|Regions with significant populations|
|(not including Mestizo or Zambo population)|
|Indigenous languages of the Americas|
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants, and many ethnic groups who identify with those peoples. They are often also referred to as Native Americans, Aboriginals, First Nations, and (by Christopher Columbus' geographic mistake) Indians, later disambiguated as Red Indians, American Indians, Amerindians, Amerinds, and by unique tribal citizenry. There are 565 federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States, and several more state recognized tribes. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=3&sqi=2&ved=0CC0QFjAC&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.indiancountrytoday.com%2Fhome%2Fcontent%2FIts-official-Shinnecock-Nation-is-565th-federally-acknowledged-tribe-104567669.html&ei=YwkmTdqfCoKclge9rvT7AQ&usg=AFQjCNEZzzeSEYlcVWVI669Oirv64YM59Q
According to the New World migration model, a migration of humans from Eurasia to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait. The most recent point at which this migration could have taken place is c. 12,000 years ago, with the earliest period remaining a matter of some unresolved contention. These early Paleo-Indians soon spread throughout the Americas, diversifying into many hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. According to the oral histories of many of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, they have been living there since their genesis, described by a wide range of traditional creation accounts.
Application of the term "Indian" originated with Christopher Columbus, who thought that he had arrived in the East Indies, while seeking Asia. Later the name was still used as the Americas at the time were often called West Indies. This has served to imagine a kind of racial or cultural unity for the aboriginal peoples of the Americas. Once created, the unified "Indian" was codified in law, religion, and politics. The unitary idea of "Indians" was not originally shared by indigenous peoples, but many over the last two centuries have embraced the identity.
While some indigenous peoples of the Americas were historically hunter-gatherers, many practiced aquaculture and agriculture. The impact of their agricultural endowment to the world is a testament to their time and work in reshaping, taming, and cultivating the flora indigenous to the Americas. Some societies depended heavily on agriculture while others practiced a mix of farming, hunting, and gathering. In some regions the indigenous peoples created monumental architecture, large-scale organized cities, chiefdoms, state, and empires.
Many parts of the Americas are still populated by indigenous Americans; some countries have sizable populations, such as Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, and Ecuador. At least a thousand different indigenous languages are spoken in the Americas. Some, such as Quechua languages, Aymara, Guaraní, Mayan languages, and Nahuatl, count their speakers in millions. Many also maintain aspects of indigenous cultural practices to varying degrees, including religion, social organization and subsistence practices. Some indigenous peoples still live in relative isolation from Western society, and a few are still counted as uncontacted peoples.
The specifics of Paleo-Indian migration to and throughout the Americas, including the exact dates and routes traveled, are subject to ongoing research and discussion. The traditional theory has been that these early migrants moved into the Beringia land bridge between eastern Siberia and present-day Alaska around 40,000—17,000 years ago, when sea levels were significantly lowered due to the Quaternary glaciation. These people are believed to have followed herds of now-extinct pleistocene megafauna along ice-free corridors that stretched between the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets. Another route proposed is that, either on foot or using primitive boats, they migrated down the Pacific Northwest coast to South America. Evidence of the latter would since have been covered by a sea level rise of hundreds of meters following the last ice age.
Archaeologists contend that Paleo-Indians migration out of Beringia, ranges from 40,000 to around 16,500 years ago. This time range is a hot source of debate and will be for years to come. The few agreements achieved to date are the origin from Central Asia, with widespread habitation of the Americas during the end of the last glacial period, or more specifically what is known as the late glacial maximum, around 16,000 — 13,000 years before present.
One of the most recent theories, known as the Solutrean theory, suggests that early European people (or peoples) may have been among the earliest settlers of the Americas. Citing evidence that the Solutrean culture of prehistoric Europe may have provided the basis for the tool-making of the Clovis culture in the Americas, the theory suggests that Ice Age Europeans migrated to North America by using skills similar to those possessed by the modern Inuit peoples and followed the edge of the ice sheet that spanned the Atlantic. The hypothesis rests upon particular similarities in Solutrean and Clovis technology that have no known counterparts in Eastern Asia, Siberia or Beringia, areas from which, or through which, early Americans are known to have migrated.
The Pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic to European colonization during the Early Modern period.
While technically referring to the era before Christopher Columbus's voyages of 1492 to 1504, in practice the term usually includes the history of American indigenous cultures until they were conquered or significantly influenced by Europeans, even if this happened decades or even centuries after Columbus' initial landing. Pre-Columbian is used especially often in the context of the great indigenous civilizations of the Americas, such as those of Mesoamerica (the Olmec, the Toltec, the Teotihuacano, the Zapotec, the Mixtec, the Aztec, and the Maya) and the Andes (Inca, Moche, Chibcha, Cañaris).
Many pre-Columbian civilizations established characteristics and hallmarks which included permanent or urban settlements, agriculture, civic and monumental architecture, and complex societal hierarchies. Some of these civilizations had long faded by the time of the first permanent European arrivals (c. late 15th–early 16th centuries), and are known only through archaeological investigations. Others were contemporary with this period, and are also known from historical accounts of the time. A few, such as the Maya, had their own written records. However, most Europeans of the time viewed such texts as heretical, and much was destroyed in Christian pyres. Only a few hidden documents remain today, leaving modern historians with glimpses of ancient culture and knowledge.
According to both indigenous American and European accounts and documents, American civilizations at the time of European encounter possessed many impressive accomplishments. For instance, the Aztecs built one of the most impressive cities in the world, Tenochtitlan, the ancient site of Mexico City, with an estimated population of 200,000. American civilizations also displayed impressive accomplishments in astronomy and mathematics. American Indian creation myths tell of a variety of originations of their respective peoples. Some were "always there" or were created by gods or animals, some migrated from a specified compass point, and others came from "across the ocean".
The European colonization of the Americas forever changed the lives, bloodlines and cultures of the peoples of the continent. The population history of American indigenous peoples postulates that infectious disease exposure, displacement, and warfare diminished populations, with the first the most significant cause. The first indigenous group encountered by Columbus were the 250,000 Taínos of Hispaniola who were the dominant culture in the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas. In thirty years, about 70% of the Taínos died. They had no immunity to European diseases, so outbreaks of measles and smallpox ravaged their population. The increased ignorance towards the practice of punishing the Taínos for revolting themselves from forced labour, despite the measures brought by the encomienda which included religious education and protection from warring tribes, eventually helped conceived the last great Taíno rebellion.
Mistreated, the Taínos began to adopt suicidal behaviors, with women aborting or killing their infants, men jumping from the cliffs or ingesting manioc, a violent poison. Eventually, a Taíno Cacique named Enriquillo managed to hold out in the mountain range of Bahoruco for thirteen years conducting serious damage to the Spanish, Carib-held plantations and their Indian auxiliaries. After hearing of the seriousness of the revolt, Emperor Charles V sent captain Francisco Barrionuevo to negotiate a peace treaty with the ever increasing number of rebels. Two months later, with the consulting of the Audencia of Santo Domingo, Enriquillo was offered any part of the island to live in peace.
The Laws of Burgos, 1512-1513 were the first codified set of laws governing the behavior of Spanish settlers in America, particularly with regards to native Indians. They forbade the maltreatment of natives, and endorsed their conversion to Catholicism. The Spanish crown found it difficult to enforce these laws in a distant colony.
Reasons for the decline of the Native American populations are variously theorized to be from epidemic diseases, conflicts with Europeans, and conflicts among warring tribes. Scholars now believe that, among the various contributing factors, epidemic disease was the overwhelming cause of the population decline of the American natives. After first contacts with Europeans and Africans, some believe that the death of 90 to 95% of the native population of the New World was caused by Old World diseases. Half the native population of Hispaniola in 1518 was killed by smallpox. Within a few years smallpox killed between 60% and 90% of the Inca population, with other waves of European disease weakening them further. Smallpox was only the first epidemic. Typhus (probably) in 1546, influenza and smallpox together in 1558, smallpox again in 1589, diphtheria in 1614, measles in 1618—all ravaged the remains of Inca culture. Smallpox had killed millions of native inhabitants of Mexico. Unintentionally introduced at Veracruz with the arrival of Pánfilo de Narváez on April 23, 1520, smallpox ravaged Mexico in the 1520s, killing 150,000 in Tenochtitlan alone, including the emperor, and was credited with the victory of Hernán Cortés over the Aztec empire at Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City) in 1521.
Over the centuries, the Europeans had developed high degrees of immunity to these diseases, while the Native Americans had no such immunity. Europeans had been ravaged in their own turn by such diseases as bubonic plague and Asian flu that moved west from Asia to Europe. In addition, when they went to some territories, such as Africa and Asia, they were more vulnerable to malaria.
The repeated outbreaks of influenza, measles and smallpox probably resulted in a decline of between one-half and two-thirds of the Aboriginal population of eastern North America during the first 100 years of European contact. In 1617–1619, smallpox reportedly killed 90% of the Massachusetts Bay Native Americans. In 1633, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Native Americans were exposed to smallpox because of contact with Europeans. As it had done elsewhere, the virus wiped out entire population groups of Native Americans. It reached Lake Ontario in 1636, and the lands of the Iroquois by 1679. During the 1770s, smallpox killed at least 30% of the West Coast Native Americans. Smallpox epidemics in 1780–1782 and 1837–1838 brought devastation and drastic population depletion among the Plains Indians. In 1832, the federal government of the United States established a smallpox vaccination program for Native Americans (The Indian Vaccination Act of 1832).
Later explorations of the Caribbean led to the discovery of the Arawak peoples of the Lesser Antilles. The culture was extinct by 1650. Only 500 had survived by the year 1550, though the bloodlines continued through the modern populace. In Amazonia, indigenous societies weathered centuries of colonization.
The Spaniards and other Europeans brought horses to the Americas. Some of these animals escaped and began to breed and increase their numbers in the wild. The re-introduction of the horse had a profound impact on Native American culture in the Great Plains of North America and of Patagonia in South America. By domesticating horses, some tribes had great success: they expanded their territories, exchanged many goods with neighboring tribes, and more easily captured game, especially bison.