3. Rise & Fall of Native American Empires

During the postclassical period, societies in the Americas remained entirely separate from those of the Old World. Some were similar to the great centers of Asia and the Mediterranean in that they built on earlier precedents from the classical period. Thus, Mesoamerican civilizations formed large cities, based on elaborate political and economic organization, that would later dazzle European intruders muc as Constantinople and the great cities of China did. But these similarties were accidental, and they were outweighed by the vast differences that resulted from American isolation.
 
American societies continue to display extraordinary diversity. Other continuities marked the American experience up to the year of Columbus's arrival and beyond. Great American civilizations had elaborate cultural systems and a highly developed agriculture, yielding a distinctive array of foods. The postclassic period saw significant changes in the Americas, particularly in the increasing organization of agriculture and in the people's ability to form larger political units.
 
By 1500, the Americas were densely populated and in many places by Indian peoples long indigenous to the New World. Of course, the term "Indian" is derived from a mistake Columbus made when he thought he had reached the Indies, what Europeans called India and the lands beyond, but the label is also misleading because it implies a common identity among the people of the Americas that did not exist until after the arrival of Europeans. "Indian" as a term to describe all the peoples of the Americas could have a meaning only when there were non-Indians from which to distinguish them.
 
There were many Indian peoples with a vast array of cultural achievements. The variety of cultural patterns and ways of life of pre-Columbian civilizations makes it impossible to discuss each civilization. We will focus on two significant groups - the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas.
 
Source:
Stearns, Peter N., Adas, Michael, Scwartz, Stuart B., and Gilbert, Marc Jason. World Civilizations: The Global Experience - Third Edition. p. 239. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc., 2003.
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