American aborigines

The American aborigines are the set of aboriginal peoples (from the Latin ab-origin: ‘from the origin’, original) that inhabited the American continent prior to the invasion and colonization of America. The American continent has been inhabited by human beings for just over 25,000 years. It is believed that the first humans arrived by land from Asia and by sea from Oceania . Little by little, as new inhabitants arrived, the previous ones changed location, until they populated the entire continent , from its extreme north to the south.. Around the 15th century , very diverse cultures coexisted in America . There were groups that subsisted simply by hunting, fishing, and gathering fruits. Others came to build imposing cities and achieved economic, political and social development of enormous importance.

The most prominent American cultures achieved these advances once they stopped being nomadic thanks to agriculture and livestock. They were the Mayas , Incas and Aztecs .


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  • 1 Origin of the American man
    • 1 Background
    • 2 First migrations
    • 3 Primitive inhabitants
      • 3.1 Findings
    • 2 Development of aboriginal peoples
      • 1 American aboriginal societies
      • 2 Mesoamerican cultures
        • 2.1 Faces
        • 2.2 Weapons
        • 2.3 Clothing and housing
      • 3 Demography in the 15th century
      • 4 See also
      • 5 Source

Origin of American man

From the beginning of the European invasion of the so-called New World , the most diverse theories about the origin of American man arose. Many of them were based on very naive arguments, based on simple observation, or on other occasions extracted from the Bible – the aborigines came from Noah or some of his descendants – and old legends, attributing the human presence on this continent to disappeared peoples of history as the Canaanites or the inhabitants of the mythical Atlantis or migrations of ancient peoples: Egyptians , Phoenicians , Hebrewsand others. Some even had a pseudoscientific character, such as the monogenic theses put forward by the Argentine paleontologist Florentino Ameghino in the second half of the 19th century . According to his complex theory -echada by land by archeology and paleontology – not only man, but also mammals , they had originated in South – America , from where it spread all over the planet .


It is proven that man is not originally from America, as there is a phylogenetic impossibility based on the fact that the American monkeys belong to a branch very far from the anthropoids, which rules out that humanoid elements could arise here by an evolutionary path . Although there are many theories about the origin of American man, some of which even consider the possibility of a settlement of presapiens, coming from the Asian coasts of the Pacific Ocean , at the time of the so-called Illinois glaciation , about two hundred thousand years ago. All the evidence points to the fact that he came to this continent from Asia, already formed as homo sapiens―Human remains belonging to previous stages have not appeared―, in several remote waves, although relatively late compared to the settlement of other parts of the planet.

This thesis is supported by the fact that the seven oldest human remains found in America – among them the skull of Punín ( Ecuador ), those of Fontezuela and Arrecifes ( Argentina ) and those of Lagoa Santa ( Brazil ), as well as man of Tepexpan ( Mexico ) -, and that by different means of dating have been dated between 9000 and 12000 years, they exhibit all the features of modern man. The vast majority of specialists on this subject consider that the arrival of man in this hemisphere began in times of the so-called Wisconsin glacial (from 70,000 to 10,000 before the present), within a process that lasted millennia, and that ended up generating a true mosaic of cultures and indigenous peoples differentiated from each other and with different levels of socioeconomic development.

First migrations

It is assumed that the first migration occurred more than 50 thousand years ago and occurred through the Bering Strait of just 80 kilometers in length, favored by the conditions created for the passage of man with the decrease in sea level , apparently during the Altonian glacial substage (between 70,000 and 28,000 before present).

This thesis is supported by the evidence that during Wisconsin there was human entry to the area between the Japanese archipelago and the Kamchatka peninsula . The geographical proximity of this region with America, together with relatively similar vegetation and fauna and physiographic conditions different from those of today, could allow a gradual settlement through the continuous ebb and flow of groups settled on both coasts of the Pacific.

Despite the plausibility of this theory, no human remains equivalent to the fossil sapiens found on the other side of the Pacific, belonging to similar chronologies, have been found in America.

Primitive inhabitants

Apparently the primitive inhabitants of America were Paleolithic men , nomads who lived in caves and were dedicated to gathering, hunting and fishing with very elementary shell instruments, although very little is known about the ecological framework that must have conditioned their forms of existence. They spread across the American continent from north to south , until they reached the southern tip in a slow movement over millennia.


In favor of this hypothesis, the oldest finds, generally lithic instruments associated with the bones of mammoths and other animals, are raised – such as the kiokkemoeddings found in Texas ( United States ), where clovis-type points appeared dated by carbon 14 in 37,000 years old―, found to date in every American region and that indicate traces of human presence: those of Alaska and Canada are more than 30 years old; in California 27,000 ago; in Mexico about 22,000; in Venezuela , 14,000; in Peru up to 18,000; 11,000 for Chileand 9,000 in Patagonia . These findings indicate a probable chronology of occupation and a possible route of human settlement of the continent. The last human group that arrived by this route approximately 5000 years ago, was the Eskimo .

In the opinion of most physical anthropologists, America was initially populated by men of Mongoloid origin – first arrived by a corridor in the Bering Strait and after the retreat of the glacial from the Aleutine Islands – although through later migrations it is Australian , Polynesian and Melanesian elements were likely to enter later from the Pacific, apparently mixing with the original Mongoloid substrate. These new immigrants already knew navigation , they were probably in the Mesolithic stage and, above all, Neolithic since they were already sedentary and knew agriculture( corn , yucca ) and they worked pottery , knowledge that is calculated was known in America about 2000 years ago.

Development of aboriginal peoples

From these waves that arrived at different historical moments, perhaps between 7000 and 2000 years when the climatic changes that generated the current flora and fauna , of diverse ethnic and geographical origins , and levels of life had already occurred, the development unequal of aboriginal peoples in a process that spanned tens of centuries. Thus, through migrations that should not have been massive and that were isolated from their places of origin and subjected to a process of adaptation to the new natural conditions of the environment where they settled, an autochthonous population was formed through well-differentiated vegetative growth, the result of favorable or adverse combinations ofclimate , rich or poor plant soils and more or less knowledge of agriculture. There are more than a hundred independent language families in America, comprising hundreds of languages ​​and dialects.

American aboriginal societies

The inhabitants of America prior to the invasion of the continent by the Europeans were in very different stages of their social evolution. Throughout the so-called New World lived countless aboriginal populations that were still in various phases of the primitive community – they were dedicated to hunting, fishing, gathering and / or extensive agriculture that required to be complemented by the three previous activities―; while other peoples, such as the Aztecs , Mayas and Incas , knew a more productive agriculture that, assisted by irrigation and fertilization, satisfied basic food needs.



From the point of view of the fundamental economic activity on which these indigenous peoples depended, the American continent can be divided into eight major zones: north of the Great Lakes , from Alaska to the Labrador Peninsula , the area of ​​the caribou was located , The nomadic tribe of the Atapascos dedicated themselves to hunting, which solved most of their food and shelter needs through this ruminant ; on the western North American coast from north to south, that of the salmon on whose fishing the atapascos lived; in the current states of California (United States) andBaja California (Mexico), the area of ​​wild fruits, whose collection fed, among other peoples, the Yuma , Apaches and Yuquis who took shelter in caves or temporary huts; in the central prairies that form the basin of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers settled the Sioux or Dakota who were dedicated to hunting bison while on the east coast of North America, limited to the north by the Great Lakes and to the south by the Gulf of Mexico, was the eastern area of ​​corn, whose cultivation was carried out by the Iroquois and Hurons ; north and central South America, and in the Antilles , there was the cassava area, the base of the diet of tupis , caribs , arauacos , tainos and guaraníes , the latter connoisseurs of a more diversified agriculture; and in the green prairies of the south of this part of America ( Las Pampas ), the Guanaco area, whose hunt supported the Pampas , Araucanians , Puelches , Tehuelches and Onas Charruas.. The eighth zone, undoubtedly the most advanced, included a large part of the current territory of Mexico, almost all of Central America and the South American belt, located from the Sierra de los Andes to the east coast, limited to the south by the Maule River , and was the that housed, among other peoples, the Aztecs , Mayans and Incas , who achieved the highest socioeconomic development in pre-Columbian America from the moment they began intensive cultivation of the land.

Of the hundreds of indigenous tribes that inhabited the American continent at the arrival of the Europeans, only a few Iroquois, Muiscas and Guaraníes approached the level of cultural and social organization reached by these Mesoamerican inhabitants and the Andean region.

This process, which apparently took place in parallel, in two or three centers of the continent – it is estimated that it began between 7000 and 1500 -, among them the high areas of Mesoamerica and the coast and mountains of the Andean area, allowed the emergence in these territories of class societies and dazzling centers of civilization .

In these core areas, society was characterized, since a few hundred years before our era –when the first American cultures of some complexity, such as the Olmecs of the Gulf of Mexico and those of Chavín and Tiahuanaco in the Andean region– were structured, by the existence of village communities, organized around common land ownership and collective labor, although subject to a human group ( theocracy) separated from agriculture, which imposed heavy taxes on products and work on the rest of the population. Based in city-states, the indigenous theocracy had a decisive role in the political, social and economic fields by offering the people the spiritual help and protection of the gods in whose name they spoke and acted. This despotic centralized power, which exercised functions of social utility –defense, irrigation, construction of temples and other ceremonial works, roads, bridges, warehouses, etc.- directed agricultural work and preserved the status that in high-level stratified class societies relative development, was based on the extraordinary weight achieved by religion―Festivities, ritual, social organization, war, in monumental architecture , in the arts , in the legitimization of dynastic power and in the whole of political organization― and were other common features of all the great American civilizations.

This sociopolitical system can be identified with what Karl Marx called the “Asian mode of production” or generalized slavery, a regime of transition from the primitive community to class society in which ancient forms of community organization coexist ―ayllú between the Incas and Calpulli for the Aztecs – with a hierarchical state dominated by a theocracy.

The dynamics of these city-states allowed them to expand towards the neighboring territories, to which they radiated their influence and marked with the same social, cultural, religious and scientific tradition. To these features common to all the great American civilizations, we should add the existence of other similar elements: cultivation of corn and beans , work tools (coa or taclla), agricultural techniques, irrigation, stone and clay constructions, some types of ceramics and textiles, human sacrifices and others.

It is assumed that the most important nuclei of these class civilizations reached their first apogee between the years 200 and 900, when they developed a series of cultural and civilization patterns considered classic.

Approximately between the years 700 and 1000, these complex American societies suffered a series of shocks and crises that put an end to this so-called classical period and led to the flourishing of new cultures, including the Aztec and the Inca, which together with the Mayans reached the highest point of political and socio-economic development of indigenous peoples before the arrival of Europeans. Even the last stage of Aztec and Inca expansionism was almost coincidental, at the end of the 15th century and the first decades of the 16th .

Among the characteristics of these two great American foci of civilization, that is, Mesoamerica and the Andean area , the absolute isolation between them stands out, which not only determined appreciable social, economic and cultural differences, but also limited greater possibilities for development. . Undoubtedly, the restricted process of domestication of animals also contributed to this – limited to turkey , dog , duck and, in the Andes, also guinea pig , alpaca and llama – and the absence in America of important species for food, the shot and carried – the donkey , thehorse , cow and pig – ignorance of the wheel and the metallurgy of iron , which deprived them of working tools such as the plow . To this must be added the existence of extremely meager economies, in which man was almost exclusively the only labor force.

Mesoamerican cultures

This region , made up in part of the current territories of Mexico and Central America , was in pre-Columbian times the seat of one of the two great areas of development of indigenous civilizations on this continent, which archaeologists have agreed to call Mesoamerica. Formidable cultures such as the Olmec , Mayan, Toltec and Aztec flourished here , just to mention the best known. It is considered an area of ​​civilization, based on a relatively advanced agriculture, which sheltered a set of cultures belonging to a variety of peoples who maintained close relationships with each other and shared the same natural scenery.and many similar elements and characteristics: cocoa and maguey crops, use of chinampas, the nixtamal-tortilla complex, the sword with obsidian blades and the protective cotton shirt , the 18-month calendar of 20 days, the week of 13 days, the ritual calendar of 260 days, the 52 – year cycle, the existence of fixed and movable feasts, the splendours days and nefarious, architecture false vault and serpentine columns, pyramids staggered use paper amate in codices and maps and hieroglyphic writing, among other elements. To this must be added a series of common divinities such as the god of rain – Tlaloc in the Nahuatl language – or the same civilizing deity represented by the feathered serpent – Quetzalcóatl (in Nahuatl) or Kukulcán (in Mayan ) -.


The components of some tribes disfigured their faces by means of paintings and tattoos; Nose , ears and lips were pierced to introduce objects of various shapes, and they were adorned with feathers of various and showy colors . The Caribs of the Lesser Antilles and of Venezuela, cruel and bloodthirsty Indians, terror of the conquerors and other indigenous people, had a horrible appearance due to their painted faces, their long hair and their skull deformed by flattening of the forehead, which they produced artificially by applying compression ligatures in children from the first days of their birth.


The weapons of the American aborigines were, with few variations, the bow , arrow, and baton. The spear was less common, and the boleadoras were used preferably by the southern tribes , such as the Querandíes, Charruas and Pampas, who opposed so much resistance to the establishment of the conquerors. To make the wounds caused by their weapons fatal, even if they were not serious, some tribes used to smear them with poisonous substances (.

Clothing and housing

Regarding clothing and housing, nothing can be said in general that fits all of them, since they varied enormously according to the geographical and climatic characteristics of each area, in such a way that, while some tribes of the tropical zone were completely naked, others Those from cold areas covered their bodies with animal skins . Some lacked permanent housing; others built their rooms with branches, leaves and trunks, with hides or with mud and straw, and some lived in caves.

Demography in the 15th century

It is estimated that at the time of the first contacts with Europeans, the American continent was inhabited by more than 90 million people:

  • about 10 million in the current territory of the United States and Canada,
  • about 30 million in Mexico ,
  • about 11 million in Central America ,
  • about 0.445 million in the Caribbean islands ,
  • some 30 million in the Andes mountain range region and
  • about 9 million in the rest of South America .

By the time Europeans began to make their first demographic estimates, the indigenous population had already been decimated by wars, famine, forced labor, and disease epidemics introduced by Europeans.


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