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ancient Native American art in the high desert, Utah, USA It is thought that humans settled on the continent of North America sometime between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago, in what is now known as Alaska.  The first people to come to the continent came across the Bering Sea, from Asia.  As people spread throughout the large continent they developed their own unique histories, cultures, and societies.

The Olmec of Mexico created the first civilized society in the Western Hemisphere, which included a writing system, a calendar, and architecture.  In 700 AD, the Maya settled in both Mexico and Central America, creating religion and cities.  The Toltec and Aztec cultures followed.

Viking village reconstruction, L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada Vikings from Iceland and Greenland visited Newfoundland around 1000 AD, but Europeans were widely introduced to North America after a Spanish expedition led by Christopher Columbus landed on the Bahamas in 1492.  This discovery led to more and more exploration.  Within the next few decades, the Spanish had claimed the Caribbean and Central America; the English, French, Dutch, Russians, and Danes soon followed to see what they could claim upon reaching North American shores.

Before the Europeans came to North America, the continent was comprised of hundreds of different cultures.  Europeans brought permanent settlements, as well as those things that go hand-in-hand with civilized societies, such as written languages and tools.  Many of the cities that Europeans founded were based on models from Europe, including New York, Chicago, Toronto, and Mexico City.  In addition, while Native American languages were once prevalent, the immigration of Europeans resulted in their languages taking over, including English, French, and Spanish.  Today, while there are dozens of languages spoken throughout North America, English, French, and Spanish remain the most commonly used.

pioneer wagon on the Oregon Trail, Nebraska, USA The Native Americans had difficulty weathering the storm that arriving Europeans brought; when they weren't succumbing to invasions, they were succumbing to European diseases.  Eventually, the Native American societies were eclipsed by European colonies, which, in time, became nations such as Canada, Mexico, and the United States of America.

Today, North America is a study in contrasts.  While the USA and Canada are two of the most prosperous nations in the world, some of the other countries in North America, particularly the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America, are plagued by poverty and instability.

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