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The Americas

Early Cultures


Early North America

The pre-history of the Americas is a long and largely uncertain period in which small windows of opportunity to view events can be gained through archaeology. Masses of material are found each year by archaeologists, and a system was long ago needed to help organise all these findings.

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see link, right). Archaeological cultures remain the framework for global prehistory.

The earliest cultures of the Americas are perhaps the easiest to catalogue. They include the near-universally widespread Palaeo-Indian era and the Clovis culture. These are especially interesting as they chart human progress after around 25,000 BC, roughly around the time at which the most recent ice age was building to a peak (very severely in Europe and less so in the Near East, Central Asia, early China, early Japan, and even Siberia).

IndexHumans in the Americas had no cultural competition except from other humans, provided of course that they could survive the ice age which initially greeted them (see the 'Prehistoric World' index for information on pre-modern human Earth, via the link on the right).

By the first millennium BC they were firmly settled, well distributed, and beginning to achieve a level of sophistication in their communities. Later human cultures were generally more specific either to North America, Mesoamerica, or South America.

Anasazi ruins

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission, Benjamin W Roberts & Marc Vander Linden (Eds), and from External Link: Humans in America (Phys.org).)


King list Mississippian Culture
(c.AD 600 - 1400)

The long-standing North American tradition of mound-building was a feature of many native American woodland tribes - including the Mississippian culture people.

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