• Beyond the Facts and Figures: The Rise of Civilization

    Early Native Americans were generally nomads; they moved from place to place in search of food. This is true of ancient peoples elsewhere too, such as the early people living in the Middle East and northern Africa. The hunting and gathering lifestyle was difficult and people didn’t live very long. Populations remained small.

    Have you ever wondered how these ancient people developed into great civilizations? What allowed them to move forward and progress? The answer might surprise you: food.

    • In Mesoamerica, thousands of years ago, native people began cultivating, or growing, a small grass-like plant. This plant was the ancestor of modern corn. An ear of corn was only about the size of your thumb. The corn was small and lacked nutrition.
    • Scientists and archaeologists aren’t sure how these people did it, but over many years, they adapted corn to become a nutritious staple food. They adapted the corn so it could be grown in colder climates. They learned how to fertilize the soil and divert water from streams and rivers to water the corn.
    • Native people learned how to dry corn. They could grind it into flour during the winter. This knowledge allowed them to stay in one place. They no longer had to move to warmer climates during the winter in search of food. Great civilizations began to thrive.
    • Over 8,000 years ago in the mountains of Peru, the Inca people began to grow potatoes. These roots were similar to corn. They became a staple crop that allowed the Incas to survive and thrive. When explorers first brought potatoes back to Europe, people believed they were poisonous. Later, potatoes became an important crop there too.
    • All over the world, ancient people developed food crops based on the resources around them. In Mesopotamia and Egypt, people began keeping sheep and other livestock. Europeans learned to grow rye and wheat.
    The Rise of Civilization
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    Vocabulary

    1. Nomad: someone who moves from place to place without a permanent home
    2. Population: a specific group of people
    3. Cultivate: intentionally grow and raise plants
    4. Ancestor: an early type of plant or animal from which others have come from; or family members from whom one has descended or come from

    Questions and Answers

    Question: Did early settlers use the native tribes’ knowledge of food?

    Answer: Yes, early colonists, such as the Pilgrims, would likely have starved to death without the Indians’ help. Native Americans taught the colonists how to grow foods, such as corn.

    Learn More

    Visit the University of Utah to see photos of early ears of corn.

     

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