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I recently read that the Australian Aborigines numbered close to a million during the time of Botany Bay and comprised of ~250 tribes/nations. The Native Americans of North America also boasted impressive numbers of between 5 and 20 million people. Given these numbers, I wonder why their societies did not evolve up from hunter-gatherers to establish civilisation as we know it.

Could it be because of the size of their respective continents? While the Indigenous Australians were isolated, the Native (North) Americans were not. Civilisation sprung up not too far away in Central and South America. [I'm assuming - perhaps naïvely - that the Mayans, Toltecs, Aztecs, and Incas were decidedly distinct from the Native American tribes with limited contact between the two. Even if they are related, it still begs the question of why only some nations decided to establish cities etc.]

Thank you for your time!

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Ever read guns, germs, and steel? They try to explain it, but they put little focus on shipping, we have a question like this already, here: history.stackexchange.com/questions/94/… –  Russell Jul 18 '12 at 17:01
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It's not exacally the same (so I wont vote to close it), but the answers can be reused. Welcome to Historyoverflow. –  Russell Jul 18 '12 at 17:02
    
Thanks for the link and the welcome :) Downloading the book now. –  coleopterist Jul 18 '12 at 17:13
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There was some significant cities in North America as well, before Columbus. But they have been ignored both because the US colonizers didn't want Indians to be civilized, and because they usually didn't build out of stone (because they had cheaper materials at hand). There are at least superficial cultural similarities between the american cultures, so some contact happened, although probably indirectly. –  Lennart Regebro Jul 21 '12 at 8:07
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en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahokia is probably the largest of them. –  Lennart Regebro Jul 21 '12 at 16:09
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1 Answer

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Australian cultures did not have access to good starter crops. This is explored at depth in an allo-history available here: http://alternatehistory.net/discussion/showthread.php?t=110941 on the topic of what crops could have been good starter crops.

Indigenous Australian cultures were highly developed, including development of aquacultural structures and land management through burning and swamp development. These cultures did not support urbanisation, settlement or the development of states.

Urbanisation occurred in North America.

I'd suggest in both cases the reason for a lack of development of city states would be the comparatively low food productivity of the cultures and thus the lack of population mass supporting a centralised armed urban elite.

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