Societies of the Americas

Societies of the Americas

Background image: Ruins of multi-room apartment-type building made out of beige stone and masonry. Surrounding landscape is desert with sagebrush.
Image credit:
Jasperdo (via Flickr) https://flic.kr/p/Jjyfbw

Introduction

Archaeological evidence suggests that Indigenous peoples have been living in this hemisphere for at least 15,000 years. More recent DNA evidence indicates an even longer period of 20,000 years. By either metric, Indigenous communities were already here when the last glaciation ended, changing the shape of coastlines and land-masses everywhere. They had been here for thousands of years by the time the first small farming villages emerged on the other side of the globe, in ancient Mesopotamia. During every recorded historical event across Afroeurasia, Indigenous societies in this hemisphere were also engaged in their own economic, technological, political, and social developments.

This presents both an ethical challenge and an invitation to social studies teachers. In many schools, history is the primary discipline we use to study the past and it is heavily reliant on written records. While some societies in the Americas developed and used writing, many did not. Our access to written records is further reduced because European conquerors and settlers sometimes destroyed Indigenous texts as part of the process of conquest. Also, of course, having a text and being able to decipher it are two different things. If we limit our focus to only those Indigenous societies from whom we have written records, this hemisphere all but disappears from our global past.

But if we move beyond history into the realm of archaeology, the picture is entirely different. Through that lens, this hemisphere is buzzing with diverse societies that developed widely varied foodways and different social and political structures. We see evidence of the movement of goods, people, and ideas. We see evidence of daily activities, travel, and diet inscribed in the material artifacts of the past. And, even without the benefit of written records, we can see a trajectory of changes over time. 

Our assertion is that investigating the Indigenous past in this hemisphere is a necessary part of understanding World History. The resources provided here are intended to be one small part of that process. Our presentation of societies focuses on cultural practices, material culture, settlement patterns, and other features of daily life, rather than polities. But we also explore change over time and contested narratives about the past. Our hope is that you'll be able to bring this material into dialogue with historical material from Afroeurasia to develop a fuller understanding of the human past.

Map of Societies Sites

Project Team

This project was initiated by Robert Hallock, a high school social studies teacher at Sammamish High School in Bellevue, Washington. Robert Hallock, archaeologist Lucy Gill, and ORIAS planned the project, then a team of archaeologists did the hard work of creating the materials for each region. They include:

Caitlin Davis (Yale University)
Elizabeth Dresser-Kluchman (UC Berkeley)
Lucy Gill (UC Berkeley)
Corey Herrmann (Yale Univesity)
Andrés Laguens (Instituto de Antropología de Córdoba)
Jose Luís Marrero-Rosado (UC Berkeley)
Brian McCray (Vanderbilt University)
David Nicolaus (Instituto de Antropología de Córdoba)
Maria Clara Quintero Bonnin (Instituto de Antropología de Córdoba)
AJ White (UC Berkeley)

Funding for this project came from National Geographic Society's COVID-19 Remote Learning Emergency Fund for Educators, the Center for Latin American Studies at Stanford University and the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley. Both Centers are National Resources Centers that receive federal Title VI grants.