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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 13 - Peoples of North America

What will we be learning in this unit?
  • How did people in the desert adapt to their environment?
  • How did the culture of the Mound Builders reflect their contact with other regions?
  • How did the diverse regional cultures in the Americas differ from one another?


The Desert Southwest
  • More than 1,000 years ago, fields of corn, beans, and squash bloomed in the desert southwest. The farmers who planted these fields were called the Hohokams, or "Vanished Ones," by their later descendants, the Pimas and Papagos. To farm the desert, they built a complex irrigation system. 
  • The Hohokams lived near the Gila River in present-day Arizona. They may have acquired skills such as irrigation from the civilizations of Middle America. They built temple mounds and ball courts, as the Mayas did. The Hohokams survived until about a.d. 1500, when drought seems to have forced them to leave their settlements.


The Desert Southwest
  • The best-known society of the southwest was that of the Anasazi. They lived in what is today the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. Between about a.d. 900 and 1300, the Anasazi built large villages, later called pueblos by the Spanish.
  • Remains of Pueblo Bonito still stand in New Mexico. The village consisted of a huge complex with 800 rooms that housed about 6,000 people. Builders used stone and adobe bricks to erect a crescent-shaped compound rising five stories high.
  • At the center of the great complex was a plaza. There, the Anasazi dug their kiva,a large underground chamber used for religious ceremonies. Paintings on the walls show their concern with weather, including storms that might damage crops.


 The Desert Southwest
  • In the late 1100s, the Anasazi began building housing complexes in the shadow of canyon walls, where the cliffs offered protection from raiders. The largest of these cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, in present-day Colorado, had over 200 rooms. People had to climb ladders to reach their fields on the flatlands above or the canyon floor below.
  • In the late 1200s, a long drought forced the Anasazi to abandon their cliff dwellings. Without rain, they could no longer live in large settlements. Attacks by Navajos and Apaches may have contributed further to their decline. Anasazi traditions survived, however, among the Hopis and other Pueblo Indians of the present-day southwestern United States.


The Mound Builders
  • Far to the east of the Anasazi, in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, other farming cultures emerged as early as 700 b.c. The Adena and Hopewell people left behind giant earthen mounds. Some mounds were cone-shaped, while others were made in the shape of animals. The Great Serpent Mound in Ohio wriggles and twists for almost a quarter of a mile. 
  • Objects found in Hopewell mounds show that traders extended their influence over a wide area. They brought back shells and shark teeth from the Gulf of Mexico and copper from the Great Lakes region. Skilled artisans hammered and shaped the copper into fine ornaments.


The Mound Builders
  • By a.d. 800, these early cultures had disappeared, but a new people, the Mississippians, gained influence. As their culture spread, the Mississippians built clusters of earthen mounds and ever larger towns and ceremonial centers. 
  • Their greatest center, Cahokia in present-day Illinois, housed as many as 40,000 people by about a.d. 1200. Cahokia boasted at least 60 mounds. On top of some mounds stood the homes of rulers and nobles. The largest mound probably had a temple on its summit, where priests and rulers offered prayers and sacrifices to the sun. Archaeologists think that this temple mound shows the influence of Middle American civilizations.


The Mound Builders
  • The Mississippians left no written records, and their cities had disappeared by the time Europeans reached the area. Still, their traditions survived among the Natchez people, whose ruler, the Great Sun, had absolute power. He and his family lived on the top of pyramid mounds.


 Diverse Regional Cultures

  • Many other groups of Native Americans emerged in North America prior to 1500. Modern scholars have identified 10 culture areas based on the environments in which people lived: the Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, California, Great Basin, Plateau, Southwest, Great Plains, Eastern Woodlands, and Southeast. In each area, people adapted to geographic conditions that influenced their ways of life. Here, we will look in greater detail at the distinct ways of life that developed in three regions - the Arctic, the Northwest Coast, and the Eastern Woodlands.

 


Diverse Regional Cultures
  • In the far north, the Inuits adapted to a harsh climate, using the resources of the frozen land to survive. Small bands lived by hunting and fishing. Seals and other sea mammals provided them with food, skins for clothing, bones for needles and tools, and oil for cooking. They paddled kayaks in open waters or used dog sleds to transport goods across the ice. In some areas, Inuits constructed igloos, or dome-shaped homes made from snow and ice. In others, they built sod dwellings that were partly underground.


 Diverse Regional Cultures
  • The people of the Northwest Coast lived in a far richer environment than the Inuits. Rivers teemed with salmon, and the Pacific Ocean offered other fish and sea mammals. Hunters tracked deer, wolves, and bears in the forests. In this land of plenty, people built large permanent villages with homes made of wood. They traded their surplus goods, gaining wealth that was shared in ceremonies like the potlatch. At this ceremony, which continues in Canada today, a person of rank and wealth distributes lavish gifts to large numbers of guests. By accepting the gifts, the guests acknowledge the host's high status.


Diverse Regional Cultures
  • The Eastern Woodlands, stretching from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes, was home to a number of groups, including the Iroquois. They cleared land and built villages in the forests. While women farmed, men hunted and frequently warred against rival nations.
  • According to Iroquois tradition, the prophet Dekanawidah urged rival Iroquois nations to stop their constant wars. In the late 1500s, he became one of the founders of the unique political system known as the Iroquois League. This was an alliance of five nations who spoke the same language and shared similar traditions.


   Diverse Regional Cultures
  • The Iroquois League did not always succeed in keeping the peace. Still, it was the best-organized political group north of Mexico. Member nations governed their own villages but met jointly in a council when they needed to address larger issues. Only men sat on the council, but each clan had a "clan mother" who could name or depose members of the council.
  • The Iroquois League emerged just at the time when Europeans arrived in the Americas. Encounters with Europeans would take a fearful toll on the peoples of North America and topple the Aztec and Incan empires.