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What was life like in North America before the Europeans arrived?

Hi Crystal,

Before Europeans arrived in North America, hundreds of tribes, speaking hundreds of different languages, lived throughout the land. Each maintained a distinct culture. Traditions, hunting methods, diets, beliefs, varied among tribes, primarily due to the differences in environment. For example, tribes in the Pacific Northwest were shaped by the moderate temperature of that region, and the abundance of water. Tribes in central North America were shaped by the absence of bodies of water but an abundance of Bison, and the flat land. Here is a map showing a large number of tribes and where they lived prior to the arrival of Europeans:


Despite the wide variety and uniqueness of each group, it's nevertheless possible to make a few general comments: That tribes were independent, but often formed alliances or federations with other tribes, in order to hunt, to share land, or to fight enemies. Tribes experienced conflict with other tribes just as nations throughout the world experience conflict with other nations. Some tribes were nomadic (moved around following animals) but many were settled and farmed. Tribes constructed shelter from the materials available: sod in the Midwest, within rock in the Southwest, with wood in east of the Mississippi and Northwest. Spiritual beliefs were important factors in most tribes, but the specific beliefs varied widely. Some used totem polls while others did not, for example.

Life in North America before the Europeans arrived was not perfect, completely peaceful, or heaven on earth. Nor was it dangerous, unhealthy, or riddled with conflict. Instead, all human civilizations generally have the same characteristics, because people are generally the same the world over. The difference became, once Europeans arrived, was that Native Americans - no matter what the differences between them - were all much more similar to one another than they were similar to the French, Spanish, Swedish, English, and others. The tribes all faced a common threat.

I hope this helps, Crystal!

- Marc  

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Marc Aperio


I'm able to answer most questions about US History, whether related to political, social, economic, or military issues.


I've studied American history for nearly 20 years. I'm currently volunteering for AllExperts in Medieval and European history.

My newest book is called (REAL QUICK) HISTORY (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MYOKUZT) I've also written: WE NEED TO TALK: 27 DIALOGUES ON RACE IN AMERICA is available in the Amazon Kindle store. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01E69CUUI AMERICAN REVOLUTION 2016: RATIONALE AND AIMS FOR RADICAL CHANGE http://www.amazon.com/American-Revolution-2016-Rationale-Radical-ebook/dp/B00MI9H9VE

BA History (High Honors)

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