Pre-Columbian America: We begin around 30,000 BC. The Earth is in its last Ice Age; the sea level is about 120 meters lower than current levels.
The American continent is completely isolated by large glaciers.
Yet the first signs of human occupation are popping up everywhere.
Tools, bones of hunted animals, and fires appear in various places on the continent.
To this day, the origins of these early settlements remain a mystery, but a few theories are suggested.
According to one theory, people from the Bay of Biscay would have followed the 5,000 km icefield that crossed the Atlantic Ocean to reach the north of the American continent.
But this hypothesis is controversial and undermined by recent genetic data which points to the Asian origins of the first American settlements.
Another theory contemplates that groups sailed along the “Kelp Highway,” a gigantic seaweed forest rich in fish that ran along the Pacific rim from north Asia to America.
As the Ice Age draws to a close, Beringia forms a land corridor that connects America with Asia.
The climate is milder here; local vegetation is suitable for large animals such as bison, caribou, and mammoths, attracting Siberian populations who are hunters.
Further east, the melting of enormous ice caps opens a corridor towards the continent.
Animals, followed by humans, gradually pour in, while the melting ice causes waters to rise.
Beringia is flooded; the American continent is once again isolated.
New nomadic populations spread across the continent, who gather, fish and hunt.
The climate continues to warm up, which facilitates the domestication of plants endemic to the continent.
Due to cross-breeding, American populations create and cultivate avocados,
chilli peppers, squash, corn and even cassava.
Ceramics appear a very useful invention not only for storing crops but also for art.
Meanwhile animals such as the llama and guinea pigs are domesticated.
Populations begin to settle, initially mainly on the central Mexican plateau and in the coastal areas along the Andes mountains.
Gradually, groups of populations begin to take shape and the first cultures appear.
In the Atacama Desert, the Chinchorros is the first in the world to mummify their dead.
A little further north, the Valdivia culture emerges.
This is one of the first to produce ceramics in large quantities.
In the Mississippi, Basin are the Mound Builders, a group of nomadic peoples famous for the many large mounds they erect.
Their chiefs meet regularly and trade develops throughout the region.
In the South, the Caral civilization is the first to emerge on the continent.
It brings together around 30 sites and population centers, including Caral, which is probably the first city on the continent.
Pyramids, squares as well as residential quarters are built there.
This civilization is prosperous, thanks to the irrigation system it develops, among other things.
Yet despite its isolation, the Caral civilization mysteriously declines and disappears around the 19th century BC perhaps because of the numerous earthquakes or the El Niño phenomenon, a warm sea current that causes the disappearance of fish and devastating climatic upheavals.
In the center of the continent, the Olmecs appear and form the first Mesoamerican civilization.
They first develop in the city of San Lorenzo, where nearly 10,000 inhabitants live in 1600 BC.
Huge basalt sculptures representing heads are built there.
The Olmecs set up agricultural terraces with a complex system of water distribution using U-shaped stones.
Further south, the Chavin civilization emerges in the Andes.
Known in particular for its religious ceremonies, the civilization prospers and deeply influences the region.
Among the Olmecs, while San Lorenzo is in decline, La Venta reaches its peak.
According to some, the first Mesoamerican pyramid was built there.
To stock up on precious stones in particular, important networks of exchange are developed with cultures and civilizations of the region.
There are also traces of writing among the Olmecs, but the exact origin of this invention is still debated today.
Finally, Tres Zapotes is the last great Olmec city as the civilization falls into decline.
This benefits the Zapotecs who become the new dominant civilization, with Monte Alban as the capital, where writing is developing.
A little further north is an important city called Cuicuilco.
But it declines from the 1st century BC because of the neighboring volcano Xitle
which, in one or more eruptions, covers the city in lava and destroys the surrounding fertile land.
There is still no consensus over the precise date of this event.
In any case, this benefits the neighboring city of Teotihuacan which sees dazzling prosperity and development.
Surrounded by fertile land and located near deposits of obsidian, a volcanic stone used in the making of tools,
the city attracts artisans and traders from all over Mesoamerica and becomes an important hub.
Monumental pyramids are built and become places of pilgrimage.
At its peak, Teotihuacan is the largest city on the continent with a population of at least 100,000.
Further east, the Mayan civilization is divided into a multitude of city-states which are often rivals.
Tikal and Calakmul, both in competition against one another, are the two greatest powers.
But in 378, Teotihuacan seizes power in Tikal.
A new dynasty is established there and the war continues against Calakmul.
Between 550 and 575, the central districts of Teotihuacan are set on fire and vandalized, possibly during internal revolts.
While in the East, Tikal is defeated by Calakmul.
Teotihuacan’s power wanes until the city collapses.
We return to 200 BC. At this time, in the south of the continent, the civilization of Chavin collapses, which allows the development
of other civilizations in the region.
The Nazca civilization develops in an arid zone, in particular by building underground aqueducts which make it possible to transform the desert into cultivated fields.
They also do large drawings often representing animals, which become an important part of ritual ceremonies.
Further north, the Moche culture becomes prevalent.
Remarkable for its metallurgy and agricultural techniques in a desert environment, this warrior civilization spreads rapidly.
Prisoners are sacrificed during rites.
During the 7th century, it is probable that important climatic changes precipitate the fall of the Nazcas and the Moche.
This benefits the Wari civilization, which extends considerably to the north.
Meanwhile, their ally, the Tiwanaku civilization, originating from the shores of Lake Titicaca, spreads south and eastwards, thus ensuring military
and cultural domination over the entire region.
In Mesoamerica, the fall of Teotihuacan leaves a void in the region, which benefits several cities that develop rapidly.
In Mayan territory, rivalries remain a constant despite intense trade.
The cocoa bean is used as money, but it is also consumed as a drink during ritual ceremonies reserved for elites and kings.
The Mayans use writing and create a calendar designed by combining three existing calendars.
The Long Count calendar has a cycle of 5,125 years, with its first cycle ending in 2012.
From 780, a succession of periods of intense drought, followed by a major political and demographic crisis, leads to the desertion of most Mayan cities.
Architectural constructions are interrupted, as are exchange networks.
Dynasties collapse and only a few Mayan cities remain.
The Zapotec capital of Monte Alban also collapses, to the benefit of the neighboring Mixtec people.
Tula, further north, grows to become the new Mesoamerican cultural center.
In the north of the continent, the development of intensive agriculture in the Mississippi River basin spurs the growth of
so-called Mississippian cultures.
Further north, around the year 1000, Vikings from Greenland reach the coasts of America.
They build camps, but these are abandoned after a few years and forgotten.
In the south of the continent, El Niño is probably responsible for the collapse of the Wari and Tiwanaku civilizations.
This benefits the Kingdom of Chimor, which quickly becomes the main center of the Andes with Chan Chan as its capital — an immense city of approximately 20 sqm, composed among others of 10 fortified citadels corresponding to the 10 kings.
The Chimús dominate the region through war and impose their religious beliefs, including the sacrifice of children and llamas.
Other peoples and civilizations develop in South America, notably the Muiscas in the north.
They are renowned for covering their new leader in gold dust before he submerges himself in a sacred lake.
Further south, the Kingdom of Cuzco develops, where the Incas live.
On a small island in Lake Texcoco, the Mexicas people live in the city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan.
In 1428, they ally with the neighboring city of Texcoco to destroy the powerful city of Azcapotzalco.
Then Texcoco, Tenochtitlan, and Tlacopan unite and form the Triple Alliance.
Tenochtitlan becomes the capital of the new Aztec empire.
All men receive military education. Considered to be invincible, their armies quickly conquer a large part of the Mesoamerican territory.
Despite a certain unity and cohesion in the empire, the heavy taxes imposed on the subjugated provinces becomes the cause of frequent rebellion.
In 1438, after pushing back an offensive in Cuzco, Pachacuti becomes the new Inca emperor.
Quickly, he begins an expansionist policy throughout the Andean area.
The Incas operate mines and build bridges, dams, and roads to link the entire empire to Cuzco.
The rapidly expanding capital grows to 60,000 to 100,000 inhabitants.
The Inca territory is solidly organized in four quadrants which conquer in the four directions.
Complex irrigation networks are built to cultivate the land, of which about a third is intended for the emperor and officials.
In 1470, the Incas lay siege to their powerful rival Chan Chan and cut their water supply.
The city is defeated and the kingdom of Chimor is annexed. Shortly after, Pachacuti dies.
His heirs continue to extend the Inca territory considerably.
Only the Chiriguanos in the south-east and especially the Mapuches in the far south, resist brilliantly.
The emperor then hears about mysterious explorers in the north of the empire.
He sets out to find them, but contracts an unknown illness and quickly dies.
This disease, against which the Incas are not immune, spreads through the empire in a short time, also proving fatal for the heir.
His death generates a war of succession.
The Inca Empire is weakened from within, while on the coasts, an external threat seems to be looming with the arrival of unknown navigators.
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