Pre-Colonial America

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Information about Pre-Colonial America

Published on November 18, 2012

Author: BCJacobson


The first people to live in North America came from Asia. They crossed a land bridge calledBeringia, which used to connect Asia to North America. They came here to follow animals to hunt, making them nomads. After the Ice Age, thisbridge went underwater. These people became the Native Americans.

Larger animals were hunted and died off when the Ice Age ended. The Native Americans began to practice agriculture, and began to grow crops like maize. Because one person grew food for lots ofpeople, people began to live closer together in towns and villages.More people were born because people could easily feed each other. Other people didn’t have to grow food, and began to learn more about art, technology, and religion. Society became more complex with more time to do other things.

Civilizations, a group of people with an organized culture, began to form in Central America. Each had large cities with thousands of people.The Maya and Aztec built large stone pyramids to get closer to their gods. Their cultures were theocracies, where the religious leaders were in charge. The Aztecs used practiced human sacrifice to make their gods happy. The Olmecs and Mayans vanished, and the Aztecs were taken over by the Spanish.

After the Mayans declined, a group of hunters known as the Aztec began to wander through central Mexico. In 1325, they came upon an island in Lake Texcoco, where they saw a sign: They saw aneagle holding a snake sitting on a cactus. A sign that the Aztec legends had said they would mark their new home.The Aztecs built their new home on the island. Their capital, Tenochtitlan, was built on the island in Lake Texcoco.

Workers poured soil from the bottom of the lake to create causeways (pathways across the lake). These linked the island to the shore. Tenochtitlan became the biggest city in the Americas and one of the biggest in the world at its time.

The Inca lived in the western highlands of Southern America, in the Andes Mountains. They founded their capital, Cuzco, around 1200.The Inca society was built on war. Their army was powerful. Men between 25 and 50 could be drafted to fight in it. People conquered by the Inca who went along with their plans were allowed to participate in the Incagovernment. Those who did not were suppressed harshly. Most groups decided to follow the Inca’s instructions instead of fighting them.

There were 9 million Inca at one time. 10,000 miles of stone-paved roads connected the empire together. Quechua was the official language of the Inca.The Inca didn’t have a writing system, but they used a record-keeping system. They used patterns of string, of different lengths and colors, and with different patterns of knots. Each of these meant something different. These were called quipus.To farm in the highlands, the Inca cut terraces, or flat pieces of land, into hills.The Inca were conquered in the mid 1500’s. Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro defeated and conquered the Inca.

The Hohokam lived in what is now Arizona.They were experts at getting water to their crops. They used irrigation to bring water through trenches they dug called channels.

The Anasazi lived in the Four Corners region. That is where the borders of the present day states Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah touch.They built great stone buildings which the Spanish called pueblos. Some of their homes were built into steep cliffs. Pueblo Bonito, a large pueblo dwelling, remains in New Mexico today.

In central North America, natives built large dirt pyramids like the stone pyramids of the Mayaand Aztec. These were sometimes used as burial chambers. Some were used as temples.The mounds have been built from Pennsylvania to the Mississippi River, starting in 1000 BC. Among the Mound Builders were the Adena, Hopewell, and Mississippians.Cahokia, which is in Illinois, was built after 900AD. Some of the mounds there were 100 feet high. Cahokia may have had more than 16,000 people (about the size of Morton, IL)

The religion of Islam began to sweep over the Middle East and Africa after the fall of the Roman Empire.The Crusades were a series of 9 expeditions starting in 1095. The goal was to regain the Holy Land, the place where Christianity was born. As a result of the Crusades, there was increased interest in Asia on the part of the Europeans. They liked Asian spices, silks, and other goods.

Marco Polo left from Italy to explore China in 1271. Polo wrote a book about his journey called Travels. Polo’s book would inspire future explorer Christopher Columbus to sail west to reach the East.Marco Polo

European merchants knew that they could sell Asian goods back in Europe for a lot of money. European merchants wanted spices, but also perfumes, silks, and precious stones.Europeans sent the goods they bought from Arabs in the Middle East to Genoa, Venice, and Pisa. These are all cities in Italy. The Arab traders sold their goods to the Europeans at a high price, so the Europeans began to think of new ways to get to Asia. The Silk Road

As the city-states in Italy became wealthy, they began to think of ways in which to make the world better. The wealthy merchants began to study the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. Classical always refers to Ancient Greece and Rome.People began to think about the world differently, and science became more important.Greek art and architecture were studied, and people began to think about things like the individual and the universe.

As people began to think aboutGreece and Rome, people began to spend more time studying and focusing on the arts.The Renaissance is the revival of thelearning and studying that was done by the classical cultures of Greece and Rome. Europeans used the Renaissance to begin to think about the world outside of what they knew, andbegan to think more about exploring the unknown.

By the 1400’s, powerful monarchs (Kings and/or Queens) began to lead larger more powerful nations in Europe. National laws and armies began to emerge. Monarchs wanted to expand their power even more but needed money to do so.

Technology is the use of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.The printing press, invented by Johannes Guttenberg was invented in the 1450’s. Books such as Marco Polo’s Travels could now be published and read by more people. The astrolabe helps to determine latitude The magnetic by measuring the positions of the stars. compass allowed sailors to find their direction when they were far from land. Maps began to be more and more accurate Europeans acquired it as the skills of cartographers (mapmakers) from the Chinese. got better and more and more people explored.

Shipbuilding improved so that sailors could now go on much longer voyages. The stern (back end) rudder and triangular sail helped ships to be able to sail into the wind. The caravel was introduced by the Portuguese in the 1400’s. It was bigger, carrying more cargo, and could go in shallower water. As ships got better, countries began to explore for new routes to Asia. Portugal began to explore the coast of Africa looking for a way to Asia.

African kingdoms sprouted up and existed from 400-1600. Africans mined gold, copper, and iron ore, and traded with the Islamic regions in North Africa. Islamic ideas spread over Africa, as well as silk, cotton and porcelain from China and India.The Portuguese traded with the Africans, taking gold and slaves.

Ghana was a trading empire on thewest coast of Africa existing between 400 and 1100 AD. Ghana imposed, or placed taxes on trade to make money. The Muslims traded with Ghana backand forth until new trade routes began to open after 1076. The Almoravids, people from NorthAfrica, fought with Ghana and allowed for new trade routes to open. Thesenew routes didn’t go through Ghana.Without these routes, Ghana began to decline and new powers emerged.

Mali was one of the new states the grew in the decline of Ghana. By the 1200’s, Ghana was part of the kingdom of Mali. Mali’s greatest king was Mansa Musa, who ruled from 1312-1337. Musa was a Muslim, and made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. Musa made a journey to Mecca, the holy place for Muslims. Musa came back with a Muslim architect who built many mosques, which are Muslim houses of worship. Timbuktu was the capital of Mali.Mansa Musa

The Songhai were once people who were part of the Kingdom of Mali. The Songhai invaded and captured Timbuktu in 1468. Their laws were based on the Quran, the holy book of Islam.The Songhai had governors, tax collectors, and standard weights and measures (all the same).The kingdom of Morocco defeated the Songhai in the 1500’s, thanks to their use of guns and cannons.

Prince Henry of Portugal set up a center for exploration in Portugal in 1420. He was known as Henry the Navigator.At his navigation center in Sarges, Portugal, he planned voyages and set up a school for navigation. Portuguese ships set up trading posts on thecoast of West Africa. They began to buy slaves in the mid 1400’s.

Dias was sent by King John II of Portugal to explore the southern parts of Africa in 1487.Storms took Dias around the southern tip of Africa, which he then named the “Cape of Storms.”King John II renamed the cape the “Cape of Good Hope.”

Left Portugal in 1497 with four ships.Took wide route around Africa, didn’t see land for 96 days.Sailed into India, at the port of Calicut in May, 1498. Sea route to India finally found.

Pedro Alvares Cabral left soon after da Gama returned.With 13 ships, Cabral took a wider route than da Gama did, and actually ended up in Brazil.Cabral claimed Brazil for the Portuguese and continued on to India.More and more Portuguese ships and fleets began to travel to India to trade. Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, became an important trading center.

Columbus had planned to sail to Asia by sailing west. Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, and began to sail for the Portuguese in 1451.Columbus and other educated people believed that theworld was round, but he thought it was not as big as it really is. Columbus thought it would take him about two months to sail to Asia by going west.

In the 1400’s the Spanish were dealing with the Muslims, who had been fighting in Spainfor hundreds of years. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain were devoted to driving the Muslims out, which they did in 1492.Spain was jealous of the Portuguese and their trading success. They wanted to get involved in the trade to Asia. Christopher Columbus need someone to finance (pay for) his voyage. He tried many places before getting the help he needed in Spain. Columbus promised to bring Christianity to any lands he discovered. Queen Isabella was a devout (very dedicated) Catholic.

Columbus set out from Palos, Spain on August 3, 1492. He had three ships: 2 smaller ones, the Niña and Piña, and one larger, the Santa Maria. Columbus was the captain of the Santa Maria, which was his flagship. Columbus set out with 90 men and 6 months worth of supplies.Columbus stopped in the Canary Islands first, and then set off into the unknown of the Atlantic Ocean.The crew began to worry after a month. To convince his men that they had not gone as far as they had, Columbus altered his logs to say they traveled a shorter distance.

A lookout on one of Columbus’s ships saw land on October 12, 1492. He shouted “Tierra! Tierra!” (“Land! Land”) Columbus and his men had ended up in the Bahamas. He named the island SanSalvador, and claimed it for Spain. He thought that he was in Asia, but he was in America. Upon his return to Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were happy with his discoveries and named him “Admiral of the Ocean Sea.” They also decided to finance his future voyages.

Long before Columbus, Europeans known as the Vikings had sailed to North America. The Vikings sailed to Iceland and Greenland in the 800’s and 900’s. According to Viking sagas, Viking sailor Leif Eriksson explored North America.Little is known about the Viking settlements and explorations in North America. This is why Columbus is credited with “discovering” America.

Columbus left from Spain 3 more times in 1493, 1498, and 1502. He explored places like Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), Cuba, and Jamaica. Columbus explored and mapped Central and South America.

Other explorers went to the Americas after Columbus.In 1502, Amerigo Vespucci of Spain explored SouthAmerica, and decided it was its own continent, and not part of Asia. It was named “America” in his honor. Vacso Nunez de Balboa of Spain explored Central America and was the first man to see the Pacific Ocean from the Americas. In 1520, Ferdinand Magellan of Portugal was the leader of the first voyage to circumnavigate theworld. Magellan sailed for the Spanish. Magellandied on the voyage, but his men sailed all the way around the world.Magellan thought the waters of the Pacific were so peaceful that he named it the Pacific (pacifico) Ocean.

The Spanish were looking to find gold, silver, and riches through exploration.Spanish explorers, known as conquistadors, explored the Americas looking to find riches that would make them and the Spanish rulers to become wealthy.The explorers were given grants, which gave them the rights to explore certain areas. Any riches that they found, they had to give 1/5 to the Spanish crown.

Hernán Cortés landed on the east coast of Mexico in 1519. He brought over 500 men, and also brought horses and cannons. He learned of the Aztecs and their capital of Tenochtitlán.Cortés met many different group of people who were conquered by the Aztec. These people agreed to help invade Tenochtitlán.

Cortés was welcomed inside the city by the Aztec emperor Montezuma. Montezuma treated Cortés and his men like guests, welcoming them into his palace.Montezuma was taken prisoner in his own home, and the city was taken by the Spanish.

The Aztecs attempted to rebel against the Spanish, and succeeded. They drove out the Spanish in 1520.Montezuma was killed in the fighting. Some say he was killed by the Spanish, others say the Aztec people stoned him to death as he tried to get them to retreat. The Spanish retook the city in 1521, causing the Aztec Empire to collapse.

Another conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, took 180 men to South America. Pizarro was looking to find gold and riches in the Inca Empire. In 1532, Pizarro captured the Inca emperor Atahualpa. Soon after the Inca Army was destroyed in battle.Atahualpa was later executed because of accusations of trying to send messages to his people to rebel. He was strangled to death by the Spanish.

1. Weaponry: The Spanish had gunsand cannons, which were unfamiliar to the Aztecs and the Inca.2. Animals: The Spanish were able touse their horses and dogs to scare theAztecs and Inca, as well as use them in battle. 3. Allies: The Spanish were able to convince tribes around the Aztec to join them because the Aztecs had conquered them and treated them poorly. 4. Disease: The Aztec and Inca had no natural immunity to European diseases like smallpox. This diminished the manpower of both empires.

While Cortés and Pizarro explored Central and South America, other Spanish explorers explored North America. Juan Ponce de León explored North America in present-day Florida in 1513. He was looking for a “fountain of youth,” which would make people younger.The first permanent settlement in North America, St. Augustine, was built as a result of this expedition.

Expeditions penetrated deep into North America, searching for gold.Álvar Nuñéz Cabeza de Vaca was part of an expedition in the 1530’s. He wrote of seeing “seven cities of gold.” Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado both explored into the heart ofNorth America looking for gold. Neither found it. De Soto died of fever after getting past the Mississippi River.

The Spanish built pueblos (towns), missions (religious communities), and presidios (forts) as they explored North America. New Mexico (not the state) was founded by the Spanish in 1598. The Spanish brought cattle and horses with them, but more importantly they began to spread Christianity.

As the Spanish settled more and more in North America, a class system began to emerge. People were treated differently depending on their birthplace and ancestry. Peninsulares- People born in Spain. Creoles- People who were born to Spanish Parents in America. Mestizos- People with Spanish/Native American parents. Native Americans Enslaved Africans

The Spanish Crown allowed for encomiendas, which is the right to demand taxes and labor from Native Americans.This system turned Native Americans into slaves. Bartolomé de Las Casas, a priest, stuck up for the Native Americans. In 1542, the New Laws forbade the Spanish from making slaves out of Native Americans. Plantations (large pieces of land used for farming) were built to exportcrops and raw materials back to Spain. These farms began to use enslavedAfricans after Las Casas helped to keep Native Americans from being slaves.As a result, thousands of Africans would be brought to the Americas to be used as slaves. Many died on the voyage over due to harsh treatment. As early as the late 1500’s, the plantation system that would be in place until the U.S. Civil War in the 1860’s was in place.

Section 4-Essential QuestionWhy did European nations establishcolonies in North America?

The Europeans wanted to bring Christianity to America. Most early explorers were Roman Catholics. While North America was beginning to be explored, back in Europe a religious upheaval was taking place.

In 1517, a German priest named Martin Luther delivered a list of complaints he had about the Catholic Church. He nailed a list of 95 theses (problems) to the door of the Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther thought that the Bible was the most important thing for Christians to follow. He also thought that the pope was less important because he wasn’t in the Bible. Luther thought that faith and not good works (good deeds) was the way to get to heaven. Luther and the people who believed what he said became known as Protestants. Luther had started the Protestant Reformation, where he broke away from the Catholic Church.

Another man, John Calvin, agreed with Luther that faith was more important than good works. His following in Switzerland left the Catholic Church like Luther’s did.In England, King Henry VIII left the Catholic Church after the Pope wouldn’t let him getdivorced. Henry VIII formed a new Church of England and made himself the head of it. Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, became Queen after Henry VIII died. She helped make England a strong Protestant nation.

The Spanish who settled in the southeastern and southwesternparts of North America tried to bring their Catholicism with them to the Native Americans. The French Catholics also tried to bring religion with them. Theysettled in the northeastern parts of North America. The English and Dutch Protestantssettled between the French and the Spanish. They settled along the Atlantic Coast.

The nations of Europe believed in a philosophy called mercantilism. They thought that their power would expand as they became richer.European nations began to compete overseas for territory they could use to increase their wealth.Colonies in North America could provide gold and silver, as well as a place to sell European goods.

The continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa were connected to the Americas through the voyages of Columbus and other European explorers.Plants, animals, and disease were all transferred from one side of the Atlantic to the other. This was known as the Columbian Exchange.

England, France, and the Netherlands (the Dutch) were notincluded in the Treaty of Tordesillas that had divided the Americas between Spain and Portugal. In the 1500’s and 1600’s, thesecountries began to explore and chart the Americas, as well as setting up some colonies. These countries were looking for a route to Asia that didn’t require going around South America. They were looking for a Northwest Passage, a water route through America to Asia.

The English sent explorer John Cabot (Italian) to look for a northern route to Asia. Cabot landed in Canada, and gave the English a claim in North America.

In 1535, French explorer Jacques Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence River. He was hoping to find a way on water to the Pacific. Cartier found a large mountain which he named Mount Royal, where present day Montreal stands. He didn’t find the water route he was looking for however.

The Dutch (people of the Netherlands) sent Henry Hudson (English) to explore North America. He discovered the river that is now named after him. Later he explored for the English, and discovered the Hudson Bay.

The French didn’t focus on permanent settlements inthe Americas. They traded for furs and also fished. The Dutch began to set up numerous colonies on the Atlantic coast. They purchased Manhattan forroughly $24 dollars from theNative Americans. NEXT TO NOTHING! The Spanish focused on missionaries and the conversion of Native Americans to Catholicism.

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