Pre-Columbian

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Ancient Near East

Ancient Africa

Classical Antiquity

East Asia

South Asia

Pre-Columbian Americas

The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the Early Modern period.

While the phrase "pre-Columbian era" literally refers only to the time preceding Christopher Columbus's voyages, in practice the phrase usually is used to denote the entire history of American indigenous cultures until those cultures were conquered or significantly influenced by Europeans, even if this happened decades or even centuries after Columbus's initial landing.

Pre-Columbian is used in the context of discussing the great indigenous civilizations of the Americas, such as those of Mesoamerica: the Olmec, the Toltec, the Teotihuacano, the Zapotec, the Mixtec, the Aztec, and the Maya; and South America: Norte Chico or Caral in Peru, and the Andean civilizations: Inca, Moche, Chibcha, Chavin and Cañaris. It is also applied to the Mississippian culture of North America, which produced Cahokia; at its peak in 1250 CE, it was the largest city north of Mexico, a position not surpassed until 1800.

Many pre-Columbian civilizations established hallmarks which included permanent or urban settlements, agriculture, civic and monumental architecture, major earthworks, and complex societal hierarchies. Some of these civilizations had long faded by the time of the first permanent European arrivals (c. late 15th–early 16th centuries), and are known only through archaeological investigations. Others were contemporary with the colonial period, and were described in historical accounts of the time. A few, such as the Maya, had their own written records. Because most Christian Europeans of the time viewed such texts as heretical, they destroyed many texts in pyres. Only a few hidden documents have survived to today, giving modern historians glimpses of ancient culture and knowledge.

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