western hemisphere - In telling the history of the United...

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In telling the history of the United States and also of the nations of the Western Hemisphere in general, historians have wrestled with the problem of what to call the hemisphere's first inhabitants. Under the mistaken impression he had reached the “Indies,” explorer Christopher Columbus called the people he met “Indians.” This was an error in identification that has persisted for more than five hundred years, for the inhabitants of North and South America had no collective name by which they called themselves. Historians, anthropologists, and political activists have offered various names, none fully satisfactory. Anthropologists have used “aborigine,” but the term suggests a primitive level of existence inconsistent with the cultural level of many tribes. Another term, “Amerindian,” which combines Columbus's error with the name of another Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci (whose name was the source of “America”), lacks any historical context. Since the 1960s, “Native American” has come into popular favor, though some activists prefer “American Indian.” In the absence of a truly representative term, descriptive references such as “native peoples” or “indigenous peoples,” though vague, avoid European influence. In recent years, some argument has developed over whether to refer to tribes in the singular or plural—Apache or Apaches—with supporters on both sides demanding political correctness. Arrival of the first inhabitants. Apart from the brief visit of the Scandinavians in the early eleventh century, the Western Hemisphere remained unknown to Europe until Columbus's voyage in 1492. However, the native peoples of North and South America arrived from Asia long before, in a series of migrations that began perhaps as early as forty thousand years ago across the land bridge that connected Siberia and Alaska. The first Americans found a hunter's paradise. Mammoths and mastodons, ancestors of the elephant, and elk, moose, and caribou abounded on the North American continent. Millions of bison lived on the Great Plains, as did antelope, deer, and other game animals, providing the earliest inhabitants of the Americas, the Paleo Indians, with a land rich in food sources. Because food was abundant, the population grew, and human settlement spread throughout the Western Hemisphere rather quickly.
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