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History of the Americas

The history of the Americas begins with their colonization by Native Americans from Asia, who went on to establish civilizations such as the Maya, the Toltecs, the Aztecs, the Inca, and the Iroquois.

The North American continent was first colonized by Asian nomads that crossed the frozen Bering Strait sometime around 20,000 BC. These tribes quickly spread out, reaching Cape Horn roughly 10,000 years later. Although several large, centralized civilizations developed in the western hemisphere (e.g., the Inca in the Andes, the Aztecs and the Maya in Central America), no comparable civilization occurred in North America due to a lack of domesticable crops. By the 15th century AD, corn had been transmitted from Mexico and was being farmed in the Mississippi Valley, but further developments were cut short by the arrival of Europeans.

The continent was rediscovered by Europeans later. Initially the Vikings established a short-lived settlement in Newfoundland. Theories exist about earlier and later Old World discoveries of the east coast (or of the west coast by the Chinese), but none of these are considered proven. It was the later voyage of Christopher Columbus that led to extensive European colonization of the Americas. Direct control from Europe began to unravel on July 4, 1776 with the United States Declaration of Independence.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a different view of the history of the Americas as set forth in the Book of Mormon. There are other theories about ancient visitors to the Americas (see the cover story in the January 2000 issue of Atlantic Monthly for details).

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