Scientists believe that the first human beings that came to the Americas were hunters coming from Siberia who came across the Bering Strait, a narrow strip of water than separates Siberia and Alaska. During the Ice Age it was so cold that ice covered most of the land. This ice was called glaciers. The glaciers took up most of the water in the oceans so the oceans became shallow. This allowed the Asians to be able to walk over what was once water to get to the land that is now called Alaska. This strip of land that was under water connecting Asia to the Americas was called Beringia (bair-IN-gee-uh). The people that crossed over didn't really have homes in Asia. They were traveling tribes that moved along where ever they could find food. The ice age ended by a gradual warming of the earth. The glaciers began to melt and oceans began to rise. The waters covered Beringia preventing the people from ever going back to Asia. A path between glaciers opened and the people followed that path into what is now called Canada, because that is where the animals the hunted went. It took thousands of years but people migrated south and populated North and South America.
For more information on Ice Age go to: http://tqjunior.advanced.org/3876/iceage.html
Not all of the tribes had the same culture or way of life. Some tribes created permanent cities. They would farm the land and hunt around their cities. Others were nomads and traveled along with the animals that they hunted. They had portable homes that they moved from place to place. They had different languages, different ways of dressing and ate different types of food.
This is one theory of how the Americas became populated. Other theories state that people arrived in North and South America by boat and began to live there.
Most Native American Tribes have their own view on where they came from. These are called Creation Stories. Here are a few:
Go to:http://www.whitestareagle.com/natlit/legend.htm for lots of great Native American Creation Stories. I think they must have one for every Native culture here.
Many of the Native tribes depended on animals for food and clothing. These tribes would follow the animals and camp whereever animal life was plentiful. One of the first animals these people hunted was the Mammoth. These large creatures stood about 14 feet high and weighed 5 tons. They resembled hairy elephants with big long tusks. They were much bigger than the men that hunted them were. The hunters carried sharpened sticks and clubs. They would have to get pretty close to the Mammoth in order to kill them. It wasn't an easy job.
Eventually someone learned how to make spears out of stone or bone. They would knock off flakes of the bone or stone in thin pieces until it took the shape of a sharp point. The process of sharpening the bone or stone was called "flaking". This point was then hollowed out on one or both sides and a stick was inserted into the hollowed area and tied
on to make a spear. The first sharp stone or bone spears are called Clovis Points, named after the town of Clovis, New Mexico where they were first found by archeologists. Believe it or not, Clovis Points were a type of technology for these people. Think of the types of technology we have today in comparison with the type of technology these early peoples had. We may think TV, cameras, computers and radios as technology of today. During the ancient times fire was a new technology along with spears.
As the earth warmed even more many of the ancient animals like the mammoth died out, or became extinct. The tribes had to learn to fish or hunt and eat smaller animals that did survive. Some of the tribes no longer followed large herds of animals, instead they stayed in one place longer and lived off the smaller animals such as rabbits, fish and water birds. Because they stayed in one place longer they knew where to look for plants they could eat. They knew when they ripened and when they could gather the fruits. In the summer the tribe would move where the ripened plants were, in the winter they would go where animals where plentiful. They also began to gather seed and plant their own gardens.
Central American tribes were the first to develop agriculture. That means they were the first to plant gardens and gather seed. They usually grew corn, avocados, squash,
pumpkins and beans. Corn was called maize (MAYZ). It was the most important crop because they could eat the vegetable like it was, they could make soup from it, they could make a meal (kind of like oatmeal or grits) from it and they could make flour to make bread from it. Corn could also be dried and preserved for when they didn't have corn growing in their fields. Corn was their most important crop, but so were beans (they could be dried too) and squash (which would stay fresh for a real long time - remember they didn't have refrigerators). These three crops were called the Three Sisters.
To read about the Three Sisters go to: http://horizon.nmsu.edu/ddl/wqthreesisters_k.html
The Native Tribes believed that their crops where a gift from their gods. They had many gods including the sun god and a rain god. They held special ceremonies to thank their gods for the things they had. Many times some of the corn was given back to their gods or given to the earth. They might pour a little corn meal out onto the ground for their gods. They may make small statues of their gods from stone or wood and offer a little of the corn meal to them. Some of the tribes that continued to hunt would make sure they carried a small image of the animal they hunted and left it in the earth when they did kill such an animal. These images were called Fetish. They may come in the form of bears, deer, squirrels, rabbits and other hunted animals. It was very important to the Native people to give thanks to their gods for what ever they had.
To see more about Native American Fetish Stones go to: http://www.sedonawolf.com/zuni.htm
Many of the tribes formed permanent settlements. They made things in which to carry their harvests (baskets), things in which to cook their food (pottery) and things to keep them warm (weaving). Some tribes became experts at building dwellings from mud bricks. They began to trade among themselves and other tribes.
The Olmecs settled in Mexico around 1500 BC. This civilization gave most of the power of government to their priests and their life centered around their religion. These people believed in many gods, the most important being the rain god who appeared as a jaguar or spotted cat. They built temples or places to worship, to their gods built from stone. They built pyramid type structures and placed their temples on top. A pyramid is a building with three or more sides shaped like triangles. The sides slant up to a point at the top. The Olmecs did not build their pyramids to a point; instead they left the tops flat and built their temples there. The Olmecs were very good at stonework. They made large faces of their gods and had them look over the village. They made paved streets and other buildings. They had central cities in which their government leaders lived. All cities had a central market place where people could buy or sell things they grew or made. The Olmecs developed their own number system, their own calendar and writing systems. They made pictures that stood for different things in order to write. They traded between tribes and many times would travel hundreds of miles to buy and sell their wares. About 300 AD the Olmec civilization died out.
To see one of the stone heads of the Olmecs and to read a little more about them go to: http://www.cultures.com/contests/heads/olmecs_contest_e.html
The Mound Builders lived in North America around the Ohio River Valley from about 1000BC to 200AD. They were also called the Adenas (uh-DEE-nuhz). The Adenas were only one type of mound builder that built large hills of earth called earthworks. The Serpent Mount found near Cincinnati, Ohio is one of the most famous earthworks. It is about 5 feet high, 20 feet across and 1,330 feet long. It doesn't look like much from the ground but from above it looks like a coiled snake with a jaw and tail. This mound was not built to bury the dead like many of the other mounds were. We can only guess that it was built for religious purposes. As we stated before, many mounds were built to bury the dead. Fancy mounds were built for important people with many twists and turns. The Adena would paint the body of the dead person in red paint since red was the color of blood and meant life to them. They thought the red paint would make the persons spirit live after death. They would lay the body on a bed of bark set in the floor of a small house. So that the dead person would be able to enjoy his or her new life, they would also place things the person liked such as a favorite piece of jewelry, beads, pipes or other possession. Then they would go outside and set the house on fire. After it burned down they would cover it with earth. Other houses and people would be placed on top of the first and soon the mount would get higher and higher.
In 300 BC a second type of Mound Building Society came into being. They were called the Hopewells. These people were very good at making crafts. They made pots, woven mats and carved figures. They made spear points from a black hard stone called obsidian (uhb-SIH-dee-uhn). They wore clothing made of fur and animal skins and made jewelry from pearls, copper and shells. The Hopewells traded with many other tribes.
In the Mississippi Valley another civilization of mount builders arose. They were called the Mississippians. Their largest city stood where East St. Louis, IL now stands. As many as 40,000 people lived in this city. It was called Cahokia (kuh-Hoh-Kee-uh) It survived until about 1500 AD.
To read more about the Mound Builders go to: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/6558/adena.html
The Anasazi was another great ancient civilization that was centered in the Southwestern United States. They lived from about 100 BC to 1300AD. They lived in groups of houses that resembled apartment buildings called pueblos (PWEH-blohs) that were made from mud bricks and sandstone. This material is called adobe (ah-DOH-bay). The roofs of their houses were made from wood beams taken from trees that grew miles away. They would have to tow the logs up the hills. Many of the Anasazi dwellings were built right into cliff walls. Others were built on tops of mesas, or high flat topped hills. These buildings had few or no windows on the bottom floors. The entrance to the building was at the top and the people would climb ladders to gain entrance through a hole in the roof. Ladders were used to move from one level to another. A mesa city in what is now New Mexico was called Pueblo Bonito meaning beautiful town. It is built beneath the rock walls of the Chaco (CHAH-koh) canyon. It had 800 rooms and more than 1,200 people lived there. Around 5,000 people lived in smaller villages nearby which were connected to the city with paved roads. A cliff dwelling was built in present day Colorado at Mesa Verde. These Pueblos rose three stories high and had 200 rooms. About 1,000 people lived there. The Anasazi grew corn, squash and beans in a very dry climate. They planted their seeds very deep and dug ditches along their fields to carry water. This is called irrigation. The Anasazi were very religious and every city and town had a kiva (KEE-vuh). This was a large room built into the ground. It was generally round having very little furnishings. There was usually a table or altar and a fire pit but that was about it. The priests would pain their faces and bodies what and give thanks to the earth, sun and rain. Usually the men were the only ones that were allowed to enter the Kivas and participate in the ceremonies. There were only a few times the women were allowed to even enter them. This civilization came to an end around 1300 AD after a 22 year drought.
To read more about the Anasazi go to: http://sipapu.gsu.edu/index.html Be sure to visit the Virtual Kiva in the Architecture section and see Interactive map and time line in the Prehistory section.
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