I. Prehistoric Times > N. Chiefdoms and States in the Americas (c. 1500 B.C.E.–1532 C.E.)
  PREVIOUS NEXT  
CONTENTS · SUBJECT INDEX · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
 
 
N. Chiefdoms and States in the Americas (c. 1500 B.C.E.–1532 C.E.)
 
When Europeans landed in the New World, they encountered an astounding diversity of Native American societies. Some, like the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic or the Shoshone of the Great Basin, were simple hunter-gatherers living in small bands. Some lived in small farming villages, others in elaborate pueblos or small towns that housed several hundred people. Then there was the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, a city of some 200,000 people with a market that rivaled that of Constantinople or Seville. Archaeologists believe that these great variations in cultural and social complexity were the result, in part, of local environmental conditions as well as technological innovation. It was only in a few areas of exceptional resource diversity like Mesoamerica and Peru that fully fledged preindustrial civilizations developed.  1
 
1. North American Chiefdoms
 
Some of the most complex hunter-gatherer societies on Earth developed in North America. However, the climate was too harsh for the kinds of intensive maize and bean agriculture that would support urban civilizations.  2
By the time maize and beans reached eastern North America, local societies had been evolving toward more complexity for many centuries. After 2000 B.C.E., such societies developed a preoccupation with elaborate mortuary cults that celebrated the ancestors. Village kin groups erected large burial mounds and earthworks in which they interred kin leaders and other clan members, often adorned with badges of rank and fine heirlooms like soapstone pipes, acquired from afar. First the Adena culture developed in about 500 B.C.E. to be followed by the Hopewell complex two-and-a-half centuries later. These cults' rituals were reflected in prolonged burials. The Hopewell cult in particular developed great elaboration in the Ohio Valley and other parts of the Midwest. It involved, among other activities, complex gift exchanges that validated extensive long-distance trade. This brought commodities like obsidian from Yellowstone Park in the west to the Hopewell heartland.  3
The arrival of maize and bean agriculture transformed societies that relied heavily on hunting and foraging, as well as on the cultivation of native plants. River valley populations rose rapidly, trading and religious activity intensified, and an ever-changing mosaic of complex Mississippian chiefdoms developed throughout the southern Midwest and the Southeast. The greatest Mississippian chiefdoms were based on Cahokia, near East St. Louis, and Moundville, Alabama. Both were large towns, with imposing sacred precincts of pyramids and plazas. The Mississippian was an indigenous North American culture that went into decline in the 15th century, just before the Spanish landed in Florida. Within two centuries of European contact, the southeastern Indians were decimated by disease, their chiefdoms in tatters.  4
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

CONTENTS · SUBJECT INDEX · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUS NEXT