Native America in 1500 was a stunningly diverse place. Native peoples had adapted to their environment for more than 10,000 years. They formed complex societies with their own worldviews, methods of exchange, and expressions of spirituality and art. Varying greatly in size, these societies included the small, kin-based communities of the Plains and autonomous villages in the Eastern woodlands; centralized mound-building cultures along the Mississippi and in the Southeast; and large tributary empires such as that of the Aztec in Mexico’s central valley.
Europeans, who first arrived in significant numbers in the sixteenth century, brought sweeping historic changes to these native communities. However, the speed and depth of the changes varied enormously, depending on when, where, and under what circumstances Native Americans met Europeans. By the end of the eighteenth century, colonial America had been thoroughly reshaped by the interaction between diverse groups of Native Americans and Europeans.