School in a Book: History of South America

Ancient History (3000 BCE to 500 CE)

The Chavins: The people who built the first South American cities. In addition to hunting and gathering they made pottery, weaved on looms and made elborate carvings. Their cities, which formed around 2500 BCE, were located in modern-day Peru. They included religious ceremonial sites and a three-story high building with mazes of rooms and corridors.

Tiahuanaco: The city that was built around 300 BCE in the Andes in modern-day Bolivia near Lake Titicaca. Its center featured enormous stone temples and palaces, and it was surrounded by long strings of smaller settlements reaching into the Brazilian rain forests. Distinctive jewelry, pottery and temple stones were found there. The city’s population reached 100,000 before it began to decline. It was abandoned due to drought or destroyed around 1000 CE. The people of Tiahuanaco are referred to as the Tiahuanaco people or the Tiahuanaco culture. They were peaceful and nonmilitaristic.

The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)

The Huari: The militaristic people who built the empire that spread over half of modern-day Peru from about 800 CE to about 1000 CE.

The Incas: The people who built the empire that spread over much of modern-day Peru after the Huari civilization failed. They came into prominence around 1200 CE and built many important towns, including Cuzco and Macchu Picchu, which remain today. They built stone structures without mortar, using a precise stone fitting technique. Their cultural peak, during which they expanded their empire far north and south, conquering other tribes after a long period of isolationism, occurred in the 1500s. Key features of Incan life included: relay runners who carried messages along the two main roads that spanned the length of the empire; terraced farms built onto the sides of the mountains; wooden spears and slingshots; and quipus (knotted ropes that helped them count). They did not write.

Machu Picchu: A small Incan town located deep in the Andes mountains which served as a spiritual center and possibly as an escape for dignitaries. It featured an astronomical observatory and stone temples.

Early Modern Times (1500 CE to 1900 CE)

Amerigo Vespucci: The first western explorer to reach South America and the first to realize that the Americas existed. After his travels, he created the first map of the New World, giving the new continent his name. His discovery occurred in 1499, just a few years after Christopher Colombus landed on the Carribean islands thinking he had landed in India. Though Vespucci was Italian, he sailed for Spain, which funded his travels with the hopes of colonizing new lands. Vespucci first landed in modern-day Guyana (the northernmost area of South America), then traveled into the Amazon rain forest and to the island of Trinidad.

Spanish colonization of South America: In the mid-1500s, the Spanish landed in Incan areas. In less than a year, the Incas had been destroyed. Machu Picchu served as their last stronghold against the Spanish invaders (called conquistadors). The Spanish mistreated the natives and forced them into slavery. They smashed Incan temples and idols and introduced deadly diseases. In the late 1500s and throughout the 1600s, Spanish conquistadors relentlessly raided South America for gold, which allowed Spain to dominate Europe during this time. However, grave mismanagement of these funds and Napolean’s bid for Portugal and Spain in the early 1800s weakened Spain. During this century, South Americans began rebelling and fightng for independence. Eventually, all were successful. In the early 1800s, Argentina, Paraguay, Mexico, Peru, Braziland Venezuela gained independence. They were led by Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin. Because wealthy plantation owners still held most of the power, living conditions didn’t improve after independence.

The Modern Era (1900 to the Present)

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