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In the previous episode we learned that hunter-gatherers crossed the Bering Strait Land Bridge to get to America. However, when Europeans arrived they came face to face with so much more than a few nomadic people. They saw great empires and cities that were every bit as magnificent as anything they had seen in Europe.
They saw pyramids that seemed to touch the sky and a even a group of people who apparently had so much gold they could seemingly throw it away.
So, how did a group of wandering nomads that accidentally stranded themselves in America create empires that would impress the supposedly more advanced Europeans?
Overtime these people all created societies that were very different from one another. They had their own languages, religions and way of life.
Some of these societies would eventually give up the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle and begin building farms and towns.
A few groups would become so successful that their towns would grow into cities and sometimes empires. These empires would include thousands and even millions of people with very diversified lives. The people that lived in these empires lived very differently from their hunter-gatherer ancestors. Not only were some of them farming, but specialist jobs would be created as well, such as carpenters, priests, warriors, astronomers and philosophers.
One of the first major civilization arose in the Mesoamerican region. The Olmecs grew an empire in a relatively small region in what is now southern Mexico. It consisted of thousands of people that would leave behind many pyramids and statues that can still be seen today. The Olmecs had an amazing civilization that would last for hundreds of years, but it would eventually disappear over 2,000 years ago.
No one knows what happened to the Olmecs, but as their empire came to an end a new one would rise not far from them named the Maya. The Mayans would also leave behind amazing pyramids and temples. They would become expert astronomers and worship the sun, moon and stars. They developed a calendar that was extremely accurate as well as a writing system. Much of what we know of them comes directly from the words they left behind for us to read. However, after about a thousand years their empire would also disappear.
A couple of hundred years after the fall of the Mayans, a group of warriors and hunters would conquer the central area of what is now Mexico. They would become a massive empire with millions of people and a capital on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco. Their capital of Tenochtitlan would become a huge city that was larger than any that the Europeans who explored America had ever seen. These people were known as the Aztecs. Their empire was only a couple of hundred years old before they would be conquered by the Spanish in 1500’s.
The last of the great American Empires to fall were the Inca. These people started as smaller groups that would form into another empire of millions in the Andes Mountains in South America. They would also leave behind amazing ruins such as Machu Picchu. Ultimately they, too, would fall to the Spanish in the 1500’s.
In conclusion, before the arrival of Europeans those original hunter-gatherers had blossomed into major empires that rivaled those of the old world. Ultimately, they would all come to an end, though they all left evidence of their amazing cultures.