The Americas: a separate World, 40,000 B. C. A. D. 700 The Earliest Americans



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Chapter 9

The Americas: A Separate World, 40,000 B.C.–A.D. 700


The Earliest Americans

The American Continents

• American continents of North and South America stretch 9,000 miles

• The first Americans come from Asia over Beringia—a land bridge

Peopling the Americas

• During Ice Ages, glaciers extend over much of North America

• Sea levels drop; a land corridor is created between Asia and Alaska

• First Americans arrive in last Ice Age, 1.9 million to 10,000 B.C.

• Siberian hunters follow animals from Asia to Americas

Peopling the Americas

• Date of first crossing might be from 40,000 to 10,000 B.C.

• Recent findings suggest it happened earlier than previously thought

• Most experts believe first Americans used land bridge

• Others believe people came by boat


Hunters and Gatherers

Chief Prey

• The mammoth is the largest prey of early Americans

• The mammoth provides materials for food, clothing, shelter, tools

Following the Game

• Hunters turn to smaller animals when mammoths die out

• People also fish and gather plants and fruits

• At end of last Ice Age, glaciers melt and seas cover the land bridge

• By 10,000–12,000 years ago people had spread across the Americas
Agriculture Creates a New Way of Life

The Development of Farming

• Around 7000 B.C. people in Mexico begin to raise crops from seeds

• By 3400 B.C. maize—corn—becomes the staple crop there

• People in the Tehuacan Valley develop advanced farming methods

• Agriculture spreads throughout Americas

Farming Brings Great Change

• Agriculture increases food supply, leads to population growth

• Larger communities develop, specialized skills in arts, trades

Early Mesoamerican Civilizations

Olmec Beginnings

• Civilization begins in Mesoamerica around 1200 B.C.

• Mesoamerica—central Mexico to northern Honduras

• Olmecs are the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica

• Olmecs—people who create earliest civilization in southern Mexico

The Rise of Olmec Civilization

• First sign of Olmec culture: massive sculpture of head found in 1860

• Olmec live along the Gulf Coast of Mexico until 400 B.C.

Gulf Coast Geography

• Area hot and humid, with swamps, jungles, thick vegetation

• Heavy rainfalls lead to flooding

• Area has resources: salt, tar, clay for pottery, wood, rubber, stone

Rivers provide transportation, fertile land for farming

• San Lorenzo, oldest Olmec site, dates to 1150 B.C.

Olmec Society

• San Lorenzo has earthen mounds, pyramids, sculptures

• La Venta has 100-foot-high mound of clay and earth, possibly a tomb

• Olmec probably worship nature gods, including jaguar spirit

Trade and Commerce

• Olmec trade spans north and south

• Trade spreads Olmec influence

Decline of the Olmec

• Reasons for Olmec collapse—by 400 B.C.—not known
Zapotec Civilization Arises

Peoples of the Oaxaca Valley

• The Oaxaca Valley of southern Mexico is hub for many civilizations

• Zapotecs—people who build a new civilization in Oaxaca Valley

• Unique Zapotec culture shows some Olmec influence

• For centuries Zapotec live in many scattered settlements

• By 1000 B.C., Zapotec build San José Mogote

• By 500 B.C., Zapotec develop writing and calendar

The Zapotec Flourish at Monte Albán

• Around 500 B.C. Zapotecs build Monte Albán—first city in America

• Population of Monte Albán about 25,000 people

• City has impressive stone buildings, plaza, observatory

• Stone sculptures there show Olmec influence

• Zapotec decline shortly after A.D. 600 for unknown reasons


The Early Mesoamericans’ Legacy

The Olmec Leave Their Mark

• Olmec art and construction affect future cultures like the Maya

• Olmec develop ceremonial centers, ritual ball games, and ruling class

• Later cultures in Mesoamerica adopt Olmec ways

Zapotec Contributions

• Zapotec legacy: writing and calendar systems, first city builders

• Monte Albán inspires other cities in America


Early Civilizations of the Andes

Settlements on the Coastal Plain

• Andes Mountains climate, environment make travel, farming difficult

• Harsh deserts lie along Pacific coast

• Coastal areas with rivers have good soil; are settled 3600–2500 B.C.

• Around 3000 B.C agriculture starts; by 1800 B.C., communities arise

The Chavín Period

• Chavín—first influential culture in South America, religion important

• Arises in mountains; flourishes from 900 B.C. to 200 B.C.

• Named for major ruin, Chavín de Huántar

• City has pyramids, plazas, and massive earth mounds

• Chavín culture spreads over north and central Peru

• “Mother culture” in Peru—influences later cultures

Nazca Achievements

• Nazca—culture on southern coast of Peru

• Flourishes from 200 B.C. to A.D. 600

• They build irrigation systems; create puzzling designs on land

• Nazca also make beautiful pottery and textiles

Moche Culture

• Moche—culture that thrives on northern coast of Peru

• Flourishes from A.D. 100 to 700

• Moche build large irrigation systems to water wide range of crops



• Images on Moche tombs and pottery reveal how they lived

• Neither Moche religion nor fall of culture are understood


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