In Renaissance times, Europeans were not the only ones accomplishing great things. No one can deny the beauty of Michelangelo’s brushwork or the brilliance of Shakespeare’s verse. But societies elsewhere also flourished. As the 1600s dawned, it seems that each corner of the globe had its own “renaissance.” The Native American societies of North America were no different. They had flourishing cultures, arts and languages, much like Europe.
When the Europeans staked their claim in the Americas, they could not have dreamed of the complexity of the peoples they were soon to encounter. In what became the United States, there were, and still are between 140 and 160 different Native American tribes. There is no single Native American language. It would be as difficult for the Mohawk Indians of the East to converse with Zuni Indians of the West as it would be for Germans to converse with Turks.
Medicine was not an unknown science in the Western Hemisphere. Most natural herbs used for medicinal purposes in the modern world had also been used by Native Americans before European contact. Archaeologists have learned that North American Indians made salt by evaporation and mined a great many minerals including copper, lead, and coal.
Despite myths to the contrary, not all Native Americans were peaceful. Like Europe, the American continent faced tribal warfare that sometimes led to human and cultural destruction.
In short, there is no simple way to tell the tale of a continent that had been peopled by diverse communities for thousands of years. Their tales are as complex as any others, their cultures as rich and their knowledge as deep.
And yet, popular culture in the form of movies, television, children’s books and advertising often portray Native Americas as noble savages. They are distinct from Europeans or Asians as uncivilized, yet perhaps because they are uncivilized they remain somehow pure and ignorant. The image of Pocahontas from the Disney movie of the same name exemplifies this portrayal. Pocahontas cannot understand the guns the English brought but communicates with the animals and can “paint with all the colors of the wind.”
But is this accurate? Were Native Americans really noble? Were they savage? What do you think?
THE FIRST AMERICANS
There is general agreement among anthropologists that the ancestors of the first Americans migrated from somewhere in East Asia. DNA studies have found the closest similarities between Native Americans, Mongolian, Amur, Japanese, Korean, and Ainu populations. While America is separated from Asia today by the Bering Sea, it was not always this way. Those Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in Asia first entered North America via the Bering Land Bridge which had formed between northeastern Siberia and western Alaska due to the lowering of sea level during the Last Glacial Maximum roughly 20,000 years ago. Of course, the exact dating of such an event, so deep in the past is enormously difficult. There is little archeological evidence, and it is possible that people came and went across the land bridge multiple times as sea levels rose and fell. Regardless of the precise date that humans first stepped foot in the Americas, it was a very long time ago, and by about 14,000 years ago, human populations had expanded all the way to the tip of South America.
The Bering Land Bridge was an area of the ocean floor that was exposed during the glaciations. Migrating peoples passed from Asia into the Americas. This visual includes genetic data which helped historians recreate the migrations of people between Asian and American.
Just as the cultures of Asia, Europe and Africa are enormously different, so too were the cultures of the Americas. Some build fabulous cities that could have rivaled Rome. Some built pyramids as impressive as those in Egypt. Others, however, never built impressive cities or monuments, but were nomads like the people of the Asian steppe. It is quite difficult to generalize and say anything about the Native Americans without qualifying it by describing the many exceptions to the rule.
It’s worth noting the Americas are vast, and the Native American groups that eventually people this expanse of territory were as varied as the people of Europe, Asia and Africa. Not only that, but they changed a great deal over time. There were impressive empires such as the Toltec in what is now Mexico, or the Nazca in South America who had risen, created civilizations, art, monuments, and had then disappeared long before the Europeans crossed the Atlantic in 1492. Logically, this is entirely reasonable. A student of European history studies the Romans and Greeks who built empires and that also rose, thrived and collapsed. Why shouldn’t the history of the Americas be the same? Sadly, the reason we know so little today about the ancient civilizations of the New World is that few left a written record. But a lack of written evidence should not leave anyone to conclude that the history of Native America is anything but as diverse and dynamic as the history of any other region of the world.
Flourishing along the hot Gulf Coast of Mexico from about 1200 to about 400 BCE, the Olmec produced a number of major works of art, architecture, pottery, and sculpture. Most recognizable are their giant head sculptures. The Olmec built aqueducts to transport water into their cities and irrigate their fields. They grew maize, squash, beans, and tomatoes. They also bred small domesticated dogs which, along with fish, provided their protein. Although no one knows what happened to the Olmec after about 400 BCE, in part because the jungle reclaimed many of their cities, their culture was the base upon which the later Maya and the Aztec cultures were built. It was the Olmec who worshipped a rain god, a maize god, and the feathered serpent so important in the future pantheons of the Aztecs (who called him Quetzalcoatl) and the Maya (to whom he was Kukulkan). The Olmec also developed a system of trade throughout Mesoamerica, giving rise to an elite class.
THE WORLD OF THE MAYA
After the decline of the Olmec, a city rose in the fertile central highlands of Mesoamerica. One of the largest population centers in pre-Columbian America and home to more than 100,000 people at its height in about 500 CE, Teotihuacan was located about thirty miles northeast of modern Mexico City. The ethnicity of this settlement’s inhabitants is debated. Some scholars believe it was a multiethnic city. Large-scale agriculture and the resultant abundance of food allowed time for people to develop special trades and skills other than farming. Builders constructed over 2,200 apartment compounds for multiple families, as well as more than a hundred temples. Among these were the Pyramid of the Sun (which is two hundred feet high) and the Pyramid of the Moon (one hundred and fifty feet high). Near the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, graves have been uncovered suggesting humans were sacrificed for religious purposes. The city was also the center for trade, which extended to settlements along Mesoamerica’s Gulf Coast.
The Maya were one Mesoamerican culture with strong ties to Teotihuacan. The Maya’s architectural and mathematical contributions were significant. Flourishing from roughly 2000 BCE to 900 CE in what is now Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala, the Maya perfected the calendar and written language the Olmec had begun. They devised a written mathematical system to record crop yields and the size of the population, and to assist in trade. Surrounded by farms relying on primitive agriculture, they built the city-states of Copan, Tikal, and Chichen Itza along their major trade routes. Additionally, they built temples, statues of gods, pyramids, and astronomical observatories. However, because of poor soil and a drought that lasted nearly two centuries, their civilization declined by about 900 CE and they abandoned their large population centers.
The Spanish found little organized resistance among the weakened Maya upon their arrival in the 1520s. However, they did find Mayan history, in the form of glyphs, or pictures representing words, recorded in folding books called codices (the singular is codex). In 1562, Bishop Diego de Landa, who feared the converted natives had reverted to their traditional religious practices, collected and burned every codex he could find. Today only a few survive.
The serpent effect can be seen created by the light from the sun during the 2009 spring equinox on the great pyramid at the Mayan city of Chechen Itza.
The Maya calendar consisted of two intersecting spoked wheels, the Haab or astronomical year, and the Tzolkin, a 260-day cycle that helped priests know the appropriate times for farming and religious ceremonies.
Even their leisure activities had religious and chronological implications. In U-shaped arenas with sloping wall, the Maya played their famous ball game. These, too, were religious rites. The ball, which was one foot across and made of solid rubber, apparently could not be touched with the hands, much like soccer. Murals show players bouncing the ball with their bodies and feet across the court. This was no mere sport, but ritualized battle. Losers stood to forfeit more than the lucrative contracts of today’s athletes. Often they were destined for the sacrificial altar.
Time obsessed the Maya. They recorded the cycles of Venus, which completes its cycle across the sky every 584 days. They measured the length of the solar year to 365.242000 days, very close to the true value of 365.242198 days. This they called the Vague Year.
Alongside ran their Sacred Round of 260 days — 13 months of 20 days each. Their solar year consisted of 18 of these months, totaling 360 days. The five days remaining were considered times of extreme bad luck.
Most modern math uses the base 10 decimal system, one digit for each finger and thumb. The Maya used a base 20, employing both fingers and toes. Unial, the word for their 20-day month, is derived from unic, which meant “human being.” To measure longer time periods, Maya mathematicians invented the Long Count, which they expressed as a series of five numbers. For example, 184.108.40.206.0 represented August 13, 3114 BC. This was the day they believed the world began.
The Aztec calendar stone was derived from the Maya system and shows the concentric rings of the long and short counts.
Such matters preoccupied the kings, scribes, and noble elite. But what of the ordinary people? What manner of lives did they lead? They lived in oval-shaped houses thatched with palm leaves — an efficient design that served to keep out both torrential rain and the summer heat. They farmed the land, raising crops of corn, beans, tomatoes and squash. Dog, deer, rabbit, and hot peppers rounded out their diet.
THE AZTEC WORLD
The Aztecs dominated the Valley of Mexico for 100 years, until their downfall at the hands of Hernan Cortez and his conquistadors in 1521. They built their capital in the most unlikely of places: the center of a lake. Tenochtitlan was a city surrounded by water, with temples and pyramids, sparkling white monuments and ceremonial squares gleaming in the tropical sun. It sat in Lake Texcoco, criss-crossed by canals and connected by three broad causeways to the shore. Along the lake edge the Aztec created chinampas, or raised fields of rotting vegetation and lake-mud. Extraordinarily fertile, they yielded many crops per year.
One story central to the Aztec belief system was the tale of their origins. Aztecs believed that one day while doing housework, the ancient Earth goddess Coatlicue (Serpent Skirt) was impregnated by a ball of feathers. Coyolxauhqui and the 400 stars of the southern sky, her children of the night, grew jealous and determined to kill her. They sliced off her head.
An artist’s rendition of Tenochtitlan
Her unborn child, Huitzilopochtl, learned of the plot. He leapt from her body fully grown. In his hand he brandished a club lined with slivers of razor-sharp black volcanic glass called obsidian. He chopped up Coyolxauhqui and her brothers — a metaphor for the way the sun overwhelms the moon and stars when it rises at dawn each morning.
Huitzilopochtl commanded the Aztecs to travel south until they found a cactus with an eagle nesting in its branches. After many adventures and much misery, they discovered an island with a prickly pear cactus in the year 1 Flint (1324 AD). Sitting upon it was an eagle with outstretched wings and a snake held tightly in its talons. This became the site of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City. The Aztecs believed the oval red fruit of the cactus symbolized the human heart. Today an eagle, cactus, and snake are the national emblems of the Republic of Mexico.
Within 50 years of founding Tenochtitlan, the Aztec had extended their rule all across the valley. They formed political alliances with other states, skillfully intermarried with their nobles, and fought tenaciously in battle. Their empire was created by a culture of war. Boys were taught from an early age to be warriors. A warrior who captured four or more prisoners could become a Jaguar or Eagle Knight, and wear brightly colored body-suits of feathers. Girls were prepared for the battle of childbirth. Women who died in labor became goddesses, accompanying the sun across the sky each day from noon until sunset.
Like the Olmec and Maya before them, the Aztec worshiped a pantheon of gods. Huitzilopochtl, the Aztec God of the Sun, was their principal god. He had an insatiable appetite for blood. Under his urging, the Aztecs rose from a band of primitive farmers to become the bloodiest civilization of the early Americas. Many Central American cultures indulged in human sacrifice. The Aztec practiced it on an industrial scale, sacrificing tens of thousands of victims each year.
In image from an Aztec codex depicting human sacrifice.
By 1519, the Aztec cycle of conquest and exploitation was at its peak. More and more conquered peoples provided tribute, the basis of the Aztecs’ immense wealth. More and more prisoners were captured for human sacrifice. Conquistadors were astonished by Aztec marketplaces. They found dealers in gold, silver and precious stones. They saw embroidered clothing and cotton goods and cacao beans for chocolate drinks. Jaguar pelts and deerskins, as well as the brilliant blue plumes of the cotinga bird lined the marketplace. Food included vegetables and fruits, turkeys, young dogs, wild game and many kinds of honey. There were sellers of tobacco, liquid amber, and herbs. All this and more poured into Tenochtitlan. At the same time, the conquistadors heard tales of the day 20,000 captives, some roped together through their noses, wound through the streets to be sacrificed at the top of the Great Temple steps.
Unlike the Maya, whose culture had collapsed before the arrival of Europeans, the Spanish arrived in Tenochtitlan at the height of Aztec power. As we shall see in our next reading, however, the Aztec did not succeed in maintaining their culture intact. Instead, their temples were replaced by Catholic cathedrals build by the Spanish. Their culture did live on though, as the descendants of the Aztec melded their beliefs with those of the invaders, and today Mexican culture is a vibrant blend of influences from both European and ancient American influences.
THE INCA EMPIRE
When Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro landed in South America in 1532 in what is now the nation of Peru, he found unimaginable riches. The Inca Empire was in full bloom. The streets may not have been paved with gold, but their temples were.
The Coricancha, or Temple of Gold, boasted an ornamental garden where the clods of earth, maize plants complete with leaves and corn cobs, were fashioned from silver and gold. Nearby grazed a flock of 20 golden llamas and their lambs, watched over by solid gold shepherds. Inca nobles strolled around on sandals with silver soles protecting their feet from the hard streets of Cuzco.
The Inca called their empire Tahuantinsuyu, or Land of the Four Quarters. It stretched 2,500 miles from Quito, Ecuador, to beyond Santiago, Chile. Within its domain were rich coastal settlements, high mountain valleys, rain-drenched tropical forests and the driest of deserts. The Inca controlled perhaps 10 million people, speaking a hundred different tongues. It was the largest empire on earth at the time. Yet when Pizarro executed its last emperor, Atahualpa, the Inca Empire was only 50 years old.
The true history of the Inca is still being written by historians and archeologists as they uncover new evidence. According to one story, four brothers emerged from Lake Titicaca. During a long journey, all but one disappeared. Manco Capac survived to plunge a golden staff into the ground where the Rios Tullamayo and Huantanay meet. He founded the sacred city of Cuzco.
Cuzco is nestled in a mountain valley 10,000 feet above sea level. It formed the center of the Inca world. The first emperor, Pachacuti transformed it from a modest village to a great city laid out in the shape of a puma. He also installed Inti, the Sun God, as the Incas’ official patron, building him a wondrous temple.
He did something else which may explain the Inca’s sudden rise to power. He expanded the cult of ancestor worship. When a ruler died, his son received all his earthly powers but none of his earthly possessions. All his land, buildings, and servants went to his panaqa, or other male relatives. The relatives used it to preserve his mummy and sustain his political influence. Dead emperors maintained a living presence.
A new ruler had to create his own income. The only way to do that was to grab new lands, subdue more people, and expand the Empire of the Sun.
How was this done? Life in traditional Andean villages was fragile. One married couple would help another planting or harvesting crops. They would receive help in their own fields in return. The Inca tailored this practice of reciprocity to their own needs.
Their cities centered on great plazas where they threw vast parties for neighboring chiefs. Festivities continued for days on end, sometimes lasting a month. Dignitaries were fed, and given gifts of gold, jewels, and textiles. Only then would the Inca make their requests for labor, to increase food production, to build irrigation schemes, to terrace hillsides, or to extend the limits of the empire.
The Inca were great builders. They loved stone almost as much as they revered gold. At magical Machu Picchu, a frontier fortress and a sacred site, a mystic column, the hitching post of the Sun, is carved from the living rock. Another slab is shaped to echo the mountain beyond.
Temples and fortifications at Machu Picchu were constructed from vast, pillowy boulders, some weighing 100 tons or more. Constructed without mortar, the joints between them are so tight as to deny a knife-blade entry. A vast labor force was required. There are records of 20 men working on a single stone, chipping away, hoisting and lowering, polishing it with sand, hour-by-hour for an entire year.
A network of highways allowed Inca emperors to control their sprawling empire. One ran down the spine of the Andes, another along the coast. Inca builders could cope with anything the treacherous terrain required — steep paths cut along mountain sides, rope suspension bridges thrown across steep ravines, or treacherous causeways traversing floodplains. Every mile and a half they built way stations as resting points. Bands of official runners raced between them covering 150 miles a day. A message could be sent 1200 miles from Cuzco to Quito in under a week.
The ruins of the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu in present-day Peru is a popular tourist destination today.
Everyone was expected to contribute to the empire. Land was divided in three. One third was worked for the emperor, one third was reserved for the gods, and one third the people kept for themselves. All were required to pay taxes as tribute.
The Inca could not write. Tax collectors and bureaucrats kept track of things with quipu, knotted strings. Varying lengths, colors, knot-types, and positions, enabled them to store enormous quantities of information.
Despite its glory, the Incas was a brittle empire, held together by promises and a tenuous network of roads. When Pizarro executed the last emperor, the empire collapsed. Catholic priests demanding allegiance to a new Christian god soon replaced the Children of the Sun. As they had for thousands of years, the hardy peoples of the Andes adapted. They took what they must from their new masters, and held onto as many of their old ways as they could.
With few exceptions, the North American native cultures were much more widely dispersed than the Mayan, Aztec, and Incan societies, and did not develop vast empires or metropolitan cities. Although the cultivation of corn had made its way north, most North American groups still practiced hunting and gathering. To understand the diversity of the people who populated the land that has become the United States, we will explore just a few of the hundreds of cultural groups.
In the southwestern part of today’s United States dwelled several groups we collectively call the Pueblo. The Spanish first gave them this name, which means “town” or “village,” because they lived in towns or villages of permanent stone-and-mud buildings with thatched roofs. Like present-day apartment houses, these buildings had multiple stories, each with multiple rooms.
Pueblo peoples developed a distinctive artistic style for painting bowls with finely drawn geometric figures and wildlife, especially birds, in black on a white background. They also refined the use of turquoise in jewelry. The Pueblo built an extensive irrigation system of canals to water the desert and grow fields of corn, beans, and squash. In the high desert of New Mexico, they carved homes from steep cliffs accessed by ladders or ropes that could be pulled in at night or in case of enemy attack.
Ancient Puebloan groups built these apartment-like homes into the sides of a cliff in present-day Mesa Verde National Park.
Roads extending some 180 miles connected the Pueblos’ smaller urban centers to each other and to Chaco Canyon, which by 1050 CE had become the administrative, religious, and cultural center of their civilization. A century later, however, probably because of drought, the Pueblo peoples abandoned their cities. Their present-day descendants include the Hopi and Zuni tribes.
The Native American groups who lived in the present-day Ohio River Valley and achieved their cultural apex from the first century CE to 400 CE are collectively known as the Hopewell culture. Their settlements, unlike those of the southwest, were small hamlets. They lived in houses made of wood, straw and mud and practiced agriculture, which they supplemented by hunting and fishing. Utilizing waterways, they developed trade routes stretching from Canada to Louisiana, where they exchanged goods with other tribes and negotiated in many different languages. From the coast they received shells; from Canada, copper; and from the Rocky Mountains, obsidian. With these materials they created necklaces, woven mats, and exquisite carvings. What remains of their culture today are huge burial mounds and earthworks. Many of the mounds that were opened by archaeologists contained artworks and other goods that indicate their society was socially stratified.
The long, undulating form of the Serpent Mound, which can truly only be appreciated from high above. Of course, the Hopewell people who carried out the enormous amount of labor to construct it, had no way to fly.
Perhaps the largest indigenous cultural and population center in North America was located along the Mississippi River near present-day St. Louis. At its height in about 1100 CE, this five-square-mile city, now called Cahokia, was home to more than 10,000 residents and tens of thousands more lived on farms surrounding the urban center. The city also contained 120 earthen mounds or pyramids, each dominating a particular neighborhood and on each lived a leader who exercised authority over the surrounding area. Cahokia was the hub of political and trading activities along the Mississippi River. After 1300 CE, however, this civilization declined and it was entirely gone by the time Europeans arrived.
When the English set foot on the North American continent at Jamestown, the people they encountered were Powhatan. When the Pilgrims and Puritans established a new home in New England, they met Pequots and Narragansetts. William Penn encountered the Leni Lenape natives when he arrived in the future Pennsylvania. Although these tribes were all different, they are linked linguistically and their way of life was also similar, defined by the rich natural resources and forests of the Atlantic Coast.
Algonquian and Algonkian both refer to the Algonquin language or to the group of tribes that speak related dialects. Therefore, the Algonquian tribes (including the tribes the English first encountered) are so called because they all speak the Algonquin language.
The Algonkians relied as much on hunting and fishing for food as working the land. These tribes used canoes to travel the inland waterways. The bow and arrow was used to hunt small and large game, and the spear generated ample supplies of fish for the Algonkian peoples. Corn and squash were a few of the crops that were cultivated all along the eastern seaboard.
As the first group to encounter the English, the Algonkians became the first to illustrate the deep cultural misunderstandings between British settlers and Native Americans. British Americans thought Algonquian women were oppressed because of their work in the fields. Algonkian men laughed at the British men who farmed, traditionally work reserved for females. Hunting was a sport in England, so British settlers thought the Algonkian hunters to be unproductive.
As we shall see over and over in our study of American history, the greatest misunderstanding was that of land ownership. In the minds of the Algonkians selling land was like selling air. Eventually this confusion would lead to armed conflict.
A map of the native cultures of North America makes it easy to understand the diversity of Pre-Columbian societies.
Historians sometimes have a hard time finding ways to describe civilizations that have long vanished. We too often err on the side of glorifications, or focus too much on sensational elements of their cultures such as human sacrifices.
Pre-Columbian Native Americans defy easy description, which is unfortunate, because stereotypes have supplanted true understanding. The books, movies and television shows of popular culture have stepped in and created the image, which stands in the minds of contemporary Americans for all of the indigenous peoples of our country. That image is the Noble Savage, a person who is both pure and uncivilized. Unlike the Europeans and Asians they met, they did not have guns or ride horses. They were not Christian.
For the noble savage image to work, one must view Native American culture as inferior to the cultures of Europe and Asia and simultaneously see them as innocent of the evils of the Old World. However, is any of this real? Is there any basis for this in history? Is popular culture’s portrayal of Native Americans as noble savages accurate?
BIG IDEA: Native American societies were enormously varied, ranging from small nomadic bands to elaborate societies with enormous cities. Generally, cultures derived their characteristics from the surrounding natural environment.
The very first humans to live in North and South America arrived during the Ice Ages when sea levels were lower and the land between Asia and Alaska was exposed. They were nomads following game animals. Over the centuries, descendants of these first inhabitants spread throughout the rest of the Americas.
Their societies evolved into a myriad of distinct cultures with unique languages, religions and folkways, often influenced by the particular geography and climate where they lived.
In Central and South America, as well as in Mexico, large, powerful, complex societies developed that featured massive cities and written language. The Maya in southern Mexico and Central America built pyramids and a complex calendar system. However, their culture had disappeared before the arrival of the Europeans.
In South America, the Inca developed a complex system of roads to connect distant regions of their empire. They were excellent builders and cut stones so precisely that their cities, such as Machu Picchu, have lasted for centuries without mortar to hold them together.
In central Mexico the Aztec Empire built the massive city of Tenochtitlan that stood at the site of modern Mexico City. The Aztec religion included the practice of human sacrifice, which horrified Spanish conquistadors who met them.
In North America, societies varied greatly. Two regions show the differences: In the Southwest people grew corn, built homes from adobe or carved homes out of cliffs. In the Northeast, people hunted, fished and farmed, and built permanent homes out of wood. These included the people that English settlers first met when they arrived in New England and Jamestown. Some of their cultures had well developed political systems, such as the Iroquois League.
Bering Land Bridge: The name for the floor of the Bering Sea that was exposed dry land during the period of glaciation. It was crossed by nomads from Asia to North America who became the first Americans.
Mesoamerica: Region that includes the modern-day nations of Mexico and the smaller nations of Central America. It was home to the Olmec, Maya and Aztec cultures.
Teotihuacan: Center of a Mesoamerican civilization that thrived north of present Mexico City. It featured giant pyramids and was a precursor to the Maya and Aztec.
Tenochtitlan: Capital of the Aztec culture and site of present-day Mexico City.
Cuzco: Capital city of the Inca Empire.
Machu Pichu: Mountain fortress of the Inca Empire. It remains one of the most visited pre-Columbian sites.
Cahokia: Largest pre-Columbian settlement in what became the United States. It covered five square miles and featured large mounds along the banks of the Mississippi River near the modern city of St. Louis.
PEOPLE AND GROUPS
Olmec: Mesoamerican civilization that thrived over 2000 years ago and left behind giant stone heads.
Quetzalcoatl: Feathered serpent god of the pre-Columbian Mesoamericans.
Maya: Great pre-Columbian civilization centered in southern Mexico and Central America. They built cities such as Chichen Itza but their culture collapsed before the arrival of the Spanish.
Aztec: Major Mesoamerican culture that was centered around the city of Tenochtitlan (present Mexico City) when the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s.
Inca: Pre-Columbian empire that stretched along the Andes Mountains in south America.
Pueblo: Pre-Columbian civilization that thrived in what is now the Southwest United States. They build homes out of stone and mud that were sometimes multiple stories high.
Hopewell: Pre-Columbian civilization centered around the Mississippi River. They built major huge earthen mounds and established extensive trading networks with other tribes.
Algonquian: Collection of tribes who shared similar culture and language centered in New England.
Codex: Folded books written by the Maya and Aztec.
Maya Calendar: System of keeping time that featured both a short and long count and a nearly perfect measurement of the length of the year.
45 Replies to “Question 1: Is popular culture’s portrayal of Native Americans as noble savages accurate?”
A pattern that I see repeating in history is that the Natives were introduced to the new Europeans who were on expeditions, they were almost all met with unfortunate and bad events. With those being diseases, being taken as slaves, having their land taken, and their resources being taken as well, such as their gold and silver. Another thing is that everyone in the past wanted to have power, whether that was the Natives or explorers, they all fought for control over something.
how did the Pop culture’s portrayal on Native Americans became to be ?
A pattern I see repeating in history is droughts causing a lot of civilization to decline and people abandoning their homes. In The Maya, their poor soil led to droughts and their civilization declined by about 900 CE, they abandoned their large population centers. In relation, droughts also have affected the Pueblo people as they had to abandon their cities as well.
What would happen if the droughts which caused some of these tribes or homes to be abandoned never came?
It was interesting to know that quipu or knotted strings were used for the tax system in the Inca Empire.
I wonder how the citizens were chosen as sacrifices? Were they forced? Or was it voluntary?
A pattern I see is that they keep using human sacrifices.
If civilization of the Maya still existed, after 900 CE, in modern day Mexico how will their culture influence them?
What did human sacrifice offer the gods? How would they know when the gods needed more sacrifices or was it done on a weekly/monthly basis? Did a larger quantity of sacrifices ensure the gods were more gracious towards the people ?
What cultures are related to Cuzco?
A pattern I see repeating in history is people taking away another’s land. In Pre-Columbian times, the Spanish replaced the Inca’s culture with their own. Another example was when the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown by Americans. What would’ve happened if the land wasn’t taken away?
I agree with you and also saw a consistent pattern of people taking away others land. I feel like even if the land wasn’t taken away, these places would still be greatly influenced by specific cultures.
We see many forms of civilization starting out the same why. They form a system of farming and shelter, when they get that down they start to form a sort of seperation in class and power. In many cases of different cities shown in the text, emperor were directed to the people and they made most of the decision and start to expand the city.
A connection I see is between Native Americans and Hawaiians. Before Europeans arrived, they both had thriving cultures, arts, languages, and religions. However, there is a pattern of colonialism where Europeans want to “improve” Natives’ lifestyles by trying to replace it with their own.
Like other parts of the world at the time, the Native Americans settled across the vast lands and developed unique and complex societies by adapting to their diverse environments. They were not savages who took actions that are only motivated by their instinct. Since their large-scale and successful agriculture system allowed them to have an abundance of food, most of them had time to develop special trades and skills other than farming and hunting. They often enjoyed sports and festivals, such as Mayan’sMayan’s famous ball game and the celebrations that happened in cities of the Inca Empire. They were also great builders since they created massive houses, canals, temples, pyramids, roads, and irrigation systems. They created some major artworks by painting bowls with finely drawn geometric figures and wildlife and refining the use of turquoise in jewelry. Also, each of the cultures had its own moral values that are based on their religions. Therefore, the popular culture’s portrayal of Native Americans as noble savages is incorrect. It’s ridiculous how the Western media portrays Native Americans as ignorant people when their ancestors also invaded and stole their lands and cultures. This type of portrayal is infringing Native Americans’ beautiful cultures and traditions.
Is The Maya Calendar Still Used Till This Day By The Maya?
How did the Bering land bridge work? Was it because the sea level was lower before?
How did the groups all decide where to settle and how did they come to an agreement on who should be the leader?
How did each group decide on where to settle and who would be their leader
What would happen if the Inca emperor at the time died without a successor?
The Algonkians and the British had many cultural misunderstandings, the biggest being land ownership, however, before this caused major conflict between the two groups was there any attempt at trying to understand the other side? Were language barriers an important role in these misunderstandings, and if the British had handled the situation differently then how would that change how we perceive Native Americans?
How were the empires named? For example, the Aztecs had their empire named Tenochtitlan. What was the story behind it?
Did the French do anything to stop the Spanish from mistreating the Native Americans? And why did the Spanish treat the Natives so poorly?
The history of Native Americans and their cultures are poorly recorded in written forms, however I agree that we shouldn’t ignore the diverse history of Native America. When I read about popular culture’s portrayal of Native Americans as noble savages compared to the actual diverse culture of Native Americans, it shows how much media controls our history. It’s similar to the ways the media back then portrayed black people as criminals. Many of us are informed that this isn’t true about black people, but it’s unfortunate to see people still viewing Native Americans as noble savages. I too have just learned about the diversity in the Native American culture and their society. It was interesting to read about the Bering Land Bridge and how rich in wealth and knowledge some empires were. This reading destroyed my old perception of the Native Americans and their history.
Were there other tales in the Aztec belief system? And if so, did each god/goddess have their own tale passed down.
What or who particularly gave the label of Native Americans as “Noble Savages” ? What specifically made it believable when the reality was that they were just religious and had certain beliefs just like everyone else?
Who came up with the the term Algonquian? How did the English people determine what was the Algonquin language and was a dialect of the lanugauge?
why did pirrazo execute the last emperor ? there was so much potential in the land , if he didn’t what other would’ve had been built and created within the land ?
What were the reasons behind the belief of the Mayans to contemplate the beginning of the world on August 13, 3114 BC?
What were the reasons behind the jealousy of Coyolxauhqui and the 400 Stars of the Northern Sky that led to their determination to kill Coatlicue? If it weren’t for Huitzilopochtli, what would have become of the Aztecs?
Did the Inca originally think of the brilliant usage of Quipu (knotted strings)? Who created this unique system of recording? Did the many cultural misconceptions made between the British Settlers and the Native Americans contribute to the popular culture’s idea of Native Americans portrayed as “Noble Savages”?
Why did the Aztec result in making an abundance of human sacrifices? Besides the fact of them believing human sacrifices would norish the gods, did they believe that this would prevent the world from ending? Or was it a belief that human sacrifices would ensure they would have enough crops, materials, or resources in general, to survive?
They believed that the sun would cease to rise making the world end.
Why did the Aztec result in making an abundance of human sacrifices? Besides the fact of them believing human sacrifices would norish the gods, did they believe that this would prevent the world from ending? Or was it a belief that human sacrifices would ensure they would have enough crops, materials, and resources in general, to survive?
Why did the Aztecs, who have always worshiped Huizilopochtl, suddenly become a civilization with so much human sacrifice? Was it because they hoped for more wealth/ crops or was there an alternative motive?
How did the ball game the Maya people played become a symbol for ritualized battle and a religious rite? Did they just want to have a way of choosing sacrifices that gave entertainment? Was it made to please the gods?
What inspired Huitzilopochtl to command the Aztecs such specific directions?
What prompted the creation of The Temple of Gold? What was the Last Glacial Maximum?
The Last Glacial Maximum was when ice sheets reached their maximum volume. Ice sheets covered much of North America, Northern Europe, and Asia which lowered sea levels exposing dry land between northeastern Siberia and western Alaska, creating the Bering Land Bridge.
The Last Glacial Maximum was when the ice sheets reached their maximum volume. Ice sheets covered much of North America, Northern Europe, and Asia which lowered the sea level exposing dry land between northeastern Siberia and western Alaska forming Bering Land Bridge.
Why did Bishop Diego de Landa feared the religious practices that led him to burn every codex?
Why did the Incas use stone out of all materials to build? Why was culture so different between the Northeast and Southwest groups?
What led to the decline of the Olmec? What is Mesoamerica called today?
How did popular culture’s portrayal of Native Americans as “noble savages” came to be known? Who accepted this and thought that this accurately represented Native Americans? Did mass media help influenced this?
What would happen if Bishop Diego de Landa didn’t burn the codices of the Maya? What made the Bishop so afraid that made him want to burn the codex?
What sparked the concept of human sacrifice to gods? Why did some cultures think it would please them?