School in a Book: A Brief History of South America

Prehistory (to 3500 BCE)

South America was likely first settled by humans during the Last Glacial Period (sometimes called the Ice Age), when the sea levels were much lower. They might have crossed into North America on a land bridge connecting Asia and modern-day Alaska, then slowly made their way south. They lived in hunter-gatherer tribes.

Ancient History (3500 BCE to 500 CE)

Around 2600 BCE, the Chavin people built the first South American cities. These were located in modern-day Peru and included religious ceremonial sites, pottery, weaving looms, elaborate carvings and a three-story high building with mazes of rooms and corridors.

200 B.C.: Moche culture, coast Ecuador (central america). Peak AD 300, ended 700. Pottery, textiles, metalwork.

500 B.C.: in the Andes near Lake Titicaca (bolivia) city of Tiahuanaco had enormous stone temples and palaces. Began 300, abandoned due to drought or destroyed 1000). Pop reached 100,000. Distinctive jewelry, pottery, temple stones. Long string of towns reaching into Brazilian rain forests.

The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)

In 800 CE, the Huari civilization made up half of modern-day Peru. This militaristic empire contrasted with the peaceful Tiahuanaco culture. It lasted over 200 years. Around 1200, the Incas came into prominence in the same area, building into the Andes mountain range where Teotihuacan had been. They built the important towns of Cuzco and Macchu Picchu, both of which remain today. Made using precise stone fitting with no mortar, Machu Picchu was a spiritual center with an astronomical observatory and temples.

Early Modern Times (1500 to 1900 CE)

In 1499, two years after Christopher Colombus landed on the Carribean islands believing these to be part of India, Amerigo Vespucci (an Italian explorer sailing for Spain) reached South America. He landed in modern-day Guyana on the norrthern mainland and traveled south into the Amazon rain forest, then to the island of Trinidad. He was the first person to theorize that he had discovered an enirely new continent.

In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan (a Portugese explorer sailing for Spain) rounded South America, named the Pacific Ocean, then died in the Phillippines. His crew finished the first world circumnavigation, though, when they landed at the Cape of Good Hope on the tip of Africa. First would circumnavigation.

During this time period, Incas had just reached their height. Previously isolationist, they had begun expanding far north and south. Their culture featured 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.

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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