Sign up ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I was taught that the Native Americans (both North, then South) primarily came down from Canada from what is now Russia. Whether or not that is true, why did the Native American civilizations from the Central and South Americas advance themselves into the use of cities, with many attendant improvements in the quality of life, while those North America never did?

share|improve this question
Do you know the Mississippian culture? – knut Jul 23 '14 at 18:51
I don't think your generalization holds very well. Many Native Americans in, e.g., the Amazon basin are still hunter-gatherers. The Anasazi had elaborate roads and cliff dwellings. The Mississippian culture practiced agriculture. – Ben Crowell Jul 23 '14 at 20:27
To me this question looks very similar to… – T.E.D. Jul 23 '14 at 21:24
A variety of civilizations rose and fell in the Americas before 1492. When the Europeans showed up, they got a snapshot of the way things happened to be at that time. – Ben Crowell Jul 24 '14 at 16:28
because geography and proximty to other cultures determines devlopment of society in all its aspects and like africans for instance they too were far from main trade roots and exchanged luttle tech info and goods as a result - the stuff that boosts nations forward – Bak1139 Sep 19 '14 at 20:41

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The Natives of the Americas advanced their civilizations well enough for the situation they were in. They developed from common stone-age tech level and had agriculture, cities, stone building and pyramid like structures. They developed societies that were comparable to those in remote parts of Europe in the age of the Pyramids, or better, by say 1200 AD. Then they ran out of time to develop on their own as the contact happened.

So why the few thousand year gap? Having to walk across two continents and populate them might slow things down. Lacking any draft animals for meat and cartage sure did not help. Or it could be just luck, and if we "redid" the same trial the Europeans could be delayed and the Amerindians could be landing in Spain.

share|improve this answer
Mayans and Aztecs. – Oldcat Jul 24 '14 at 16:43
I suggest that this is not a very good answer. The question was specifically about NORTH American Indians and why they did not achieve a similar level of culture as the empires of Central and South America. You have not addressed that question at all. And what exactly do you mean with "remote parts of Europe in the age of the Pyramids, or better, by say 1200 AD"? That is rather a huge time-scale, don't you think? – fdb Jul 25 '14 at 17:15
There is no such continent as "Central America". North America goes down to Panama. Not all parts of the world advances at the same rate, see Egypt versus, say Lithuania. – Oldcat Jul 25 '14 at 17:18
Don't be pedantic. If (as in the question addressed here) you juxtapose "North", "Central" and "South America" you are excluding Central from North America. This is not about continents, but cultural regions. – fdb Jul 25 '14 at 17:21

This is mainly because the southern Native Americans had a reliable source of food (corn). The northern ones had to hunt and collect their food and didn't advance to farming that they could survive in one place, probably because they didn't have something with the right potential.

Christopher Lloyd explains it all in his book "Alles in der Welt", English: The What on Earth? (I'm not sure with the English title...)

share|improve this answer
My understanding is that most of the Native American tribes East of the Mississippi were farmers and only became hunter-gatherers after they had been pushed out of their land. – fdb Jul 23 '14 at 18:21
@fdb there is still a difference between building cities and being farmers. if the crop isn't good enough the farmers go to the next place. look at many peoples in jungles that burn trees for nutrient earth... – Armin Jul 23 '14 at 18:29
That is true, but in that case you should not say that they "didn't advance to farming". – fdb Jul 23 '14 at 18:31
There was agriculture in the American southwest: – Ben Crowell Jul 23 '14 at 20:23
There was also agriculture in the American East, the Mississippi Valley, Mexico, Central America, South America...essentially every biome it existed in the Old World too. – T.E.D. Jul 23 '14 at 21:22

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.