According to most scholars, the peoples of North America came from Asia in c. 10,000 BC, probably crossing the Bering Straight during the last Ice Age when sea levels were lower than they are today.
By 3500 BC they populate the continent, divided amongst a variety of hunter-gatherer cultures, each adapted to its own regional environment.
The only place in North America where the farming way of life can be found is in Mexico, where maize is by now fully domesticated. Even here, the people derive much of their diet from hunting small game.
In Mesoamerica most people are hunter-gatherersclick to view Mexico and Central America 3500BC
Stone Age farming villages dot the landscape of Europeclick to view Europe 3500BC
By this stage in history, farming is well-established in the two great river valleys of China, the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, and is spreading to neighboring areasclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 3500BC
All the Pacific islands are uninhabited, except for Australia, New Guinea and the Solomonsclick to view Oceania 3500BC
Permanent villages have grown up along coasts and riversclick to view South America 3500BC
Over the past thousand years farming, based on maize as the staple crop, has begun to spread northwards from Mexico. Nowhere is it the primary source of food, and elsewhere in North America hunter-gatherer cultures prevail. In a few areas, where game and edible plants are particularly abundant, dense populations have emerged, most notably on the Pacific coast of the present-day USA and Canada. Here the plentiful marine life, combined with the rich flora and fauna of the mountains and streams, have allowed large permanent villages to develop.
In the far north, Arctic hunters have arrived from northern Siberia in North America in small boats across the Bering Sea. They are the ancestors of the present-day Inuit and Aleuts.
At about this time some peoples begin creating elaborate rock artworks on canyon walls and rock outcrops. The most famous of these are to be found along the Pecos river, in Texas.
Farming is spreading in Mexicoclick to view Mexico and Central America 2500BC
Europe is still inhabited by Stone Age farming peoples. Tribes speaking Indo-European languages are migrating into the continent from the eastclick to view Europe 2500BC
Trade routes are spreading out across East Asia from the core areas of the Yellow river and Yangtze river valleysclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 2500BC
A new phase in technology is beginning in Australia, and the migration of the ancestors of the Polynesians has begun from south Chinaclick to view Oceania 2500BC
Large villages are developing along the Pacific coast, with temple-mounds and irrigation systems being constructedclick to view South America 2500BC
Farming based on maize has continued to spread in North America, and is now penetrating the eastern parts of the present-day USA.
In Mexico, farming has now become firmly established as the predominant way of life. Several distinct farming cultures are developing in different areas, and in certain places agricultural techniques are making important advances. In the tropical forests of the eastern lowlands, for example, farmers are learning to construct pools and water-courses to control the flow of water for the intensive growing of crops.
Farming is continuing to spread in Mexicoclick to view Mexico and Central America 1500BC
Bronze Age farming cultures now cover most of Europe, and in the south-east, the first European civilizations now flourish in Crete and Greececlick to view Europe 1500BC
The first literate, urban civilization has appeared in the history of East Asia, under the Shang dynasty in northern Chinaclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1500BC
The ancestors of the Polynesians are beginning to settle the islands of the Pacificclick to view Oceania 1500BC
The peoples of the Pacific coast are making strides towards civilizationclick to view South America 1500BC
During the past thousand years the first North American civilization has appeared. This has occurred in Mexico and neighbouring areas, where several farming cultures now flourish. The most advanced of these is the Olmec civilization.
At this date most peoples of present-day USA and Canada still live as hunter-gatherers. However, even at this early date irrigation farming is present in the arid South West.
At about this time, in the Mississippi valley, the Adena culture is emerging. It is characterized by the construction of large earthworks for religious and ceremonial purposes. This is the start of a tradition which will last right up to the coming of the Europeans.
The Olmec civilization has appeared in Mexicoclick to view Mexico and Central America 1000BC
Major population movements in Europe have caused widespread upheaval, and the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations have vanishedclick to view Europe 1000BC
Chinese civilization expands under the Zhou dynasty, which will be the longest-lasting dynasty in China's historyclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1000BC
A new phase in technology is beginning in Australia, and the migration has begun from south China of the ancestors of the Polynesiansclick to view Oceania 1000BC
The first civilization in South America is in the makingclick to view South America 1000BC
In the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, the Adena culture, famous for producing remarkable ceremonial earthworks, continues to flourish.
The Olmec civilization has expanded over a wide areaclick to view Mexico and Central America 500BC
The Iron Age Celts and their relatives dominate much of Europe, whilst in the Mediterranean lands a number of brilliant city-state civilizations, above all the Greeks, are now flourishingclick to view Europe 500BC
China is divided amongst many warring states, but in this turbulent time the philosopher Confucius lives, and his teachings will deeply influence millions of people in East Asia right up to the present dayclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 500BC
The ancestors of the Polynesians have reached as far east as Fijiclick to view Oceania 500BC
In the Amazon basin, the Arawak diaspora is in full floodclick to view South America 500BC
Having spread their influence over a wide area in Central America, the Olmecs are now being replaced by several regional centres of civilization, influenced by the Olmecs but with their own distinct characteristics - including, by this date, writing, amongst the Zapotec and Mixtec. This process is being stimulated by a dramatic growth in population, for which there is evidence in both the central basin of Mexico as well as in the Yucatan peninsula.
Farming is by now well-established in the arid landscape of the present-day south western USA. It is dependent upon irrigation - although, given the need to exploit all sources of sustenance in this hostile environment, hunting small game remains important. The Mogollon culture is emerging in the area about this time. In the eastern woodland region, the Hopewell people are developing a distinctive culture, derived from the Adena.
The Olmec civilization is in decline, new civilizations are risingclick to view Mexico and Central America 200BC
The Celts still dominate much of Europe, but a new power, Rome, is on the rise and is now the leading power in the western Mediterraneanclick to view Europe 200BC
China is now unified under the Han dynasty; under this dynasty the Confucian bureaucracy, which will be a feature of all later Chinese dynasties, is establishedclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 200BC
A distinctive Polynesian culture is now evolvingclick to view Oceania 200BC
The spread of maize as a staple crop allows new areas to be settled by farmersclick to view South America 200BC
The past few centuries have seen the old Olmec centres become deserted, but several regional civilizations are flourishing in Central America, the old Olmec centres are now deserted, but several regional civilizations are flourishing. Population expansion continues at a fast rate in several areas, leading to the rise of major urban centres. The Mayan people are developing a city-based civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula, in present-day Mexico and Guatamala, and major cities are appearing at Teotihuacan, in the Central Basin of Mexico, and amongst the Zapotec, to the south.
In the dry environment of the south-western USA, two other farming cultures, the Hohokam and the Anasazi, have appeared, joining the already-exisiting Mogollon culture.
The Mayan civilization is now emergingclick to view Mexico and Central America 30BC
The Roman empire now rules much of Europeclick to view Europe 30BC
Under the Han dynasty, Chinese civilization has greatly expanded its territory. as well as its influence on neighbouring countries such as Koreaclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 30BC
A new phase of Polynesian expansion in the Pacific is occurringclick to view Oceania 30BC
The Moche and Nazca civilizations are now flourishingclick to view South America 30BC
The past few centuries have seen the largest city in all Pre-Columbian history appear. This is Teotihuacan, in Mexico. Meanwhile, the Mayan city-states have continued to develop their distinctive civilization, which is now entering its classic phase.
Further north, the Hopewell culture is spreading throughout the woodlands of the present-day eastern USA.
In the south-west, the Hohokum are developing elaborate irrigation systems - including dams and a complex network of canals, some taking water 10 miles from water source to fields. Large settlements are appearing; one, Snaketown, covers more than 300 acres. The presence of ball courts, one of the most distinctive elements of Mesoamerican civilization, is strong evidence for contact between this region and Mexico.
The Mayan civilization is now flourishingclick to view Mexico and Central America 200AD
The Roman empire has given much of Europe two centuries of peace and prosperityclick to view Europe 200AD
The Han dynasty of China has dominated much of ancient East Asia for a long period of history - but not for much longerclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 200AD
Distinctive Polynesian societies are evolving on the various Pacific islandsclick to view Oceania 200AD
The Moche have reached a high level of civilizationclick to view South America 200AD
This has been a period of stability for Mexico, where the great city of Teotihuacan has continued to flourish. Further south, the Mayan city-states are reaching a peak of prosperity. Their civilization is becoming one of the most remarkable civilizations in world history, boasting extraordinary technological and artistic achievements.
By this date, the Hopewell culture has vanished. The large, stable communities that were capable of building the large earthworks of the Hopewell have dispersed, perhaps due to over-exploitation of their local food sources. Smaller farming cultures will continue to flourish in the eastern woodlands of the present-day USA.
The Mayan civilization is now reaching its peakclick to view Mexico and Central America 500AD
The western Roman empire has fallen to German invaders, but the eastern Roman empire remains intactclick to view Europe 500AD
China is weak and divided, but the influence of its civilization on Korea, Japan and Vietnam, is growingclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 500AD
The Polynesians have settled Hawaii and Easter Islandclick to view Oceania 500AD
Large chiefdoms have emerged in Amazoniaclick to view South America 500AD
In the south-west of the present-day USA, the Anasazi are developing the famous Pueblo culture, with its remarkable constructions of multi-story, hundred-room houses made of stone and adobe mortar and bricks.
Meanwhile the peoples of the lower Mississippi are developing more complex societies than previously. Their increasingly elaborate culture involves the building of huge flat-topped pyramid mounds, made of earth, upon which wooden temples are erected.
The Mayan civilization is now at its heightclick to view Mexico and Central America 750AD
Medieval Europe is beginning to emerge from the wreckage of the Ancient Worldclick to view Europe 750AD
China is now united and powerful again, under the great Tang dynasty, and its civilization exerts a huge influence on neighbouring lands such as Japan, Korea and Vietnamclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 750AD
The Polynesian colonization of the major Pacific islands is in its final phaseclick to view Oceania 750AD
The Tiwanaku and Wari empires now dominate the highlands of Peruclick to view South America 750AD
Recent centuries in Mexico and Central America have seen many of the historic Mayan city states have fallen into catastrophic decline. Mayan civilization continues amongst the cities in the north of the Mayan homeland, but its classic phase is reaching its end.
In central Mexico, a people called the Toltec dominate a large area, ruling from their capital city, Tula.
The peoples of the Mississippian culture are developing far-ranging trading networks which spread out to cover the whole area between the Atlantic Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. Large towns are appearing along the banks of the great rivers of the region, centres of trade, religion and probably political power.
The Mayan civilization is now in declineclick to view Mexico and Central America 979AD
Vikings and other raiders lay waste to much of Western Europe, bringing widespread insecurity to the people and leading to the rise of a militarized society which we call "feudalism"
click to view Europe 979AD
China's influence over Korea and Japan has diminished, but at home it is a time of economic and technological advanceclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 979AD
Long-distance voyages remain a part of the Polynesian way of lifeclick to view Oceania 979AD
The Chimu empire has appeared on the Pacific coastclick to view South America 979AD
In North America, population growth has continued, and with it competition for land and resources. More complex societies and more powerful chiefdoms have evolved. Long-range trade networks have reappeared, spanning the continent from coast to coast. In the present-day eastern USA, the largest Pre-Columbian towns north of Mesoamerica have grown up, especially the town of Cahokia, which straggles for miles along the banks of the Mississippi.
In the south-western USA, the Pueblo culture has experienced a militarization of its society; villages are being relocated to more defensible sights.
In central America, the Toltec empire has vanished, its capital, Tula, sacked by the Mexica, a people from the north.
In the far north, the Inuit have spread out over the Arctic region as far as Greenland. There they encounter the first European settlements in the New World, belonging to the Norse colony in Greenland, founded in 987.
The Mexica people are rising to prominenceclick to view Mexico and Central America 1215AD
This is a period of very strong economic progress, especially in China and Korea, and technologies like printing, the compass and gunpowder are all being developed hereclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1215AD
Polynesian colonists discover New Zealandclick to view Oceania 1215AD
The Chimu empire is now the leading state in the Pacific-Andean regionclick to view South America 1215AD
In Europe, feudalism is at its height, and so is the power of the Church; great military expeditions, called Crusades, are launched against Muslim powers in the Middle East
click to view Europe 1215AD
The past couple of centuries have seen the Aztecs, an alliance of groups of whom the Mexica are the leading element, become dominant in Mesoamerica.
In the South-West of the present-day USA, a long dry spell has had a disastrous impact upon the agricultural societies of the Hohokam and the Anasazi. Many farming villages have been abandoned and people have moved away from their historic homelands.
Climate change may also have been responsible for changes in societies of the east. There has been a marked upswing in violence between communities, and urban centres such as Cahokia have been abandoned. Other centres continue in being, though none are on the same scale as before.
The Norse settlements on Greenland have vanished, possibly victims of a colder climate and of the continued Inuit expansion across the Arctic region.
The Mexica people are rising to prominenceclick to view Mexico and Central America 1453AD
Easter Island statues getting larger!click to view Oceania 1453AD
The past two centuries have been dominated by the rise and fall of the Mongol empire; however native dynasties have now regained control everywhereclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1453AD
Kings are growing stronger, trade is expanding, towns and cities are prospering, and new ideas are beginninhg to make themselves felt: these trends and others combine to weaken the old feudal order
The Inca empire has begun its expansionclick to view South America 1453AD
The previous two centuries have seen dramatic changes in the racial and cultural make-up of North American populations. In the south, Mexico and Central America have become part of the huge Spanish empire. Spanish explorers have ventured up into the southwest USA, followed by a handful of missionaries and traders. There has, however, been little by way of settlement in these arid regions.
Much more recently, northern Europeans - mostly from the British Isles, but also some French, Swedes, Dutch and Germans - have established a string of colonies on the eastern seaboard of the present-day USA and Canada. Their populations are increasing rapidly, and soon more colonies will be founded.
As the European population rises, that of the Native Americans falls sharply. Deadly European diseases, to which the natives have no resistance, fan out across the continent, carrying away the majority of their people.
A group of European - mostly English - colonies have sprung up along the eastern seaboard of the present-day USAclick to view The USA 1648AD
The French have settled in areas of eastern Canadaclick to view Canada 1648AD
Mexico and Central America are now part of the huge Spanish empireclick to view Mexico and Central America 1648AD
Developments such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the expansion of trade and colonization throughout the world, have transformed Europeclick to view Europe 1648AD
In China, the Qing dynasty rules, and Japan and Korea have experienced one of the most destructive wars in East Asian historyclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1648AD
The first European sailors have now appeared in Oceaniaclick to view Oceania 1648AD
The Spanish and Portuguese now control much of South Americaclick to view South America 1648AD
The past century and a half has seen prosperous societies of European culture take firm root in eastern North America.
Most of the British colonies on the eastern seaboard have rebelled to form a new nation, the United States of America. The small British colonies in present-day Canada, together with the old French colony (which had previously fallen to the British), remain under British rule. Much of the rest of the continent is under Spanish rule, which, in North America, is centred on Mexico.
Several Native American groups near the eastern seaboard have been drawn into European conflicts as allies of one side or another, French, British or American. On the Great Plains, meanwhile, the spread of escaped Spanish horses has transformed many societies. Tribes who previously lived as sedentary farmers now form highly mobile groups, hunting the vast herds of bison from horseback. Such is the bonanza that many Native American groups have pushed into the plains from surrounding areas and adopted this lifesyle.
As yet, European penetration of the central regions of North America is limited to isolated forts, trading posts and mission stations.
The USA has declared its independence from Britainclick to view The USA 1789AD
Canada is a part of the British empireclick to view Canada 1789AD
Mexico and Central America belong to the huge Spanish empireclick to view Mexico and Central America 1789AD
The first permanent European settlement has been established in Oceania, in south-west Australia, which has been claimed for the British empireclick to view Oceania 1789AD
This is the last glorious phase of East Asia's history before it feels the West's impact, and Qing dynasty China dominates the region with its tributary systemclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1789AD
The foundations for worldwide scientific and military dominance are being laid in the struggles between European nationsclick to view Europe 1789AD
The Spanish and Portuguese empires rule most of South America between themclick to view South America 1789AD
The dominating theme of recent decades has been the westward expansion of the USA, aided by the acquisition of vast new lands (esecially in the Louisiana Purchase of 1804) and the strong, steady westward migration of settlers.
To the north, society in Canada remains anchored to the east, but fur trappers have pushed along the rivers and lakes far into the interior.
Mexico, which covers a vast area of the continent, has now become independent from Spain.
White settlement in the interior of North America remains very scattered. The Great Plains mostly remain the domain of bison-hunting Native American peoples.
The land area of the USA has been vastly extended by the Louisiana Purchaseclick to view The USA 1837AD
Canadians have a measure of self-government, but would like more!click to view Canada 1837AD
Mexico and Central America are now independent from the Spanish empireclick to view Mexico and Central America 1837AD
European missionaries and traders are active throughout the Pacificclick to view Oceania 1837AD
New intrusions into East Asian history, Western merchants and missionaries, are clamouring to be let into China and the other countries of East Asiaclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1837AD
Europe continues to be transformed by intellectual change and industrial expansionclick to view Europe 1837AD
The countries of South America have won their independence from Spain and Portugalclick to view South America 1837AD
In the far north-west of the continent, the USA has purchased Alaska from the Russians (1867).
The geographical expansion of the USA is accompanied by dramatic economic and demographic growth. It has also been punctuated by a terrible Civil War between northern and southern states (1861-65).
To the north, Canada has also seen great geographical expansion. It has been evolving a federal political system, and redefining its relationship with the mother-country, Britain.
The USA has experienced a bloody Civil Warclick to view The USA 1871AD
Canada now has complete self-rule under a federal system of governmentclick to view Canada 1871AD
Mexico has lost a huge amount of territory to the USAclick to view Mexico and Central America 1871AD
The Pacific islands are falling under European controlclick to view Oceania 1871AD
East Asian history has taken a radically new direction as Western powers force open the doors of China and Japan to trade and missionary activityclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1871AD
Nationalism and industrialization continue to transform Europeclick to view Europe 1871AD
Foreign investment is pouring into some South American countriesclick to view South America 1871AD
The recent decades have been years of unprecedented industrial expansion, laying the foundations for the continent's pre-eminence in the 20th century. Transcontinental systems of transport and communications - the railroad, the telegraph and the telephone - tie the economies of the USA and Canada into an integrated whole. The continued westward movement of peoples focusses on the settling of the US Mid-West and the Canadian prairies. Millions of new immigrants boost the population. New cities arise, and older ones expand out of all recognition.
Mexico does not share in this growing prosperity. It is now experiencing the start of its two-decade long Revolution (1910-29).
The USA has experienced unparalleled industrial expansionclick to view The USA 1914AD
Canada's population and economy has greatly expanded.click to view Canada 1914AD
The Panama Canal has been builtclick to view Mexico and Central America 1914AD
European nations now rule much of the world, but their rivalries are now leading them into the First World Warclick to view Europe 1914AD
Brazil, Argentina and Chile are growing wealthyclick to view South America 1914AD
Japan has successfully modernized, and has gained international status at the expense of China and Koreaclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1914AD
All the Pacific islands have fallen under foreign controlclick to view Oceania 1914AD
Over these past few decades, the exepriences of the USA and Canada have been broadly similar, though with significant differences. For both nations, despite the Great Depression of the 1930's, the general trend has been towards greater and greater prosperity: the spread of automobiles and good roads; of radios, TVs, refrigerators and other consumer goods; of industrial mass-production, and skyscrapers changing the skylines of all North American cities. Both nations fought in World Wars 1 and 2. However, the Americans went through the Prohibition years, whilst Canadians did not; and the Canadians, with their close ties to Britain, entered both wars at the very beginning, whilst in each case the US came in later (but then made a decisive difference).
As of 1960, both the USA and Canada stand together as close allies and as members of NATO against the Communist threat.
Mexico remains far poorer than her two northern neighbours; however, she has made substantial progress, both economically and politically, since the end of her Revolution in 1929.
Canada now has complete independence from Britain.click to view Canada 1960AD
The USA has emerged from World War 2 as the leader of the West against the communist Eastclick to view The USA 1960AD
Most countries of Mexico and Central America have been ruled by dictatorsclick to view Mexico and Central America 1960AD
Europe has experienced two devastating world wars, and is now divided between East and Westclick to view Europe 1960AD
Eva Peron wins the hearts of Argentiniansclick to view South America 1960AD
China, Japan and Korea have all experienced some of the most turbulent times in their entire history, as great wars have swept through East Asiaclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1960AD
Many Pacific islands were caught up in the fierce fighting of World War 2click to view Oceania 1960AD
The past few decades have seen North American living standards, already the highest in the world, continue to climb. The signing of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed 1994) has welded Canada, the USA and Mexico more closely into one pan-continental economic area. Canadian and US economic integration, already strong, has been enhanced still further, and the presence of Mexico within the agreement has provided a major boost to that country's prosperity. Other less welcome links between these countries have been apparent in the illegal drugs trade, which has undermined law and order in significant portions Mexico and caused immense misery there, and the increasing flows of migration, much of it illegal.
The USA is now the only superpower in the worldclick to view The USA 2005AD
Two referendums have been held on independence for Quebec.click to view Canada 2005AD
Mexico, though troubled by a major drugs war, is experiencing strong economic growthclick to view Mexico and Central America 2005AD
Most of Europe now belongs to the EUclick to view Europe 2005AD
Many countries of South America have swung, first to dictatorship, and then to democracyclick to view South America 2005AD
The recent histories of all the nations of East Asia, China, Japan and Korea, have seen them become major economic powerhouses in the worldclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 2005AD
Many new independent nations now dot the Pacific Oceanclick to view Oceania 2005AD
Hover MAP for summary and tap to zoom. MAP < and > buttons change date. TIMELINE icons jump to date. See below for historical summary.