Saylor.org's Ancient Civilizations of the World/Cultures of South America
By the first millennium, South America's vast rainforests, mountains, plains, and coasts were the home of tens of millions of people. Some groups formed permanent settlements. Among those groups were the Chibchas (or "Muiscas" or "Muyscas"), Valdivia and the Tairona. The Chibchas of Colombia, Valdivia of Ecuador, the Quechuas of Peru, and the Aymara of Bolivia were the four most important sedentary Amerindian groups in South America. From the 1970s, numerous geoglyphs have been discovered on deforested land in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil, leading to claims about an ancient complex Amazonian civilization.
The theory of pre-Columbian contact across the South Pacific Ocean between South America and Polynesia has received support from several lines of evidence, although solid confirmation remains elusive. A diffusion by human agents has been put forward to explain the pre-Columbian presence in Oceania of several cultivated plant species native to South America, such as the bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) or sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas). Direct archaeological evidence for such pre-Columbian contacts and transport has been lacking, however. A 2007, paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences put forward DNA and archaeological evidence that domesticated chickens had been introduced into South America via Polynesia by late pre-Columbian times. These findings were challenged by a later study published in the same journal, that cast doubt on the dating calibration used and presented alternative Mitochondrial DNA analyses that disagreed with a Polynesian genetic origin. The origin and dating remains an open issue. Whether or not early Polynesian-American exchanges occurred, there are no discernible human-genetic, archaeological, cultural or linguistic legacies of that contact.
Norte Chico or Caral civilization
On the north-central coast of present-day Peru, Norte Chico or Caral (as known in Peru) was a civilization that emerged around 3000 BCE (contemporary with urbanism's rise in Mesopotamia.) It is considered one of the six cradles of civilization in the world. It had a cluster of large-scale urban settlements of which the Sacred City of Caral, in the Supe valley, is one of the largest and best studied sites. Norte Chico or Caral is the oldest known civilization in the Americas and persisted until around 1800 BCE.
The Valdivia culture was concentrated on the coast of Ecuador. Their existence was recently discovered by archeological findings. Their culture is the oldest in the Americas, spanning from 3500 to 1800 BCE. The Valdivia lived in a community of houses built in a circle or oval around a central plaza. They were sedentary people who lived off farming and fishing, though occasionally they hunted for deer. From the remains that have been found, scholars have determined that Valdivians cultivated maize, kidney beans, squash, cassava, hot peppers, and cotton plants, the last of which was used to make clothing. Valdivian pottery initially was rough and practical, but it became showy, delicate, and big over time. They generally used red and gray colors; and the polished dark red pottery is characteristic of the Valdivia period. In its ceramics and stone works, the Valdivia culture shows a progression from the most simple to much more complicated works.
The Cañari were the indigenous natives of today's Ecuadorian provinces of Cañar and Azuay. They were an elaborate civilization with advanced architecture and complex religious beliefs. The Inca destroyed and burned most of their remains. The Cañari's old city was replaced twice, first by the Incan city of Tomipamba, and later by the colonial city of Cuenca. The city was also believed to be the site of El Dorado, the city of gold from the mythology of Colombia.
The Cañari were most notable for having repelled the Incan invasion with fierce resistance for many years until they fell to Tupac Yupanqui. Many of their descendants are still present in Cañar. The majority did not mix with the colonists or become Mestizos.
The Chavín, a South American preliterate civilization, established a trade network and developed agriculture by 900 BCE, according to some estimates and archeological finds. Artifacts were found at a site called Chavín in modern Peru at an elevation of 3,177 meters. The Chavín civilization spanned from 900 to 300 BCE.
The Chibcha linguistic communities were the most numerous, the most territorially extended and the most socio-economically developed of the pre-Hispanic Colombians. By the 3rd century, the Chibchas had established their civilization in the northern Andes. At one point, the Chibchas occupied part of what is now Panama, and the high plains of the Eastern Sierra of Colombia. The areas which they occupied in Colombia were the present-day Departments of Santander (North and South), Boyacá and Cundinamarca. This is where the first farms and industries were developed. It is also where the independence movement originated. They are currently the richest areas in Colombia. The Chibcha developed the most populous zone between the Mayan and Inca empires. Next to the Quechua of Peru and the Aymara in Bolivia, the Chibcha of the eastern and north-eastern Highlands of Colombia developed the most notable culture among the sedentary indigenous peoples in South America.
In the Oriental Andes, the Chibcha comprised several tribes who spoke the same language (Chibchan). They included the following: the Muisca, Guane, Lache, Cofán, and Chitareros.
The Moche thrived on the north coast of Peru approximately 1,500–2,000 years ago. The heritage of the Moche is seen in their elaborate burials. Some were recently excavated by UCLA's Christopher B. Donnan in association with the National Geographic Society.
As skilled artisans, the Moche were a technologically advanced people. They traded with distant peoples such as the Maya. What has been learned about the Moche is based on study of their ceramic pottery; the carvings reveal details of their daily lives. The Larco Museum of Lima, Peru has an extensive collection of such ceramics. They show that the people practiced human sacrifice, had blood-drinking rituals, and that their religion incorporated non-procreative sexual practices (such as fellatio).
Holding their capital at the great cougar-shaped city of Cuzco, the Inca civilization dominated the Andes region from 1438 to 1533. Known as Tawantinsuyu, or "the land of the four regions", in Quechua, the Inca civilization was highly distinct and developed. Inca rule extended to nearly a hundred linguistic or ethnic communities, some 9 to 14 million people connected by a 25,000 kilometer road system. Cities were built with precise, unmatched stonework, constructed over many levels of mountain terrain. Terrace farming was a useful form of agriculture. There is evidence of excellent metalwork and even successful brain surgery in Inca civilization.
Also known as the Omagua, Umana and Kambeba, the Cambeba are an indigenous people in Brazil's Amazon valley. The Cambeba were a populous, organized society in the late Pre-Columbian era whose population suffered steep decline in the early years of the Columbian Exchange. The Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana traversed the Amazon River during 16th Century and reported densely populated regions running hundreds of kilometers along the river. These populations left no lasting monuments, possibly because they used local wood as their construction material as stone was not locally available. While it is possible Orellana may have exaggerated the level of development among the Amazonians, their semi-nomadic descendants have the odd distinction among tribal indigenous societies of a hereditary, yet landless, aristocracy. Archaeological evidence has revealed the continued presence of semi-domesticated orchards, as well as vast areas of land enriched with terra preta. Both of these discoveries, along with Cambeba ceramics discovered within the same archaeological levels suggest that a large and organized civilization existed in the area.
"Pre-Columbian Era-South America" (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-Columbian_era#South_America