Indians, American, the original inhabitants of the Americas. The name was given to them by Columbus, who thought he had discovered the Indies. They—together with the Eskimos, or Inuit, and Aleuts—are also called Native Americans.
This article is concerned mainly with Indians north of Mexico.American Indian cultural areas. The Indians of North and South America formed hundreds of tribes with many different ways of life. Scholars divide the various tribes into groups of similar tribes that they call cultural areas. This map shows the location of each cultural area. In North America, the cultural areas include the Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Plains, Northeast, Great Basin, California, Southeast, and South West. In Central America, the cultural areas include Middle American and Caribbean. In South America, the cultural areas include Andes, Tropical Forest, and Marginal.
In physical characteristics Indians vary so much that there are exceptions to almost anything that can be said about them. Generally they have features of Mongoloid peoples; coarse, straight, black hair; little facial or body hair; and skin color ranging from yellow-brown to reddish brown.
In cultural background there are also great differences among Indians. Noted for their cultural achievements were the Aztecs of Mexico, the Mayas of Central America, and the Incas of Peru. They had cities of stone, elaborately and artistically carved. They wove cloth and worked in gold and copper. Each of these civilizations lasted for several centuries. Most Indians of the pre-Columbian period, however, were nomadic hunters, practicing some agriculture. They lived in, or roamed over, all parts of the Western Hemisphere.