Debrys Map of 1591

Native Americans and South America Cultures

1600 Map of LaFlorida in Detail
1600 Map of LaFlorida in Detail

Southern Contacts of the Indians North of the Gulf of Mexico by J. R. Swanton studied the Native Americans and South America cultures and their gradual transmission of separate cultural elements.

The relations existing in prehistoric times between the Indians formerly inhabiting the territory of the present United Sates and those south of them have been a subject of discussion from the earliest period of ethnologic speculation in America. Dissemination of culture and of blood takes place, of course, where any tribe is in contact with any other tribe, but something more than this has frequently been alleged of the relations between the two areas under consideration.

In parts of Mexico and Central America, not to mention regions farther south, there existed historically, as is well known, relatively high native cultures, usually spoken of as “civilizations.” In the southeastern and southwestern parts of what is now the United States were two groups of tribes exhibiting cultures inferior to those of the peoples just mentioned but distinctly superior to those of the tribal north of them, and in the Southeast there were earthen structures which suggested to the earlier investigators a culture still higher, one seeming to recall that of the more southern nations. With the Pueblo cultural area of the Southwest it is not proposed to deal in this paper except in so far as it affected the cultural area of the Southeast with which we are specifically concerned.

As long, as the builders of the mounds were supposed to be a vanished race possessed of a civilization superior to that of the Indians found in the same country in later times, it was almost inevitable that students should turn to the existing civilizations elsewhere for an explanation of them. But even after the “mound builder” theory had been given up it was held that the culture represented by the mounds and by the more advanced peoples of the Southeast must owe much of its superiority to Mexico and Central America, either through the migrations of entire tribes or by the transplantation of entire cultures. This is the question which I propose to discuss in the present paper.

Native Americans and South America Cultures TOC


  1. Proof of the direct influence of southern cultures upon the culture of the Indians north of the Gulf of Mexico or of transplantation of peoples there from the south is as yet wanting.
  2. There are evidences of more intimate contact between the Indians of the Southeast and the Pueblos than between the former and Mexico.
  3. Single cultural elements are known to have been introduced from the south but for only a few of these is the evidence entirely satisfactory.

In spite of the small number of proved cases of transmission there is good reason to believe that the cultures of the southeastern United Slates as well as that of the Southwest constituted marginal areas in that succession of semi-civilizations extending through Mexico and Central America to the Andean region of South America.


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