America before Columbus

America before Columbus

2010, History  -   131 Comments
Ratings: 7.17/10 from 303 users.

History books traditionally depict the pre-Columbus Americas as a pristine wilderness where small native villages lived in harmony with nature. But scientific evidence tells a very different story: When Columbus stepped ashore in 1492, millions of people were already living there. America wasn't exactly a New World, but a very old one whose inhabitants had built a vast infrastructure of cities, orchards, canals and causeways.

The English brought honeybees to the Americas for honey, but the bees pollinated orchards along the East Coast. Thanks to the feral honeybees, many of the plants the Europeans brought, like apples and peaches, proliferated. Some 12,000 years ago, North American mammoths, ancient horses, and other large mammals vanished. The first horses in America since the Pleistocene era arrived with Columbus in 1493.

Settlers in the Americas told of rivers that had more fish than water. The South American potato helped spark a population explosion in Europe. In 1491, the Americas had few domesticated animals, and used the llama as their beast of burden.

In 1491, more people lived in the Americas than in Europe. The first conquistadors were sailors and adventurers. In 1492, the Americas were not a pristine wilderness but a crowded and managed landscape. The now barren Chaco Canyon was once covered with vegetation. Along with crops like wheat, weeds like dandelion were brought to America by Europeans.

It’s believed that the domestication of the turkey began in pre-Columbian Mexico, and did not exist in Europe in 1491. By 1500, European settlers and their plants and animals had altered much of the Americas’ landscape. While beans, potatoes, and maize from the Americas became major crops in continental Europe.

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Kip Keino
8 years ago

very good info, well put together - 5 stars

Giovanna Lepore
8 years ago

As an antidote to this film read An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz; Savage Anxieties: The Invention of Western Civilization, Robert A. Williams, Jr.(Lumbee); God is Red, Vine Deloria (Sioux) for starters. This "documentary " manages to completely gloss over the deliberate extermination of the First Nations and would have us believe that the uninvited invaders innocently wiped out the indigenes with germs only. Read history and the horrors that the murderer Columbus inflicted on the Tainos for a start. Then the numerous trails of tears. And now as we titter on our collective extinction due to the twin crisis--ecological and nuclear--brought to you by the European and their descendants--madmen-- let us remember their crimes of greed and racism.

9 years ago

Just brilliant. However, as someone pointed out, the title is misleading. There is a heavy focus on how Europeans influenced the Americas. I still enjoyed it. All that history crammed into an hour and a half. It didn't miss a beat. It's quite sad, and yet such a necessary step to the modern world we know today.

The potato and tomato was such an interesting thing to learn about. I'd always assumed that they were always accessible to Europe. Especially considering the stereotypes of the Irish and Italian. As an American of both Irish and Italian ancestry, I was tickled to bits to learn that these foods were not European in origin, among others.

I thought it was poetic how the Spaniards hoped to convert new Christians, and instead, killed them with the pox. And in the end, they assumed God paved the way for them. It just goes to show how corrupt man is with religion. Hundreds of years later, according to man, God is still hurting other men for your benefit. Christians, Jews and Muslims- all the same.

9 years ago

This was a beautifully presented doc.
I learned a lot.
It wasn't all about Europe, just explained what the conditions were that drove people to come here.
Graphics show the viewers what different parts of America must have looked like.
We see how the natives must have lived, what they grew, how they hunted and fished.
How they used nature to manage their crops and the animals they depended on.
All kinds of interesting material.
I thought it was very well done and educational, too.
Would love to see it shown in our schools.

10 years ago

they were doing great..........until the white man came!!!! lol

10 years ago

I thought this was about AMERICA BEFORE the Europeans. More than half of this goddamn movie is about EUROPE. wtf seriously guys?

10 years ago

I'm an european, but ashamed of beeing one, because of what they've done few centuries ago.
Shame on you europeans ! and spanish people and british people,etc.!!!
For all that matters, i wish the europeans have never discovered The New World, even if that means no tomatoes, no french fries, no cocoa and other good stuff T_T

Bill Ramage
10 years ago

Not good, not bad, not right, not wrong, just the way it was

10 years ago

Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand threatened my family with death, conversion, or exile. We were accepted by the Ottomans. The Sultan Beyazit "is said to have exclaimed thus at the Spanish monarch’s lack of wisdom: “Ye call Ferdinand a wise king he who makes his land poor and ours rich!”

We narrowly escaped the inquisition. Columbus had to leave from a swamp infested port because the normal ports were clogged with people escaping the inquisition.

10 years ago

There are no Native Americans. The so-called "Native Americans" came from Asia. Their migration was no different from Europeans other than their time of arrival. The so-called "Native Americans" were at war with each other well before Europeans arrived. War was glorified in the so-called "Native American" culture. They were NOT angels despite what this "politically correct" documentary tries to portray them as.

10 years ago

The concept of European agriculture as an artificial ecology and Native American agriculture as the management of natural ecology is a simple yet insightful idea which explains a huge number of differences between the two cultures. I remember reading from original sources how the colonists had trouble telling the Indian's gardens from the surrounding forest. That now makes perfect sense. Also very interesting to learn syphilis originated in the Americas. Totally surprised by that one.

charles b
10 years ago

Sounds all nice and rosy, the colombian exchange was good for who? I don't think the Americas benefitted, nor did the natives. Europeans and their capitalist ways exploited and destroyed a continent. But the real kicker is at the end when they talk about the melting pot of the races, which is code for brownies are made to be like whites and the main key to it all? Darwin and social darwinism! Whites and Europeans are a superior race! Oh, what a disappointment.

10 years ago

I need help with my homework and I am not sure what the answer is, anyone willing to help? The questions is:
Why was America transformed 500 years ago?

11 years ago

There is a great problem with how they have down played the genocide of the colonizing nations. Columbus is personally responsible for reducing the population of Haiti from 7 million to 600,000 in 6 years. Cortez wiped out the Aztecs. DeSoto raped and pillaged along his march from the southern tips of Florida up the eastern coasts and looping around. He was quite prowd to report the fact that he was not bringing supplies but rather stealing it from the native tribes he killed along his path. It is also well documented that the blankets with small pox were sent from Europe after the great epidemics with the intention of being given to the natives.

11 years ago

a sad reflection on colonial legacy and consumption patterns that are destroying our planet

11 years ago

A sad reflection of colonial legacy and an economic system which is destorying our planet.....

11 years ago

I think we could all look at this celebration of destruction and despair.

11 years ago

does anybody know what America was called back then ?

let me know

11 years ago

I haven't seen the documentary yet, but whoever wrote the above article does not have a clear understanding of English grammar. I hope that isn't a peek into things to come.

11 years ago

they raped the natural resources in america then, all the way until now. now we pay the consequences of a unsane society based on waste rape and ignorance

11 years ago

Does anybody know Christopher Columbus's geneology and who he married?

11 years ago

I was going to watch this one, but from the comments I have chosen not to watch it.

11 years ago

Some of these post are sad, too many people with too little knowledge. Of course there were people here before Columbus arrived; and it's not the "discovery" that is important to understand, it's the exchange. Were other Europeans on these continents prior to 1492--yes, but they didn't have the impact Columbus did because they didn't have the backing of a crown or the need to show results. It was the exchange of plants and animals that make this story vital to the creation of the modern world.

Now you can label it good, bad, or indifferent--that is totally up to your personal perspective, the major thing is to understand the big picture and then to learn from the mistakes and successes that went before us.

11 years ago

the comments here are almost as entertaining as the documentary

11 years ago

The first explorers knew nothing of glacial advance and retreat

11 years ago

This documentary is important as a study but I found myself falling asleep. I thought that I would be learning about the unknown story of Native American civilization beyound the tepee, instaed I get another European dominated study. I discontinued watching the documentary.

gunk wretch
11 years ago

they kept mentioning how natives were killed by disease, but failed to mention white people intentionally infected them as a means of germ warfare. Definitely a bias doc, and totally misleading title, Ive seen enough docs about how glorious colonization supposedly was, i wanted to learn about precolumbian cultures.

11 years ago

If anyony and i mean anyone was a true american hero it was Columbus!!! A hero! And one if not the greatest and bravest explorer of all time. And all that stuff about what he did to the natives honestly who cares what happened to some natives i mean for real we're talking about Christopher Columbus here. To bad though he didn't get all the fame and fortune he desrved while he was still alive . Thankfully now he's a symbol of greatness to all real americans anyway.

11 years ago

Um the spanish didnt use the horse to conquer the natives. Actually when the Spanish attacked the natives they lost. What actually killed off a majority of the natives within the first decades was disease the Europeans brought such as smallpox

11 years ago

F**K columbus day.

11 years ago

I am a cross of Mississippian decent and English, Irish, and Dutch. After
Seeing this, I am proud of only One of these. The Native Americans. My Roots are here, Yet I am ashamed of Mankind for the Loss of A race and A way of life. With Blight killing peaches, apples, and Mountain hemlock. Monsanto controlling seeds and Hebrides. The World will pay for the destruction of the new world in more ways than it can now imagine.

Gord Hockridge
11 years ago

americo vespusy discovered america - not columbas

12 years ago

i thogth that this documetery would ne about america before the eroupen came

12 years ago

America founded on terrorism, genocide, and slavery... now home of the free masons and the illusion of democracy

12 years ago

For those who wants to understand the true history of Brazilian colonization - incuding the environmental perspective - I recomend Warren Dean.

The Other Kent
12 years ago

I refuse to watch this. It's made by National Geographic, AKA the eduganda channel. Every time I watch something by them, there's an obvious slant of perspective, diversion of attention, and/or blatant omission of critical and relevant information. Not to mention the language is that of a 6th grader's. They're as crooked as a dog's hind leg.

12 years ago

Not much info on life in America before Columbus. Much more about life in Europe and the huge populations that destroyed all forests and other resources. Nothing said of the plagues that swept through Europe eliminating 1/3 to half the population at a time. What I also find stupid is that the Indians could kill bison, deer, elk, moose, etc... but couldn't kill the pigs that destroyed their corn fields. Also, no mention of Indian nations having wars. I guess that's because they were all good and friendly towards one another. I know a fella that tried to burn some wooded area near his house to clear out all the thick briars and dead fall. He got arrested. I guess the authorities didn't watch this lame documentary.

Carl Hendershot
12 years ago

@gothnate LOL. I guess in Italy It is the potato, I mean patatoe. Dublin lol. Uggggs lol. Very good DOCU. I really did enjoy this and was very informed. @Anthony, I think it was the music that was most irritating. During the parts were it brought up points of death mayhem and so on the music was light and uplifting and opposite for the good parts. LOL Then to top it all off the ending was a satanic chant. Hmmmm LOL anyhow~ overall this was a decent documentary. I am sure there was plenty left out and leaves me with a good imagination.

12 years ago

i cant decide if the narration is simply irritating due to the patronising droll or the simplistic nature of the vocabulary. he speaks very very Despite the clueless narrator, who's annunciation and rhythm lead you to believe he is a complete simpleton, its certainly worth a watch.

Smoke Screen
12 years ago

A nice piece of edutainment that is broadly cutting out the rough edges without at least noting a couple of them. I'm not one who glorifies the natives as noble-minded but they got disenfranchisement, dispossession and dead as they share of the "Columbian exchange" for the last half millennium up to this day. Which could've made be a bit clearer in the film.

12 years ago

Are we Westerners not somewhat arrogant? i mean:

"As population took hold onto the America's in the NEW world... ??

..they might rephrase that into:

"As an UNSUCCESSFUL population took hold onto the America's in the SUCCESSFULLY CO-EXISTING other world.. THEY DESTROYED WISDOM"

@peter thanks for the tip!

12 years ago


I love that book! It's been over ten years since i've last read it, thanks for bringing back to mind. It was well documented and well written. My first real eye opener to the true American History that the victors did not write.

12 years ago

mmmm... guilded the lily somewhat, a good book to read to clear up the naievity of this film: American holocaust by David E Stannard.

12 years ago

good doc. Never knew so many were here before Columbus.

12 years ago


That's one of my favorite books! Love Howard Zinn! I would also recommend "Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James Loewen.

12 years ago

basically well done - i wish, though, someone could do a documentary that is clear-eyed about the history, without patronizing the natives.

there was not a little war prior to the europeans' arrival, and a good bit of human sacrifice. those guys hauling the wood on their backs, stones up the andes, etc., probably weren't too happy about it, we needn't imagine.

much of the sustainability of native-american culture was attributable, imo, to the lack of population pressure. this doc did, to its credit, point out such pressures on the euro side of the water - but there was a good bit of head-patting for the amerinds and scolding tones for the dumb, greedy euros.

the cure isn't to become primitive. usually, that's the unspoken inference of value documentarians default to.

Mad at the world
12 years ago

Columbus the terrible

underground man
12 years ago

Hey, what about cuy? That's an important domesticated animal in Andean culture.

12 years ago

Very, very nice. A high quality and intriguing documentary that successfully blends history of civilization, agriculture and the natural world together.

Voice of Treason
12 years ago