Indian Origins

"Before it became the 'New World', the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought—an altogether more salubrious place to live at the time than, say, Europe. New evidence of both the extent of the population and its agricultural advancement leads to a remarkable conjecture: the Amazon rain forest may be largely a human artifact."

Charles C. Mann, 1491.

Of course they're not Indians. Indian is the wishful Spanish label given to the Aztec, Inca, Taino, Caribs, Powhatans, Iroquois, Algonquins, and other natives in the Americas.[1] The early European explorers had hoped that they had discovered a new route to China and that the American natives were Asian Indians. (In the fifteenth century many Europeans mistakenly called China 'India'.) The Europeans hoped they were en route to 'fabulous' trade profits in China. But if the people they found weren't Asian Indians who were they and where did they come from?

The Americas


The traditional theory has been that the first Americans crossed the land bridge from Siberia to Alaska.[2] This immigration was to have occurred c11,500 years ago and followed an "ice-free corridor" between two large Canadian ice sheets (the Laurentide and Cordilleran) to reach un-frozen land in the south. These first inhabitants, whose archaeological sites are scattered across North and South America, were called the Clovis people, named after a town in New Mexico where their fluted spear points, used for hunting mammoths, were first found in 1932. However, there is now convincing evidence of human habitation sites that pre-date the Clovis culture including remote sites located in South America.[3] There is no doubt that future discoveries and analyses will shed more light on a changing picture of New World prehistory.[4]

At a site named Topper along the Savannah River in America Dr Albert Goodyear found traces of carbon among human artifacts. The charcoal material has been radiocarbon dated to be at least 50,000 years old. This finding indicates the presence of humans in the Americas well before the last Ice Age. Other pre-Clovis sites have been found recently in South America. At Monte Verde, a well-studied site located along a river near southern central Chile, cultural sites have also been radiocarbon dated and the eldest dates to 31000 BC. These findings have led to a theory that people may have first reached South America by water and then traveled north. Some anthropologists have proposed that people from Southeast Asia crossed the Pacific and arrived in South America long before the Siberian hunter-gatherers. In 1947, the Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl sailed 6,900 kms across the Pacific from Callao in Peru to the Raroia atoll in Tuamotu Islands. He used the 'Kon-Tiki', a balsa-wood raft built along ancient Peruvian designs.

People spread through and across the Americas filling every corner. Since the continents are so big and the initial numbers were so small different tribes evolved with little contact amongst even neighbouring tribes. The early Indians shaped their environment with fire, burning dead grass and wood to give room for new growth and more grazing and predatory animals. Early American records by early Europeans confirm that wide burnings were continued into the post-Columbian era with positive effect. There is also considerable evidence to suggest that farming was started in c8000 BC in Mesoamerica, separately from the initial development in the Middle East. Mankind owes to these people the potato from Peru, and chocolate from the cacao bean. Indians discovered and used quinine, and planted their own tomatoes and beans. They made ropes from sisal and henequen fiber, and they exploited wild caoutchouc trees for their rubber latex. The Olmec civilization developed in Mexico c1800 BC and corn, or maize, was cultivated as the principle farming crop. Evidently maize is quite nourishing and nutritious because that population flourished. In the meantime, other groups, or tribes, had settled in different areas and developed the skills necessary to hunt and fish, or farm in their own areas. Travel was difficult and limited to foot, or canoe until after the later European re-introduction of the horse. (Although the horse was native to North America, it had died out and the remnants had migrated west into Asia and then Europe.) In North America, however; 'By 1000 AD, trade relationships had covered the continent for more than a thousand years; mother-of-pearl from the Gulf of Mexico has been found in Manitoba, and Lake Superior copper in Louisiana.'[5] Moreover, the Amazon basin had been tamed and settled.

The following table is not comprehensive and is only intended to give a cursory overview of widespread datings of human presence. The data do not include common scientific margins of error here for simplicity. The variety of documentation description reflects different sources. The 'Clovis' hypothesis has been discredited because it insisted that all migration into the Americas was exclusively and at a specific time via the briefly exposed Beringia land, Ice-age bridge. The Clovis model additionally pre-supposed a travel allowance of 2,500-7,500 years for people to reach Tierra del Fuego from Alaska. The evidence below contradicts the Clovis theory.

Pre-Columbian Cultures

Culture and Locale



La Jolla, California, USA Human bones dated by racemization and found near San Diego. 65000-35000 BC
Boqueirão da Pedra Furada, Brazil

Rock art in Brazil: c27000 BC

Evidence of non-Clovis, Paleoindian occupations including human remains, plus a unique rock painting tradition from at least 10,000-4,000 BC. Established by reliable radiocarbon dates on charcoal excavated from different levels. Radiocarbon results ranging from 33,000 to greater than 46,000 BC.

The main site studied was the sandstone rock shelter of Pedra Furada, which is one of several hundred painted rock shelters discovered in northeastern Brazil.

A comprehensive chronology of human activity at the Boqueirão da Pedra Furada (BFP) site, the oldest archaeological site found at the Capivara National Park, has been established by reliable radiocarbon dates on charcoal excavated from different levels. The sub-phase BPF 1, the lowest layer with definite evidence of human activity in the Pedra Furada Rock Shelter, gave radiocarbon results ranging from 33,000 to greater than 46,000 BC. For the oldest samples, the 46,000 lower limit is imposed by the residuals remaining after conventional acid-wash or acid-base-acid chemical pre-treatments. There were also crudely flaked stones, some 6,000 of which were deemed of human manufacture, even when the most stringent criteria are applied. Many of these came from Pleistocene strata 50,000 years old or older.

Later results pushed back the time of human occupation at the Pedra Furada site by at least another 8,000 years. Hence, it appears that humans were already at this site about 60,000 years ago, and possibly even earlier.

46000 BC
Oro Grande, New Mexico, USA

In the excavation of Pendejo Cave (FB 9366) near Orogrande, New Mexico, 16 friction skin imprints were found in five stratified zones on clay nodules, baked at over 120 degrees C. Eight of the imprints occurred in three well-dated time-zones falling in the late Pleistocene. These time-zones have direct radiocarbon dates between 10,000 and 35,000 BC.

The imprints are associated with a column of over 35,000 paleontological specimens and more than 15,000 botanical remains. These specimens indicate Pleistocene changes and supply evidence of human transportation and modification of various materials.

26000 BC
Old Crow River, Yukon, Canada Flaked tools made from stone, mammoth and horse bones, and caribou antlers have been radiocarbon dated. Additional evidence suggests an earlier settlement along the Bering Strait in c33000 BC.
c25000 BC
Coats-Hindes, Tennessee USA Mastodon kill site. Earliest known Paleoindian occupation archeological site in Tennessee.
25000 BC

Ayacucho, Peru

Earliest known Paleoindian occupation archeological site in Peru.
23000 BC
Cactus Hill, Virginia USA Earliest known Paleoindian occupation archeological site in Virginia.
17650 BC
Midland, Texas, USA The skull and fragments of human bones from a c30-year old woman, found with numerous spear points, a hearth, and bones of extinct animals. Dated by Uranium isotope in 1953-1954.
17000-13000 BC
Page-Ladson, Florida USA Earliest known Paleoindian occupation archeological site in Florida.
16380 BC
Pubenza, Colombia Calcareous seed, VIII layer. Humic clay, XII layer.
15840- 13100 BC
California USA

The early Californian Indian tribes were astonishingly diverse in culture and way of life, ranging from the seafaring Chumash to the agricultural Yuma and the nomadic Modoc. Native California tribes spoke at least 100 different mutually-unintelligible languages, ate different foods, and practiced different religions.

Basket weaving may have been integral to many tribes for food storage. Some tribes grew maize, pumpkins, and beans.

13000 BC
Lagoa Santa, Brazil

Discovery and analysis of 250 paleoindian skeletons over a 170-year period in Brazil has been correlated with findings from southern Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and both California and Florida in the USA. Cranial examinations have shown a very different morphology from the northeastern Asians and Amerindians. The findings show a marked similarity to native Australians or Melanesians, and Africans.

A series of Asian migrations is theorised, at least one pre-Clovis era. Both land-bridge and sea-travel migration were deemed feasible.

c13000 BC
Taima-Taima, Venezuela Masticated twigs.
11900 BC
Huaro Cave, Peru Bone collagen.
11500 BC
Caverna da Pedra Pintada, Amazonia Brazil

Carbonised fruit and wood, animal remnants, lumps of red pigment and handprints on the cave walls, 24 stone implements (including blades and triangular - non-Clovis shaped - spear points). Occupation by Paleoindians has been accepted.

Site reoccupied by the 'Paintuna' a different culture with red to grey-brown ceramic bowls. Pottery fragments have been found in the Amazon Basin 7-8,000-years old.

11000-9800 BC

6000 BC

Monte Verde, (seven sites), Chile

Cultural deposits in II layer radiocarbon dated span (accepted data).

Charred wood in VII layer radiocarbon oldest date (not yet accepted data).

10000 BC
32000 BC

Clovis, New Mexico, USA

Clovis point

Distinctive Paleoindian spear and arrow-heads discovered. Initial formal American Indian thesis, formed after initial 1929 mammoth bones and stone spear point found at Clovis New Mexico and nearby Blackwater Draw. Clovis points have been found throughout the Americas. Indians evidently hunted big game, notably mammoths.

The dates reached were linked to the last ice-age and the exposure of Beringia (the land bridge under the Bering Strait). The intent was to identify stone and flint tools in a context of time and migration access. The 'bridge' opened but the ice sheet covered the only access via British Columbia. The key access-valley opened at the end of the ice-age (13000-10000 BC) and briefly exposed (before the Beringia bridge was covered by the melted ice) a clear passage from Siberia into the American heartland. The bridge was covered by 10000 BC.

Academic opinion became closed to earlier sites, the possibility of earlier bridge crossings, or sea travel (as for Australia). Contrary evidence was ignored until Chilean discoveries pre-dating the 'Clovis' time frame forced reconsideration. Radiocarbon dated.

10000 BC
East Texas USA Earliest known permanent Paleoindian occupation archeological site in Texas.
10000 BC
Dent, Colorado, USA Paleoindian culture and fossil mammoth remains with Clovis-point spear heads. Radiocarbon dated.
9250 BC
Ventana Cave, Arizona, USA A deeply stratified sequence of cave deposits representing a series of occupations and use from 10000 BC down to about 5000 BC. The earliest levels yielded projectile points of Clovis/Folsom types. A single grinding stone is suggestive of some interest in plant foods. Radiocarbon dated.
9340 BC
El Tigre, Uruguay Charcoal found.
9300 BC
Peru First confirmed permanent Indian population (inland from coast).
9210 BC
Haida Gwaii Indian Tribe, British Columbia Canada Evidence of Indian occupation in the Queen Charlotte Islands, off Western Canada.
9000 BC
Na-Dené Indian Tribe, Alaska USA, and British Columbia Canada, the Pacific Northwest and the South Migration of the Na-Dené people down the coast from Alaska. This includes Denali, Tlingit, the Athabaskan tribes, the Apachean peoples (both Apache and Navajo Indians).
9000 BC
Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Belize, Peru, Bolivia Development and farming of food staples: maize, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, peppers, many types of beans, and ullucos (leaf is similar to spinach and the root to potato).
8000-5000 BC
Banwari Indian Tribe in Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba MesoIndian occupation of the Antilles.
5950 BC
Caral Supe, Norte Chico Civilization in Coastal Peru

Huaricanga city established as first of 25 stone cities built in Norte Chico. The city is clustered around six large pyramids near the town of Caral. Caral Supe (90 km²) with the capital at Caral is typical of river valley complexes. Radiocarbon analysis of the remains of reed bags from the site date Caral to 2627-2000 BC. The urban complex rivaled Sumer in size. Government, writing (c3000 BC), fishing and farming, and complex trade were developed here.

The archaeological potential is for more than a dozen unexplored sites buried under the sand in Peru's Supe Valley, a remote desert basin watered by a river from the Andes. Large stone pyramids were built here from c2650 BC. About 20 separate residential centres, which seemed to compete with each other to produce the most imposing architecture - some creating buildings as high as 26m. Unlike other pyramid sites in the Americas, which are isolated from private village houses, Caral appeared to be a fully integrated community, with the pyramid area "very much the center of town." Caral's largest pyramid is 18m high and the base is 152m x 137m.

The earliest economic activity apparently traded Caral cotton and dried gourds (grown independently of India) for coastal fish. The cotton and gourds were used to make fishing nets and floats.

3500-1800 BC
Valdivia Culture, Ecuador The Valdivia lived in a community that built its houses in a circle or oval around a central plaza and were sedentary people that lived off farming and fishing, though occasionally they went hunting for deer. From the remains that have been found, it has been determined that Valdivians cultivated maize, kidney beans, squash, cassava, hot peppers and cotton plants, the latter of which was used to make clothing. Valdivian pottery initially was rough and practical, but it became splendid, delicate and large over time. 3500-1800 BC
Ouachita Mounds, Louisiana USA A ring of 11 mounds of varying sizes up to two-stories high. Not apparently used for burials, but implying some coordinating government.
3400 BC
Majorville Medicine Wheel, Alberta, Canada

23m Wyoming Wheel

Partly excavated in 1971. This Medicine Wheel (similar to the Big Horn Wheel in Wyoming in the picture) contains an enormous central cairn 9m in diameter, surrounded by a stone circle 27m across; about 28 spokes link the circle and central cairn.

The excavation yielded artifacts which archaeologists can "date" by style; the style of spear points and arrowheads changed in a regular manner over time and archaeologists have figured out the sequence of these changes. It seems that the central cairn at the Majorville wheel was initially constructed c4500 years ago. Radiocarbon dating of bone from the bottom of the cairn confirmed this date.

Medicine wheels appear all over northern United States and southern Canada, specifically South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Most of the wheels have been found in Alberta. In all over 70 medicine wheels have been found.

2500 BC
Indians, Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas USA Pottery developed for food preparation and storage. Some tribes built wood houses covered in soil as protection from heat.
2000-1500 BC
Olmecs, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador


A warrior and trading people. They built cities in stone (including their heartland at Tres Zapotes, La Venta, and San Lorenzoon the Gulf of Campeche). They developed writing, developed sculptures and art, farmed latex for rubber, and practiced human sacrifice. They were a sophisticated original model culture and source for later Mesoamerican societies.

The Olmec independantly developed both writing and the mathematical concept of zero. The Olmec prized and traded for jade, which they carved.

In March 2005, a team of archaeologists used NAA (neutron activation analysis) to compare over 1000 ancient Mesoamerican Olmec-style ceramic artifacts with 275 samples of clay so as to "fingerprint" pottery origination. They found that "the Olmec packaged and exported their beliefs throughout the region in the form of specialized ceramic designs and forms, which quickly became hallmarks of elite status in various regions of ancient Mexico".

Olmec art includes enormous stone warrior helmeted heads, and artistic and detailed human figures. The heads are carved from solid volcanic basalt, weigh 10 tons, 2m tall, and are 4.5m in circumference. The heads were not part of completed human statues. They also made ceramic figures requiring kiln firing at 900° C - equaled only by the contemporary Egyptians.

1200-400 BC
Adena Indian Culture in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New York USA

Adena built earthwork mounds generally ranging in size from 20 to 300 feet in diameter. They were the pioneer mound builders in the U.S. and constructed spectacular burial and effigy mounds. Settled in villages of circular post-and-wattle houses. Primarily hunter-gatherers, they farmed corn, tobacco, squash, pumpkins, and sunflowers at an early date.

1000 BC-700
Dorset Culture, Canadian Arctic Inuit and Indian legends recount large men knwon as the Dorset Culture living in the eastern Arctic. They are no longer present.
1000 BC-1000
Mayan Empire in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, and southern Mexico

Mayan stucco

At its zenith the Mayan Empire was one of the most densely populated and culturally dynamic societies in the world with spectacular art, pyramids, and sophisticated mathematical and astronomical systems. City states of 100,000 people each included; Mutal (Tikal), Palenque, Kaan (Calakmul), and Copán. The ancient ruins of El Mirador cover 26 square kms and its largest pyramid is the 70m high Danta. The Cholula pyramid of Tipanipa covers 101,200 sq m. The Yucatan water sources are tainted with high levels of salt and ground chemicals. The Maya learned how to treat their wells with limestone and create agricultural islands to support their city states.

The Maya introduced complex calendars and developed the mathematical concept of zero to keep their 'long-count' calendars, in isolation from the Arabs. The Maya created art, jewelry, and even armour out of local Jade.

Mayan society apparently collapsed due to over-population and over-exploitation of their environment, combined with a century of drought c850 AD. Mann makes the case that a raging civil war in the southern Yucatan destroyed the southern city states by distracting the elite from maintaining their water and food supplies in the face of the drought. The Mayan people continue today.

1000 BC-1521
The Chavín in Peruvian Andes The Chavín developed textiles, metalwork, pottery, and religion. Their capital was at Chavín de Huantar in the Andes (at 3,177m). The Chavín tamed the llamas, developed agriculture, and established a trade network. Their art designs are complex, use curves, and are hard to interpret.
900-200 BC
Paracas Culture in Peruvian Andes

Paracas Textile

These people left mummies in the Andes. Each mummy was wrapped in many layers of incredibly intricate, ornate, and finely woven textiles.

Evidently the culture had developed and used a high level of art in an intricate design, woven into their hand-made cloth. The complex process seems highly sophisticated and admirable.

The example shown here is from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

750 BC-100 AD
Zapotec Empire in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, The Zapotec built large villages and towns, and houses constructed with stone and mortar. One of their excavated cities of Monte Albán had large buildings, ball courts, and magnificent tombs.
500 BC - 1000
Nazca, Peru

Nazca Monkey

Evidence has suggested that the sudden disappearance of the Nazca was due to flooding in c500 AD.

New research has indicated that the Nazca had destroyed the ecological forest balance which led to the flood.

The Nazca made outlines of c1,000 long, geometric lines, or shapes, and 100+ gigantic geoglyphs (up to 270m long) located in the Nazca Desert, which are only fully visible from the air. The area of these pictures and lines is 50,000 hectares. The desert is one of the driest and relatively windless. The lines were made by removing the dark surface stones and exposing a light underlying colour.

One theory to explain the glyphs is that the lines may map subterranean water; majority opinion, however, supports a religious motivation. The constructions apparently coincided with a series of solar eclipses.

c300 BC-600
Hopewell Culture, Ohio USA

Hopewell Culture built large ceremonial mounds in different shapes and were both hunter-gatherers and farmers.

Villages were built along rivers, characterized by large conical or dome-shaped burial mounds and elaborate earthen walls enclosing large oval or rectangular areas. The Hopewell people were highly skilled craftsmen in pottery, stone, sculpture, and metalworking, especially copper. (The Hopewell may be ancestors of present-day Zuni Indians.)

200 BC-500

Calcoene, Rio Xingu, Marajó Island, Brazil

(Incomplete Archeolgical findings)

A series of unexplained findings includes the following:

An astrological observatory built of 127 blocks of granite each 3m high, arranged upright and evenly spaced in circles in an open field. Ceramic fragments suggest the dating. In December, the path of the sun allows rays to pass through a hole in one of the blocks.

Near the Brazilian border of north-central Bolivia, there are some 30,000 square miles of raised forested islands in a grassy floodplain. A network of 19 villages and towns connected by precisely engineered roads, up to 45m wide, has been found in the upper Rio Xingu region.

Teotihuacán People, Mexico


Teotihuacán was a city-state with a population of c100,000. Religious ritual at Teotihuacán focused on the great Avenue of the Dead, a 44m wide processional boulevard that bisected the city.

The 65 m high Pyramid of the Sun was built at Teotihuacán.

1-650 AD
Anasazi Indian Tribe in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, USA

The Anasazi built pueblos in sandstone cliffs in the desert and developed a system of dams and canals, or ditches to irrigate crops and enable desert farming. This agricultural society cultivated cotton and wove cotton fabrics. The Anasazi are known as Basket-maker People.

The Anasazi were skilled workers in stone and carved stone dolls, they built pit houses, later the apartment-like pueblos. The Anasazi constructed road networks and were avid astronomers.

The Anasazi used a solar calendar and traded with Mesoamerican Toltecs.

The Moche, Huaca de la Luna, Peru

The Moche primarily were farmers who diverted rivers into a network of irrigation canals. Their culture was sophisticated, although they had no known written language. The Moche were pioneers of metal working techniques such as gilding and early forms of soldering.

The Moche built large pyramids of adobe mud bricks, mummified some of their dead, and developed highly sexual art forms.

The Moche may have died out because of a major climate change.

Hohokam Indians, Arizona USA

The Hohokam were desert farmers who cultivated corn and grew cotton. They wove cotton fabrics. The Hohokam built pit houses and later multi-storied buildings (pueblos) and constructed vast network of irrigation systems. Their major canals were over 30 miles long.

The Hohokam built ball courts and truncated pyramids similar to those in Mesoamerica. They mastered etching (they etched shells with fermented Saguaro juice) and traded with Mesoamerican Toltecs.

Mogollon Indians, Arizona, New Mexico USA, Mexico

The Mogollon built pit houses and later lived in pueblos. The Mogollon were accomplished stone workers.

They were famous for magnificent black on white painted pottery

Marajoara Chiefdom, Teso dos Bichos, Brazil The Amazon Marajoara built monumental earthen mounds and elaborate ceramics, particularly funerary urns.
Thule Culture, Alaska USA Thule Eskimo culture developed in Alaska and expanded to Baffin Island c1000.
Toltec People, Mexico

Toltec warriors


The Toltec were a nomadic warrior society who established a capital at Tula. They built stone temples, made pottery, and became artists.

UNESCO has declared the former Toltec city state El Tajin a world heritage site.(Construction began on ceremonial buildings at El Tajín c50AD. There are temple-pyramids, palaces, and several ball courts.)

Chiclayo, Peru The Wari culture which ruled the Andes of modern Peru built a recently discovered coastal city, after the Moche died out. Ceramics, clothing, and evidence of human sacrifice have been found.
Caddo Indian Tribe, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana USA Two dozen tribes joined loosely together into three confederacies and built large 'mounds'. The Caddoes were highly successful farmers. With their abundant food supply, a relatively dense population with complex social institutions developed.
Sican Culture. Ferrenafe, Peru

The Sican culture was one of several metalworking societies which succumbed to drought and conquest. Sican was a very organised society, noted for producing gold, silver and copper in quantities which were substantial for the period.

A spectacular tomb complex contains at least 20 tombs. The people traded shells and stones with societies in what are now Ecuador, Chile and Colombia.

Marajó Island, Brazil The Amazonian site of Marajó is thought to have supported an "extensive network of complex societies-some with populations perhaps as large as 100,000 [people] ..." . The only traces left behind of the settlement, a series of raised lumps of earth, still contain the most lush and diverse forth growth in the region.

The best explanation for this kind of botanical record is the past creation and use of terra preta do indio (meaning "Indian black earth" in Portuguese). This unique, mineral-rich soil was purposely created by pre-Columbian people through a process of adding charcoal and animal bones to regular soil to create a highly fertile hybrid, ideal for agriculture. Beyond the Amazon’s notorious reputation for thin and poor-quality soil, terra preta provided unprecedented life and bounty for its inhabitants...The earth is excavated and sold as potting soil known for its impressive productivity. Some individuals work it for years with only minimal fertilization.

Mixtec Indian People in Mexico

The Mixtec capital was at Tilantongo and re-built on the older city of Monte Albán.

The Mixtec developed codices, or phonetic pictures in which they wrote their history and genealogies on deerskin.

Inuit Culture, Alaska, Nunavut Canada,, (Siberia, Greenland) Derived from the earlier Thule culture, the Inuit displaced earlier the Dorset Culture in north-eastern Canada.
Owasco Indian Tribe, Northeastern America The Owasco introduced farming and crop cultivation (corn/maize, bean, squash).
Iroquois Indian Tribe, Northeastern America The Iroquois developed a slash and burn agriculture and developed a 'longhouse' society.
Huron-Wendat Indian Tribe, Northeastern America The Huron-Wendat competed for trapping and hunting trade with Iroquois, farmed in some areas, and developed a 'longhouse' society.
Aztec Empire in Mexico

The capital of the Aztec empire was at Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) (pop est 700,000 in c1500). Tenochtitlan was built on raised islets in Lake Texcoco.

The Aztec's vibrant culture included mandatory education a mythology and human sacrifice. The people were called the Mexica and also the Triple Alliance of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan Indians.

The Aztec's created rich art and poetry, road network, built pyramids, canals, stone and wooden houses.

Inca Empire, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile

Machu Picchu

This Moche culture built cities and fortresses in the highlands and Andes Mountain slopes. Their capital was at Qosqo (Cuzco) and the Empire was created by conquest, and both personal and trade enticements. The king was re-named on selection with Inka as part of his name and called The Inka.

The Inca built a comprehensive road network to tie the empire together, and communicated by a system of knotted strings. The Inca terra-farmed the step mountains with terraces cut into the rock, and also built large food warehouses.

The Inca built stone public and religious buildings with great central squares. Their army was disciplined, well armed and well led. They travelled and farmed terraces near the tops of the Andes and were quite fit.

Of the Inca arts, Architecture was by far the most important, with pottery and textiles reflecting motifs that were at their height in architecture. The main example is Machu Picchu constructed by Incan Engineers. Stone temples were built without mortar, used on a large scale by the Tiwanaku. Advanced in medicine the Inca performed successful skull surgeries.

Mississippian Indian Culture, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida USA

The Mississippian Indian Culture developed along the Mississippi River valley and the people created religious, or ceremonial, mounds - also used as ultimate refuges against floods or attack. They also built large flat-topped earthen mounds on which they made wooden temples and meeting houses and residences for chiefs and priests. (They were also known as Temple Mound Builders.)

The mound-builders built huge cedar pole circles (“woodhenges”) for astronomical observations. They were highly skilled hunters with bows and arrows. They practiced large-scale farming of corn, beans, and squash and were skilled craftsmen. The falcon and jaguar were common symbols in their art. The Mississippians had clear ties with Mexico.

Cahokia was a unique Indian city built in Illinois with a population of 20,000+. Unlike typical cities it was an experiment and did not provide typical urban services for the atypical farming population. The failed urban experiment coincided with domestic maize crops, a new religion, a large central mound, and a major water-diversion project, which led to flooding of the maize crops and collapse of the city.


Smithsonian Comment

...In addition to archaeological research on ancient human sites, ancient skeletal remains show a range of physical attributes suggesting separate migrations of different populations of modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) from Asia. The handful of human skeletons dated over 8,000 years ago show some regional variation, but as a group their skulls differ markedly from the broad faces, prominent cheekbones, and round cranial vaults that characterize modern–day American Indians. These ancient specimens have long and narrow cranial vaults with short and relatively gracile faces. Two examples are the 9,400-year-old Spirit Cave Man from Nevada and the most recently discovered 8.900-year-old Kennewick Man found in Washington State in 1996. Physical anthropologists see a greater similarity in these crania to certain Old World populations such as Polynesians, Europeans, and the Ainu of Japan. Only one early specimen, Wizards Beach Man, a Nevada skeleton dated to 9,200 years ago, falls within the range of variability of contemporary American Indians, an exception that requires further scientific validation. Crania with American Indian morphology appears by at least 7,000 years ago.

The similarity of the ancient crania to Polynesians suggests that one early source of migrants to the Americas was Asian circumpacific populations. These populations were succeeded in Asia by the recent expansion of modern Mongoloids (i.e., Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, etc.), and in America by the ancestors of recent Native Americans. Whether individual skeletons or specific early groups were directly related to later peoples is unknown. Early migrants may have been replaced through competition or changed through gene flow by later arrivals. At this time, scientists are not ruling out the possibility of a migration from Europe.

Evidence for diverse migrations into the New World also comes from Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) research on living American Indian populations. These studies have consistently shown similarities between American Indians and recent populations in Asia and Siberia, but also unique American characteristics, which the very early crania have also shown. Evidence for only four mtDNA lineages, characterizing over 95 percent of all modern American Indian populations, may suggest a limited number of founding groups migrating from Asia into the New World. Recently, however, a fifth mtDNA lineage named "X" has turned up in living American Indians and in prehistoric remains for which there does not appear to be an Asian origin. The first variant of X was found in Europeans and may have originated in Eurasia. Naturally, generations of conflict, intermarriage, disease, and famine would influence the genetic makeup of modern Native Americans. Further work with mtDNA, nuclear DNA (which is more representative of the entire genome), and Y-chromosome data, the male-transmitted complement of mtDNA, will permit better estimates of the genetic similarities between Old and New World groups and help to determine when they would have shared a common ancestor.

Studies of the native languages of the Americas have shown them to be extremely diverse, representing nearly two hundred distinct families, some consisting of a single isolated language. Further research is expected to reduce this number, but the degree of diversity is thought to have required tens of millennia to develop through a combination of immigration into the New World and diversification through the accumulation of normal linguistic changes through time. Claims that these languages descend from only three (or even fewer) separate linguistic stocks at a time depth of only a dozen millennia are regarded by most specialists as extremely unlikely. Newer proposals have explored deep structural affinities among American Indian languages with circum-Pacific Old World languages. Unraveling the linguistic history of the New World poses a highly complex set of problems that will be under investigation for years to come.

In summary, scientists are examining archaeological, biological, and linguistic evidence to determine who the first Americans were, when they arrived in the New World, and what happened subsequently. New discoveries in one field of study can cause reinterpretations of evidence not only from the same field but also from other fields. There is no doubt that future discoveries and analyses, unbound from the Clovis limit, will shed more light on a changing picture of New World prehistory.[6]

Pre-Columbian Indian Populations

Mann (see 1491) describes the pre-Columbian Americas as being filled with people, with perhaps 95% of the Wampanoag killed off on the East Coast in Massachusetts in 1616. They were apparently killed by viral hepatitis B or C. The neighbouring Narragansetts escaped the 1616 epidemic, only to have c45% struck down in 1633 by a smallpox epidemic. Mann also cites the Spanish Conquistadores historian, Pedro Pizarro, who noted that the Spanish would not likely have conquered Peru had their Inka and the bulk of the population been alive. (They died in c1525 of another smallpox epidemic. The Inca king added Inka to his name.) 'In 1491 the Inka ruled the greatest empire on earth.' The key to the Inca empire was a network of 40,000 kms of stone-paved highways. People, information and disease spread quickly. The French, English, and Spanish accidentally killed up to 90% of the native populations in c50 years. The Peruvian devastation probably appeared in Hispaniola in 1518; it killed 35% of the Tainos Indians there and then jumped to Puerto Rico and Cuba. Smallpox pandemics hit Peru in 1525, 1533, 1535, 1558, and 1565. Typhus hit in 1546, flu in 1558, diphtheria in 1614, and measles in 1618. European diseases slaughtered the native Indians who had no immunity to the common European diseases.

Considerable study has been made of the Aztec, Mayan, Olmec, Inca, and similar pre-Columbian cultures but the result appears to have been agreement to disagree about numbers. The architect of serious demographic calculations in a vacuum of recorded data is HF Dobyns. In his 1491 masterpiece, Mann cites Dobyns' data in detail. The early conventional wisdom had estimated the entire population of North America as ~900,000-1.25m people, and for all the Americas as nearly empty with only 8.4m people. The essence of that baseline is based on the early explorers' census counts, estimates, and guesses. Dobyns made a study of early native records and the impact of European diseases on the Indians and he found an astounding 95% casualty rate was likely before many areas had even been visited by white men. Many common diseases are quickly wide-spread by air, water, animals, food, etc and there was evidence to support that disease impacts had preceded white contact in most areas. The stunning conclusion was that the pre-Columbian population of all the Americas together was 90,000,000-112,000,000 people. Other demographers have calculated that 'the central Mexican plateau alone had a population of 25.2 million.' There were then more people living in the Americas than in Europe at the same time.[7]

The plains and northern Indians were hit by successive pandemics in the 1770s and 1780s and whole tribes were obliterated. In respect of the impact of European disease on the early Indian population George Lovell (Queen's University in Canada) stated that it was 'the greatest destruction of lives in human history.' This view does give rise to serious reflection about European cultural gifts to America. No wonder the early European colonists had a relatively easy time of it! In fact the explanation seems to lie in the small original emigrant gene pool and the Indians inherent inability to defend against many diseases, which they had previously never encountered.

In the Americas, the principal food crop was maize, a domesticate of the Mexican wild grass teosinte. This indigenous plant and many others (the potato, tomato, pepper, yam, etc) were domesticated thousands of years before Spanish contacts. We also owe the Indians thanks for the quinine, ipecac, witch hazel, and many other medicines. The record of the gradual development of maize and other plants supports the existence of an indigenous agriculture over thousands of years. Modern evidence has confirmed that much of Amizonia was deliberately and successfully planted with specific tree species to provide long-term food crops for the local Indians. Additionally, analysis and experiments with ancient soil samples and their modern clones has shown that the native Indians were world leaders in improving the low productivity of the Amazon Basin. Indians appear to have been expert farmers by any standards.


Occupied: c1250-1600


Maize is a giant, domesticated grass (Zea mays ssp. mays) of tropical Mexican origin, created from the wild grass teosinte (Zea mays ssp. parviglumis). Maize cultivation appears to have been the catalist that enabled the population explosion in Mesoamerica. (The typical yield varies from 0.5 to 23.5 tons per hectare.) Since maize production yields are higher than other staple food crops, maize-based societies could free people for specialised tasks and so early American governments evolved. The origin of maize seems not to be clear as no wild ancestor plant has been found, despite research. Research has shown that maize was developed c4000 BC; and that it seems probable that considerable cultivation and grafting, or crossing, was required by ancient farmers. Inescapably, ancient farmers must be admired for their perseverance in domesticating the original plant, as maize can not naturally seed itself like wild plants. It seems that maize is a wonder-plant as it provides the daily, human, minimum caloric requirement, albeit it is a poor source of some amino acids. Whole, ground maize meal has an energetic value of 3,578 calories per kg.

Maize was critical to the development of Indian civilisations. Plentiful and nutritious maize freed up time for specialisation and allowed storage against hard times. Maize spread over North America and was witnessed by French Jesuit priests as being farmed in Huronia in Ontario, Canada in the 1600s. Since maize was developed how did it move out of Mexico? Francis Jennings notes that we can't be certain but that it probably migrated in waves of migrating Mesoamericans from 200-800 AD.[8] Jennings notes as evidence the parallel rise of some of the mound architecture up to Cahokia in Illinois. Some mounds have been dated to 3400 BC, but others are more recent up to 1400 AD.

There is a startling parallel to many of the newer mounds in the shape of the stepped pyramids of the Aztecs and Maya. Jennings notes corroboration from historical Natchez Indian tradition and postulates that the Mississippi served as a primary conduit for colonisation from over-populated Mesoamerica. Cahokia would then have operated as a primary trading centre: maize, technology and advanced ideas for furs, flints, stone tools, pottery, copper, gold, and meat. Cahokia is the site of a man-made earthen mound with four terraces and an additional 120 mounds nearby. Additional mounds are widely spread along the Mississippi route, predominating to the eastern side (of this wide river) as might be expected for Mesoamerican migrants.

The accompanying photograph shows the 'Emerald Mound' in Mississippi. It is likely that the mound served as a political center and point of distribution for goods, perhaps including maize. The descendants of the mound builders are the Natchez Indians.

The Haudenosaunee

Like me, you probably know them as the Iroquois, but, of course, they called themselves something else - the Haudenosaunee. The Haudenosaunee were well known to Sir William Johnson, as his favourites, the Mohawks, were a member tribe in this New York Indian confederation.[9] It seems that the Ani Yun Wiya (perhaps better known as the Cherokee) shared the same ideals. The colonial author James Adair wrote of the Cherokee 'Their whole consitution breathes nothing but liberty.' Do your own research, but it seems that this confederation came into existence c1142. The significance is that this - and many other Indian societies too - confederation was based on democratic principles. As Mann notes in 1491 this is the world's second eldest continuous parliament: only the Icelandic Althing is older. (It was founded in 930.) Consider the following:

  • Tribal sachems represented each tribe (more sachems for larger tribes), but all council decisions had (actually 'have' as the confederation is still in existence) to be unanimous.

  • The council could make peace treaties, but could not declare war; war was left to individual tribes.

  • Sachems were restrained in practice 'not to conclude of aught...unto which the people are adverse', as colonial author Roger Williams observed.

  • The 'Clan' heads were all females and only they chose the sachems - men were excluded as clan heads: only men were allowed to be war chiefs.

  • Clan councils, led by women, set the confederation agenda, and women could vote down decisions by male leaders and demand reconsideration.

  • The basis of this Indian life was individual freedom. Robert Rogers, who invented the rangers, knew Indians and said 'every man is free'. Vice Governor Colden of New York noted that '...they allow of no kind of Superiority of one over another, and banish all Servitude from their Territories'.

Post-Columbian North American Indians and Europeans

Of course they're not Indians. Indian is the wishful European-label given to the Aztec, Inca, Taino, Caribs, Powhatans, Iroquois, Algonquins, and other natives, whom they had hoped to be Indians en-route to anticipated European trade profits in China. Pope Urban II's Crusade declaration that it was a 'Christian duty to take lands from Infidels' had a continuing impact on European attitudes in America. After the initial 1493 Spanish settlement in Hispaniola (now the island of the Dominican Republic and Haiti) the Spanish conquered the islands of Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba by 1511. Then the Spanish moved to Venezuela and Colombia and established their major trading base at Cartegena. What accounts for the dichotomy between the European and later American demonisation of the Indian peoples and the more mature native attitudes implied in the foregoing? European greed!

In 1519 Hernando Cortés conquered the Aztec Empire in Mexico, and in 1531, when Francisco de Pizzarro took the Inca Empire in Peru. Spanish strategy was to divide and conquer and both Cortés and Pizzarro gathered large armies of Indians who wanted to challenge the regional Indian leaders. With his Indian allies Cortés led an army of 200,000 against the Aztecs. Spain was at the top of European power. By 1600 the population in Mexico had fallen drastically from disease and to make up a labour force, the Portuguese had began to ship African slaves to Hispaniola in 1510. During the same period the North American population similarly fell drastically from pandemics of smallpox, malaria, measles, yellow fever, typhus and dysentery.[10] Many early European records confirmed that the Indians practised environmental management by burning old grass fields and woods to encourage new growth and subsequent grazing and predatory animals.

Despite John Rolfe’s unlikely marriage with Pocahontas and the subsequent peace with the Powhatan Confederacy in 1614, the initial recorded English conflict with the Indians was at Jamestown in 1622. Three hundred and fifty settlers were killed without warning. It is possible that the failure of the earlier Roanoke Settlement of 1585 was also caused by an earlier Indian attack. From 1639 until their massacre by the Iroquois ten years later, the Jésuits worked near Midland, Ontario in Huronia at a settlement they called ‘Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons’. The Hurons lived in wooden long houses and cleared land to grow corn (maize), beans, pumpkin, tobacco, sunflowers and hemp.[11] When the soil became poor the Hurons moved. In ten years the missionaries became associated with death because they carried the European diseases which halved the Indian population, they administered last rites, and they wore black robes. If the Hurons were peaceful, the Iroquois were not. The Iroquois destroyed both the Hurons and Jésuits in the 1640’s.

The Iroquois began as a five-nation confederacy including the Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and Mohawk tribes. The Indians were not a homogeneous people and in 1628 the Mohawks completed their defeat of the Mohicans. The Iroquois wanted to control the fur trade and negotiated intelligently with the Europeans. In 1642, Father Isaac Jogues was captured near Schenectady. He was tortured and Mohawks gnawed off his fingers. He survived and was kept as a slave before escaping a year later. In 1648 he returned to the New World and was soon recaptured. He was beaten and the flesh cut off his body in strips before he was killed. Scalping, however, was also a European sport apparently separately developed in Asia to provide proof of enemies killed. Scalps became the currency for payment amongst the Dutch, English, French and Indians alike. There is also evidence that scalping was developed independently by American Indians. An unidentified French soldier left the following description.

"When a war party has captured one or more prisoners that cannot be taken away, it is the usual custom to kill them by breaking their heads with the blows of a tomahawk . . . When he has struck two or three blows, the savage quickly seizes his knife, and makes an incision around the hair from the upper part of the forehead to the back of the neck. Then he puts his foot on the shoulder of the victim, whom he has turned over face down, and pulls the hair off with both hands, from back to front . . . This hasty operation is no sooner finished than the savage fastens the scalp to his belt and goes on his way. This method is only used when the prisoner cannot follow his captor; or when the Indian is pursued . . . He quickly takes the scalp, gives the death cry, and flees at top speed. Savages always announce their valor by a death cry, when they have taken a scalp . . . When a savage has taken a scalp, and is not afraid he is being pursued, he stops and scrapes the skin to remove the blood and fibres on it. He makes a hoop of green wood, stretches the skin over it like a tambourine, and puts it in the sun to dry a little. The skin is painted red, and the hair on the outside combed. When prepared, the scalp is fastened to the end of a long stick, and carried on his shoulder in triumph to the village or place where he wants to put it. But as he nears each place on his way, he gives as many cries as he has scalps to announce his arrival and show his bravery. Sometimes as many as 15 scalps are fastened on the same stick. When there are too many for one stick, they decorate several sticks with the scalps."

A Manitoban tipi


In 1689, New Englanders led 1,500 Indians to Lachine where they killed, burned and cut living flesh off their victims to be eaten later. The New Englanders killed fifty Canadians. This triggered the more mobile French military, Indians and coureurs de bois to take the military offensive and strike at random. SIn 1696 Frontenac made peace with the Indians after conducting a petite guerre and burning Onondaga and Oneida crops and villages; and thus ensuring an Indian war. In the eighteenth century Iroquois power was broken and peace arranged with neighbouring Algonquins. The Western Assiniboine, Blackfoot, Cree, Gros Ventre, Sarcee and Sioux lived off the 40 million buffaloes. But both the buffaloes and the Indians were doomed because of the European horse that created mobility for the more populous and greedy Europeans. Spanish horses helped the Europeans to open the West and with machine technology the colonists could out-maneuver the static Indians. Unlike the English, Spaniards intermarried and created large mestizo populations in Mexico.

When the successful English colonisers arrived, they were fully occupied on several fronts and dependant on Indian administrators like Sir William Johnson and Robert Dickson. Johnson managed all questions and issues, which affected the northern Indians and tried to settle their many concerns with the British. Johnson's Indian success was based on his willingness to take time to understand their issues, speak their language and adopt their ways. The Indians suffered from Treaty negotiations because they assumed they were making mere gestures of friendship rather than land deals - since they did not own land themselves. However, they valued Johnson who protected their interests honestly. He tried to implement centralised Indian planning. While on the larger world scale the struggles with France and Scotland was going well, in British North America the Indians stretched protection very thin and independent and often-greedy settlers refused to be bound by treaties.

Indian way of life changed fundamentally from the earliest contact with the Europeans. Crops were also sometimes ravaged by insects that the colonists unwittingly brought with them, and Indians increased their hunting (and reduced the wild animal population) -- in part to obtain furs to exchange for European hardware. The Indians sought the European rifles, cooking pots, hatchets, knives, needles and other iron wares. Indians had been forced to move from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. Traditional Indian crafts, such as pottery and basketry, declined, as well as their use of bows and arrows. Around some Indian villages visitors found increasing numbers of chickens, pigs, cattle, or sheep. The longer their exposure to the Europeans, the more Indians became experienced, more shrewd in trade, and more covetous. As Indians became economically dependant upon the European manufactured goods they depleted the beaver population along the Eastern coast from around Plymouth northward into Maine and thereby lost their means for exchange.

Colonial Impacts on North American Indians

Apart from the obvious loss of population and land, there was the insidious availability of machine-produced goods. Europeans provided three unique things to Indians: guns, horses, and alcohol. The Chinese may have introduced some Asian painted ponies in the early fifteenth century, but the later Spanish horses were continuously introduced. Suddenly the Indian warriors could move freely to hunt and tribes could relocate easily. The gun had an obvious impact on both hunting and war - despite the limited access to ammunition. The Indians had been unfamiliar with alcohol, and at first they rejected it, thinking it tasted bad. But eventually some of them took to it, fitting it into their own tradition. They had no tradition of social drinking. Drinking for them was a religious act. It put them into their traditional dream state. Drink became their paradise while many Indians remained dismayed by the failure of their traditional medicine to protect them against the new diseases that plagued their people. The Indian sweat-lodge was one of those failures. It was a place of spiritual purification but disastrous for the spread of small pox. Amid their dismay, some Indians accepted modifications to their traditions in the form of Christianity, which exposed them to ridicule from other Indians.

Alcoholic drink deteriorated commitments and tore apart communities. Drinkers might trade away their property or their wives and children. Resentments might escalate into murder. And murder by drunkards was often pardoned by Indians, a drunken man was considered sacred in his dream state. Alcohol was traded to the Indians for furs and land. The following quote illustrates the perseverance of Alexander Henry to trade with the Indians.[12]

In the year 1760, when the British arms under General Amherst were employed in the reduction of Canada, I accompanied the expedition which subsequently to the surrender of Quebec, descended from Oswego on Lake Ontario against Fort de Levi, one of the upper posts situate on an island which lies on the south side of the great river St. Lawrence, at a short distance below the mouth of the Oswegatchie. Fort de Levi surrendered on the twenty-first day of August, seven days after the commencement of the siege; and General Amherst continued his voyage down the stream, carrying his forces against Montreal.

It happened that in this voyage one of the few fatal accidents which are remembered to have occurred in that dangerous part of the river below Lake St. Francais, called the Rapides des Cedres, befell the British army. Several boats loaded with provisions and military stores were lost, together with upward of a hundred men. I had three boats loaded with merchandise, all of which were lost; and I saved my life only by gaining the bottom of one of my boats, which lay among the rocky shelves, and on which I continued for some hours, and until I was kindly taken off by one of the General's aides-de-camp.

The surrender of Montreal, and with it the surrender of all Canada, followed that of Fort de Levi at only the short interval of three days, and proposing to avail myself of the new market which was thus thrown open to British adventure I hastened to Albany, where my commercial connections were, and where I procured a quantity of goods with which I set out, intending to carry them to Montreal. For this, however, the winter was too near approached; I was able only to return to Fort de Levi (to which the conquerors had now given the name of Fort William Augustus) and where I remained until the month of January in the following year.

North American Indian Tribal Life

Indian tribes


Although today we do not often use the term tribe, it is the historical term used to identify a kinship group of related people, or a social division or federation of people. I have identified more than sixty German tribes and nearly 100 Celtic tribes, thus the term has an honourable ancestry. Before Columbus arrived, there were perhaps 1,000 different tribes spread from the Arctic to the Spanish Main (the Caribbean Sea, semi-surrounded by the mainland of the Americas), the area depicted by the map. There were more in South and Central America.

The early explorers all seemed to tell the same story of deserted villages and houses. It seemed as if the entire population had fled the arrival of the Europeans: that was not far wrong, but it was permanent. There is evidence that the pre-Columbian tribes were large and some were quite urban, living in large stone cities such as the Caddo on the Texas-Arkansas border. The Caddo Indians had built 'monumental architecture: public plazas, ceremonial platforms and mausoleums.' The Caddo 'disintegrated' following a visit from the de Soto expedition in c1542. Mann also relates a recorded story by a Blackfoot Indian, about an incident in 1781.

'A company of Blackfoot stumbled across a Shoshone camp at dawn near Red Deer River in Alberta....the Blackfoot party knew exactly what to do when it happened upon a slumbering Shoshone encampment....they silently sliced open the Shoshone tents 'and entered for the fight; but our war whoops instantly stopt, our eyes were appalled with terror; there was no one to fight with but the dead and the dying, each a mass of corruption." The Blackfoot did not touch the bodies, but were infected anyway. When the company returned home, the raider lamented, smallpox "spread from one tent to another as if the Bad Spirit carried it".'[13]

The Indians divided into kinship groups across the wide spaces and varied from hunter-gatherers to fishermen and farmers. The Micmac in Nova Scotia bordered on the Penobscot, Abenaki and Kennebec in Maine. The Iroquois Confederation were hunters in New York and Pennsylvania who fought the Delaware in the area south of the great lakes and west of Philadelphia. The Iroquois also fought with the Hurons, Senecas, and Ottawas north of Lakes Erie and Ontario and further with the Ojibway north of Lake Superior. The Algonquins stretched into the Chesapeake coastal area from the great lakes. South of the Delaware were the Shawnee and west of the Delaware were the Miami. In the Carolinas were the Catawba, and the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw on the edge of Florida, while the Seminole and Yamasee were in central Florida. The Cree lived across the extreme north and the Inuit in the High Arctic. The initial experiences were, of course, on the Eastern American coastal seabord. [14]

The Kutchin and Aleuts were in Alaska, the Kaska in the Yukon and it was the Tlingit on the Pacific coast who made the gigantic Redwood tree carvings as totem poles. The Nez Perce, Shoshone, Ute and Apache occupied the American west into Mexico with the Navajo and Pueblo; and the Maya lived in the southern Yucatan region of Mexico. Most of these people had been settled for millennia and their religion had led them to a balance with nature. They had a healthy diet of fresh game, corn, beans, squash, and fish, depending on their region. They had invented government, farming, writing, art, but they had not invented the wheel, and if some smelted copper in Michigan, they could not beat European diseases and rifles.[15]

The Wheel

Big Horn wheel

Some 'Medecine Wheels' in Alberta, Canada are dated to c2500 BC


Cheyenne family travois: c1890


Snide remarks deride the Indians lack of inventiveness and reference is often made to the lack of an Indian wheel. Actually the Olmec did invent the wheel by 1000 BC, as archeological finds attest, however Indians did not widely use the wheel for other than perhaps toys.[16] Even older evidence has been found to show that the concept of a wheel was well-known to Indian people's much earlier than previously thought. The basic terrain, lack of Romans to build roads, and thick vegitation mitigated against wheels. With many rivers and lakes, if they didn't use wheels, they did ease their mobility with canoes.

Unlike most other civilisations American Indians did not have access to large domesticated animals. Horses had died out in the Americas by c9000 BC and the reintroduced European Spanish horses did not arrive in numbers until the seventeenth century. Wheeled carts might have been pushed manually, but soggy, mountainous, Mesoamerica was hardly suited to that use. Northern Indians contended with forests, rivers, and snow. Indians did without the wheel, but widely developed the lightweight canoe in North America. Later horse-mounted tribes developed the travois as a horse-pulled device for carrying heavy loads.

The travois was an early French Canadian term used to describe an Indian-devloped frame used to carry loads on land. The basic construction consisted of a platform or netting mounted on two long poles, lashed in the shape of an elongated isosceles triangle; the frame was dragged with the pointed end forward. Sometimes the blunt end of the frame was stabilized by a third pole bound across the two main poles. The travois had first been developed to be dragged by hand, sometimes fitted with a shoulder harness, or dragged by dogs or later by the Spanish horses. A travois could either be loaded by piling goods on the bare frame and tying them in place, or by first stretching cloth or leather over the frame to better hold the load to be dragged.

Although considered more primitive than wheel-based forms of transport, the travois suited the type of territory where it was used. Wheels could not cope with the soft forest floors, soft prairie soil, or snow and there were few roadways, except in areas like mountainous Peru. Wheels would encounter difficulties which would make them a less efficient option than the travois, or canoe . The travois was also used in preference to the wheel in New France's fur trade by the Coureurs des bois, who traded with the Plains Tribes.

Domestic North American Indian Tribal Responsibilities

As noted above, in many tribes women had considerable power and controlled land and appointments as sachems and chiefs. The women also did domestic chores, near the tepee (also called tipis, or wigwam, a tent of animal skins supported by poles), or longhouse (a frame house of poles covered with bark, or turf, or when available, a long log-cabin). Other tribes lived in a variety of houses made of local materials. Indian housing included Arctic snow igloos, large pole and North-west coast split-wood houses, stone pueblos in the South-west, Prairie tepees made of long poles and animal skins, sunken sod and wood houses in the West and Centre, and stone in the South-east. The women wove blankets and baskets and mats, and dug for edible roots, picked corn, found clams, or collected berries. They pounded furs, or Pacific cedar bark, to soften it, and prepare it to make clothing. They cleaned the family's home and looked after the children. Women scrubbed what they could and replaced anything soiled that could not be scrubbed. They put the morning meal on to cook and then started to prepare food for the evening meal. The Indian women were housewives, and good ones. The family bathed often and rarely smelled - unlike the whites.

Early nomadic hunters forged stone weapons c10,000 years ago; as the age of metallurgy dawned, more efficient weapons produced. Prior to contact with Europeans, most tribes used similar weaponry. The most common implement were the bow and arrow, war club, and spear. Quality, material, and design varied widely. The men did the fishing and hunting and they were wonderful hunters. They used traps and clubs and arrows to catch and kill game. They set out baskets to catch crabs and fish, they used every bit of the buffalo and deer. The skins they wore, made into tents (tepees), used as ropes, or blankets and mats. They stood on the coastal piers they had built and fished with baskets woven from cattails, hung from the end of long cedar poles. They learned how to cure simple fevers and illness, and where the animals would move next. The men became expert at reading the signs for both the weather and the animals. Of course the Indians introduced tobacco to the world and would smoke a pipe after a long day, as they sat by the fire.

Survival in the environments in which they lived defined the work of the native groups. The Inuit, or Eskimo, prepared and buried stocks of dried meat and fish. Pacific Northwest tribes crafted seafaring dugouts 40-50 feet long for fishing. Farmers in the Eastern Woodlands tended fields of maize with hoes and digging sticks, while their neighbors in the Southeast grew tobacco as well as food crops. On the Plains, some tribes engaged in agriculture but also planned buffalo hunts in which herds were efficiently driven over bluffs. Indians of the Southwest deserts hunted small animals and gathered acorns to grind into a flour with which they baked wafer-thin bread on top of heated stones. Some groups on the region's mesas developed irrigation techniques, and filled storehouses with grain as protection against the area's frequent droughts.

Indians generally served two meals a day. The first meal was usually around mid-morning, after the morning work. The next meal was served around sundown. The men would sit down first, on a mat. Before coming to the table, they might take a long drink from a drinking gourd, and then sit down. (It was not considered good manners to drink at the table.) Courses were often served on platters made of wood, or leaves. Many Indians used spoons to eat, carved from bone or shell, but others used knives, or fingers. Although many Indian tribes were matriarchal Once men had been served, the women would join them at the mat. The family members talked to each other during meals. It was a social time, a time to relax a bit, before returning to work. They quite often invited people from outside their family to meals.

Although many Indian tribes changed their living areas in the summers and winters, it was to address climate, rather than as nomads. Many of the later plains Indians had ponies and developed an enormous skill at riding. Some tribes were apparently war-like and fought with their neighbours and later the invading Europeans. Many disputes were settled by playing lacrosse or a form of soccer, and on the plains by counting coup (touching an enemy and then fleeing before he could react). Many Indian languages had no word for the concept of 'stealing', since a man might borrow, what his neighbour did not need and would cheerfully lend.

North American Indian Wars

Mingo Indian


The Apache, Comanche, Cheyenne, Sioux, Pueblo, and Iroquois were notably ferocious fighters. Fighting was not continuous but did occur between and amongst tribes. Of course the clashes between the Europeans and Indian tribes led to violence and scalping; but scalping was neither novel, nor new. In 1535, Jacques Cartier, was shown "the scalps of five Indians stretched on hoops like parchment" by Indians near present-day Québec City. Many tribes believed that a warrior's scalp-lock once symbolized his life force and thus served as a trophy of war. Sir William Johnson wrote in 1772 that Indians considered scalping to be "a National Act and Declaration of War." Archeological findings have shown that North American scalping was fashionable by 500 BC at the latest. Herodotus reported the Scythians scalped their enemies as proof of a warrior's prowess as did Persians, Visigoths, Anglo-Saxons, and Francs. The English in Connecticut paid the Mohegans a bounty for the heads of Pequots, and the Dutch paid wampum for Raritan heads. By 1723, Massachusetts was paying 100 pounds sterling for the scalps of male Indians aged 12 and over, and half that for women and children.

The Seven Year-long world war between Britain and France formally began in 1756, however it had its roots in the late 1740s when British land speculators encroached into French Ohio country. Both sides had great difficulty sending their best men to America, given their on-going continental European battles, where they saw their disagreements might be resolved by war. The Seven Years' War was fought in Europe, India, Africa, the Caribbean, and in North America. The defeat of France enabled the creation of Canada and the United States and with that defeat Britain became a global superpower. Britain's gains in the Caribbean and India created enormous new wealth, which offset her later loss of America. With the deliberate killing by the Indian Chief Tanaghrisson of the French envoy Lieutenant Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, it might even be said that this war was started by the Indians and not by either the colonial George Washington, or the Europeans. It is certain that Iroquois' politics had led Tanaghrisson to kill the French on 28 May 1754. It is certainly clear that the young Major Washington was not in control of events and that Indian politics were an issue that European diplomats ought to have considered.[17]

Both Britain and France had trouble fighting their war in America because of the time it took to communicate from London and Paris, and because of the difficulties encountered in re-supplying their armies in the face of enemy naval actions. Neither nation's soldiers were keen to fight the terrifying Indians in the immense forests. Both Britain and France underestimated the Indians' interests and intentions; and the Indians badly underestimated Britain's covetous interests in Indian lands. By the the mid-1700s, war casualties and European diseases had decimated Indian allies and the Iroquois expanded their Five Nations to include a sixth tribe, the Tuscaroras. New France was then led by le Marquis de Vaudreuil, but he was in complete disagreement with his senior military commander, Major General Marquis de Montcalm, and both were being outrageously robbed by Bigot the colonial treasurer. The Indians struggled for strategic agreement amongst themselves and control over the Ohio tribes, and the British were equally disunited.

The British Iroquois allies were particularly fierce and boiled and ate their enemy in full view of witnesses. Being killed and eaten was not not the worst outcome for live prisoners were also used as mobile larders and a piece of human flesh might be carved off to provide a meal. Torture was perfectly permissable in many tribes as how else would the captors know if he was courageous and worthy of having his heart eaten? A Frenchwoman described how her baby was 'burned before her eyes by her captors, whom she called wolves. [18] Captain Francois Pouchot, garrisoned at Fort Niagara in c1755, wrote about scalping in a memoire. He explained that:

"as soon as the man has fallen, they run to him, put their knee between his shoulders, take a lock of hair in one hand, and with their knife in the other give a blow separating the skin from the head, and tearing off a piece. This is a thing quickly done; then showing the scalp they utter a cry they call the death cry".

In 1761, the Cherokee tribe rose against the British and their squatters who had encroached into Cherokee lands.[19] In 1758, Brigadier Forbes had asked for Indian support and received none from the Iroquois, so he asked the Cherokees for help: the response overwhelmed the British ability to cope. Fully 700 Cherokee warriors walked to the rendezvous in Pennsylvania. Not only did Forbes now have Indian allies, but he had to feed and arm them and soon realised that he could not afford to keep the Cherokees. Amongst the misunderstandings that developed, Forbes decided to arrest and lock up the Cherokee chief, Attakullakulla. The Cherokees saw themselves as allies and the British saw them as subordinate labour. Forbes then decided to release the 700 armed Cherokees, who had then to walk several hundred miles home, through settler-infested backwoods. Despite the Indians good behaviour the settlers were terrified and killed many of the innocent Cherokees en-route home. Inevitably the Cherokees did not like such treatment and events escalated to war, which was cruelly handled by General Amherst.

Trying to send the message that Indian lands were not free to Europeans for the taking after the European war ended, Pontiac led a 1763 rebellion to try to oust white squatters from treaty-agreed lands: of course, Pontiac's rebellion failed.[20]The British promises of protection of Indian lands were virtually all broken. The army fortress garrisons charged with maintaining territorial order were themselves overwhelmed as an historical land rush got underway. The flood of Europeans into the Ohio Country and beyond did not stop for over 100 years and the results exacerbated relationships between Britain and the colonies as the British belatedly tried to molify the Indians.[21]

North American Indian Society

The Iroquois tribes, living around the Great Lakes and extending east and north, used strings or belts called wampum that served a dual function: the knots and beaded designs mnemonically chronicled tribal stories and legends, and further served as a medium of exchange and a unit of measure. The keepers of the articles were seen as tribal dignitaries.

Pueblo tribes crafted impressive items associated with their religious ceremonies. Kachina dancers wore elaborately painted and decorated masks as they ritually impersonated various ancestral spirits. Sculpture was not highly developed, but carved stone and wood fetishes were made for religious use. Superior weaving, embroided decorations, and rich dyes characterized the textile arts. Both turquoise and shell jewelry were created, as were high-quality pottery and formalized pictorial arts.[22]

Navajo religion focused on the maintenance of a harmonious relationship with the spirit world, often achieved by ceremonial acts, usually incorporating sand paintings. The colors—made from sand, charcoal, cornmeal, and pollen—depicted specific spirits. These vivid, intricate, and colorful sand creations were erased at the end of the ceremony.

In November 1764, after the Battle of Bushy Run, Colonel Henri Bouquet (a Swiss soldier hired by the British) held a meeting with Shawnee and Wyandot Indians at Fort Pitt and they then turned over two hundred prisoners, but still more from the French and Indian War and Pontiac's Rebellion remained captive. Bouquet took Native Americans as hostages until the Shawnees released another one hundred prisoners in May 1765. Some historians estimate as much as half of all returning captives tried to return to Indian tribes.

This behavior puzzled the British and still intrigues historians today. Several explanations for the captives' reluctance to be returned to European communities have been offered. Most were captured at a young age, and some, in fact, could not even recall their English names. The children and women became family and tribal members. Since many Native American cultures were matrilineal, women held the highest positions in the tribe as the clan mother. She was responsible for everything but hunting and war; in some tribes the permission of the clan mother was vital for going to war. Young boys, too, had reason to find Indian life appealing. The sense of camaraderie, tribal rituals, traditions, and hunting were more alluring than the drudgery of farming on the frontier. Adult white men, however, as a rule wished to return to their former homes, since male captives were kept in a subservient role and were never or rarely assimilated. Still much of the Indian life was democratic and without European class distinctions. (See the Haudenosaunee discussion above.)


1             For a basic accounting of Indian life see Charles C Mann, 1491, New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Francis Jennings, The Founders of America, and SE Morrison, The Oxford History of the American People. For the older Olmecs see Michael Coe, America's First Civilization, Discovering the Olmec. For origins see;;;;;;; BBC Report, " Tomb find reveals pre-Inca city",,, dated 22 November 2006;;;; BBC News Report, 'Ancient city unearthed' in Peru,, dated 17 December 2008; BBC News Report, 'Logging 'caused Nazca collapse', dated 2 November 2009;;;;; BBC Report " First Andes civilisation explored",, dated 22 December 2004;;;; For the background to new data back-dating early American imigration see BBC News Report by Paul Rincon, "Early humans followed the coast",, dated 5 October 2006; and; See also Charlotte and David Yue, The Wigwam and the Longhouse;; James J Jr Cassidy, Through Indian Eyes, The Untold Story of Native American Peoples; For ancient human site dating see Thomas Dillehay, The Settlement of the Americas, A New Prehistory.

2              For see maps Image:World 200 BCE.PNG at,; and Houghton Mifflin map,

3              The following citations relate to the age of human settlement in North America: Grahame Clark, World Prehistory, In New Perspective, pp. 350-453; and; BBC News report "Cave clue to 'first beachcombers't", dated 17 October 2007,,; BBC News report by Paul Rincon, "Footprints of 'first Americans'" dated 5 July 2005, citing Dr Silvia Gonzalez of Liverpool's John Moores University's announcement concerning 40,000-year old footprints found near Mexico City in a quarry in 2003. BBC News report by Paul Rincon, "Date limit set on first Americans",, dated 22 July 2003;; BBC News report "World's oldest building discovered",, dated 1 March 2000 notes discovery of a building 500,000 years old. The building remnants were uncovered near Tokyo. Since Japan is an island evidently the shelter would have been built by an ancient ancestor of humans, Homo erectus. Sea travel had been mastered by then (despite a land-bridge to Japan) and potential travel to America was then possible. See BBC News report by Paul Rincon, "'New World' link to Arctic find",, dated 2 January 2004; Russian archaelogists have uncovered evidence of human activity in northern Siberia 30,000-years old. The implication is of a much earlier population of North America. See BBC News report by Paul Rincon, "Seafaring clue to first Americans",, dated 26 February, 2004, the story concerns evidence of 8,000-year old seafaring along the Californian coast. The BBC News report "Human skulls are 'oldest Americans'",, dated 3 December 2002 notes discovery of 13,000-year old human skulls in Mexico. Since Indian ancestors are identified as Asian migrants c10,000 ago an earlier American occupation is suggested.;;;;;

4               See See also Gavin Menzies, 1421 The Year China Discovered America. See also, a severe criticism of Menzies' scholarship and conclusions.

5               Mann, 1491, p. 28.

6               Smithsonian Institution, Paleoamerican Origins,

7              Mann, op. cit., p. 104.

8              Francis Jennings The Founders of America, pp. 48-66.

9              I have used the term Indian as an historical indicator identifiable to most readers and  I have not intended to infer any disparagement. (Although Indian is clearly inaccurate and tainted by American post-Revolution conflict, other terms such as 'Native Americans', or 'Original People' are not necessarily either accurate or an improvement. It is clear that there have probably been several historical waves, or migrations into the Americas, and that Indians are neither 'native', nor 'original'.)

10           Richard Middleton, Colonial America, p. 19.

11           Reader's Digest, Heritage Canada, p. 45.

12           Alexander Henry's Travels and Adventures - Chapter 1, Embarking Upon the Fur Trade, at

13          Mann, op. cit., p. 121.

14           The Cree called the Inuit by their Indian word Eskimo, or 'fish eater'. There are other interpretations from other Indian dialects, but eskimo was not a preferred self-identity.

15           Richard Middleton, op. cit., pp. 19-20.

16           See Charles Mann, 1491, pp. 248-250.

17           Fred Anderson, Crucible of War, The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, pps., 5-32. For further details of the Seven Year's War see for example: Frank McLynn, 1759, the Year Britain Became Master of the World, and Seven Years' War,'_War.

18           Robert Leckie, "A Few Acres of Snow", The Saga of the French and Indian Wars, p. 100.

19           Fred Anderson, op. cit., pp. 457-475.

20           Ibid., pp. 535-547, 617-637.

21           Catherine Drinker Bowen, John Adams and the American Revolution, p. 43.

22           See BBC News report by Helen Briggs, " 'Oldest' New World writing found",, dated 14 September 2006. Inscriptions have been discovered in Veracruz, Mexico and dated to 900 BC. The authors are identified as the pre-Colombian Olmecs.

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