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Pre-Columbian Explorers Settled the Bahamas Earlier Than Thought

Pre-Columbian Explorers Settled the Bahamas Earlier Than Thought


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New evidence suggests that the Bahamas were settled earlier than previously thought. It appears that the first explorers to arrive on the islands transformed the entire landscape, rapidly.

The Lucayan people were the original settlers of the Bahamas before the European conquest of the Americas in the late 15th century, after Columbus’s arrival in 1492 AD. It was always maintained that they arrived on the islands about 1,000 years ago. Now, new evidence suggests Lucayan explorers arrived in the northern Bahamas about 830 AD.

Map showing the key locations used for understanding the Lucayan migration patterns throughout the Bahamas. (Fall, P. et. al. / PNAS)

The Evidence Lay in Pyrogenic Pine Remains

Until this new research project, it was generally accepted that the Bahamas were not colonized until about 1,000 years ago. Dr. Peter van Hengstum is an associate professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Environment Science at Texas A&M-Galveston and his recent findings were published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) . The team say that soon after 830 AD the Lucayan people expanded rapidly throughout the Bahamas, “in less than 100 years.”

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The Abaco Islands lie in the northern Bahamas about 180 miles off the coast of southern Florida. The team discovered evidence that soon after the Lucayan people arrived around 830 AD they started burning forests. “Reptiles were extirpated and pyrogenic pine forests took over this island,” according to the new paper. The new findings essentially prove that the island group was colonized 200 years earlier than was believed, and that the settlers changed the landscape, “dramatically.”

The researchers reached their conclusions from evidence gathered at the Blackwood Sinkhole, on the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas. / PNAS)

Quick and Dramatic Transformation of the Bahamas

Pete J van Hengstum and his team of researchers drew their new environmental conclusions from evidence gathered at the Blackwood Sinkhole , which they explained in the paper holds near-perfectly preserved organic materials from the last 3,000 years. Using core samples and radiocarbon dating , the team examined charcoal deposits from human fires that they say dated to “thousands of years ago," according to PNAS. This information helped them to determine that the first settlers arrived in the Bahamas much earlier than previously thought.

Hengstum explained that the oldest archaeological sites in the southernmost Bahamian archipelago are found on the Turks and Caicos Islands and these indicate human arrival around 700 AD. Previous evidence suggested it may have taken hundreds of years for the Lucayans to move through the Bahamian archipelago that spans about 500 miles (894 km). Until now, in the northern Bahamian Great Abaco Island, the earliest physical evidence of human occupation are two skeletons from the Abaco sinkhole dating from 1200 to 1300 AD. But the new study changes that belief.

Pine trees at Lucayan National Park in the Bahamas. (Mike Gifford / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Tree Pollen Reveals Historic Hurricanes

The new paper provides evidence of island wide “landscape disturbance” including slash-and-burn agriculture that burned remains indicate began around 830 AD. Slash-and-burn agriculture is a farming method that adopts the cutting and burning of plants in a woodland to create fields for the growing of crops.

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Further to evidence of slash-and-burning, when the first Lucayans arrived on Great Abaco Island it was mostly covered with pine and palm forests with “a unique reptile-dominated ecosystem of giant tortoises and crocodiles.” The scientists concluded that rapid deforestation and woodland burning allowed pine trees to colonize and this lead to them “out-competing” native palms and hardwoods. The reptiles began to disappear to a great extent after 1000 AD. This means the Lucayans rapidly migrated through the Bahamian archipelago in less than a century, which according the paper represents “just a few human generations.“

Pollen analysis indicated that a significant increase in regional hurricane activity around 1500 AD damaged these new pine forests. The researchers wrote that “compounded perturbations, including forecasts of future hurricane intensification, may continue to alter Bahamian ecosystems, particularly pine forests, which are less resilient than pre-contact tropical hardwood ecosystems.”

In a release by Texas A & M University , Hengstum explained that "the pre-contact forest was not significantly impacted earlier in the record during known times when intense hurricane strike events were more frequent."


Pre-Columbian Explorers Settled the Bahamas Earlier Than Thought - History

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You look upon the ocean, not knowing what lies ahead. Your hygiene is terrible, and your food supplies are running low. You have been lost, thanks to your captian, Leif Ericson, and have been sailing for days. Then, you see land. Land! You sail there and set up a colony. You have found North America!

Many people had discovered the Americas a long time before Columbus. Because humanity, in one way or another, started over somewhere around Africa. People had to have gotten to America because Columbus met Natives there. One explorer that found North America before Columbus, (more that 450 years before,) was a Viking named Leif Ericson. Born in 970, he sailed West, trying to spread Christianity, and stumbled upon North America. However, he met Inuits in America, so he obviously wasn’t the first person there.

Another theory about how people got to America, is the land bridge theory. Thousands of years ago, during an ice age, water levels receeded low enough to form a passage from Russia to Alaska. People migrated across it, and populated the Americas. Marco Polo was ultimately responsible for Columbus finding America. Marco Polo was a Venetian explorer who explored part of Asia in the early 1400’s. The spices and riches he found urged other explorers to follow him, but some thought the world was round, and this encouraged people to try and find an all water route to Asia. This led to the discovery of America!

Phoenicians started the Carthage Empire and became great rivals with Rome. Aristotle, a philosopher of the time, wrote about how Phoenecian sailors stumbled across a large land mass. They then wanted to keep it a secret from the Romans so the subject wasn’t mentioned often. Obivously, it is part of history, so the secret got out. In 1313, 400 Mali empire ships discovered a land across the ocean to the West after being dragged off course by ocean currents. Eric the Red(950 AD- 1003AD) was a Norwegian who sailed to Greenland and settled there.

Some unnamed Portugese sailors traveled and found new routes around Africa to Asia. They may have gone around South America!

There quite a few Pre-Columbian explorers who did dramatic things for American history. Prince Henry encouraged sea captains to sail South along the coast of West Africa. This made people sail want to further, and branch out more. Vasco Da Gama sailed up the coast of East Africa and across the Indian Ocean to India. The Portuguese pushed on to the East Indies, the islands of Southeast Asia, and the source of valuable spices.

Mesoamericans rest on attributes of the Olemec culture leading to beliefs that they were there before columbus. In the late 1400’s Portuguese sailors pioneered new routes around Africa to Asia. This brought them to America. Willem Blaeu made the most accurate maps of that time and had to sail to do so.

1. Recall when Leif Ericson born, and the things he did.

2. Determine why Prince Henry is listed here as a Pre Columbian explorer.

3. Generate an image showing one way people got to the Americas BEFORE boats were introduced, and write it down.

4. Summarize how Rome, (and its adversaries,) impacted AMERICAN history.

5. List THREE ways spices led to the European discovery of America.

6. Infer what William Blaeu’s intentions were. Use examples from the text an your own ideas to answer the question completely.(Extended response)


Bahamas were settled earlier than believed, settlers dramatically changed landscape

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Humans were present in Florida by 14,000 years ago, and until recently, it was believed the Bahamas—located only a few miles away—were not colonized until about 1,000 years ago. But new findings from a team including a Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher prove that the area was colonized earlier, and the new settlers dramatically changed the landscape.

Peter van Hengstum, associate professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Environment Science at Texas A&M-Galveston, and colleagues have had their findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers generated a new environmental record from the Blackwood Sinkhole, which is flooded with 120 feet of groundwater without dissolved oxygen. This is important because it has pristinely preserved organic material for the last 3,000 years. Using core samples and radiocarbon dating, the team examined charcoal deposits from human fires thousands of years ago, indicating that the first settlers arrived in the Bahamas sooner than previously thought.

"The Bahamas were the last place colonized by people in the Caribbean region, and previous physical evidence indicated that it may have taken hundreds of years for indigenous people of the Bahamas—called the Lucayans—to move through the Bahamian archipelago that spans about 500 miles," van Hengstum said.

While people were present in Florida more than 14,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, he said, these people never crossed the Florida Straits to nearby Bahamian islands, only 50 to 65 miles away. Meanwhile, the Caribbean islands were populated by people migrating from South American northward. Van Hengstum said the oldest archaeological sites in the southernmost Bahamian archipelago from the Turks and Caicos Islands indicate human arrival likely by 700 A.D.

"But in the northern Bahamian Great Abaco Island, the earliest physical evidence of human occupation are skeletons preserved in sinkholes and blueholes," he said. "These two skeletons from Abaco date from 1200 to 1300 A.D. Our new record of landscape disturbance from people indicates that slash-and-burn agriculture likely began around 830 A.D., meaning the Lucayans rapidly migrated through the Bahamian archipelago in likely a century, or spanning just a few human generations."

The team's other findings show how the Lucayans changed the new land.

When the Lucayans arrived, Great Abaco Island was mostly covered with pine and palm forests, and had a unique reptile-dominated ecosystem of giant tortoises and crocodiles. Increased deforestation and burning allowed pine trees to colonize and out-compete native palms and hardwoods.

Large land reptiles began to disappear after 1000 A.D. A significant increase in intense regional hurricane activity around 1500 AD is thought to have caused considerable damage to the new pine tree forests, as indicated by a decrease in pine pollen in the sediment core.

"The pollen record indicates that the pre-contact forest was not significantly impacted earlier in the record during known times when intense hurricane strike events were more frequent," van Hengstum said. "In our current world where the intensity of the largest hurricanes is expected to increase over the coming decades, the current pine trees in the northern Bahamas may not be as resilient to environmental impacts of these changes in hurricane activity."


Contents

Sometime between 500 and 800 AD, Taínos began crossing in dugout canoes from Hispaniola and/or Cuba to the Bahamas. Suggested routes for the earliest migrations have been from Hispaniola to the Caicos Islands, from Hispaniola or eastern Cuba to Great Inagua Island, and from central Cuba to Long Island (in the central Bahamas). William Keegan argues that the most likely route was from Hispaniola or Cuba to Great Inagua. Granberry and Vescelius argue for two migrations, from Hispaniola to the Turks and Caicos Islands, and from Cuba to Great Inagua. [1]

From the initial colonization(s), the Lucayan expanded throughout the Bahamas in some 800 years (c. 700 – c. 1500), growing to a population of about 40,000. Population density at the time of first European contact was highest in the south-central area of the Bahamas, declining towards the north, reflecting the migration pattern and progressively shorter time of occupation of the northern islands. Known Lucayan settlement sites are confined to the nineteen largest islands in the archipelago, or to smaller cays located less than one km. from those islands. Population density in the southernmost Bahamas remained lower, probably due to the drier climate there (less than 800 mm of rain a year on Great Inagua Island and the Turks and Caicos Islands and only slightly higher on Acklins and Crooked Islands and Mayaguana). [2]

In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain on his first voyage with three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the flagship, Santa Maria, seeking a direct route to Asia. On 12 October 1492 Columbus reached an island in the Bahamas and claimed it for Spain, an event long regarded by Europeans as the 'discovery' of America. This island was called Guanahani by the Lucayan, and San Salvador by the Spanish. The identity of the first American landfall by Columbus remains controversial, but many authors accept Samuel E. Morison's identification of Columbus' San Salvador as what was later called Watling (or Watling's) Island. Its name has been officially changed to San Salvador. Columbus visited several other islands in the Bahamas before sailing to present-day Cuba and afterwards to Hispaniola. [3]

The Bahamas held little interest to the Spanish except as a source of slave labor. Nearly the entire population of Lucayan (almost 40,000 people total) were transported to other islands as laborers over the next 30 years. When the Spanish decided to remove the remaining Lucayans to Hispaniola in 1520, they could find only eleven. The islands remained abandoned and depopulated for 130 years afterwards. With no gold to be found, and the population removed, the Spanish effectively abandoned the Bahamas. They retained titular claims to them until the Peace of Paris in 1783, when they ceded them to Britain in exchange for East Florida. [4] [5]

When Europeans first landed on the islands, they reported the Bahamas were lushly forested. Cleared to develop the land for sugarcane plantations, the forests have not regrown and have not been replanted.

For many years, historians believed that The Bahamas was not colonized until the 17th century. However, recent studies show that there may have been attempts of colonization by groups from Spain, France, Britain, and the Netherlands. The French settled in Abaco in 1565, and tried again in 1625.

In 1648 a group from Bermuda called 'The Company of Adventurers for the Plantation of the Islands of Eleutheria,' which was led by William Sayle, sailed to the Bahamas to found a colony. These early settlers were Puritans and republicans. Bermuda was becoming overcrowded, and the Bahamas offered both religious and political freedom and economic opportunity. The larger of the company's two ships, the William, wrecked on the reef at the north end of what is now called Eleuthera Island, with the loss of all provisions. Despite the arrival of additional settlers, including Europeans, slaves and former African slaves from Bermuda and the receipt of relief supplies from Virginia and New England, the Eleuthera colony struggled for many years, hampered by poor soil, fighting between settlers, and conflict with the Spanish. In the mid-1650s many of the settlers returned to Bermuda. The remaining settlers founded communities on Harbour Island and Saint George's Cay (Spanish Wells) at the north end of Eleuthera. In 1670 about 20 families lived in the Eleuthera communities. [6]

In 1666 other colonists from Bermuda settled on New Providence, which soon became the centre of population and commerce in the Bahamas, with almost 500 people living on the island by 1670. Unlike the Eleutherians, who were primarily farmers, the first settlers on New Providence made their living from the sea, salvaging (mainly Spanish) wrecks, making salt, and taking fish, turtles, conchs and ambergris. Farmers from Bermuda soon followed the seamen to New Providence, where they found good, plentiful land. Neither the Eleutherian colony nor the settlement on New Providence had any legal standing under English law. In 1670 the Proprietors of Carolina were issued a patent for the Bahamas, but the governors sent by the Proprietors had difficulty imposing their authority on the independent-minded residents of New Providence. [7]

The early settlers continued to live much as they had in Bermuda, fishing, hunting turtles, whales, and seals, finding ambergris, making salt on the drier islands, cutting the abundant hardwoods of the islands for lumber, dyewood and medicinal bark and wrecking, or salvaging wrecks. The Bahamas were close to the sailing routes between Europe and the Caribbean, so shipwrecks in the islands were common, and wrecking was the most lucrative occupation available to the Bahamians. [8]

Republic of Pirates Edit

The Bahamians soon came into conflict with the Spanish over the salvaging of wrecks. The Bahamian wreckers drove the Spanish away from their wrecked ships, and attacked Spanish salvagers, seizing goods the Spanish had already recovered from the wrecks. When the Spanish raided the Bahamas, the Bahamians in turn commissioned privateers against Spain, even though England and Spain were at peace. In 1684 the Spanish burned the settlements on New Providence and Eleuthera, after which they were largely abandoned. New Providence was settled a second time in 1686 by colonists from Jamaica.

In the 1690s English privateers (England was then at war with France) made a base in the Bahamas. In 1696 Henry Every (or Avery), using the assumed name Henry Bridgeman, brought his ship Fancy, loaded with pirates' loot, into Nassau harbor. Every bribed the governor, Nicholas Trott (uncle of the Nicholas Trott who presided at the trial of Stede Bonnet), with gold and silver, and by leaving him the Fancy, still loaded with 50 tons of elephant tusks and 100 barrels of gunpowder. Following peace with France in 1697, many of the privateers became pirates. From this time the pirates increasingly made Nassau, the Bahamian capital founded in 1694, their base. The governors appointed by the Proprietors usually made a show of suppressing the pirates, but most were accused of dealing with them. By 1701 England was at war with France and Spain. In 1703 and in 1706 combined French-Spanish fleets attacked and sacked Nassau, after which some settlers left, and the Proprietors gave up on trying to govern the islands. [9]

With no functioning government in the Bahamas, English privateers operated from Nassau as their base, in what has been called a "privateers' republic," which lasted for eleven years. The raiders attacked French and Spanish ships, while French and Spanish forces burned Nassau several times. The War of the Spanish Succession ended in 1714, but some privateers were slow to get the news, or reluctant to accept it, and slipped into piracy. One estimate puts at least 1,000 pirates in the Bahamas in 1713, outnumbering the 200 families of more permanent settlers. [10]

The "privateers' republic" in Nassau became a "pirates' republic". At least 20 pirate captains used Nassau or other places in the Bahamas as a home port during this period, including Henry Jennings, Edward Teach (Blackbeard), Benjamin Hornigold and Stede Bonnet. Many settler families moved from New Providence to Eleuthera or Abaco to escape harassment from the pirates. On the other hand, residents of Harbor Island were happy to serve as middlemen for the pirates, as merchants from New England and Virginia came there to exchange needed supplies for pirate plunder. [10] As mentioned above, the activities of pirates provoked frequent and brutal retaliatory attacks by the French and Spanish.

Starting in 1713, Woodes Rogers had conceived the idea of leading an expedition to Madagascar to suppress the pirates there and establish it as a British colony. Rogers' friends Richard Steele and Joseph Addison eventually convinced him to tackle the pirates nest in the Bahamas, instead. Rogers and others formed a company to fund the venture. They persuaded the Proprietors of Carolina to surrender the government of the Bahamas to the king, while retaining title to the land. In 1717 King George appointed Rogers governor of the Bahamas and issued a proclamation granting a pardon to any pirate who surrendered to a British governor within one year. [11]

Word of the appointment of a new governor and of the offer of pardons reached Nassau ahead of Rogers and his forces. Some of the pirates were willing to accept a pardon and retire from piracy. Henry Jennings and Christopher Winter, sailed off to find British authorities to confirm their acceptance of the amnesty.

Others were not ready to give up. Many of those were Jacobites, supporters of the House of Stuart, who identified as enemies of the Hanoverian King George. Still others simply identified as rebels, or thought they were better off as pirates than trying to earn an honest living. When a Royal Navy ship brought official word to Nassau of the pardon offer, many pirates planned to accept. Soon, however, the recalcitrant parties gained the upper hand, eventually forcing the Navy ship to leave. [12]

Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet, Nicholas Brown and Edmond Condent left the Bahamas for other territories. Charles Vane, with "Calico Jack" Rackham and Edward England in his crew, came to prominence at this time. Vane worked to organize resistance to the anticipated arrival of Royal authority, even appealing to James Francis Edward Stuart, the Stuart pretender, for aid in holding the Bahamas and capturing Bermuda for the Stuarts. As aid from the Stuarts failed to materialize and the date for Rogers' arrival approached, Vane and his crew prepared to leave Nassau. [13]

Woodes Rogers arrived in Nassau in late July 1718, with his own 460-ton warship, three ships belonging to his company, and an escort of three ships of the Royal Navy. Vane's ship was trapped in Nassau harbor. His crew set that ship on fire, sending it towards Rogers' ships, and escaped in the ensuing confusion in a smaller ship they had seized from another pirate. The remaining population welcomed Rogers they comprised about 200 settlers and 500 to 700 pirates who wanted to receive pardons, most prominently Benjamin Hornigold. [14] After the pirates' surrender, the Proprietors leased their land in the Bahamas to Rogers' company for 21 years.

Rogers controlled Nassau, but Charles Vane was loose and threatening to drive the governor and his forces out. Learning that the King of Spain wanted to expel English from the islands, Rogers worked to improve the defenses of Nassau. He lost nearly 100 men of the new forces due to an unidentified disease, and the Navy ships left for other assignments. Rogers sent four of his ships to Havana to assure the Spanish governor that he was suppressing piracy and to trade for supplies. The crews of ex-pirates and men who had come with Rogers all turned to piracy. The ex-pirate Benjamin Hornigold later caught ten men at Green Turtle Cay as part of Rogers' suppression effort. Eight were found guilty and hanged in front of the fort. [15]

Vane attacked several small settlements in the Bahamas but, after he refused to attack a stronger French frigate, he was deposed for cowardice and replaced as captain by "Calico Jack" Rackham. Vane never returned to the Bahamas he was eventually caught, convicted and executed in Jamaica. After nearly being captured by Jamaican privateers, and hearing that the king had extended the deadline for pardons for piracy, Rackham and his crew returned to Nassau to surrender to Woodes Rogers.

In Nassau Rackham became involved with Anne Bonny he tried to arrange an annulment of her marriage to another ex-pirate, James Bonny. Rogers blocked the annulment, and Rackham and Bonny left Nassau to be pirates again, taking a small crew and Bonny's friend Mary Read with them. Within months, Rackham, Bonny and Read were captured and taken to Jamaica. They were convicted of piracy, and Rackham was executed. Bonny and Read were sent to prison, as both were pregnant and therefore excluded from execution. Read died in prison, while Bonny's fate is unknown. [16]

When Britain and Spain went to war again in 1719, many of the ex-pirates were commissioned by the British government as privateers. A Spanish invasion fleet set out for the Bahamas, but was diverted to Pensacola, Florida when it was seized by the French. Rogers continued to improve the defenses of Nassau, spending his personal fortune and going heavily into debt to do so. In 1720, the Spaniards finally attacked Nassau. Rogers returned to Britain in 1722 to plead for repayment of the money he had borrowed to build up Nassau, only to find he had been replaced as governor. He was sent to debtors' prison, although his creditors later absolved his debts, gaining him release.

After the publication in 1724 of A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, which praised Rogers' efforts to suppress piracy in the Bahamas, his fortunes began to improve. The king awarded him a pension, retroactive to 1721. In 1728 Rogers was appointed Governor of the Bahamas for a second term. He dissolved the colony's assembly when it would not approve taxes to repair Nassau's defenses. He died in Nassau in 1732. [17]

In 1741, Governor John Tinker and Peter Henry Bruce constructed Fort Montague. Additionally, the Governor also reported a privateering boom in the Thirteen Colonies in North America. He also reported that over 2300 sumptuous houses were built. In 1768 Governor William Shirley filled in mosquito-breeding swamps and extended Nassau.

During the American War of Independence the Bahamas was attacked by American and allied forces on several occasions. In 1778, American forces launched an amphibious assault against Nassau, resulting in its two-week occupation. In 1782, Spanish forces under General Galvez captured the Bahamas in 1782. A British-American Loyalist expedition led by Colonel Andrew Deveaux, recaptured the islands in 1783. After the American Revolution, the British issued land grants to American Loyalists who had gone into exile from the newly established United States. The sparse population of the Bahamas tripled within a few years. The Loyalists developed cotton as a commodity crop, but it dwindled from insect damage and soil exhaustion. In addition to slaves they brought with them, the planters' descendants imported more African slaves for labour.

Most of the current inhabitants in the islands are descended from the slaves brought to work on the Loyalist plantations. In addition, thousands of captive Africans, who were liberated from foreign slave ships by the British navy after the abolition of the British slave trade in 1807, were resettled as free persons in the Bahamas.

In the early 1820s, following the Adams–Onís Treaty ceding Florida from Spain to the United States, hundreds of African slaves and Black Seminoles escaped from Florida, most settling on Andros Island in the Bahamas. Three hundred escaped in a mass flight in 1823. [18] While the flow was reduced by federal construction of a lighthouse at Cape Florida in 1825, slaves continued to find freedom in the Bahamas. [18] In August 1834, the traditional plantation life ended with the British emancipation of slaves throughout most of its colonies. Freedmen chose to work on their own small plots of land when possible.

In the 1830s and 1840s, tensions rose between Britain and the United States after American merchant ships, part of the coastwise slave trade, put into Nassau or were wrecked on its reefs. These included the Hermosa (1840) and the Creole (1841), the latter brought in after a slave revolt on board. Britain had notified nations that slaves brought into Bahama and Bermuda waters would be forfeited and freed the slaves, refusing US efforts to recover them. [19] In 1853 Britain and the US signed a claims treaty and submitted to arbitration for claims dating to 1814 they paid each other in 1855.

With emancipation, Caribbean societies inherited a rigid racial stratification that was reinforced by the unequal distribution of wealth and power. The three-tier race structure, of whites, mixed-race, and primarily blacks, who comprised the large majority, existed well into the 1940s and in some societies beyond. Like African Americans, many also have European and Native American ancestry. Caribbean societies continue to struggle with racial issues.

The Bahamas during the American Civil War prospered as a base for Confederate blockade-running, bringing in cotton to be shipped to the mills of England and running out arms and munitions. None of these provided any lasting prosperity to the islands, nor did attempts to grow different kinds of crops for export.

In 1911, there was a short-lived movement to make the Bahamas part of Canada. Although the movement enjoyed the support of many in Nassau and from the head of Sun Life, a Canadian insurance company, the movement failed. The failure of the movement was, in part, due to the British government's opposition to uniting a predominantly Black colony with a predominantly white country. [20]

In World War I organizations such as the Imperial Order of the Daughters of Empire and the Bahamas Red Cross Guild, began collecting money, food and clothing for soldiers and civilians in Europe. "The Gallant Thirty" Bahamians set out to join the British West Indies Regiment as early as 1915 and as many as 1,800 served in the armed forces of Canada, Britain and the United States.

World War II Edit

Oakes Field, the Bahamas first airport, was opened in Nassau in January 1940. It was named after Harry Oakes, a millionaire who made a large contribution to its creation. Prior to that, aviation in the Bahamas was largely carried out by seaplanes. [21] [22]

The Duke of Windsor was installed as governor of the Bahamas, arriving at that post in August 1940 with his new Duchess. They were appalled at the condition of Government House, but they "tried to make the best of a bad situation." [23] He did not enjoy the position, and referred to the islands as "a third-class British colony". [24] He opened the small local parliament on October 29, 1940, and they visited the 'Out Islands' that November, which caused some controversy because of on whose yacht they were cruising. [25] The British Foreign Office strenuously objected when the Duke and Duchess planned to tour aboard a yacht belonging to a Swedish magnate, Axel Wenner-Gren, whom American intelligence wrongly believed to be a close friend of Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring. [25] [26] The Duke was praised, however, for his efforts to combat poverty on the islands, although he was as contemptuous of the Bahamians as he was of most non-white peoples of the Empire. [27] He was also praised for his resolution of civil unrest over low wages in Nassau in June 1942, when there was a "full-scale riot," [28] even though he blamed the trouble on "mischief makers – communists" and "men of Central European Jewish descent, who had secured jobs as a pretext for obtaining a deferment of draft". [29] The Duke resigned the post on 16 March 1945. [30] [31]

During World War II, the Allies centred their flight training and antisubmarine operations for the Caribbean in the Bahamas. They fought for their freedom.

Canadian garrison Edit

In April 1942 the United Kingdom asked Canada to provide military support in Nassau, in part to provide protection services to H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor. No. 33 company of the Veterans Guard of Canada was raised and arrived in June. No 33 company were relieved in 1943 by a company of The Pictou Highlanders. The Canadian garrison left Nassau in 1946 [32]

Post-World War II Edit

The wartime airfield became Nassau's international airport in 1957 and helped spur the growth of mass tourism, which accelerated after Havana was closed to American tourists in 1961. Freeport, on the island of Grand Bahama, was established as a free trade zone in the 1950s and became the Bahama's second city. Bank secrecy combined with the lack of corporate and income taxes led to a rapid growth in the offshore financial sector during the postwar years.

Modern political development began after World War II. The first political parties were formed in the 1950s. The Progressive Liberal Party was formed in 1953, and the United Bahamian Party was formed in 1956.

Bahamians achieved self-government in 1964, with Sir Roland Symonette, of the United Bahamian Party, as the first Premier. Sir Lynden O. Pindling, leader of the Progressive Liberal Party, became the first black Premier of the colony in 1967, and in 1968 the title was changed to Prime Minister.

The Bahamas achieved full independence as a Commonwealth realm within the Commonwealth of Nations on 10 July 1973. Sir Milo Butler was appointed the first Governor-General of the Bahamas (the official representative of Queen Elizabeth II) shortly after independence. Pindling was prime minister until 1992, during which the Bahamas benefited from tourism and foreign investment. He was succeeded by Hubert Ingraham, leader of the Free National Movement, who was prime minister until 2002.

Diplomatic relations were established with Cuba in 1974. A decade later, as increased Cuban immigration to the islands strained the Bahamas’ resources, Cuba refused to sign a letter of repatriation.

By the early 1980s, the islands had become a major centre for the drug trade, with 90 per cent of all the cocaine entering the United States reportedly passing through the Bahamas.

In September 2004, Hurricane Frances swept through the Bahamas, leaving widespread damage in its wake. Just three weeks later, Hurricane Jeanne uprooted trees, blew out windows, and sent seawater flooding through neighborhoods on the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama. Receding floodwaters left boats tossed on roads and homes battered.

The College of the Bahamas was founded in 1974 and provided the nation's higher or tertiary education. The college was chartered in 2016 as the University of the Bahamas, offering baccalaureate, masters and associate degrees, on three campuses and teaching and research centres throughout the Bahamas.

Based on the twin pillars of tourism and offshore finance, the Bahamian economy has prospered since the 1950s. However, there remain significant challenges in areas such as education, health care, housing, international narcotics trafficking and illegal immigration from Haiti.


David Treuer on the Myth of an Edenic, Pre-Columbian ‘New’ World

W hen Columbus arrived in the Bahamas in 1492, and when Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot in English) landed on the mainland of North America in 1497, they arrived in a vast land, but also in an equally vast and varied cultural landscape that had been evolving for ten millennia.

The earliest verified archaeological evidence of the settlement of North America comes from two distinct sites, one in Pennsylvania and one in Chile. Meadowcroft Rockshelter, a 35-mile drive southwest of Pittsburgh, was used continuously for centuries but was abandoned by Indians around the time of the Revolutionary War. An amateur archaeologist, Albert Miller, first discovered artifacts in a groundhog burrow there in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the site was properly excavated by a team from the University of Pittsburgh. What they found was an unbroken record of human habitation that may stretch back 19,000 years. Tools, bones, campsites, and personal effects were recovered. The presence of 149 species of animals was established, along with evidence of early farming of squash, corn, and beans.

The Monte Verde site in Chile, also excavated in the 1970s, is a rare find: a relatively complete village that was inundated by rising water in a peat bog shortly after it was inhabited and therefore was held in a kind of anaerobic amber. Like the Meadowcroft site, Monte Verde has been dated to as many as 19,000 years ago. Together the sites are important and do more than help us understand how and when North America was settled they also show that there were people in North America well before the Bering land bridge formed about 10,000 years ago, throwing into dispute the theory that North America was settled

The questions archaeology is struggling to explain—When and how was North America settled? Did the first people come across the land bridge 10,000 years ago? Or on earlier land bridges formed 30,000 years ago before sea levels rose once again? From Asia by boat earlier? From northern Europe? All of the above? Were there in fact multiple origins of the human species?—are rapidly being answered by ongoing genetic research. This research suggests that prehistoric Indians share a lot of DNA with Asian populations and, surprisingly, with European populations as well. It is quite likely that Europeans migrated into far eastern Asia and mingled with the populations there and that their descendants crossed over to the New World between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago. But this is all the science of migration, not the history of peoples.

Most Indians do not see themselves as merely the first in a long series of arrivals to North America they see themselves as indigenous. And the belief in tribal indigeneity is crucial to understanding modern Indian realities. The rhetorical stance that Indians are merely one group of travelers with no greater stake than any other clashes with Indians’ cultural understanding that we have always been here and that our control over our place in this world—not to mention our control over the narrative and history of that place—has been deeply and unjustly eroded.

The Kiowa, for example, believe that they came into the world, one by one, through a hollow log and that a pregnant woman tried to get through, got stuck, and that’s why the Kiowa are a small tribe. The Diné, or Navajo, believe they traveled from the center of the earth through a series of worlds until they reached this one, arriving in the Diné homeland, which was bounded, then as now, by four sacred mountains. Many tribes have stories about emerging from the earth—they are bottom-up tribes. Others, like mine, are more top-down: we believe the Creator made the heavens and earth and then placed or draped various handiworks across it. Last of all, after the animals, we people were set down, like a very small final piece being placed in a very large diorama. (And it bears mentioning that in our cosmology we are the most immature of all creation, having been made last, and that as such we have the least tenure upon the land.)

Despite the variety of tribal belief (or perhaps in part because of it), North America is uniformly seen as an Indian homeland that has shaped and been shaped by the Indians living there then and living there now. Over these homelands various empires and nation-states—Spanish, British, French, Dutch, and, later, American—have crawled, mapping and claiming as they went. But neither these maps nor the conquests enabled by them have eradicated or obscured the fact that immigrants made their homes and villages and towns and cities on top of Indian homelands. Any history that persists in using the old model of New World history as something made by white people and done to Indian people, therefore, is not a real history of this place. Rather, as the historian Colin Calloway has suggested, history didn’t come to the New World with Cabot or Columbus they—and those who followed—brought European history to the unfolding histories already here.

Science tells us only that the humans of the New World arrived a long time ago, and likely in many different ways. Culture and history tell us something more profound: that New World tribal people emerged here, as cultures and as people. No one else can make that claim. Columbus and Cabot and the rest didn’t discover the New World or new peoples. They met Indian people with distinct histories, homelands and technologies, and deep—and deeply considered—concepts of themselves and their place in the world.

Culture and history tell us something more profound: that New World tribal people emerged here, as cultures and as people.

W hen Europeans first arrived on the Atlantic coast, they landed on a richly settled and incredibly fecund homeland to hundreds of

It seems that, in this early period, coastal Indians lived in small villages of about 150 people and that they were fairly mobile, spending part of the year on the coast, part farther inland, and getting most of their calories from fish and game and opportunistic harvests of nuts and berries. Populations seem to have risen and shrunk like the tide, depending on the availability of calories. Archaeological evidence suggests that between 2500 and 2000 BCE, tribal groups began making clay pots, which indicate a more sedentary lifestyle, the need for storage (which in turn suggests that there were food surpluses), and a greater reliance on plants for sustenance. A bit later eastern coastal and woodland Indians were planting or cultivating sunflowers, lamb’s-quarter, gourds, goosefoot, knotweed, and Jerusalem artichokes. But this was not the Garden of Eden. Some villages seem to have been fortified by wooden palisades. Tribes did fight and kill one another and, as groups do, sought for themselves what others had.

When Ponce de León arrived in Florida in 1513, with explicit permission from the Spanish crown to explore and settle the region, Indians had been living there for at least 12,000 years. Because of the lower water levels, during prehistoric times Florida’s land mass was double what it is today, so much of the archaeological evidence is under the sea. It was also much drier and supported megafauna such as bison and mastodon. As megafauna died out (climate change, hunting), the fruits of the sea in turn supported very large Archaic and Paleolithic societies. Agriculture was late in coming to Florida, appearing only around 700 BCE, and some noncoastal Florida tribes still had no forms of agriculture at the time of Spanish conquest. Presumably the rich fresh and brackish water ecosystems were more than enough to support a lot of different peoples. What the Spanish encountered beginning in 1513 was a vast,

Spanish colonization was a schizophrenic enterprise, driven first by the search for treasure, then in a quest for slaves, and later taking on a missionary cast. The desire to find a more direct route to the Orient was constant, but to it was added the need to hold territory as a buffer against British and French interests. The Indian response to the Spanish was determined to a great extent by three constants of first contact: the spread of disease, attempts at slavery, and the spread of information.

In all likelihood Ponce de León was not the first Spaniard to reach La Florida (the land of flowers), because the Indians he met on his first voyage already knew some Spanish words and were already deeply distrustful of Spaniards likely, Spanish from the Caribbean had been there first. Other explorers followed. Pedro de Salazar traveled the Atlantic coast, capturing upward of 500 slaves and sowing smallpox and measles wherever he went. So it was no wonder that almost every attempt at exploration and colonization—Pedro de Quejo and Francisco Gordillo in 1521, Pánfilo de Narváez in 1527, Hernando de Soto in 1539—was harassed and attacked and impeded by the tribes it encountered. After the Spanish finally succeeded in establishing missions in Florida and Georgia in the 16th century, Indians were conscripted and enslaved and forced to live in deplorable conditions in service to the crown and the cross, which only hastened the work of disease. And when the Spanish were attacked from the north by British forces, the enslaved Indians were even more vulnerable than their well-fed and well-rested overlords.

What transpired in Florida would be repeated (with variations) over much of the Indian homeland of North America: disease, slavery, starvation, and disruption. Previously distinct cultures and peoples were mixed together remnants of once vast tribes banded together and formed new tribal identities. This happened in what would become the states of Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee, in Spanish and British territory. By the time the British and Spanish lost out to the newly minted Americans, what had once been the homeland of hundreds of distinct tribes was now in the control of a few amalgamated (polymerized, in the words of historian Jack Page) tribes such as the Seminole, Creek, Muskogee, Chickasaw, and Cherokee.

The colonization of North America is often seen as a binary struggle, a series of conflicts between Indians and settlers. But in the face of disease, starvation, and displacement, conflict occurred along multiple vectors. Tribes allied with other tribes against yet other tribes colonial

Debt, dependency, threats, and force, in that order, was the thinking of the day.

In place of the Hatteras, Koroa, Chiaha, Biloxi, and countless others, a few polymerized “supertribes” had arisen in the Southeast: the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muskogee, Creek, Cherokee, Yamasee, Catawba, Miccosukee, and Seminole. Thomas Jefferson saw the remaining southeastern tribes as impediments to the cultivation of the American nation and American character. He wrote that it was important “to encourage them to abandon hunting, to apply to the raising [of] stock, to agriculture and domestic manufactures, and thereby prove to themselves that less land and labor will maintain them in this, better than in their former mode of living.” The problem was that the Indians were already doing just that. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, eastern tribes were all predominantly agricultural anyway: they grew yams, beans, corn, and squash, and more intensively so after the trade in buckskin brought the white-tail deer to near extinction east of the Mississippi. Many of them had had small villages and settlements where they farmed intensively, and effectively. They had seats of government and centers of power.

After the colonists arrived they began cultivating cotton and other export crops as well in the 18th century, which they farmed plantation style. Many Cherokee and other tribal people bought and kept black slaves, as did Jefferson himself. Jefferson, while in France as a foreign minister, thought much about the state of the new republic and mused: “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as they are chiefly agricultural and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America.” Of course, there was no “vacant” land for America to settle, and this was nowhere more obvious than in the Southeast. In a series of secret memos to William Henry Harrison written in 1803, Jefferson sketched out a plan by which Indian tribes in the Southeast could be disappeared:

To promote this disposition to exchange lands which they have to spare and we want for necessaries, which we have to spare and they want, we shall push our trading houses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands. In this way our settlements will gradually circumscribe and approach the Indians, and they will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or remove beyond the Missisipi [sic].

The former is certainly the termination of their history most happy for themselves. But in the whole course of this, it is essential to cultivate their love. As to their fear, we presume that our strength and their weakness is now so visible that they must see we have only to shut our hand to crush them, and that all our liberalities to them proceed from motives of pure humanity only. Should any tribe be foolhardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing of the whole country of that tribe, and driving them across the Missisipi as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation.

Debt, dependency, threats, and force, in that order, was the thinking of the day. These secret memos were written while Jefferson served as president of the United States.

Jefferson wasn’t able to achieve any of these outcomes during his tenure the republic would have to wait until Andrew Jackson took office in 1829. By this point, the eastern Cherokee had consolidated power and launched a new governmental structure based on a balance of power and a judiciary. They published a bilingual newspaper and formally declared New Echota (near what is today Calhoun, Georgia) as the capital of the Cherokee Nation. But Jackson had spent his military years fighting Indians and the British, as well as speculating in real estate (often out of the spoils of war), and he regarded such claims as ridiculous. Earlier, in 1802, Georgia had agreed to give up claims to land in what would become Alabama and Mississippi if the federal government would remove or reduce the Indians in Georgia. Basically, Georgia would give up land outside the state in order to secure more land within its borders.

After Jackson assumed the presidency, he was happy to oblige. He offered the tribes two choices: move west of the Mississippi or allow themselves to become subjects of the states in which their tribal homelands existed. In the case of

Invoking not only the tribes’ long control over their land but also the treaties, alliances, and decrees that had been written into the Constitution, which also stipulated that only the federal government had the ability to negotiate and treat with tribes, Cherokee chief John Ross brought his people’s case to the Supreme Court. In a series of rulings known as the Marshall Trilogy, the court affirmed the rights of the Cherokee and ruled the removal of Indians unlawful. Andrew Jackson did it anyway. Between 1830 and 1850 more than 125,000 Indians of the Southeast were forcibly removed to territory west of the Mississippi, mostly on foot and in wintertime. At least 3,500 Creek and 5,000 Cherokee and many from other tribes died along the way. Many more died of starvation when they reached their new lands.

So it wasn’t merely “germs and steel” that spelled the end of the “red race.” The Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and many others had weathered disease and rebounded. Moreover, they had done almost everything “right” by the standards of the new republic. They had fought for the government (including under Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend). They had devoted themselves to farming and trade, developed court and legislative systems—they had proved themselves socially and culturally adaptive. And this had done nothing to assuage the determination of the colonists and settlers to seize their land and resources. “Neither superior technology nor an overwhelming number of settlers made up the mainspring of the birth of the United States or the spread of its power over the entire world,” writes historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. “Rather, the chief cause was the colonialist settler-state’s willingness to eliminate whole civilizations of people in order to possess their land.”


Humans settled the Bahamas earlier than we thought

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New research finds that people settled the Bahamas earlier than scientists thought.

Humans were present in Florida by 14,000 years ago, and until recently, it was believed the Bahamas—located only a few miles away—were not colonized until about 1,000 years ago. The new findings, however, prove that the area was colonized earlier, and the new settlers dramatically changed the landscape.

As reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers generated a new environmental record from the Blackwood Sinkhole, which is flooded with 120 feet of groundwater without dissolved oxygen.

This is important because it has pristinely preserved organic material for the last 3,000 years. Using core samples and radiocarbon dating, the team examined charcoal deposits from human fires thousands of years ago, indicating that the first settlers arrived in the Bahamas sooner than previously thought.

“The Bahamas were the last place colonized by people in the Caribbean region, and previous physical evidence indicated that it may have taken hundreds of years for indigenous people of the Bahamas—called the Lucayans—to move through the Bahamian archipelago that spans about 500 miles,” says Peter van Hengstum, associate professor in the marine and coastal environment science department at Texas A&M-Galveston.

Skeletons in sinkholes and blueholes

While people were present in Florida more than 14,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, van Hengstum says, these people never crossed the Florida Straits to nearby Bahamian islands, only 50 to 65 miles away.

Meanwhile, people migrating from South American northward populated the Caribbean islands. Van Hengstum says the oldest archaeological sites in the southernmost Bahamian archipelago from the Turks and Caicos Islands indicate human arrival likely by 700 CE.

“But in the northern Bahamian Great Abaco Island, the earliest physical evidence of human occupation are skeletons preserved in sinkholes and blueholes,” he says. “These two skeletons from Abaco date from 1200 to 1300 CE.

“Our new record of landscape disturbance from people indicates that slash-and-burn agriculture likely began around 830 CE, meaning the Lucayans rapidly migrated through the Bahamian archipelago in likely a century, or spanning just a few human generations.”

Lucayans changed the Bahamas

The team’s other findings show how the Lucayans changed the new land.

When the Lucayans arrived, Great Abaco Island was mostly covered with pine and palm forests, and had a unique reptile-dominated ecosystem of giant tortoises and crocodiles. Increased deforestation and burning allowed pine trees to colonize and out-compete native palms and hardwoods.

Large land reptiles began to disappear after 1000 CE. Researchers believe a significant increase in intense regional hurricane activity around 1500 CE caused considerable damage to the new pine tree forests, as indicated by a decrease in pine pollen in the sediment core.

“The pollen record indicates that the pre-contact forest was not significantly impacted earlier in the record during known times when intense hurricane strike events were more frequent,” van Hengstum says.

“In our current world where the intensity of the largest hurricanes is expected to increase over the coming decades, the current pine trees in the northern Bahamas may not be as resilient to environmental impacts of these changes in hurricane activity.”


Bahamas were settled earlier than believed

Humans were present in Florida by 14,000 years ago, and until recently, it was believed the Bahamas -- located only a few miles away -- were not colonized until about 1,000 years ago. But new findings from a team including a Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher prove that the area was colonized earlier, and the new settlers dramatically changed the landscape.

Peter van Hengstum, associate professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Environment Science at Texas A&M-Galveston, and colleagues have had their findings published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

Researchers generated a new environmental record from the Blackwood Sinkhole, which is flooded with 120 feet of groundwater without dissolved oxygen. This is important because it has pristinely preserved organic material for the last 3,000 years. Using core samples and radiocarbon dating, the team examined charcoal deposits from human fires thousands of years ago, indicating that the first settlers arrived in the Bahamas sooner than previously thought.

"The Bahamas were the last place colonized by people in the Caribbean region, and previous physical evidence indicated that it may have taken hundreds of years for indigenous people of the Bahamas -- called the Lucayans -- to move through the Bahamian archipelago that spans about 500 miles," van Hengstum said.

While people were present in Florida more than 14,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, he said, these people never crossed the Florida Straits to nearby Bahamian islands, only 50 to 65 miles away. Meanwhile, the Caribbean islands were populated by people migrating from South American northward. Van Hengstum said the oldest archaeological sites in the southernmost Bahamian archipelago from the Turks and Caicos Islands indicate human arrival likely by 700 A.D.

"But in the northern Bahamian Great Abaco Island, the earliest physical evidence of human occupation are skeletons preserved in sinkholes and blueholes," he said. "These two skeletons from Abaco date from 1200 to 1300 A.D. Our new record of landscape disturbance from people indicates that slash-and-burn agriculture likely began around 830 A.D., meaning the Lucayans rapidly migrated through the Bahamian archipelago in likely a century, or spanning just a few human generations."

The team's other findings show how the Lucayans changed the new land.

When the Lucayans arrived, Great Abaco Island was mostly covered with pine and palm forests, and had a unique reptile-dominated ecosystem of giant tortoises and crocodiles. Increased deforestation and burning allowed pine trees to colonize and out-compete native palms and hardwoods.

Large land reptiles began to disappear after 1000 A.D. A significant increase in intense regional hurricane activity around 1500 AD is thought to have caused considerable damage to the new pine tree forests, as indicated by a decrease in pine pollen in the sediment core.

"The pollen record indicates that the pre-contact forest was not significantly impacted earlier in the record during known times when intense hurricane strike events were more frequent," van Hengstum said. "In our current world where the intensity of the largest hurricanes is expected to increase over the coming decades, the current pine trees in the northern Bahamas may not be as resilient to environmental impacts of these changes in hurricane activity."


Pre-Classic and Classic periods

The time of the first peopling of Mesoamerica remains a puzzle, as it does for that of the New World in general. Until recently it was widely accepted that groups of peoples entered the hemisphere from northeastern Siberia, perhaps by a land bridge that then existed, at some time in the Late Pleistocene, or Ice Age. But radiocarbon dating and other relatively recent tools have complicated the story. Perhaps they entered the West Coast from the sea at multiple points. There is abundant evidence that, at least by 11,000 bce , hunting peoples had occupied most of the New World south of the glacial ice cap covering northern North America. These peoples hunted such large grazing mammals as mammoth, mastodon, horse, and camel, armed with spears to which were attached finely made, bifacially chipped points of stone. Finds in Mesoamerica, however, confirm the existence of a “prebifacial-point horizon,” a stage known to have existed elsewhere in the Americas, and suggest that it is of very great age. In 1967 archaeologists working at the site of Tlapacoya, southeast of Mexico City, uncovered a well-made blade of obsidian associated with a radiocarbon date of about 21,000 bce . Near Puebla, Mexico, excavations in the Valsequillo region revealed cultural remains of human groups that were hunting mammoth and other extinct animals, along with unifacially worked points, scrapers, perforators, burins, and knives. A date of about 21,800 bce has been suggested for the Valsequillo finds.

More substantial information on Late Pleistocene occupations of Mesoamerica comes from excavations near Tepexpan, northeast of Mexico City. The excavated skeletons of two mammoths showed that these beasts had been killed with spears fitted with lancelike stone points and had been butchered on the spot. A possible date of about 8000 bce has been suggested for the two mammoth kills. In the same geologic layer as the slaughtered mammoths was found a human skeleton this Tepexpan “man” has been shown to be female and rather a typical American Indian of modern form. While the association with the mammoths was first questioned, fluorine tests have proved them to be contemporary.

The environment of these earliest Mesoamericans was quite different from that existing today, for volcanoes were then extremely active, covering thousands of square miles with ashes. Temperatures were substantially lower, and local glaciers formed on the highest peaks. Conditions were ideal for the large herds of grazing mammals that roamed Mesoamerica, especially in the highland valleys, much of which consisted of cool, wet grasslands not unlike the plains of the northern United States. All of this changed around 7000 bce , when worldwide temperatures rose and the great ice sheets of northern latitudes began their final retreat. This brought to an end the successful hunting way of life that had been followed by Mesoamericans, although humans probably also played a role in bringing about the extinction of the large game animals.


Columbus reaches the "New World"

After sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sights a Bahamian island, believing he has reached East Asia. His expedition went ashore the same day and claimed the land for Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored his attempt to find a western ocean route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia.

WATCH: Columbus: The Lost Voyage on HISTORY Vault

Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, in 1451. Little is known of his early life, but he worked as a seaman and then a maritime entrepreneur. He became obsessed with the possibility of pioneering a western sea route to Cathay (China), India, and the gold and spice islands of Asia. At the time, Europeans knew no direct sea route to southern Asia, and the route via Egypt and the Red Sea was closed to Europeans by the Ottoman Empire, as were many land routes. 

Contrary to popular legend, educated Europeans of Columbus’ day did believe that the world was round, as argued by St. Isidore in the seventh century. However, Columbus, and most others, underestimated the world’s size, calculating that East Asia must lie approximately where North America sits on the globe (they did not yet know that the Pacific Ocean existed).

With only the Atlantic Ocean, he thought, lying between Europe and the riches of the East Indies, Columbus met with King John II of Portugal and tried to persuade him to back his 𠇎nterprise of the Indies,” as he called his plan. He was rebuffed and went to Spain, where he was also rejected at least twice by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. However, after the Spanish conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada in January 1492, the Spanish monarchs, flush with victory, agreed to support his voyage.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain, with three small ships, the Santa Maria, the Pintaਊnd the Nina. On October 12, the expedition reached land, probably Watling Island in the Bahamas. Later that month, Columbus sighted Cuba, which he thought was mainland China, and in December the expedition landed on Hispaniola, which Columbus thought might be Japan. He established a small colony there with 39 of his men. The explorer returned to Spain with gold, spices, and “Indian” captives in March 1493 and was received with the highest honors by the Spanish court. He was the first European to explore the Americas since the Vikings set up colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland in the 10th century.

During his lifetime, Columbus led a total of four expeditions to the "New World," exploring various Caribbean islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and the South and Central American mainlands, but he never accomplished his original goal𠅊 western ocean route to the great cities of Asia. Columbus died in Spain in 1506 without realizing the great scope of what he did achieve: He had discovered for Europe the New World, whose riches over the next century would help make Spain the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.


Pre-Columbian civilizations

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Pre-Columbian civilizations, the aboriginal American Indian cultures that evolved in Mesoamerica (part of Mexico and Central America) and the Andean region (western South America) prior to Spanish exploration and conquest in the 16th century. The pre-Columbian civilizations were extraordinary developments in human society and culture, ranking with the early civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China. Like the ancient civilizations of the Old World, those in the New World were characterized by kingdoms and empires, great monuments and cities, and refinements in the arts, metallurgy, and writing the ancient civilizations of the Americas also display in their histories similar cyclical patterns of growth and decline, unity and disunity.

In the New World the roots of civilization lay in a native agricultural way of life. These agricultural beginnings go back several millennia, to perhaps about 7000 bce and the first experimentations by the early Americans with plant cultivation. The domestication of successful food plants proved to be a long, slow process, and it was not until much later that a condition of permanent village farming life was achieved in the tropical latitudes of the two continents.

Sedentary village farming in Mesoamerica came into being by about 1500 bce . Corn (maize), beans, squashes, chili peppers, and cotton were the most important crops. These early villagers wove cloth, made pottery, and practiced other typical Neolithic skills. It appears that such villages were economically self-contained and politically autonomous, with an egalitarian social order. But rather quickly after this—between about 1200 and 900 bce —the building of large earthen pyramids and platforms and the carving of monumental stone sculptures signaled significant changes in this heretofore simple social and political order. These changes first appeared in the southern Gulf coast region of what is now Mexico and the sculptures, rendered in a style now called Olmec, are presumed to depict chiefs or rulers. From these and other archaeological indications it has been inferred that a class-structured and politically centralized society developed. There appeared subsequently other large capital towns and cities in neighbouring regions that also displayed a similar Olmec art style. This Olmec horizon (i.e., a cultural diffusion that is contemporaneous at widely scattered sites) represents the first climax, or era of “unification,” in the history of Mesoamerican civilization.

After about 500 bce the Olmec “unification” gave way to an era (consisting of the Late Formative and Classic periods) of separate regional styles and kingdoms. These lasted until c. 700–900 ce . Among these are the well-known Maya, Zapotec, Totonac, and Teotihuacán civilizations. While sharing a common Olmec heritage, they also displayed many differences. For example, the Maya excelled in the intellectual pursuits of hieroglyphic writing, calendar making, and mathematics, while the Teotihuacán civilization placed its emphasis on political and commercial power. Teotihuacán, in the Valley of Mexico, was an urban centre of some 150,000 people, and the influence of its civilization eventually radiated over much of Mesoamerica. As such, Teotihuacán constituted a second grand civilizational climax or “unification” (400–600 ce ). Teotihuacán power waned after about 600, and a “time of troubles” ensued, during which a number of states and nascent empires competed for supremacy. Among these competitors were the Toltecs of Tula, in central Mexico, who held sway from perhaps 900 to 1200 (the Early Postclassic Period). After their decline (in the Late Postclassic Period), another interregnum of warring states lasted until 1428, when the Aztec defeated the rival city of Azcapotzalco and emerged as the dominant force in central Mexico. This last native Mesoamerican empire was conquered by Hernán Cortés (or Cortéz) and the Spaniards in 1521.

In the Andean area, the threshold of a successful village agricultural economy can be placed at c. 2500 bce , or somewhat earlier than was the case in Mesoamerica. The oldest primary food crops there were the lima bean and the potato, which had long histories of domestication in the area, although corn appeared soon after the beginnings of settled village life. Indications of a more complex sociopolitical order—huge platform mounds and densely populated centres—occurred very soon after this (c. 1800 bce ) however, these early Andean civilizations continued for almost a millennium before they participated in a shared stylistic “unification.” This has become known as the Chavín horizon, and Chavín sculptural art has been found throughout the northern part of the area.

The Chavín horizon disappeared after about 500 bce , and it was replaced by regional styles and cultures that lasted until about 600 ce . This period of regionalization (called the Early Intermediate Period) saw the florescence of a number of large kingdoms both on the Pacific coast and in the Andean highlands among them were the Moche, Early Lima, Nazca, Recuay, and Early Tiwanaku. The period was brought to an end by the Tiwanaku– Huari horizon (Middle Horizon 600–1000), which was generated from the highland cities of Tiwanaku (in modern northern Bolivia) and Huari (in central highland Peru). There is evidence—such as the construction of new centres and cities—that this Tiwanaku–Huari phenomenon, at least in many regions, was a tightly controlled political empire. The horizon and its influences, as registered in ceramics and textiles, died away rather gradually in the ensuing centuries, and it was replaced by the several regional styles and kingdoms of what has become known as the Late Intermediate Period (1000–1438).

The terminal date of the Late Intermediate Period marked the beginning of the Inca horizon and of the Inca conquests, which spread from the Inca capital, Cuzco, in the southern highlands of what is now Peru. By 1533, when Francisco Pizarro and his cohorts took over the empire, it extended from what is now the Ecuador–Colombia border to central Chile.

The synchroneity of horizon unifications and alternating regionalizations in Mesoamerica and the Andean region is striking and prompts the question of communication between these two areas of pre-Columbian high civilization. Although it is known that there were contacts—with the result that knowledge of food plants, ceramics, and metallurgy was shared between the two areas—it is also highly unlikely that political or religious ideologies were so spread. Rather, the peoples of each of these major cultural areas appear to have responded to their own internally generated stimuli and to have followed essentially separate courses of development. There are fundamental differences between the two cultural traditions. Thus, in Mesoamerica there was, from early on, a profound interest in hieroglyphic writing and calendar making. Religious ideology, judged from art and iconography, was more highly developed in Mesoamerica than in the Andean region. In Mesoamerica the market was a basic institution it does not appear to have been so in the Andes, where the redistributive economy of the Inca empire—with such features as its government warehouses and a system of highways—must have had deep roots in the past. On the other hand, in the early development and deployment of metallurgy and in governmental institutions and empire-building, the ancient Peruvians were much more efficient than their Mesoamerican contemporaries.


Watch the video: Pre-Columbian America (May 2022).