List of pre-Columbian cultures

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Pyramid of the Sun and Avenue of The Dead, viewed from the top of Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacán, Mexico, 100-200 CE

This list of pre-Columbian cultures includes those civilizations and cultures of the Americas which flourished prior to the European colonization of the Americas.

Cultural characteristics[edit]

Many pre-Columbian civilizations established permanent or urban settlements, agriculture, and complex societal hierarchies.

Watson Brake, Louisiana 3500 BCE

In North America, indigenous cultures in the Lower Mississippi Valley during the Middle Archaic period built complexes of multiple mounds, with several in Louisiana dated to 5600-5000 BP (3700 BCE-3100 BCE). Watson Brake is considered the oldest, multiple mound complex in the Americas, as it has been dated to 3500 BCE. It and other Middle Archaic sites were built by pre-ceramic, hunter-gatherer societies. They preceded the better known Poverty Point culture and its elaborate complex by nearly 2,000 years.[1] The Mississippi Valley mound-building tradition extended into the Late Archaic period, longer than later southeastern mound building dependent on sedentary, agricultural societies.(Russo, 1996:285)[1]

Some of these civilizations had long ceased to function by the time of the first permanent European arrivals (ca. late 15th – early 16th centuries), and are known only through archaeological investigations or oral history from tribes today. Others were contemporary with this period, and are also known from historical accounts of the time. A few, such as the Olmec, Maya, Mixtec, and Nahua had their own written records. However, most Europeans of the time viewed such texts as heretical and burned most of them. Only a few hidden documents remain today, leaving modern historians with glimpses of ancient culture and knowledge.

From both indigenous American and European accounts and documents, American civilizations at the time of European encounter possessed many impressive attributes, having populous cities, and having developed theories of astronomy and mathematics.

Where they persist, the societies and cultures which gave rise to these civilizations continue to adapt and evolve; they also uphold various traditions and practices which relate back to these earlier times, even if combined with those more recently adopted.

A word on human sacrifice. This was a religious practice principally characteristic of pre-Columbian Aztec civilization although other Mesoamerican civilizations like the Maya and the Zapotec practiced it as well. The extent of the practice is debated by modern scholars.

Northern America[edit]


Early South American cultures


  • Aztec, 1325–1521 CE, central Mexico
  • P'urhépecha or Tarascan state, 1300–1530 CE, Michoacán
  • Huastec, 1000 BCE–1500 CE, Hidalgo, Veracruz, San Luis Potosí and Tamaulipas
  • Mixtec, unknown–1600 CE, western Oaxaca
  • Maya, 2600 BCE–1697 CE, Mexican Southern states: Chiapas, Tabasco,Campeche and Yucatán Peninsula; Central America: Belize; Guatemala; El Salvador; Honduras
  • Toltec, 900–1100 CE--may be mythological
  • Formative Period, 2500 BCE-200 CE, La Blanca, Ujuxte, Monte Alto Culture, Mokaya Culture
  • Teotihuacán, 200 BCE–800 CE, near Mexico City
  • Totonac, unknown–1500 CE, eastern Mexico
  • Western Mexico shaft tomb tradition, 300 BCE–400 CE, Jalisco, Nayarit, and, to a lesser extent, Colima
  • Zapotec, 500 BCE–1500 CE, Oaxaca
  • Mixe, 400-present
  • Olmec, 5100–400 BCE, Veracruz and Tabasco

Isthmo-Colombian area[edit]

South America[edit]

Period Dates Cultures
Late Horizon 1476 CE – 1534 CE Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia: Inca Empire; Brazil: Cambeba
Late Intermediate 1000 CE – 1476 CE Bolivia: Aymara nations; Colombia: Muisca, Nariño, Tairona; Ecuador: Los Huancavilca, Kingdom of Quito, Manteño, Nariño;
Peru: Chimú, Chincha, Cajamarca, Piura, Chancay, Chachapoyas, Chiribaya, Chucuito, Huaman Huilca, Ilo, Qotu Qotu, Pacacocha, Palli Marca, Piura, Sican, Tajaraca, Huaylas, Conchucos, Huamachuco, Rucanas, Chanka, Ayabaca, Bracamoros, Huancabambas, Tallan culture, Huarco, Ichma, Parinacota, Cuntis, Chinchaycochas, Huarochiri, Kheswas, Tarmas, Paltas, Camanas
Middle Horizon 600 CE – 1000 CE Bolivia: Tiwanaku; Brazil: Marajoara culture; Colombia: Cauca culture, Nariño, Quimbaya, Tairona; Ecuador: Cañari culture, Nariño; Peru: Huari, Piura
Early Intermediate 200 CE–600 CE Bolivia: Tiwanaku; Colombia: Quimbaya, San Agustín, Tairona, Tierradentro, Tolima; Ecuador: La Bahía, Cara, Quitu; Peru: Moche, Nazca, Lima, Pechiche, Piura
Early Horizon 900 BCE–200 CE Colombia: Calima culture (200 BCE–400 CE), Chibcha; Ecuador: Chorrera, La Tolita; Peru: Chavín, Cupisnique, Late Chiripa, Paracas, Pechiche, Sechura
Initial Period 1800/1500 BCE – 900 BCE Ecuador: Cotocollao; Machalilla; Peru: Early Chiripa, Kotosh, Toríl (The Cumbe Mayo aqueduct was built ca. 1000 BCE), Argentina: Tehuelches (?-1820)
Period VI 2500 BCE – 1500/1800 BCE Ecuador: Valdivia; Peru: Norte Chico (Caral), Buena Vista, Casavilca, Culebras, Ventarrón, Viscachani, Huaca Prieta
Period V 4200 BCE – 2500 BCE Ecuador: Valdivia; Peru: Honda, Lauricocha III, Viscachani
Period IV 6000 BCE – 4200 BCE Peru: Ambo, Canario, Siches, Lauricocha II, Luz, Toquepala II
Period III 8000 BCE – 6000 BCE Ecuador: Las Vegas, 8000–4600 BCE; Peru: Arenal, Chivateros II, Lauricocha I, Playa Chira, Puyenca, Toquepala I
Period II 9500 BCE – 8000 BCE Ecuador: El Inga; Peru: Chivateros I, Lauricocha I
Period I  ? BCE – 9500 BCE Colombia: El Abra, (12,500–10,000 BCE); Peru: Oquendo, Red Zone (central coast; Argentina & Chile: Patagonia

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Robert W. Preucel, Stephen A. Mrozowski, Contemporary Archaeology in Theory: The New Pragmatism, John Wiley and Sons, 2010, p. 177
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Prehistory of the Caribbean Culture Area." Southeast Archaeological Center. (retrieved 9 July 2011)
  3. ^ "Aboriginal Roots of Cuban Culture." (retrieved 9 July 2011)
  4. ^ John Albert Bullbrook, The aboriginal remains of Trinidad and the West Indies, A. L. Rhodes, Port of Spain, Trinidad, 1941
  5. ^ John Albert Bullbrook, The Ierian Race, Historical Society of Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain, Trinidad, 1940

External links[edit]