What were the similarities of the cultures of indigenous peoples in America in 1492 and how did they differ from the culture of Europe at the time?  

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larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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There were far more differences than similarities among the indigenous peoples of the Americas; they comprised a widespread and diverse populace with differences in culture, economic and governmental structure, and even religion. They did share several things in common:

  • All Indian cultures were oriented to the good of the community. Only the Indians of the Northwest had any concept of personal property. The individual was considered part of a greater whole.
  • Children were considered the future of the group, and for that reason were valued greatly. Although normal parent-child bonds and relationships developed, each child was considered the responsibility of the entire community.
  • All Indians lived close to nature and considered themselves one with nature. Humans were simply part of a greater whole. Hunting was not done for sport, but only for necessity;killing animals was done with some degree of reluctance.
  • The vast majority lived in sedentary societies based on agriculture. Only the Indians of the Great Plains were migratory, as they were dependent upon migrating herds of buffalo for survival.

Among the major differences between Native American and contemporary European societies:

  • Despite complex development, no Indian tribes developed the use of metal tools and weapons. They were essentially a stone-age culture.
  • Indians never developed the use of the wheel. The only wheels known in Indian culture were small toys. Similarly, the only beasts of burden known to Indians was the dog. Horses were unknown in the Americas until they were introduced by the Spanish. Horses had lived in the Western Hemisphere during paleolithic times, but were apparently killed off.
  • Indians also had no milk producing animals; therefore dairy products were unknown to them. There is some evidence that this fact has led present day people of Indian descent to suffer from lactose intolerance.
  • Aside from the above seeming disadvantages, in some respects Indians were superior to European culture. Indian diets consisted of corn (maize,) squash, and other vegetables unknown in Europe. Their later introduction to Europe substantially improved European diets and health. Similarly, Indians in South America had perfected building techniques unknown in Europe. There is some evidence that the Inca of Peru were practicing brain surgery more than a thousand years before European contact.
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