Human Antecedents

Prior to the arrival of Europeans and their colonization of the Americas at the beginning in the early sixteenth century, Amerindian peoples had occupied much of the Americas for at least 10 000 years. The level of social and economic development among these peoples varied tremendously. Pre agricultural societies dependent on hunting and gathering, early agricultural communities, and highly developed advanced civilizations which domesticated plants and animals all flourished in the Americas prior to their conquest and subjugation by Europeans. In the southwestern portion of North America, advanced agricultural societies evolved with populations that numbered in the hundreds of thousands. However, the region’s most advanced societies, truly high civilizations, evolved in two places – on the Mexican Plateau and the adjacent southern highlands and lowlands, in a cultural region known as Mesoamerica, and in the central Andes. In both regions, a series of cultures had evolved through the preceding millennium culminating in sophisticated societies. In Mesoamerica, early cultures included the Olmec, Zapotec, and Toltec among others y culminating with the Aztec and Maya societies encountered by the Spanish conquistadores at the beginning of the sixteenth century. In the Andes and on the adjacent Pacific coastal plain a similar pattern prevailed and early civilizations included Moche, Chimu, Wari, and Tiahuanaco culminating with the Inca civilization in the two centuries preceding the European conquest. In these areas of high civilization, population densities were high and population numbers are estimated to have ranged as high as 25 million in the Mesoamerica region and around 15 million in the Andes.