Migration Routes of the first Americans
The First Americans
How did the first Americans adapt to their environment?
As a cold winter wind howls outside, the children huddle under thick fur blankets. They listen to their grandmother's soothing voice tell about a Great Spirit who ruled over a world of sky and water at the beginning of time. Then the Great Spirit, says Grandmother, created land, plants, and animals. Finally, from living wood, the Great Spirit carved people for the new world.
These Abenaki (a-buh-NAH-key) children of New England are learning a traditional story about how their people began. Most groups have beliefs about where they came from. You may have heard stories about how your own relatives first arrived in the United States. But do you know where your ancestors were living 10,000 years ago?
Only if you are American Indian did you have relatives in the United States that long ago. Europeans and other groups did not establish permanent settlements in North America until a little more than 500 years ago. For thousands of years, the first Americans had the American continents to themselves. In this lesson, you will learn about these resourceful people and the creative ways they adapted to their environments.
Even today, scientists are still trying to find out more about the first Americans. These early people left few written records, so researchers study other items they left behind. Not much has survived except for a few animal and human bones, some stone and metal tools, and bits of pottery. Scientists sift through these clues trying to imagine how they lived and how their lives changed over time. They come up with ideas about how American Indians adapted to their physical surroundings. When scientists find a new object, they try to figure out whether it supports their current ideas or suggests new ones. In your lifetime, we will probably learn much more about how the first Americans adapted to their environments and may revise many of our conclusions.
The Ancient Puebloans, also referred to as the Anasazi, adapted to their environment by
building homes in the stone cliffs of the U.S. Southwest.
Lesson 1 - The First Americans
Introduction (p. 5)
Next SectionSection 1 - Migration Routes of the First Americans
Carefully examine the photograph of a Canadian forest. Imagine that you suddenly find yourself in this environment. Brush and a thick forest of fir and pine trees surround the mountain valley. It is late fall and getting cold. The pond has not yet frozen. You must survive here for a year.
Describe the shelter you would build, the clothing you would make to protect yourself from the elements, and the tools you would create to acquire food.
2. The First Americans Adapt to the Environment
American Indians lived, and continue to live, in a variety of places, from snowy forests to dry deserts and vast grasslands. Each of these kinds of places is an environment. An environment includes everything that surrounds us—land, water, animals, and plants. Each environment also has a climate, or long-term weather pattern. Groups of early American Indians survived by adapting, or changing, their style of living to suit each environment, its climate, and its natural resources.
Using Natural Resources American Indians had a strong connection to their surroundings and viewed themselves as a part of the community of plants, animals, and other natural objects. They learned to use the natural resources in their environments for food, clothing, and shelter. By using most or all parts of the plants and animals they took, American Indians were careful to not waste anything.
American Indians also learned to modify the land to suit their needs. For example, tribes that lived in the woodlands along the Atlantic Ocean often set fires to clear heavy forest growth so deer could browse and berries could grow. American Indian farmers in the desert built ditches to carry water to dry fields.
In the frigid regions of the north, American Indians fashioned homes made of animal skin to protect them from the icy winds. In warmer climates, American Indians gathered wild plants or learned to raise crops such as squash, chili peppers, beans, and corn. Growing their own food enabled them to settle in one place instead of following animals or searching for edible plants in the wild. These early farmers built the first villages and towns in America.
American Indian Cultural Regions Over generations, groups of American Indians developed their own cultures, or ways of life. Many became part of larger groupings that were loosely organized under common leaders.
Groups living in the same type of environment often adapted in similar ways. Forest dwellers often lived in houses covered with tree bark, and many desert peoples made shelters out of branches covered with brush.
By studying artifacts (items made by people) like old American Indian dwellings, historians have grouped American Indian peoples into cultural regions. A cultural region is made up of people who share a similar language and way of life.
By the 1400s, millions of American Indians lived in ten major cultural regions north of Mexico. In this lesson you will take a closer look at nine of these regions. They include the Arctic, Northwest Coast, California, the Great Basin, the Plateau, the Southwest, the Great Plains, the Eastern Woodlands, and the Southeast.
The tents in this Inuit (IN-oo-it) camp in
northern Alaska were made from seal
and caribou skins. The Inuit used the
inflated sealskins, hanging from the
poles, as floats.The first Americans lived
throughout the North American
continent. Historians have grouped
these peoples into cultural regions,
based on their shared languages
and ways of life. In addition
to the nine regions mentioned
in this lesson, this map shows
the Subarctic, Mesoamerican,
and Circum-Caribbean regions.
Where American Indians lived
also influenced what they wore,
the type of housing they built, and
the food they ate. These other
three maps show examples of
this influence for what is now the
mainland United States.
A map showing the types of American Indian clothing in different regions of the United States. In the West and Southeast, American Indians mainly wore animal hide, fur, and various plant materials. In the Midwest and Northeast, American Indians mainly wore animal hide and fur. In a small pocket of the Southwest, American Indians mainly wore cotton.
A map showing the nine types of American Indian housing in different regions of the United States.
A map showing the six types of American Indian food in different regions of the United States.
Check For Understanding
This is your practice space. Your work will not be graded or shared.
Which of the following statements are TRUE about American Indians?
American Indians all lived in the same environment.
Almost two million Indians lived in North America by the 1400s.
People who live in the same cultural region share a language and a way of life.
American Indians were creative when using natural resources.
American Indian farming practices were harmful to the environment.
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