New articles on Native Americans

I have just been working on a series of articles on North America. I have actually just put up two articles on our TimeMap of World History: the history of the United States (up to the end of the 19th century), the history of Canada. and the history of the Native Americans of North America. I will soon be publishing a couple more, on the Mound Builders of North America and the Southwest Cultures of North America.

I was rather stung by a review we had earlier this year which noted our lack of coverage of Native Americans, so I have been trying to address that (but hey, look at this review!).

The reason it has taken me so long to write about this subject – actually, about any topic to do with the Americas – is that my expertise really had not lain in this direct at all. I am much more familiar with the histories and civilizations of Asia, Europe and Africa. I have therefore had a do a great deal of research for these articles – which I have found immensely interesting.

One of the fascinating things I have found about the Native Americans of North America is how different they are from the popular image we have of them – which is based largely on films of the Wild West. This image  – expert horsemen, fierce warriors, wonderful feather headdresses – is not inaccurate, apparently, but it really only references the Plains Indians; and then, only of the 18th and 19th centuries. This was of course the period when white settlers came into close contact – and conflict – with them. It was also a lifestyle only made possible after contact with the white man. This is because there were no horses native to the Americas; they had all been wiped out millennia before, along with mammoths, giant sloths and other “megafauna” (but not the buffalo).


Plains warrior of the 1840s (painting by Karl Bodmer)


Most Native American peoples had for centuries been settled farmers before the tremendous disruptions they received from the Europeans and their diseases. Some cultures – notably those of the Mound Builders of the Mississippi valley and the Eastern Woodlands, – had clearly been evolving towards full civilization, which, if they had been able to mature, might have looked something like the Aztec or Mayan civilizations of Mexico. In fact, given the huge territory their cultures covered, and the great rivers along which trade could have travelled and local influences cross-fertilised, they might have surpassed those of the Mesamericans.

Anyhow, have a read of these articles. Please not the usual caveats relating to newly-published articles: there are no links or images in them yet. Please also note my usual request: please send your comments on them to us – we need them. (Though be aware – we have been getting so much spam that I now no longer look at the comments section at the bottom of the page, so write to me, or at info, at

Peter Britton