Chapter 1 Summary: Converging Cultures, Prehistory to 1520
The people living in the Americas had almost no contact with the other continents until 1492. In the late fifteenth century, contact with Europeans changed the Americas in profound ways.
Section 1: The Migration to America
The earliest Americans probably migrated from Asia between 30,000 to 10,000 BC. Anthropologists believe the first civilization in America was built much later by the Olmecs in Mesoamerica, the same region where Mayan culture emerged. This section also covers other pre-Columbian groups, briefly discussing the geography of their settlements and their way of life.
Section 2: Europe and Africa
During the Middle Ages, feudalism emerged as the dominant political system in Europe. The Roman Catholic Church promoted stability, strong central governments appeared as the economy improved, and agricultural inventions made landowners more prosperous. The new religion of Islam gained converts in the Middle East and Africa. Trade routes expanded as the demand for goods and the labor of slaves increased.
Section 3: Europe Encounters America
Archeological evidence suggests that the Vikings were the first Europeans to arrive in the Americas. Unaware that a landmass lay between Spain and Asia, Columbus led an expedition west that was funded by the Spanish monarchy almost 500 years later. Columbus's voyage paved the way for later expeditions to the Americas led by Vespucci, Ponce de Leon, Balboa, and Magellan.
Section 4: Spain and France Build Empires
Hernán Cortés led the Spanish attack on the Aztecs and defeated the city of Tenochtitlán while its people were weakened by an outbreak of smallpox. Conquistadors took control of much of South America and searching for rumored cities of gold. A rivalry for land in the "New World" developed after the French arrived at the Mississippi River.