where iron for knives was obtained. The Northwest Pacific
Coast is known for its magnificent wooden carvings.

Northwest Pacific Coast culture developed after 3000 BC, when sea levels
stabilized and movements of salmon and sea mammals became regular. The
basic pattern of life changed little, and over the centuries carving and
other crafts gradually attained great sophistication and artistry.
Tribes of the Northwest Pacific Coast include the Tlingit, Tsimshian,
Haida, Kwakiutl, Nootka, Chinook, Salish, Makah, and Tillamook.

The Arctic

The Arctic culture area rings the coasts of Alaska and northern Canada.
Because winters are long and dark, agriculture is impossible; people
live by fishing and by hunting seal, caribou, and (in northern Alaska
and eastern Canada), whale. Traditional summer houses were tents. Winter
houses were round, well-insulated frame structures covered with skins
and blocks of sod; in central Canada the winter houses often were made
of blocks of ice. Populations were small because resources were so

The Arctic was not inhabited until about 2000 BC, after glaciers finally
melted in that region. In Alaska the Inuit and the Yuit (also known as
Yupik) developed ingenious technology to deal with the difficult climate
and meager economic resources. About AD 1000 bands of Alaskan Inuit
migrated across Canada to Greenland; called the Thule culture, they
appear to have absorbed an earlier people in eastern Canada and
Greenland (the Dorset culture). These people are now often referred to
as the Greenland Inuit. Because of this migration, traditional Inuit
culture and language are similar from Alaska to Greenland. Living in
southwestern Alaska (and the eastern end of Siberia) are the Yuit, who
are related to the Inuit in culture and ancestry but whose language is
slightly different. Distantly related to the Inuit and Yuit are the
Aleuts, who since 6000 BC have remained in their homeland on the
Aleutian Islands, fishing and hunting sea mammals. Like the Subarctic
peoples but unlike most Native Americans, the Inuit, Yuit, and Aleut
peoples today retain much of their ancient way of life because their
culture areas are remote from cities and their lands cannot be farmed.


Impressive civilizations developed in Mexico and upper Central America
after about 1400 BC. These civilizations originated from an Archaic
hunting-and-gathering way of life that by 7000 BC included cultivation
of small quantities of beans, squash, pumpkins, and maize. By 2000 BC
Mexicans had come to depend on their planted fields of these crops, plus
amaranth, avocado and other fruits, and chili peppers. Towns developed,
and by 1400 BC the Olmec civilization boasted a capital with palaces,
temples, and monuments built on a huge constructed platform about 50 m
(about 165 ft) high and nearly 1.6 km (1 mi) long. The Olmec lived in
the jungle of the east coast of Mexico; their trade routes extended
hundreds of miles, both to Monte Alb‡n in western Mexico (in what is now
Oaxaca State) and to the Valley of Mexico in the central highlands. As
the power of the Olmec declined (about 400 BC), the centers in the
central highlands grew, and by the 1st century AD the largest city in
pre-Columbian Mexico had developed to an urban size at Teotihuac‡n in
the Valley of Mexico. Teotihuac‡n dominated Mexico for the first six
centuries AD, trading with Monte Alb‡n and with the Mayan kingdoms that
had arisen in southwestern Mexico and conquering rivals as far south as
the Valley of Guatemala. The capital city covered some 21 sq km (some 8
sq mi) with blocks of apartment houses, markets, many small factories,
temples on platforms, and palaces covered with murals.

About AD 700 Teotihuac‡n suffered attacks that destroyed its power.
Later in the same century many Mayan cities were abandoned, perhaps
economically ruined when their trade with Teotihuac‡n ended. Other Mayan
cities, mostly in northern Yucat‡n, were not so affected. By 1000 in
central Mexico, a new power-the Toltec-began building an empire that
extended into the Valley of Mexico and maybe into Mayan territory. This
empire collapsed in 1168. By 1433 the Valley of Mexico had regained
domination over much of Mexico as a result of an alliance of three
neighboring kingdoms. This alliance secured the homeland from which one
king, Montezuma I of the Aztecs, began territorial conquests in the
1400s. The empire flourished until 1519, when a Spanish soldier, Hern‡n
CortŽs, landed in eastern Mexico and advanced with Mexican allies upon
the Aztec capital, Tenochtitl‡n. Internal strife and a smallpox epidemic
weakened the Mexicans and helped CortŽs conquer them in 1521.

At the time of these initial Spanish conquests the native peoples of
Mexico included those in the domains of the Aztec Empire and of the
powerful kingdoms of the Mixtec rulers in what is now Puebla State and
the Tarascan in Michoac‡n State, and of the Zapotec in Oaxaca, the
Tlaxcalan in Michoac‡n, the Otom’ in Hidalgo, and the Totonac in
Veracruz; the subjects of the remnants of the Mayan state of Mayap‡n in
the Yucat‡n and of a number of smaller undestroyed Mayan states to the
south; and many independent groups in the frontier regions, such as the
Yaqui, Huichol, and Tarahumara in northern Mexico and the Pipil in the
south. After the Spanish conquest-which took more than two centuries to
reach throughout Mexico-most of the Native American peoples were forced
to survive as peasants governed by the Spanish-Mexican upper class.