When he died in 1506, Christopher Columbus was convinced that after crossing the Atlantic he had reached the Indies.
However, European scientists of the time had no doubt that the uncovered territory constituted an unknown and extraordinarily complex continent.
It was up to German cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller to baptize the new lands under the name of America, in honor of Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci (Amerigo Vespucci), whose accounts were the first to assert the existence of the "New World."
America began to be populated, according to estimates, between 20,000 and 35,000 years ago (although some researchers propose fifty thousand years), when declining sea levels - caused by the last glaciation - made land communication between Asia and the New World possible. across the Bering Strait.
The cultural evolution of American prehistoric man accelerated between 5000 and 4000 BC, with the beginning of a process of neolithic revolution in some parts of Mexico, Central America, and Peru.
By the year 3000 BC agricultural techniques (irrigation, fertilization and terraced cultivation) had already been consolidated, while the arts of pottery and fabric making reached a high degree of perfection. The growing complexity of social and economic organization has led to the formation of urban centers with centralized political power. Thus between 1500 and 1200 BC various civilizations began to follow in the valley of Mexico, Central America, and the Andes.
In Mexico, the Olmec (1150-800 BC), Teotihuacan (400 BC-650 BC), Toltec (10th to 12th centuries) and Aztec (14th to 16th centuries) cultures were developed. The Mayan civilization evolved from 500 BC in southern Mexico, Yucatan, Guatemala and El Salvador, with distinct cultural stages, whose heyday was between the third century BC and the early tenth century of the Christian era. In the Andean region flourished the cultures of Chavín and Paracas (1000-200 BC), Nazca and Moche (400-200 BC), Tiahuanaco and Huari (600-800 BC), Chimú (14th and 15th centuries) and the Inca Empire. (15th and 16th centuries).
In the rest of the continent, the various Amerindian peoples remained in very late cultural stages. Hunting and gathering activities continued in many regions until discovery; but some incipient forms of agriculture had already begun to develop, especially in the areas near the great civilizations.
American civilizations knew the calendar, the pictographic and ideographic forms of writing, and achieved a high level of perfection in the arts of architecture, sculpture and ceramics. However, they did not develop iron metallurgy nor did they achieve important inventions and techniques such as the wheel, the potter's wheel, the arch and the vault (in architecture) and the glass.
The arrival of Christopher Columbus represented the discovery of a vast territory previously unknown to the inhabitants of the Old World. The Spanish, "owners", along with the Portuguese, of the newly discovered lands, undertook the conquest of the civilized zones of Mexico and Peru (Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, respectively), and began the colonization of all Central America, of the Greater Antilles, Venezuela, Colombia, the Andes and the River Plate.
The introduction of Christianity and the Castilian language, and the fusion and assimilation of indigenous civilizations with Hispanic culture were the counterpart of the abuses and exploitation to which the American Indians were subjected. The Portuguese, who arrived in the New World in 1500, with the expedition of Pedro Álvares Cabral, established their colonial rule on the coasts of Brazil, which was their territory under the Treaty of Tordesillas.