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The Americas, Western Hemisphere
Cultural regions of North American people at the time of contact
Early Indigenous languages in the US

The classification of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas is based upon cultural regions, geography, and linguistics. Anthropologists have named various cultural regions, with fluid boundaries, that are generally agreed upon with some variation. These cultural regions are broadly based upon the locations of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas from early European and African contact beginning in the late 15th century. When Indigenous peoples have been forcibly removed by nation-states, they retain their original geographic classification. Some groups span multiple cultural regions.

Canada, Greenland, United States, and northern Mexico

In the United States and Canada, ethnographers commonly classify Indigenous peoples into ten geographical regions with shared cultural traits, called cultural areas. [1] Greenland is part of the Arctic region. Some scholars combine the Plateau and Great Basin regions into the Intermontane West, some separate Prairie peoples from Great Plains peoples, while some separate Great Lakes tribes from the Northeastern Woodlands.


Inuktitut dialect map
Early Indigenous languages in Alaska


Pacific Northwest coast

Northwest Plateau

Chinook peoples

Interior Salish

Sahaptin people

Other or both

Great Plains

Indigenous peoples of the Great Plains are often separated into Northern and Southern Plains tribes.

Eastern Woodlands

Northeastern Woodlands

Southeastern Woodlands

Great Basin


Nota bene: The California cultural area does not exactly conform to the state of California's boundaries, and many tribes on the eastern border with Nevada are classified as Great Basin tribes and some tribes on the Oregon border are classified as Plateau tribes. [57]


This region is also called "Oasisamerica" and includes parts of what is now Arizona, Southern Colorado, New Mexico, Western Texas, Southern Utah, Chihuahua, and Sonora

Mexico and Mesoamerica

The regions of Oasisamerica, Aridoamerica, and Mesoamerica span multiple countries and overlap.


Aridoamerica region of North America


Map of Mesoamerica


Partially organized per Handbook of South American Indians. [66]


Anthropologist Julian Steward defined the Antilles cultural area, which includes all of the Antilles and Bahamas, except for Trinidad and Tobago. [66]

Central America

The Central American culture area includes part of El Salvador, most of Honduras, all of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama, and some peoples on or near the Pacific coasts of Colombia and Ecuador. [66]

Colombia and Venezuela

The Colombia and Venezuela culture area includes most of Colombia and Venezuela. Southern Colombia is in the Andean culture area, as are some peoples of central and northeastern Colombia, who are surrounded by peoples of the Colombia and Venezuela culture. Eastern Venezuela is in the Guianas culture area, and southeastern Colombia and southwestern Venezuela are in the Amazonia culture area. [66]


The Guianas in northern South America
The position of the Guianas in the Neotropical realm in northern South America

This region includes northern parts Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, and parts of the Amazonas, Amapá, Pará, and Roraima States in Brazil.

Eastern Brazil

This region includes parts of the Ceará, Goiás, Espírito Santo, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Pará, and Santa Catarina states of Brazil


The Tawantinsuyu, or fullest extent of the Inca Empire, which includes much of the Andean cultural region

Pacific lowlands


Northwestern Amazon

This region includes Amazonas in Brazil; the Amazonas and Putumayo Departments in Colombia; Cotopaxi, Los Rios, Morona-Santiago, Napo, and Pastaza Provinces and the Oriente Region in Ecuador; and the Loreto Region in Peru.

Eastern Amazon

This region includes Amazonas, Maranhão, and parts of Pará States in Brazil.

Southern Amazon

This region includes southern Brazil ( Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, parts of Pará, and Rondônia) and Eastern Bolivia ( Beni Department).

Southwestern Amazon

This region includes the Cuzco, Huánuco Junín, Loreto, Madre de Dios, and Ucayali Regions of eastern Peru, parts of Acre, Amazonas, and Rondônia, Brazil, and parts of the La Paz and Beni Departments of Bolivia.

Gran Chaco

Approximate region of the Gran Chaco

Southern Cone

Patagonian languages at the time of European/African contact

Fjords and channels of Patagonia


Indigenous languages of the Americas (or Amerindian Languages) are spoken by Indigenous peoples from the southern tip of South America to Alaska and Greenland, encompassing the land masses which constitute the Americas. These Indigenous languages consist of dozens of distinct language families as well as many language isolates and unclassified languages. Many proposals to group these into higher-level families have been made. According to UNESCO, most of the Indigenous American languages in North America are critically endangered and many of them are already extinct. [75]

Genetic classification

The haplogroup most commonly associated with Indigenous Americans is Haplogroup Q1a3a (Y-DNA). [76] Y-DNA, like (mtDNA), differs from other nuclear chromosomes in that the majority of the Y chromosome is unique and does not recombine during meiosis. This has the effect that the historical pattern of mutations can more easily be studied. [77] The pattern indicates Indigenous peoples of the Americas experienced two very distinctive genetic episodes; first with the initial-peopling of the Americas, and secondly with European colonization of the Americas. [78] [79] The former is the determinant factor for the number of gene lineages and founding haplotypes present in today's Indigenous American populations. [78]

Human settlement of the Americas occurred in stages from the Bering sea coast line, with an initial 20,000-year layover on Beringia for the founding population. [80] [81] The micro-satellite diversity and distributions of the Y lineage specific to South America indicates that certain Amerindian populations have been isolated since the initial colonization of the region. [82] The Na-Dené, Inuit and Indigenous Alaskan populations exhibit haplogroup Q (Y-DNA) mutations, however are distinct from other Indigenous Americans with various mtDNA mutations. [83] [84] [85] This suggests that the earliest migrants into the northern extremes of North America and Greenland derived from later populations. [86]

See also


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