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List of pre-Columbian cultures

Pyramid of the Sun and Avenue of The Dead, viewed from the top of Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacán, Mexico, 100–200 AD

This list of pre-Columbian cultures includes those civilizations and cultures of the Americas which flourished prior to the European colonization of the Americas.


  • Cultural characteristics 1
  • Northern America 2
  • Caribbean 3
  • Mesoamerica 4
  • Isthmo-Colombian area 5
  • South America 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Cultural characteristics

Many pre-Columbian civilizations established permanent or urban settlements, agriculture, and complex societal hierarchies.

Watson Brake, Louisiana 3500 BC

In North America, indigenous cultures in the Lower Mississippi Valley during the Middle Archaic period built complexes of multiple mounds, with several in Louisiana dated to 5600–5000 BP (3700 BC–3100 BC). Watson Brake is considered the oldest, multiple mound complex in the Americas, as it has been dated to 3500 BC. It and other Middle Archaic sites were built by pre-ceramic, hunter-gatherer societies. They preceded the better known Poverty Point culture and its elaborate complex by nearly 2,000 years.[1] The Mississippi Valley mound-building tradition extended into the Late Archaic period, longer than later southeastern mound building dependent on sedentary, agricultural societies.(Russo, 1996:285)[1]

Some of these civilizations had long ceased to function by the time of the first permanent European arrivals (ca. late 15th – early 16th centuries), and are known only through archaeological investigations or oral history from tribes today. Others were contemporary with this period, and are also known from historical accounts of the time. A few, such as the Olmec, Maya, Mixtec, and Nahua had their own written records. However, most Europeans of the time viewed such texts as heretical and burned most of them. Only a few documents were hidden and thus remain today, leaving modern historians with glimpses of ancient culture and knowledge.

From both indigenous American and European accounts and documents, American civilizations at the time of European encounter possessed many impressive attributes, having populous cities, and having developed theories of astronomy and mathematics.

Where they persist, the societies and cultures which gave rise to these civilizations continue to adapt and evolve; they also uphold various traditions and practices which relate back to these earlier times, even if combined with those more recently adopted.

A word on human sacrifice. This was a religious practice principally characteristic of pre-Columbian Aztec civilization although other Mesoamerican civilizations like the Maya and the Zapotec practiced it as well. The extent of the practice is debated by modern scholars.

Northern America


Early South American cultures


Isthmo-Colombian area

South America

Period Dates Cultures
Late Horizon 1476 AD – 1534 AD Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia: Inca Empire; Brazil: Cambeba
Late Intermediate 1000 AD – 1476 AD Bolivia: Aymara nations; Colombia: Muisca, Nariño, Tairona; Ecuador: Los Huancavilca, Kingdom of Quito, Manteño, Nariño;
Peru: Chimú, Chincha, Cajamarca, Piura, Chancay, Chachapoyas, Chiribaya, Chucuito, Huaman Huilca, Ilo, Qotu Qotu, Pacacocha, Palli Marca, Piura, Sican, Tajaraca, Huaylas, Conchucos, Huamachuco, Rucanas, Chanka, Ayabaca, Bracamoros, Huancabambas, Tallan culture, Huarco, Ichma, Parinacota, Cuntis, Chinchaycochas, Huarochiri, Kheswas, Tarmas, Paltas, Camanas
Middle Horizon 600 AD – 1000 AD Bolivia: Tiwanaku; Brazil: Marajoara culture; Colombia: Cauca culture, Nariño, Quimbaya, Tairona; Ecuador: Cañari culture, Nariño; Peru: Huari, Piura
Early Intermediate 200 AD–600 AD Bolivia: Tiwanaku; Colombia: Quimbaya, San Agustín, Tairona, Tierradentro, Tolima; Ecuador: La Bahía, Cara, Quitu; Peru: Moche, Nazca, Lima, Pechiche, Piura
Early Horizon 900 BC–200 AD Colombia: Calima culture (200 BC–400 AD), Chibcha; Ecuador: Chorrera, La Tolita; Peru: Chavín, Cupisnique, Late Chiripa, Paracas, Pechiche, Sechura
Initial Period 1800/1500 BC – 900 BC Ecuador: Cotocollao; Machalilla; Peru: Early Chiripa, Kotosh, Toríl (The Cumbe Mayo aqueduct was built ca. 1000 BC), Argentina: Tehuelches (?-1820)
Period VI 2500 BC – 1500/1800 BC Ecuador: Valdivia; Peru: Norte Chico (Caral), Buena Vista, Casavilca, Culebras, Ventarrón, Viscachani, Huaca Prieta
Period V 4200 BC – 2500 BC Ecuador: Valdivia; Peru: Honda, Lauricocha III, Viscachani
Period IV 6000 BC – 4200 BC Peru: Ambo, Canario, Siches, Lauricocha II, Luz, Toquepala II
Period III 8000 BC – 6000 BC Ecuador: Las Vegas, 8000–4600 BC; Peru: Arenal, Chivateros II, Lauricocha I, Playa Chira, Puyenca, Toquepala I
Period II 9500 BC – 8000 BC Ecuador: El Inga; Peru: Chivateros I, Lauricocha I
Period I ? BC – 9500 BC Colombia: El Abra, (12,500–10,000 BC); Peru: Oquendo, Red Zone (central coast; Argentina & Chile: Patagonia

See also


  1. ^ a b Contemporary Archaeology in Theory: The New PragmatismRobert W. Preucel, Stephen A. Mrozowski, , John Wiley and Sons, 2010, p. 177
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Prehistory of the Caribbean Culture Area." Southeast Archaeological Center. (retrieved 9 July 2011)
  3. ^ "Aboriginal Roots of Cuban Culture." (retrieved 9 July 2011)
  4. ^ John Albert Bullbrook, The aboriginal remains of Trinidad and the West Indies, A. L. Rhodes, Port of Spain, Trinidad, 1941
  5. ^ John Albert Bullbrook, The Ierian Race, Historical Society of Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain, Trinidad, 1940

External links

  • National Museum of the American Indian, collections search
  • Pre-Columbian cultures in present-day United States, Four Directions Institute
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