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Native American History

Native American History: The Zapotecs and European Contact

Unfortunately for the Indigenous Peoples of Mesoamerica, it was the Spaniards who first explored the area with the intent to discover and colonize. The Spaniards had a less diplomatic approach to colonization than the French and English did in the same era. Whereas the French and English initially sought to trade with and learn from the Indigenous Peoples they encountered, the Spaniards were known as more ruthless colonizers; they killed as many Indigenous People as possible and tried to conquer and wipe out the cultures as much as possible. 

Right around the time that the Europeans were first exploring the region now known as Mexico, the Zapotecs were engaged in a series of battles with the Aztecs. The Aztecs were becoming the dominant force between the two although they had yet to conquer the Zapotecs. 

Shortly after the final battle between the Zapotecs and the Aztecs, the Spaniards arrived. They first encountered the Incas and Aztecs. Like the other European explorers and traders, The Spanish conquistadors spread diseases throughout the Indigenous villages, immediately lowering the populations and limiting their ability to adequately defend themselves. The Aztecs and Incas were the first of the Mesoamerican civilizations to be conquered by the Spaniards. 

Having heard this news, the Zapotecs, hoping for a more diplomatic outcome, attempted to avoid the same fate by avoiding attacking the Spaniards. The tactic did not work and ultimately the diseases and the conquistadors decimated the Zapotecs as well. After the Spaniards conquered Mexico, very few Indigenous People remained alive and many of those who did survive were ill-fated to become enslaved by the Spanish colonies. 

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Native American History

Native American History: The Bering Land Bridge Theory

Perhaps you are familiar with the Bering Land Bridge theory of how humans first migrated from Asia to the Americas. Until a few short years ago, when paleontologists discovered new artifacts, it was commonly believed and taught that humans first made their way to North America by following and hunting big game animals across a span of land that once existed between Alaska and Siberia. The previous evidence suggested that this happened about 13,000-14,000 years ago, where the Bering Strait exists today. 

It was believed in this theory that as the ice receded after the Ice Age, a group of humans who had been inhabiting eastern Asia were able to cross a land bridge that became accessible for migration by foot. Although anthropologists widely accepted the Bering Land Bridge theory for many years, there always remained questions about whether it was possible given the age of the artifacts and the dates of the ice receding. It seemed that the evidence of humans in America was older than the time when the Bering Land Bridge would have been clear of ice. For that reason, scientists had been left seeking more information on when and how Indigenous People made their way to North America. 

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Native Americans: Migration of Prehistoric Humans

The geographical world and environment of the ancient hominid species were vastly different from our world today, including the physical placement and locations of the continents and land on Earth. Scientists currently believe that when hominids were first evolving, all the continents on the planet were bunched together into one giant landmass called Pangea. The connected landmass of Pangea eventually separated and moved into the locations we have today by the slow and continuous drifting of the continental plates. The continental plates continue to drift to this day at a prolonged and imperceptible rate. This continental drift created many of the beautiful natural features in our world today, including the collision of tectonic plates that caused mountains to form. 

Evidence suggests that human ancestors existed on the continent now known as Africa for about 1 million years before migrating eastward through present-day Europe and beyond to what is now known as Asia. The oldest hominid remains in Asia are a pair of teeth found in China, dating from about 1.7 million years ago. There has been other evidence of Homo erectus found in China that dates back even further. It’s safe for scientists to say that our ancient ancestors had made it from Africa to Asia about 2 million years ago. 

Remains and artifacts in Europe date the arrival and habitation of hominids in that area around 600,000 years ago. However, it is not believed that Homo sapiens were in Europe until about 45,000 years ago. Anthropologists do not know why Homo sapiens took so long to inhabit Europe. There is plenty of evidence that Homo sapiens had already been inhabiting Asia, which would have required them to pass through Europe from Africa to Asia, long before they finally inhabited Europe. Exactly when and why Homo sapiens finally populated Europe is a question that will require further archaeological discoveries to be able to answer.

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