Traditions and Encounters, AP Edition (Bentley), 5th Edition

Chapter 20: Worlds Apart: The Americas and Oceania


This chapter presents the evolution of complex societies in the Americas and the Pacific islands up through the sixteenth century. Isolation and varied resources led to a wide range of social structures, from simple hunting and gathering to settled agricultural villages to the highly complex urban societies like those of the Aztecs and the Incas. Common aspects of these societies include the following:

  • They were isolated from one another and from the cultures of the eastern hemisphere.
  • Metallurgical technologies were not developed, although the peoples of Mesoamerica and South America mined gold and silver.
  • There were few domesticated animals—the llama and alpaca of the Andes Mountains being the notable exceptions—and, as a result, no wheeled transport.
  • They lacked a written language. The Aztecs had mathematics, precise calendars, and a symbolic system of record keeping, but no formal written literature. The Incas kept accounts with quipu, a system of knotted cord.

Study of these societies is limited by the lack of written sources. The earliest accounts of the Aztec and Inca come from the Spanish conquerors and missionaries and are distorted by their prejudices. Nevertheless, those accounts plus oral traditions and archaeological evidence make it possible to describe the societies in some detail.

Traditions & Encounters, 5e
Glencoe Online Learning CenterSocial Studies HomeProduct InfoSite MapContact Us

The McGraw-Hill CompaniesGlencoe