Unit 1: 35,000 BCE - 1400 CE

35,000 BCE - 1400 CE: Native Americans believe that their origins are in the Americas and this belief is exemplified by the many and varied creation/origin stories of different tribes. This belief conflicts with anthropological theory. However, some scientists have found evidence of Indian people living here tens of thousands of years before the time that anthropological reports indicate. Humans were in the Americas at the time that humans and Neanderthal man were living in Europe.

1. Students will discuss the following timeline and the fact that the Bering Strait theory is being disputed.


35,000-25,000 BCE A paleo-Indian migration to Americas from Siberia. Groups likely traveled across the Pacific in boats. Modified from the Bering Strait theory.

5000 BCE Regarded by many scientists as humankind’s first and greatest feat of genetic engineering, Indians in southern Mexico systematically bred corn from dissimilar ancestor species.

3000 BCE The Americas’ first urban complex, in coastal Peru, of at least 30 closely packed cities, each centered around large pyramid-like structures. 

300 BCE – 700 CE Adena Mound Building culture in and around Ohio Valley Hopewell Mound Building culture in the East

300 BCE – 1000 CE Mogollon culture in the Southwest

100 BCE – 1300 CE Anasazi culture in the Southwest

100 BCE – 1500 CE Hohokam culture in the Southwest

32 BCE First clear evidence of Olmec use of zero- an invention, widely described as the most important mathematical discovery ever made, which did not occur in Eurasia until about 600 CE in India (zero was not introduced to Europe until the 1200s and not widely used until the 1700s)

700 – 1700 CE Missisippian Mound Building culture in Southeast;

1000 CE Abrupt rise of Cahokia, near modern St. Louis, the largest city north of the Rio Grande, estimates vary from 15,000 to 100,000 people.

800 - 840 CE Sudden collapse of most central Maya cities in the face of severe drought and lengthy war.

985 - 1014 CE Eric the Red and Leif Ericson establish settlements in Greenland and North America.

1398 CE Birth of Tlacaelel, the brilliant strategist behind the Aztec Empire which within decades controls central Mexico, then the most densely settled place on Earth 

2. Students will read the following paragraph and use the blank map to label the bold items traded on a map of North America. 

Thousands of years before the Columbian voyages, American Indian societies existed across a wide spectrum of cultural patterns, including small to large groups of hunter-gatherers as well as small to large agricultural communities. Cultures were influenced by geographic and environmental resources. Indian communities were not static but changed as they adapted to new resources and technologies. Some of these new technologies were corn agriculture, ceramic pottery-making and stone/metal toolmaking. Although certain Indian cultures were small hunter-gatherer bands, their cultures were quite complex in terms of their languages, philosophies of ecological relationships, astronomical knowledge, and knowledge of plants/medicines. There were trade networks that stretched across America for thousands of miles. For example, turquoise from the Southwest was traded for shells and parrot feathers from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Great Lakes copper was traded for corn, conch shell and other goods from the Lower Mississippi River and Gulf area. Obsidian from the Rocky Mountains and pipestone from Minnesota were traded as far east as present-day Ohio.

3. Students will read and discuss the following paragraph and compare and contrast these traditional political systems with the U.S. government today. 

While most European societies were ruled by monarchies, most Indian societies were egalitarian in nature. Although not all native governing systems were egalitarian, leadership within most Indian groups was a shared responsibility. In very few places in the Americas could a single leader speak for an entire tribe and expect his decisions to be followed. Rather, the more typical form of Indian government embodied concepts such as decision by consensus, representative government, clan structures represented in government, separation of powers, and limited systems of checks and balances. Some tribes/cultures lived under governing systems that included women in roles as leaders.

4. Read the following paragraph. Name the large pre-European Native American civilization in the paragraph below. List the particular housing, diet, and resources of this culture.

By 750 A.D. there was an agricultural society of Indians along the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. This culture is now known as the Mississippian Mound-builder culture, so named for the earthen mounds they built and on which they constructed large ceremonial temples and rulers’ residences. The culture reached its zenith in about 1200 A.D. – the large city known as Cahokia had a population of about 50,000. Located along the banks of the Mississippi near present-day St. Louis, Cahokia was dominated by a huge earthen mound standing over 100 feet

in height, with a base 1,000 feet long and 700 feet wide. The people of the Mississippian culture had a highly developed ceremonial structure, and they farmed a wide variety of plants – amaranth, squash, maize, goose foot, and sunflowers. They also used 80 copper in making blades and ornaments. The culture eventually died out, probably due to epidemics of diseases brought by Europeans. 

5. Read the paragraphs below entitled; Before The Arrival of Europeans, and discuss the diversity among Native American culture areas across the Americas pre-1492. Organize the diversity of cultures in the graphic organizer provided. 

Before The Arrival of Europeans

Prior to 1492, there were at least 4.4 million -- and perhaps even 10 million -- Native Americans in North America (excluding Mexico) speaking over 200 languages. In Mexico and Central America there were at least 27 million – and perhaps even 50 million people speaking at least 350 languages. In the Caribbean area and South America there were at least 20 million – and perhaps as many as 45 million – people speaking over 1,000 languages. For the Western Hemisphere as a whole, there were probably over 57 million people – and possibly as many as 90 million – in contrast with 60 to 70 million people in Europe at that time. European societies lacked waste disposal, had higher densities of people and were affected by widespread plagues for centuries. This is a great contrast to the standard of living in most Indian societies in North America at that time (excluding Mexico) where, for the most part, people lived in small towns (of about 2,000 people) and smaller farming villages. These small towns and villages were much healthier places in which to live than their European counterparts due to the fact that fewer people living in a larger space have much less of an impact on the environment. Famines were rampant in Europe as opposed to the Americas where native peoples enjoyed an abundance of natural resources as well as cultivated foodstuffs that were the result of healthy ecological practices. Additionally, in Europe most natural resources (e.g., wood) and most land was held by an aristocracy; therefore, the majority of people were peasants and serfs. Several large urban centers in the Americas rivaled 15th century European cities in population size; for example, Cahokia (where St. Louis is today) was about the size of Rome (population: 55,000); Tenochtitlan in Mexico was about the size of London (population: 75,000). Before that time there were other large cities in Mexico – such as Teotihuacan, which at its peak in 400-600 CE had around 200,000 inhabitants. These cities were important centers of large complex societies. Such societies flourished across the Americas during different periods. Native American societies were built upon large extended family networks that were organized into other social units, e.g., clans, matriarchal/patriarchal systems, and moiety systems. 

European and Native American economic systems were based on fundamentally conflicting views of how land and natural resources should be exploited. European economic systems were based on “dominion over nature.” Native American economic systems, on the other hand, were based upon building an awareness of ecological relationships and managing natural resources without depleting them. The European world view feared the natural world and viewed it as something to be subdued. Thus, forests with their wild animals were cleared for farmlands and 81 quickly over-harvested to near depletion. For example, by 1086, England was only 20 percent forested – of that, only 2 percent was virgin forest. There were enormous alterations in the European landscape by the 15th century. European attitudes toward animals were markedly different from those of Native Americans. For example, Europeans pursued activities such as sport hunting, bear baiting, cockfights and bullfights – some of which are considered barbaric today. In contrast, hunting practices among Indian societies involved respect for the life of the animal being hunted. Native American societies viewed natural resources – including wildlife – as sacred. Native American world views stressed the interconnectedness of all living things.

MINNESOTA SOCIAL STUDIES CONTENT STANDARD(S): 16. Rivalries among European nations and their search for new opportunities fueled expanding global trade networks and, in North America, colonization and settlement and the exploitation of indigenous peoples and lands; colonial development evoked varied responses by indigenous nations, and produced regional societies and economies that included imported slave labor and distinct forms of local government. (Colonization and Settlement: 1585—1763) Analyze the consequences of the transatlantic Columbian Exchange of peoples, animals, plants and pathogens on North American societies and ecosystems. (Colonization and Settlement: 1585—1763) Analyze the impact of European colonization within North America on indigenous nations; analyze the impact of indigenous nations on colonization. (Colonization and Settlement: 1585—1763)