A NEW WORLD
The First Americans
At daybreak on the morning of Friday, August 3 1492, an Italian adventurer named Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain to find a new way from. His aim was to open up a shorter trade route between the two continents. In Asia, he intended to load his three ships with silks, spices and gold, and sail back to Europe a rich man.
Columbus first sailed south to the Canary Islands. Then he turned west across the unknown waters of the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Ten weeks after leaving Spain, on the morning of October 12, he stepped ashore on the beach of a low sandy island. He named the island San Salvador – Holy Savior. Columbus believed that he had ...view middle of the document...
We say ‘maybe’ because nobody is completely sure. Scientists believe that the distant ancestors of the Amerindians came to America from Asia. This happened, they say, during the earth’s last ice age, long before people began to make written records.
At that time a bridge of ice joined Asia to America across what is now the Bering Strait. Hunters from Siberia crossed this bridge into Alaska. From Alaska the hunters moved south and east across America, following herds of caribou and buffalo as the animals went from one feeding ground to the next. Maybe 12,000 years ago, descendants of these first Americans were crossing the isthmus of Panama into South America. About 5,000 years later their camp fires were burning on the frozen southern tip of the continent, now called Tierra del Fuego – the Land of Fire.
For many centuries early Amerindians lived as wandering hunters and gatherers of food. Then a more settled way of life began people living in highland areas of what is now Mexico found a wild grass with tiny seeds that were good to eat. These people became America’s first farmers. They cultivated the wild grass with great care to make its leaves larger. Eventually it became Indian corn, or maize. Other cultivated plant foods were developed. By 5000 BC Amerindians in Mexico were growing and eating beans, squash and peppers.
The Pueblo [ˡpweblɔʊ] people of present day Arizona and New Mexico were the best organized of the Amerindian farming peoples. They lived in groups of villages, or in towns which were built for safety on the sides and tops of cliffs. They shared terraced buildings made of adobe (mud and straw) bricks, dried in the sun. Some of these buildings contained as many as 800 rooms, crowded together on top of one another. The Pueblo made clothing and blankets from cotton, which grew wild in the surrounding deserts. On their feet they wore boot-shaped leather moccasins to protect their legs against the sharp rocks and cactus plants of the desert. For food they grew crops of maize and beans. Irrigation made them successful as farmers. Long before Europeans came to America, the Pueblo were building networks of canals across the deserts to bring water to their fields. In one desert valley modern archeologists have traced canals and ditches, which enabled the Pueblo to irrigate 250,000 acres of farmland.
A people called the Apache [əˡpætʃɪ] were the neighbors of the Pueblo. The Apache never became settled farmers. They wandered the deserts and mountains in small bands, hunting deer and gathering wild plants, nuts and roots. They also obtained food by raiding their Pueblo neighbors and stealing it. The Apache were fierce and warlike, and they were much feared by the Pueblo.
The Iroquois [ˡɪrəkwɔɪ] were a group of tribes – a ‘nation’ – who lived far away from the Pueblo and the Apache in the thick woods of northeastern North America. Like the Pueblo, the Iroquois were skilled farmers. In fields cleared...