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A New World: the First Americans

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A NEW WORLD

The First Americans

At daybreak on the morning of Friday, August 3 1492, an Italian adventurer named Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain to find a new way from. His aim was to open up a shorter trade route between the two continents. In Asia, he intended to load his three ships with silks, spices and gold, and sail back to Europe a rich man. Columbus first sailed south to the Canary Islands. Then he turned west across the unknown waters of the mid-Atlantic Ocean. Ten weeks after leaving Spain, on the morning of October 12, he stepped ashore on the beach of a low sandy island. He named the island San Salvador – Holy Savior. Columbus believed that he had landed in the Indies, a group of islands close to the mainland of India. For this reason he called the friendly, brown-skinned people who greeted him ‘los Indios’ – Indians.

In fact, Columbus was not near India. It was not the edge of Asia that he had reached, but islands off the shores of a new continent. Europeans would soon name the continent America, but for many years they went on calling its inhabitants Indians. Only recently have these first Americans been described more accurately as ‘native Americans’ or Amerindians. There were many different groups of Amerindians. Those north of Mexico, in what is now the USA and Canada, were scattered across the grasslands and forests in separate groups called ‘tribes’. These tribes followed very different ways of life. Some were hunters, some were farmers. Some were peaceful, others warlike. They spoke over three hundred separate languages, some of which were as different from one another as English is from Chinese. Europeans called America ‘the New World’. But it was not new to the Amerindians. Their ancestors had already been living there for maybe 50,000 years when Columbus stepped on to the beach in San…...

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