Message #41:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Intro to Amerind (Part II)
Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 20:01:59 -0700
Encoding: MIME-Version: 1.0 


The culture area of Mesoamerica-Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, western
Honduras, and western Nicaragua-was one of farming villages producing
maize, beans, squash, amaranth, turkeys, and other foods, supporting
large city markets where traders sold tools, cloth, and luxury goods
imported over long land and sea trade routes. In the cities lived
manufacturers and their workers, merchants, the wealthy class, and
priests and scholars who recorded literary, historical, and scientific
works in native-language hieroglyphic texts (astronomy was particularly
advanced). Cities were adorned with sculptures and brilliant paintings,
often depicting the Mesoamerican symbols of power and knowledge: the
eagle, lord of the heavens; the jaguar, lord of the earth; and the
rattlesnake, associated with wisdom, peace, and the arts of

South America The culture areas of South America extend from lower
Central America-eastern Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica-to the
southern tip of South America. Four principal areas can be
distinguished: northern South America, including the Caribbean and lower
Central America; the central and southern Andes Mountains and adjacent
Pacific coast; the Tropical Forest of eastern South America; and the tip
and eastern portion of the narrow southern third of the continent, an
area supporting only nomadic hunting-and-gathering peoples. Northern
South America and the Caribbean The culture area of northern South
America and the Caribbean includes jungle lowlands, grassy savannah
plains, the northern Andes Mountains, some arid sections of western
Ecuador, and the islands of the Caribbean. Given its geographical
location, the region might seem to link the great civilizations of
Mexico and Peru; but because land travel through the jungles and
mountains of lower Central America is difficult, pre-Columbian contacts
between Peru and Mexico took place mostly by sea, from Ecuador's Gulf of
Guayaquil to western Mexican ports. The native peoples of northern South
America and the Caribbean lived in small, independent states. Although
they traded directly with Mexico and Peru by way of Ecuador, they were
bypassed by the empires.

Finds of Clovislike spearpoints indicate the presence of hunters in the
area by 9000 BC; other evidence suggests that people were in the
northern region by 18,000 BC. The Archaic style of living continued from
the time of the extinction of the mastodons and mammoths, in the Clovis
period, until about 3000 BC. About this time, village dwellers developed
the cultivation of maize in Ecuador, and of manioc (a tropical tuber) in
Venezuela, and pottery making flourished. Also after this date, the
Caribbean islands began to be settled. By 500 BC, in towns in some areas
of northern South America, distinctive local styles had developed in
sculpture and metalwork. Population growth and technological progress
continued until the Spanish conquered the region; at that time the
Chibcha kingdoms of Colombia were famous for their fine gold ornaments.
Around the Caribbean, smaller groups such as the M’skito of Nicaragua,
the Cuna of Panama, and the Arawak and Carib peoples of the Caribbean
islands farmed and fished around their villages; the Carib also lived
along the coast of Venezuela. These peoples lived a simpler life than
did the peoples of the northern Andean states.

Central and Southern Andes The lofty chain of the Andes Mountains that
stretches down the western half of South America, together with the
narrow coastal valleys between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, were
the home of the great civilizations of Native Americans in South

In recent years, excavation at the Monte Verde site in southern Chile
has yielded unequivocal evidence of human occupation dating back to
11,000 BC. Excavations farther north, in Peru, show that by 7000 BC
beans, including the lima bean, were cultivated, as were chili peppers.
A few centuries later the domestication of llamas was begun. Guinea pigs
were eventually raised for meat; cotton, potatoes, peanuts, and other
foods gradually became part of Peruvian agriculture, and about 2000 BC
maize was brought from the northern Andes. The peoples of the Pacific
coast, from Chile through Peru into Ecuador, also made use of the rich
sea life, which included many species of fish, as well as water birds,
sea lions, dolphins, and shellfish.

After 2000 BC peoples in villages in several coastal valleys of central
Peru organized to build great temples of stone and adobe on large
platforms. After about 900 BC these temples appear to have served a new
religion, centered in the mountain town of Chav’n de Hu‡ntar. This
religion had as its symbols the eagle, the jaguar, the snake (probably
an anaconda), and the caiman (alligator), which seems to have
represented water and the fertility of plants. These symbols are
somewhat similar to those of the Mexican Olmec religion, but no definite
link between the two cultures is known. After 300 BC Chav’n influence-or
possibly political power-declined. The Moche civilization then appeared
on the northern coast of Peru, and the Nazca on the southern coast. In
both, large irrigation projects, towns, and temples were constructed,
and extensive trade was carried on, including the export of fine
ceramics. The Moche depicted their daily life and their myths in
paintings and in ceramic sculpture; they showed themselves as fearsome
warriors and also made molded ceramic sculptures depicting homes with
families, cultivated plants, fishers, and even lovers. They were also
expert metalworkers.

By about AD 600 the Moche and Nazca cultures declined, and two new,
powerful states appeared in Peru: Huari in the central mountains, and
Tiahuanacu in the southern mountains at Lake Titicaca. Tiahuanacu seems
to have been a great religious center, reviving symbols from the Chav’n.
These states lasted only a few centuries; after 1000, coastal states
again became important, especially Chimœ in the north, with its vast and
magnificent adobe-brick capital city of Chanchan. All Peru was
eventually conquered by a state that arose in the central mountains at
Cuzco; this was the Quechua state, ruled by a people known as the Inca.
The emperor of the Inca at the time, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, began
large-scale expansion of the empire in the 1400s; by 1525 Inca rule
extended from Ecuador to Chile and Argentina. Civil war raged within the
empire from 1525 to 1532. At its conclusion, the Spanish adventurer
Francisco Pizarro landed in Peru and had little trouble conquering the
war-wasted Inca Empire.

During this time the central and southern Andes were populated by
farmers who raised a variety of crops. Local products, transported by
llama caravans, were exported and traded between the coast, the
mountains, and the eastern tropical jungle. The region's kingdoms were
governed by administrators aided by soldiers and priests. Prehistoric
Peru had the only great civilization known that did not use writing; but
the Peruvians did use the abacus for arithmetic calculations, and they
kept numerical records for government by means of abacuslike sets of
knotted strings called quipus.

The Tropical Forest The jungle lowlands of eastern South America seem to
have been settled after 3000 BC, for archaeologists have not found
evidence of any earlier peoples. Population was always relatively
sparse, clustered along riverbanks where fish could be obtained and
manioc and other crops planted. Various herbs and foods were cultivated,
including hallucinogens for use in religious rituals; these were also
exported to Peru. Although animals such as tapirs and monkeys were
hunted, little game was supported by the jungle forests. No large towns
existed-people lived in thatch houses in villages. Sometimes the whole
village slept in hammocks, which were invented here. Little clothing was
worn, because of the damp heat, but cotton cloth was woven, and the
people ornamented themselves with painting. Among the many small groups
of the Tropical Forest culture area are the Makiritare, the Yanomamo,
the Mundurucu, the Tupinamba, the Shipibo, and the Cayap—. Speakers of
Arawak and Carib languages-linguistic relatives of Caribbean
peoples-also live in the northern Tropical Forest. Although Tropical
Forest peoples retain much of their traditional way of life, today they
suffer from diseases brought by Europeans and from destruction of their
lands by ranchers, loggers, miners, and agribusiness corporations.
Southernmost South America In Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, farming
peoples such as the Mapuche of Chile still live in villages and
cultivate maize, potatoes, and grains. Although they once kept llamas,
after the Spanish invasions they began to raise cattle, sheep, pigs, and
chickens, and used horses for herding and for warfare. Farther south, on
the Pampas, agriculture was not suitable; people lived by hunting
guanacos and rheas and, on the coasts, by fishing and gathering
shellfish. In Tierra del Fuego evidence of this hunting-and-gathering
life dates from 7000 BC. On the Pampas, hunting was transformed when the
horse was obtained from the Spaniards after AD 1555. The Tehuelche
pursued guanacos from horseback, and like the North American Plains
peoples, once they had horses for transport, they enjoyed larger tepees
as well as more clothing and other goods. Farthest south, around the
Strait of Magellan, the Ona, Yahgan, and Alacaluf lacked the game
animals of the Pampas; they survived principally on fish and shellfish,
but also hunted seals and sea lions. Nomadic peoples, they lived in
small wigwams covered with bark or sealskins. In spite of the cold,
foggy climate, they wore little clothing. Life in Tierra del Fuego
appears to have changed little over 9000 years, for no agriculture or
herding is possible in the climate. The peoples native to this region
suffered greatly from diseases brought by Europeans, and few survive
today. Traditional Way of Life Among the elements of the traditional
ways of life of Native Americans are their social and political
organization, their economic and other activities, and their religions,
languages, and art. Social and Political Organization Social
organization among Native Americans, as among peoples throughout the
world, is based largely on the family. Some Native American societies
emphasize the economic cooperation of husband and wife, others that of
adult brothers and sisters. As among various other peoples, men's work
has been largely separate from women's work. Women usually took
responsibility for the care of young children and the home, and for the
cultivation of plants, while men frequently hunted, traveled for trade,
or worked as laborers.

Native American societies also parallel societies elsewhere in that
their size and complexity are affected by the economic potential of
their environment. Accordingly, the smallest societies are found in
regions that are poor in food resources. Examples include the Cree and
the Athapaskan-language peoples of the Canadian Subarctic, the Paiute of
the Nevada desert, and the Ona and Yahgan of Tierra del Fuego. Among
these peoples, two or three couples and their children often lived
together, hunting, fishing, gathering plant foods, and moving camp
several times a year to take advantage of seasonal foods in different
localities. During the season when food was most available, usually
summer, these small groups would gather together, with several hundred
people spending a few weeks in feasting, trading, and visiting. When
agriculture is possible, communities have been larger, from one or two
hundred to thousands of people. In most of what is now the United
States, people lived in villages and formed a loosely organized alliance
with nearby villages. The alliance and each village were governed by
councils; village councils usually consisted of representatives from
each family, and the alliance council was made up of representatives
from the villages. The council selected a man or, in some areas
(especially the North American Southeast), sometimes a woman to act as
chief-that is, to preside over the council and act as principal liaison
in dealing with other groups. Often the chief was selected from a family
that trained its children for leadership. In many areas families in the
villages were linked together in clans-that is, groups believed to be
descended from one ancestral couple. Clans usually owned resources such
as agricultural plots and fishing stations; they allotted these as
needed to member families and protected their members. Similar societies
became common in the Tropical Forest culture area of South America.

In pre-Columbian times in Mesoamerica and the Andes of South America,
kingdoms that had hundreds of thousands of subjects and empires with
millions of subjects were established. These societies were stratified,
with a large lower class of farmers, miners, and craft workers; a middle
class of merchants and officials; and an upper class of rulers who
maintained armies and a priesthood. In many of these states, children
were educated in formal schools; most children were trained to follow
their parents' occupations, but talented youth might be selected for
more suitable work. Citizens supported the state religion, although in
the empires local religious observances were sometimes permitted to
coexist with the state religion. War captives and debtors often became
slaves. The Inca state in Peru was tightly organized and controlled,
moving persons and even whole villages around the empire to meet its
needs. In Mesoamerican kingdoms, on the other hand, clanlike local
groups were generally allowed limited power.

On first encountering Native American societies, Europeans frequently
did not understand their organization, which differed in various ways
from European types of social organization; subsequently, the native
organization was modified by the British or Spanish conquerors. In North
America, Europeans failed to recognize the respect and power accorded to
women of the Iroquois, Creek, and a number of other peoples. Among the
Iroquois, for example, women made the final decisions in major areas of
government. In California, Europeans who saw the local upper class
living in thatch houses and wearing little clothing failed to understand
that the region's native communities had different social classes and
highly organized ownership of property. Many descriptions of indigenous
societies were written after wars between Europeans and Native Americans
and epidemics of diseases brought by Europeans had severely reduced
native populations and disrupted their societies. Other accounts were
written with a particular bias, to support an author's ideas of how
humans ought to live. Thus, many false stereotypes of Native Americans
and their societies became common.

Food Since at least 2000 BC, most Native Americans have lived by
agriculture. Maize was the most common grain, but certain grainlike
plants were also popular, notably amaranth in Mesoamerica and quinoa in
the Andes. Several varieties of beans and squash were grown alongside
maize; many varieties of potato were cultivated in the Andes; and
manioc, a tropical tuber, was raised in the Tropical Forest area of
South America. All these plants, as well as peanuts, chili peppers,
cotton, cacao (chocolate), avocados, and many others, were domesticated
and developed as crops by Native Americans.

Livestock was less important to Native Americans than to peoples on
other continents. In the Andes guinea pigs were bred for meat and llamas
for transport and meat, and in Mesoamerica turkeys were domesticated.
Protein was often obtained from plants, especially beans. Maize-growing
peoples obtained calcium by soaking maize in a lime solution as a step
in preparing it to eat. Throughout the Americas additional protein was
obtained from fish and game animals, especially deer. Outside
Mesoamerica and the Andes, in many Native American communities game
ranges were regularly burned to improve pasture, thereby maintaining
favorable conditions for deer and, on the Plains, for bison. In
Mesoamerica and Peru, land was too valuable to pasture animals; instead,
land was cultivated, intensively irrigated, and, in mountain regions,

Hunting and fishing techniques were highly developed by Native
Americans, particularly in regions not suited to agriculture. Traps of
all kinds were common. Plains peoples relied on corrals hidden under
bluffs or in ravines; herds of bison were driven into the corrals, where
they were easily slaughtered. Inuit and Subarctic groups drove caribou
into corrals, or they ambushed them in mountain passes or river fords.
Guanacos were similarly hunted in the South American Pampas. Fish were
usually taken in nets or weir traps (where a fence or enclosure is set
in a waterway to catch fish), except in the Northwest Pacific Coast
area, where tons of salmon could be speared at the river rapids.

Techniques of food preparation have varied according to the type of food
and the culture area. In maize-growing regions, tortillas remain common,
as does a similar flat bread of manioc flour in the Tropical Forest.
Techniques of drying foods, including meats, have always been important.
In pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica and the Andes, nobles indulged in elaborate
feasts of richly prepared dishes.

Clothing and Adornment In their traditional clothing Native Americans
differed from Europeans in that they placed less importance on
completely covering the body. The peoples of warm climates, in
California and the Tropical Forest, for example, often did not bother
with much clothing except at festivals; then they adorned themselves
with flowers and paint, and often with intricate feather headdresses. In
Mesoamerica and Peru, men wore a breechcloth and a cloak knotted over
one shoulder, and women wore a skirt and a loose blouse; these garments
were woven of cotton or, in Peru, sometimes of fine vicu–a (a relative
of the llama) wool. North American hunting peoples made garments of
well-tanned deer, elk, or caribou skin; a common style was a tunic,
longer for women than for men, with detachable sleeves and leggings.
Northwest Pacific Coast peoples wore rain cloaks of woven cedar fiber.
In the Arctic, the Inuit and Aleuts wore parkas, pants, and boots of
caribou or, when needed, of waterproof fish skin. Except in Canada and
Alaska, where parkas and coats were worn, Native Americans in cold
weather usually wrapped themselves in robes, cloaks, or ponchos. Housing
and Construction Modes of shelter, like food, show adaptation to
environment. Some houses that appear simple, such as the Inuit iglu or
the Florida Seminole chikee, are quite sophisticated: The iglu (Inuit
for "house"), usually made of hide or sod over a wood or whalebone
frame, is a dome with a sunken entrance that traps heat indoors but
allows ventilation; the chikee, naturally air-conditioned, consists of a
thatch roof over an open platform. The tepee of the Plains peoples
constitutes efficient housing for people who must move camp to hunt;
tepees are easily portable and quickly erected or taken down, and an
inner liner hung from midway up the tepee allows ventilation without
drafts, so that the enclosed space is comfortable even in winter.

Some peoples in cold climates that were well supplied with wood, such as
the peoples of Tierra del Fuego and the Subarctic Athapaskan-language
peoples, relied on windbreaks with good fires in front, rather than on
tents. Many other peoples, including some Athapaskan tribes as well as
Inuit, Californians, Intermountain peoples, and early Southwesterners,
spent cold weather in dome-shaped houses that were sunk well into the
ground for insulation. Plains farming peoples, including the Pawnee and
Mandan, built aboveground dome houses insulated with earth applied over
pole frames. The Navajo hogan, a round log-house banked with earth, is

Mesoamerican and Andean peoples constructed buildings of stone and
cement as well as of wood and adobe. Public buildings and the houses of
the upper class were usually built on raised-earth platforms, with a
large number of rooms arranged around atria and courtyards. In cities
and in the Pueblo towns of the Southwest, multistoried apartment blocks
were built.

Trade and Transportation To all Native Americans, trade was an important
economic activity. The early empire of Teotihuac‡n in Mexico was founded
on the manufacture and export of blades of obsidian, a natural volcanic
glass that made the best stone knives. Several centuries later, the
Aztecs organized their conquests by sending merchants into other
kingdoms to develop trade, act as spies, and help plan conquest if the
foreign ruler failed to give favorable terms to Aztec trade. In the Inca
Empire excellent highways were built over difficult mountain terrain in
order to move quantities of local specialty products in pack trains of
llamas. Trade was also conducted by sea along South America and around
Mexico and the Caribbean. Much sea trade was carried in large sailing
rafts or, in the Caribbean, in canoes made from huge logs. Trade goods
in Mesoamerica and the Andes included foodstuffs, manufactured items
such as cloth, knives, and pottery, and luxuries such as jewelry,
brilliant tropical bird feathers, and chocolate. Both medicinal and
hallucinogenic drugs were widely traded. Goods were bought and sold in
large open markets in towns and cities.

Outside the kingdoms of Mesoamerica and the Andes, trade was often
carried on by traveling parties who were received in each village by its
chief, who supervised business as the people gathered around the trader.
In many areas, including California and the Eastern Woodlands, small
shells or shell beads-called wampum in the Eastern Woodlands-were used
as money. Because traders carried their goods on their backs or in
canoes, trade goods were usually relatively light, small items. Furs and
bright-colored feathers were valued in trade nearly everywhere. In
western North America dried salmon, fish oil, and fine baskets were
major trade products, and in eastern North America expertly tanned deer
hides, copper, catlinite pipe-bowl stone, pearls, and conch shells were
widely traded.

Recreation and Entertainment The games and other recreational activities
of Native Americans have had much in common with those of peoples
elsewhere. Children traditionally played with dolls and with miniature
figures and implements, imitating adult activities; in groups they
played tag, the one who was "it" often pretending to be a jaguar or
similar animal. Youths and adults played games with balls-rubber balls
in Mesoamerica and northern South America, hide or fiber balls
elsewhere. The Mesoamerican ball game called tlatchtli was somewhat
similar to basketball in that it was played in a rectangular court and
had the goal of knocking a hard ball through a stone hoop high on the
court wall; players, however, were not allowed to use their hands, but
only body parts such as the hips and knees. In Mesoamerica these ball
games often were seen as rituals of cosmic significance. Lacrosse was
popular in the eastern region of North America and eventually was
adopted by European settlers. In southern South America a game was
played that resembled field hockey. Chunkey, a kind of bowling with a
stone disk instead of a ball, was a favorite in the Midwest.
Hoop-and-pole, in which players throw sticks at a rolling hoop, was
played throughout most of the Americas.

Guessing games, with the players trying to guess where a token piece is
hidden, continue to be popular among the Native Americans of North
America, but are not common in South America; players usually sing and
beat a rhythm, trying to confuse their opponents. In both North and
South America games of chance using dice are still played, and the
Aztecs of earlier times had a board game similar to the modern game of

Competitions-in foot racing, wrestling, archery, and, after the Spanish
invasions, horse racing-were generally popular, as were variants of snow
snake, in which a smooth stick is slid along a course. Minor amusements
that are still popular include cat's cradle, in which a symbolic string
figure is constructed on the player's fingers, and the use of tops and

Religion and Folklore Native American religious beliefs and practices
display great diversity. As among other peoples, educated and
philosophical persons may hold beliefs that differ from those of most
people living in the same community; this was also true in the past.

The Mexican and Andean nations, the peoples of the North American
Southwest and Southeast, and some Northwest Pacific Coast peoples had
full-time religious leaders as well as shrines or temple buildings.
Peoples of other areas had part-time priests and generally lacked
permanent temples. Part-time priests and shamans (faith healers, who
often also used medicinal plants to cure) learned to conduct ceremonies
by apprenticing themselves to older practitioners; in the larger nations
priests were trained in schools attached to the temples. In some regions
religious leaders formed fraternal orders to train initiates and share
knowledge; examples include the Ojibwa of the Eastern Woodlands and the
Pawnee of the Plains.

Most Native Americans believe that in the universe there exists an
Almighty-a spiritual force that is the source of all life. The Almighty
of Native American belief is not pictured as a man in the sky; rather,
it is believed to be formless and to exist throughout the universe. The
sun is viewed as a manifestation of the power of the Almighty, and
Europeans often thought Native Americans were worshipping the sun, when,
in fact, they were addressing prayers to the Almighty, of which the sun
was a sign and symbol.

In many areas of the Americas, the Almighty was recognized in several
aspects: as light and life-power, focused in the sun; as fertility and
strength, centered in the earth; as wisdom and the power of earthly
rulers, observed in creatures such as the jaguar, the bear, or snakes.
In most places in the Americas, religious devotees enhanced their
ability to perceive aspects of the Almighty, sometimes by using
hallucinogenic plants, or sometimes by fasting and singing prayers until
they achieved a spiritual vision. In northern and western North America,
most boys and many girls were sent out alone to fast and pray until they
thought they saw a spirit that promised to help them achieve the power
to succeed in adult life. Shamans among the Inuit, along the Northwest
Coast, in South America, and in some other areas went into trances,
believing that their souls could then battle evil spirits or search the
earth for the wandering souls of sick patients.

Most Native American peoples have myths in which a time is described
when the earth was not as it now appears, and during which it became
transformed by the actions of legendary persons, or animals who spoke
with humans. Unlike many Europeans, Native Americans tend not to
consider humans entirely different from animals and plants; instead,
they often believe that other beings are like humans and that all are
dependent on the life-giving power of the Almighty. Some Native American
myths, such as the myth of Lone Man (of the Plains people known as the
Mandan), describe a wise leader who teaches the arts of life to the
people; others, such as the California-Intermountain myths about Coyote,
describe foolishly clever antics.

Native Americans generally have shown less interest in an afterlife than
have Christians. Native Americans have traditionally tended to assume
that the souls of the dead go to another part of the universe, where
they have a pleasant existence carrying on everyday activities. Souls of
unhappy or evil persons might stay around their former homes, causing
misfortunes. Many Native American peoples have celebrated an annual
memorial service for deceased relatives; in Latin America this
observance later became fused with the Christian All Souls' Day.

Both private prayer and public rituals are common among Native
Americans. Individuals regularly give thanks to the Almighty;
communities gather for symbolic dances, processions, and feasts. The Sun
Dance of the Plains peoples is an annual summer assembly at which a
thousand or more people meet to fast and pray together, praising and
beseeching the blessings of the Almighty. The Pueblos of the Southwest,
like the Iroquois of the Eastern Woodlands, continue to observe a yearly
cycle of festivals: In spring they pray for good crops; in autumn they
celebrate the harvests. Various tribes used certain ritual objects (such
as the long-stemmed pipe used by priests in North America to blow
tobacco-smoke incense) to symbolize the power of the Almighty; when
displayed, these objects reminded people to cease quarrels and remember
moral obligations.