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. During the early colonial period, natives used it as a last stronghold against their invaders.
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.
The colonization of South America: The conquest of South America by the Spanish and, later, the Portugese. It began during the mid-1500s in the Incan areas, which were defeated and destroyed in a year’s time. From there, the Spanish spread throughout the continent, mistreating the natives, smashing native temples and idols and introducing deadly diseases. During the late 1500s and throughout the 1600s, they forced natives as well as African slaves to mine for gold, which brought extravagant wealth to Spain and allowed it to dominate Europe until greed and mismanagement undermined their power.
Conquistadors: The Spanish invaders of South America
South American independence: During the 1800s, South American countries began rebelling and fighting for independence. Eventually, all except French Guyana were successful. Because wealthy plantation owners still held most of the power in these areas, however, living conditions didn’t immediately improve.
Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin: The leaders of the successful South American wars for independence. Though both wanted all of the newly independent countries to unite into a single South American nation (like the United States), this did not happen. Instead, leaders from the wealthier classes fought for power over the working classes. They also did not trust Bolivar, who wanted to reign over South America as its king.
The Modern Era (1900 to the Present)
Overview of South America in modern times: During the 1900s, South America experienced many civil wars as well as wars for independence. Freedom fighters prevailed over colonialism in most of the areas that had not achieved independence in the 1800s; however, many of these new governments were oppressive dictatorships.
U.S. intervention in South America: The U.S. intervened in several South American civil wars, backing the sides they believed were favorable to their interests. At various times, U.S. troops invaded Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Granada and Panama.
Fidel Castro: The anti-capitalist leader of Cuba for the last half of the 20th century who established communism there
The Bay of Pigs invasion: A planned, but aborted, U.S. invasion of Cuba through missile power. It occurred in the 1960s as part of U.S. attempts to thwart the spread of communism.
The Panama Canal treaty: The treaty signed by the Republic of Panama and the U.S. in the 1970s agreeing that Panama would regain control the Panama Canal Zone in the year 2000. Prior to this, in the early 1900s, the U.S. had backed a successful Panamanian independence movement in exchange for control of this zone. They then built this highly valuable canal, which provides the only shipping path through the Americas.
The Cuban missile crisis: A 1960s exchange between the U.S. and the communist-led Soviet Union in which both countries positioned nuclear missiles facing each other and the countries came close to initiating a nuclear war. The Soviet missile was located in Cuba, where the communist leader Fidel Castro had agreed to work with the Soviets in their Cold War attempts at intimidation. Castro believed that doing so might prevent U.S. attacks on Cuba as well.
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