Theme: The first discoverers of America, the ancestors of the American Indians, were small bands of hunters who crossed a temporary land bridge from Siberia and spread across both North and South America. They evolved a great variety of cultures, which ranged from the sophisticated urban civilizations in Mexico and Central and South America to the largely seminomadic societies of North America.
Theme: Europe’s growing demand for Eastern luxuries prompted exploration in the hopes of reducing the expense of those goods with new trade routes. Exploration occurred incrementally, beginning with the Portuguese moving around the coast of Africa and establishing trading posts. Awareness of the New World and its wealth pushed exploration across the Atlantic. Spanish exploration continued in the same fashion, first in the Caribbean islands then expanding into South and North America.
Theme: Portuguese and Spanish explorers encountered and then conquered much of the Americas and their Indian inhabitants. This “collision of worlds” deeply affected all the Atlantic societies—Europe, the Americas, and Africa—as the effects of disease, conquest, slavery, and intermarriage began to create a truly “new world” in Latin America, including the borderlands of Florida, New Mexico, and California, all of which later became part of the United States.
Millions of years ago, the two American continents separated from the Eastern Hemisphere land masses where our human ancestors later evolved. The first people to enter the Americas came across a temporary land bridge from Siberia about 35,000 years ago. Spreading across the two continents, they developed thousands of societies based mostly on agriculture and hunting. In North America, some ancient Indian peoples like the Pueblos, the Anasazi, and the Mississippian culture developed complex settlements. But generally, there were fewer North American Indian societies, with fewer cities than those in Central and South America, though their culture and social organization was equally diverse.
Old World exploration began because Europeans wanted new trade routes to the East, the Renaissance had changed the closed mindset of the Middle Ages, and powerful new monarchs wanted colonies. Beginning with the Portuguese and Spanish explorers, European encounters with America and Africa changed the entire world. These transformations included biological change, disease, population loss, conquest, African slavery, cultural change, and economic expansion.
After they conquered—and intermarried with— South American and Mexican Indians, Spanish conquistadores expanded into the northern border territories of Florida, New Mexico, and California. Their small but permanent settlements competed with the French and English explorers who also were settling North America.