Pre-Columbian era

In the history of the Americas, the pre-Columbian era spans from the original settlement of North and South America in the Upper Paleolithic period through European colonization, which began with Christopher Columbus's voyage of 1492. Usually, the era covers the history of Indigenous cultures until significant influence by Europeans. This may have occurred decades or even centuries after Columbus for certain cultures.

An Olmec colossal head at the Xalapa Museum of Anthropology, in Veracruz, Mexico

Many pre-Columbian civilizations were marked by permanent settlements, cities, agriculture, civic and monumental architecture, major earthworks, and complex societal hierarchies. Some of these civilizations had long faded by the time of the first permanent European colonies (c. late 16th–early 17th centuries),[1] and are known only through archaeological investigations and oral history. Other civilizations were contemporary with the colonial period and were described in European historical accounts of the time. A few, such as the Maya civilization, had their own written records. Because many Christian Europeans of the time viewed such texts as pagan, men like Diego de Landa burned them, even while seeking to preserve native histories. Only a few hidden documents have survived in their original languages, while others were transcribed or dictated into Spanish, giving modern historians glimpses of ancient culture and knowledge.

Many Indigenous peoples in the Americas continue traditional practices while evolving and adapting to the modern world.

The alternative terms precontact, precolonial, or prehistoric Americas are also used; in Hispanic America, the usual term is pre-Hispanic; in Brazil, the term used is pre-Cabraline.


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