4.3 The Peoples of North America

Hundreds of Native American cultural groups lived in North America before A.D. 1500 and the arrival of Europeans. Based on the environments in which people lived, scholars have categorized them into ten culture areas: Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, California, Great Basin, Plateau, Southwest, Plains, Southeast, and Northeast. In each area, people adapted to geographic conditions that influenced their ways of life.

Photo of a flattened circular area in a desert setting surrounded by a short stone wall.

Like the Maya, the Hohokam built ball courts. Hohokam games were thought to put players in touch with the spiritual world, and attendance at the games was both ceremonial and a means to socialize.


  • Understand how groups of people adapted to the desert environment of the Southwest.
  • Analyze the evidence from which we have learned about the emergence of culture in eastern North America.
  • Examine the cultures that developed in three very different geographic regions.

Key Terms

  • Mesa Verde
  • pueblo
  • Pueblo Bonito
  • kiva
  • earthwork
  • Cahokia
  • potlatch
  • Iroquois League

Cultures Develop in the Desert Southwest

For millennia, Native American groups lived by hunting, fishing, and gathering wild plants. After farming spread north from Mesoamerica, many people raised corn and other food crops. Some people farmed so successfully that they built large permanent settlements. Some of the earliest farming cultures arose in what is today the southwestern United States.

The Hohokam, Pima, and Papago

Perhaps as long ago as 300 B.C., fields of corn, beans, and squash bloomed in the desert of present-day Arizona, near the Salt and Gila rivers. These fields were planted by a people later called the Hohokam, or “Vanished Ones,” by their descendants, the Pima and the Papago. To farm in the desert, the Hohokam built a complex irrigation system that included numerous canals. The canals carried river water to fields as far as several miles away. The Hohokam also built temple mounds and ball courts similar in appearance to those of Mesoamerica. Evidence indicates that, for unknown reasons, the Hohokam left their settlements sometime during the A.D. 1400s.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments