4. Pre-Columbian America

Part of the fascination of studying early cultures lies in the similarities and contrasts between the major civilizations of the different continents, developing independently of each other.

Central and South America prior to the Spanish conquest harbored some of the great traditions of the ancient world, traditions which have at times been underplayed by Eurocentric histories: those of the Incas, the Aztecs, and the Mayas. Although they never developed the technology of metalworking, or the use of the wheel, these peoples created an advanced written language, a system of mathematics and a 'proto-Pythagorean' geometry, a sophisticated astronomy and an accurate calendar system. In this respect they were startlingly close to ancient Mesopotamian peoples (see section 2).

North America, meanwhile, was the territory of diverse native American tribes whose more organic, less empirical culture again was rich and subtle, but infinitely fragile. As so often, Christian settlers and colonists burst in where angels might fear to tread, both in North and South America. Today the European West increasingly looks to such ancient cultures, in need of their wisdom and their harmony with nature.