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America before Columbus. This presentation contains some highlights of life in the Americas Most of the information is from the book “1491: New Revelations of the America’s before Columbus.” by Charles Mass.

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America before Columbus

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America before Columbus

This presentation contains some highlights of life in the Americas

Most of the information is from the book “1491: New Revelations of the America’s before Columbus.” by Charles Mass

  • More than just isolated bands of people wandering the country or small, isolated villages with minimal population

  • Great civilizations are rising and falling, just like the rest of the world

    • Rome, Egypt, Babylon, Greece, etc

The last ice-age

Origins of People in America

Neolithic (new stone age) Revolution

Pre-Columbian Civilizations;Five Examples


What does it take to build this?

  • Machu Pichu


  • By 1491 it was the world’s largest empire

  • Covered 32 degrees of latitude and every type of terrain

    • Forest, coastal, desert, alpine, steppe, etc

  • Terrain limited their contact with the outside except for immediate neighbors


  • Inca absorb/conquer many different languages and beliefs.

  • For record keeping they use a system of knotted ropes (khipu or quipu)

    • Can be used in an empire with diverse languages

  • People were forced to donate service to the state

    • Could be far from home for many months

      • Farmers, builders, soldiers

  • No money, no markets

    • All food and goods were supplied by the state

Still being studied – first string may be ones, second string tens, etc.

Or may be unique form of writing like a binary code

Incan Conquests

  • When the Inca expanded and a foreign people were conquered, Inca settlers from far away would be brought in and slowly absorb the foreign culture into the Inca.

    • China does this today

  • Conquered people allowed to keep old customs, clothes, etc, but they had to speak the language of the Inca

Incan Technology

  • Sail boat with cotton sails, could sail 300 miles from shore

  • Metallurgy focused on ornamentation

  • Monumental architecture

  • Woven fibers as tools

    • Suspension bridges with cables 1’ thick

Incan Weapons

  • Multi-layered cotton body armor

    • Comparable to European plate?

  • Club, mace, bows, javelins, 5’ sling, later bola’s

    • Sling stones heated in a fire, dipped in pitch and quickly thrown; would burst in to flame in mid-flight

  • Incan command structure did not allow for individual creativity on battlefield

    • Slow to develop new tactics

    • Problem when Spanish arrive


  • Maya and Aztec maps overlaid

    • Their empires existed at different times


  • A collection of city-states and surrounding towns, each run by a king

    • From 526-682 AD the cities of Calakmul (or Kaan) and Tikal (or Mutal) fight for dominance

    • Tikal will eventually win

Mayan Civilization

  • Architecture

    • Step pyramids

  • Writing, most complete pre-Columbian

  • Mathematics, and zero

Chichen Itza

Mayan Writing

  • Each picture is a syllable

  • The most advanced written language in the America’s prior to Columbus

Fall of the Maya (maybe)

  • Population probably exceeded the carrying capacity of the land

  • Cut down much of the regions forests for fuel and agriculture

    • Loss of tree cover leads to large scale erosion and flooding

  • As population grows farmers using less productive land

  • System is barely hanging one when a long dry spell (about 800-900 AD) hits the area

  • Society disintegrates

    • Civil War?

  • Mayan cities fail in 800’s

  • Civilization collapsed by 900

Aztec or Mexica

  • Part of a triple alliance

    • Tula, Teotihuacan, Tenochtitlan (dominant)

  • By 1519 Tenochtitlan had a population of 200,000

    • Easily larger than any city in Europe at that time

    • City reached by boat or walking across one of three causeways

Aztec Writing

Consists of pictures to interpret, not as advanced as Mayan writing

Almost all Aztec records are destroyed by the Spanish

Aztec Architecture

Also build step pyramids

Much of Tenochtitlan will be destroyed by the Spanish

Aztec Religion

  • The Aztec/Mexica are the keepers of the cosmic order

  • At the top of celestial harmony is Ometeotl (the Lord of the Close Vicinity) who sustains the cosmos

  • Ometeotl has four sons

    • Huitzilopochtli is a martial god, Aztec patron diety

  • The four sons compete for supremacy

    • History is a record of their struggle

  • One will eventually wrestle himself to the top and the other three create a balance below

Aztec Religion, cont.

Sacrificial knives

  • The one in domination links himself to the sun, upon which all life depends

  • When the balance comes apart the brothers resume their struggle, winner reignites the sun

  • At the time of the Spanish arrival the Aztec were living under the 5th sun

  • Every day the sun battles across the sky against the moon

  • Some day the sun will loose, but the sun can be fortified by a life force requiring blood/human sacrifices

    • Cortes estimated 3,000 to 4,000 per year

Mound Builders

  • Collective term for three successive civilizations

    • Adena, 1000 – 200 BC

    • Hopewell, 200 BC – 500 AD

    • Mississippians, 800 – 1500 BC

Notice the size of their influence

How did they travel?


  • Built thousands of mounds from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, Great Plains to the Atlantic coast

    • Especially dense in Ohio valley

    • Mounds had been built by earlier cultures

    • Most mounds destroyed by westward expansion

  • Hopewell influence lasts from a few centuries BC to about 400 AD

  • Earthwork walled cities

    • Most also destroyed


  • Civilization rises after the Hopewell

  • About 15,000 people lived in Cahokia

  • Monks Mound in Cahokia, around 950-1250 AD

    • 4 stories high

    • 1,000 feet long across the top

    • Base is larger than the Great Pyramid at Giza

    • Surrounded by about 120 other mounds

    • Largest building project in Ancient America

Fall of Cahokia

  • Build a palisade of 20,000 trees around the central monuments

    • Increases flooding which ruins harvests

  • Burn thousands of acres to create farmland

  • Flooding an ongoing problem, then an earthquake

    • Destroys the city and part of Monks Mound

      • Will try, unsuccessfully, to repair the mound

    • Earthquake causes flooding (tsunami) and fires

    • Area descends into Civil War, by 1350 Cahokia is almost empty

The Great Law of Peace:Iroquois League

  • Five tribes (later six) involved

    • Seneca, Cayuga, Onandaga, Oneida, Mohawk, later Tuscarora

  • Increase in agriculture = bigger populations = fighting between tribes

  • Two men work to bring peace to these tribes

    • Deganawidah, the peacemaker, has speech impediment

    • Ayenwatha (or Hiawatha)

  • They convince the five tribes to form an alliance

    • Use a visual to break one arrow by hand, then hold five arrows and try to break

      • Example of strength and unity

This Iroquois League may have been formed as early as 1142

Governing within the Five Tribes

  • Clan heads

    • Are all female

    • Select the sachems

    • Can replace the sachem if they act poorly

  • Sachems

    • Are all male

    • Sachems then represent the tribe and the will of the people

    • 50 sachems to represent the five tribes

    • Sachems represent the will of their people, if they act poorly they can be replaced by the Clan Heads

    • Male sachems act as war chiefs

    • Sachems can only discuss topics approved by the women

    • All decisions by the council of sachems must be unanimous (consensus)

    • Clan heads (women) could vote down, or veto, any decisions made by the Sachems

  • Internal affairs are handled within each tribe

  • Potential influence on the United States’ Constitution?

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