200.000-25.000: Period 0 (Early arrival? How early?)
Nobody knows when humans forst enterd the Americas. We don't even know from where and how. Until very recently most scholars believed in the Bering Strait Theory (BST) and the Clovis Horizon (CH). In short this theory said that the first Americans walked from Siberia to America (Alaska) around +/- 13.000 years ago (during the end of the last ice age), and "colonized" the rest of the continent via an Ice Free Corridor (IFC). The Clovis site in New Mexico gave it's name to this "first Ameriican culture". The Americas thus were the last continents to be colinized by humans (Out of Africa, and into Asia, around 60.000 years ago, in Europe and Australia around 40.000-50.000 years ago).
However, a lot of South American scholars have since long disagreed. The saw/see (and accepted the data) other archaeological sites, most of them in Latin America, that are in their view a lot older than the CH. The most famous example is the Pedra Furuda site(s), dated to up to 50.000 years ago.
Today, everything is open again. Mostly due to genetics and new archaeological discoveries. The BST seems to have lost most of its credibility, and it's almost certain now that people arrived earlier than 13.000 years ago. The CH isn't seen anymore as the first American culture. But what now? Sites like Pedra Furuda still are not widely accepted, but genetic research seems to indicate that people were in the Americas for at least 15.000 to 25.000 years. The theory that people came along the North American westcoast (WCT) by boat is becomming more popular, while others also think a passage from/via Europe (taken by some early Americans) is possible too.
(following are absolute dates, calibrated/corrected dates BC and AD)
13.500-9500: Period 1 (setteling down)
Almost everybody agrees nowadays that people where in the Americas around 15.000 years ago (13.000 calBC). The most important site is Monte Verde II, southern Chile
12.700: Monte Verde. People lived in huts along the coast and used a lot of plants and seaweed.
11.500-9500: people in South and Central America use fishtail spear points, while people in North America use mostly Clovis spearpoints. Along the coast of Peru and Chile fishing becomes more and more important and this makes it possible to some early forms of (partly) settlement as can be seen in the Early Paiján culture from Tubes to Ica (Peruvian coast). People here are quite long and robuste (men 1.68 meters). In eastern Brazil continue to make (or start making) a lot of rock painings.
9500-3500: Period 2 (agriculture)
9500-8000: First cultivated crops like squash, lleren, arrowroot, calabash, and some palms. From Panama to Peru and in Mexico (Late Paiján, Las Vegas).
8000-6000: domestication of maize (Mexico), manioc & peanut (Brazil). First Chinchorro textiles in northen Chile, first signs of social differentiation in Lambayeque region (Zaña valley), Peru. More permanent settlements across the continent (Chile, Ecuador, Colombia)
6000-4500: expantion of agriculture, "diffusion" of important crops (for example maize in South America: Panama, Colombia, Ecuador (+/- 6000), Chile (+/- 5000) & manioc in Panama (+/- 5000) & Mexico (+/- 4500)), invention & spread of ceramics & pottery (Brazil, later Colombia, Ecuador), first mound architecture (Peru, Ecuador) & mounds made of sea shells (Brazil, Colombia, Mexico), world's oldest mummies around 5900 (Chinchorro, Chile), first irrigation canals (Zaña valley, Peru +/- 4700). Start of working with copper in North America, along the Great lakes (6000)
4500-3500: Important developments in different places like El Porvenir (Tumbes, Peru), Valdivia (Ecuador), Aspero & Caballete (Norte Chico, Peru), Puerto Hormiga & San Jacinto II (Colombia, mouth Magdalena), Monagrillo (Panama), Watson Brake (Louisiana, US)
3500-1500: Period 3 (cities, religion, metals)
3500-2500: Galgada, Caral, Bandurria, Las Shicras, Huaricanga, Sechin Bajo... Norte Chico culture (more canals, cotton weaving, quipu, music, tempels, etc). In Ecuador maize is becomming staple food and people reach La Plate island to exploit spondylus shell (development balsa raft?) at the coast. Here and in the Amazonian part of the country (Santa Ana La Florida) big ceremonial plazas are laid out with mounds and graves. Greenstones (turquoise, malachite) are being worked (masks, etc)
2500-1500: El Paraiso (big tempels, central coast Peru), first depiction Staff God (Norte Chico, Peru), Buena Vista (Temple of the Fox), Ventarron (wall paintings) First silver, copper and gold around 2000 (Andes). Madre Vieja & Barra Period (oldest pottery in Mesoamerica, Chiapas & Guatemalan coast). First towns along Soconusco coast of Chiapas. First ballcourt & pyramid, central plaza in city like settlement at Paso de la Amada (1650)
1500-1: Period 4 (Pre Classic)
1-1000: Period 5 (Classic: large states and city states)
1000-1500: Period 6 (last 500 years)
1500-1650: Period 7 (Domination without Dominance)
Why should one begin this period of " an indigenous history of America" with a European man from Genua? The people that encounterd him and his tiny crew (+/- 90 men) in 1492 probably weren't that impressed at all. The biggest Spanish boat (Santa Maria) carried only 39 men, and was +/- 25 meters long. But although the natives of Guanahani, Colba (or Cubanacán) or Marién (Haití or Quizqueia) probably saw masts and sails for the first time, their own largest boats (all boats were named "canoas" by the Spaniards wether they were large or small) could hold up to 70-100 men (some reports even say 150), and were just as long. It is true that the Caribbean natives never had seen iron before, but the Spaniards, for the first time in their lives, saw the metal called guanín (a copper-gold/silver alloy). And so this list goes on...
Perhaps more important is that some natives used the Spaniards as their allies (that's correct: the natives used the Spaniards, not the other way around) in their conflicts. The first one to do so was the cacique (leader) Guacanagari(x) of Marién (now north Haiti). He made friends with Columbus in 1492 and let him establish a small fort. The next year, when Columbus returned, he found the fort destroyed. It was Guacanagarix who told Columbus that the cacique of Maguana (southeastern part of the Dominican Republic) was responsible and that they had to attack him. Columbus agreed and both leaders send armies. Although the amount of natives that went is not known, this event takes place before the first disease is mentioned (later that year). On this second voyage, Columbus brought with him +/- 1500 men and some weapons. The island was populated by 8 million (maximum) to 60.000 (minimum) people (most modern scholars seem to favor a population of into the hundred thousands). Even if we take the lowest calculation, this means there were 10.000 people per ethnic territory (casicazco) on Hispañola. The Spaniards who befriended Guacanagari were, thus, outnumbered by his people by about 1 to 7 (1 : 33 if one takes 300.000 people for the whole island & 1 : 889 if the number was 8 million). Whatever the number was, it was a strong army.
An army in which numbers (not brilliant Spanish minds or supperior Spanish weapons/technology) decided. Numbers and disease. Yet the Spanish supriority myth is still doing well. One of them is that the whole conquest was finished in a few years (let's say between 1492 and 1532 when Pizarro met Atawallpa, "an" Inka).This was not the case. A lot of peoples weren't conquered at all (most famous example being the Mapuches in southern Chile), neither by the Spaniards nor indian (= indigenous) conquerors. Also, like on Hispañola, every conquest was done by alliances of several armies of different indian peoples (nations) and various Spanish (the word European is a better term, especially for later events) troops.
Very good examples of these alliances are the conquests of the Aztec and Inka empire. The traditional story (told over and over again and mainly based on one single book: The Conquest of Mexico/Peru by William Prescott in 1843 & 1847) tells the story of two heroic men (Cortés and Pizarro) who, almost on their own, succeed in bringing down two of the mightiest empires the world had ever seen. It reflects the Romanticism of the 19th century, and of the author himself.
Except for Romanticism, the main reason why the Prescott story is what it is, is because he only used the main official acounts of the Spanish conquerors themselves (used for the personal propaganda of the author). Serious scholarship on the Aztecs or Inka's didn't really exist in those days, and most non-official accounts of the conquest period were still hidden away in (mainly Spanish) libraries. Also, the idea that, for example, the indians themselves had written reccords on the events was not held possible. All in all, Prescott's work (although of great importance, being the first one do describe the conquests) isn't really a reliable source if one wants to know what happened in the sixteenth century.
To give a few (not very well known to the general public) facts about these two events that recent scholarship (the last 20 years or so) made clear.
The southern half of Mexico was part of Meso America (see above, pre 1492 section). Between +/- 1440 and 1519, quite a bit was conquered by the Aztec Empire (Tripple Alliance of the Mexicah), in a very short period of time. But there were still a lot of independent states. The most important being that of the Taraskans (P'urepecha) in the west, the Tututepec of the Mixtecs (Ñuu Save) in the southwest, the Tlaxacallan (Tlaxcala) in the center, just east of the Aztec capital, and the different Maya peoples in the Maya area (Yucatan, Guatemala, etc). The Aztec empire had about 20 to 30 million subjects. With another 10 to 20 million people living in the rest of Meso America. These subjects had to pay tribute and had to deliver manpower for new Aztec conquests.
When the Spaniards arrived from Cuba in 1519, they already had heard of a powerful people. Their leader, Hernando Cortés first met an indigenous leader at a city called Cempoala. Cempoala was the capital of a Totonac state, a state that only a few years before had been conquored by the Aztecs. It was in this city that Cortes' men first heard the name of these mighty people: the Mexicans.
Cempoala probably had a population of 20.000 to 30.000 people. Cortés had no more than a few hundred men under his comand. Besides that, his departure to Mexico was declared to be illegal by the official Spanish governor of Cuba Velázquez de Cuéllar. This in fact made the whole conquest of the Aztec empire officially illegal, something Cortés knew. For that reason he wrote five letters to the king (Carlos I/V) and presented in them an image of himself as a great hero who, against all odds and thousands of worriers, discovered and conquered the mighty and brutal Aztecs. As a sign of good will, he also send the king numerous presents, with them showing the king that not he but Velázquez had made a mistake and that his conquest of the Aztec empire brought the Spanish crown nothing but wealth and power. Initially the king accepted these gifts and granted Cortés with the governorship of "New Spain" (1521) but already in the same year a royal inspector was sent to investigate what Cortés was doing. After a few replacements, in 1526 Cortés finally lost his governorship and, a year later was exiled by the new governor. Although he returned to Mexico from 1530 to 1541, he never again hold his important political position. He died in Spain in 1547, embittered and surrounded by paperwork in which he presented his claims to power.
It is unclear if the king ever believed Cortés’ story of the conquest. What is clear is that Cortés (and his followers/supporters, like the other great chroniclers of the conquest Diaz de Castillo and Franciscan friar De Sahagún) used propaganda to win the king for his cause against the other fractions (most importantly the Velásquez fraction) within the Spanish troops. It gives a picture of the conquest that is very favorable and his men and negative of all the other people, be they Indians or Spaniards. It also makes it a “one man show”. The picture that Prescott, almost without any reflection, copied and that so many scholars (and millions of enthusiastic readers) after him excepted.
We now know that the king was right to be skeptic, and that it, by far wasn’t a one man show. We may even ask ourselves the question whose conquest it actually was. What happened? When Cortés and his men arrived in Cempoala, the local leader (known as “The Fat Cacique”), who had heard of the Spaniards winning some battles in a few coastal towns prior to their arrival in his city, complained heavily to Cortés about the Aztecs. He apparently decided to see if the interesting new Spanish soldiers, weapons and horses were effective enough for a planned uprising against the powerful empire. He sent the Spaniards to a town in the north to conquer with the excuse that some Mexicans were stationed there. When the Spaniards and the Cempoala companions arrived, no Mexicans however were to be seen. But the Cempoala leader probably was happy enough with what he saw so a alliance was made and the Fat Cacique himself suggested to Cortés to travel to Mexico via the mighty Tlaxcallan state (fierce enemies of the Aztecs).
When the army arrived (a few hundred Spaniards, 8000 to 16.000 Cempoalans and 4000 to 8000 worriers from other cities) at Tlaxcallan however, they were confronted with an army. After three battles, peace was made (although some Tlaxcallan leaders wanted to continue fighting, and many Spaniards were wounded and sick) between both parties and agreements were made to combine forces against the Aztecs. Xicotencatl., the principal ruler of Tlaxcallan insisted that ten thousand of his soldiers should accompany the allied army.
Eventually at least 24.000 Indians (minimal number) and about 500 Spaniards confronted the Aztecs in their capital Tenochtitlan… This means that the allied army had at least 48 times more Indians in it than Spaniards. This is more or less the same as the amount of American soldiers in Afghanistan (+/- 78.500) in proportion to the amount of their Spanish(!) allies in the same war (+/- 1600).
So, whose war was it?
The next event is perhaps as surprising: no war broke out between the two parties. This war only started a few months later, when Cortés had left the city to confront the Valásquez army at the coast. In what the Spaniards remembered as “La Noche Triste” (“The Sad Night”, as many of them and their allies died), the Aztecs drove out their enemies, all the way back to Tlaxcallan.
So, actually the Aztecs won.
But later that year, smallpox arrived at Tenochtitlan and it had a disastrous effect. In the mean time, new allies (and new Spanish soldiers arriving from the Caribbean) joined the Indian-Spanish army at Tlaxcallan, and in a second try, they succeeded in conquering the disorientated (due to the disease and following famine) city, at August 13, 1521.
The story too often ends here as if the Spaniards were completely in charge now, the Indian allies were somehow gone, and the Aztecs ceased to exist. Of course, this is again a myth. It is interesting to note that Monteuczoma (also known as Montezuma) was not the last Aztec leader (but even before the arrival of the Spaniards you couldn’t compare him to an emperor, see above, pre-1492), nor was the other famous “last one” Cuauhtemoc. After the “fall” of Tenochtitlan, other leaders were chosen. In the official Spanish sources they appear as puppet rulers, but considering the fact how little Spaniards there actually were, this can also be seen in a different light. It is clear for example that the Tlaxcallans were the mightiest representatives of the alliance that conquered the Aztec capital. In their view, they finally had succeeded in conquering their main enemy. But the Aztec empire was bigger than just the capital so lot’s of Tlaxcallan soldiers went on conquering other territories. They even went beyond the former Aztec territories and conquered large parts of Guatemala. Others stayed in Tenochtitlan and got estates, riches, and slaves, just as some of the Spaniards got. Tenochtitlan however also got a new leader, the first one being Tlacotzin. This system continued to function until 1614 when the last leader (since 1568 called “Judge Governor”) dies. By then the amount of Indians is that small (only 1 million in Mexico left in 1650) that one really can say that power “finally” de facto turned over to the Spaniards, although, even in 1600, there were only 200.000 Spaniards in all of Latin America…
1650-1800: Period 8 (Effects of desease)
1800-2010: Period 9 (European dominition, the real conquest)
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