As many as 75 million indigenous people lived in the Americas right before European contact. This was about the same as the population of Europe at that time. The majority of these peoples are thought to have come over via the Bering Strait region from 100,000 to 14,000 years ago during the periods when Ice Ages caused land bridges to form between Siberia and Alaska. Other possible origins include Polynesia and South Africa. Theorists such as Thomas Jefferson believed they originated here in America, (thus making the term indigenous Americans perfectly applicable.) Many indigenous Americans hold oral traditions that they have always lived in North America. Also, many traditions include a long journey from a distant place of origin to a new homeland. Last glacial period (80,000 to 10,000 BP) created land bridge between Asia and North America across the Bering Strait, called Beringia. Folsom, New Mexico discoveries point to the fact that humans had arrived in this region no later than 10,000 BP. Analyses of indigenous American language patterns, DNA analyses, and blood proteins strongly indicate (rather than provide conclusive evidence), that indigenous or first Americans originated from Asia. At first the indigenous migrants lived in small bands hunting and gathering. Wooly mammoths still roamed North America and bison roamed the plains. These migratory bands were known collectively as Paleo-Indians. They contributed to the extinction of the large mammals through hunting. Archaic is the term used to describe the hunting and gathering cultures that descended from the Paleo-Indian groups. The greatest indigenous civilizations arose in Mexico, Central America, and South America. In Mexico these included from the oldest to the newest: the Toltecs, Olmecs, Chichimecs, and Aztecs who built cities and left monuments. In the Yucatan and Central America were the Mayas, the oldest civilization in the western hemisphere. The Mayan civilization is now thought to have originated as early as 2500 BP. The Incas developed a thriving civilization in South America from Columbia to southern Chile. Peoples north of Mexico built less elaborate civilizations and political systems. Many societies were primarily agricultural, as were the great civilizations. Anasazi groups built pueblos, adobe terraced structures. Two later migrations included firstly the Athapascan or Na-Dene people, settled in the Northwestern area of the continent. These peoples eventually became the ancestors of the Apaches and Navajos. The second migration began after Beringia submerged around 3000 B.C., when a maritime hunting people called the Inuits colonized the polar coasts of Southwestern Alaska, and the Aleuts settled the Aleutian Islands. The period from 10,000 years ago to 2500 years ago was known as the Archaic Period (it corresponded to the late phases of the New Stone Age in Eurasia and Africa). On the Great Plains most tribes engaged in sedentary lifestyles based on farming corn and other grains. Overall, the densest indigenous American populations were found in the California area and Mexico. The eastern third of the U.S. was inhabited by the Woodland Indians. They engaged in farming, hunting, gathering and fishing. In the South, particularly in the Ohio-Mississippi Valley, were permanent settlements and extensive trading networks. These societies built earthen burial mounds and became known as the Mound Builders. Great Basin cultures included Archaic groups between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada that relied on plants as the most important food source. Pacific Coast cultures formed the most populous of the Archaic cultures, making California the most densely settled area of ancient North America. Chumash emerged in the area of present day Santa Barbara. Woodland cultures specialized in pottery making.
Southwest cultures developed in the area of New Mexico, Arizona, and portions of southern Utah and Colorado, characterized by agriculture and multiunit...
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