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11,000 B.C.E. - 1700 C.E.: learning resources

Mesa Verde cliff dwellings

Cliff Palace, Ancestral Puebloan, 450–1300 C.E., sandstone, Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (photo: Steven Zucker, CC: BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Berlo, Janet Catherine, and Ruth B. Phillips. Native North American Art, 2 Ed. Oxford History of Art Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Newsome, Elizabeth A., and Kelley Hays-Gilpin. "Spectatorship and Performance in Mural Painting, AD 1250–1500." In Religious Transformation in the Late Pre-Hispanic Pueblo World, edited by Donna Glowacki and Scott Van Keuren. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2011.
Noble, David Grant. The Mesa Verde World: Explorations in Ancestral Pueblo Archaeology. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2006.
Penney, David W. North American Indian Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004.

Chaco Canyon

Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico (photo: Paul Williams, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Go deeper

Stephen H. Lekson, ed. The Architecture of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2007).

Inventing “America” for Europe: Theodore de Bry

Theodore de Bry, Christopher Columbus arrives in America, 1594, engraving, 18.6 c 19.6 cm, from Collected travels in the east Indies and west Indies (Collectiones peregrinationum in Indiam occidentalem), vol. 4: Girolamo Benzoni, Americae pars quarta. Sive, Insignis & admiranda historia de primera occidentali India à Christophoro Columbo (Frankfurt am Main: T. de Bry, 1594) (Rijksmuseum)

Go deeper

Bernadette Bucher, Icon and Conquest: A Structural Analysis of the Illustrations of de Bry’s Great Voyages (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1981).
Michael Gaudio, Engraving the Savage: The New World and Techniques of Civilization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).
Stephen Greenblatt, *Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World *(Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1991).
Michiel van Groesen, “The de Bry Collection of Voyages (1590–1634): Early America reconsidered,” Journal of Early Modern History 12 (2008): 1–24.
Michael van Groesen, Representations of the Overseas World in the de Bry Collection of Voyages (1590–1634) (Leiden: Brill, 2008).
Maureen Quilligan, “Theodore de Bry’s Voyages to the New and Old Worlds,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 41, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 1–12.

Thought the Puritans were dour? Think again!

Court Cupboard, 1665-73, red oak with cedar and maple (moldings), northern white cedar and white pine, 142.6 x 129.5 x 55.3 cm (Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art)

Key points

  • The Puritans came to North America as religious pilgrims, establishing Plymouth Colony in 1620.* Thomas Prence, the original owner of this cupboard, served three terms as the colony’s governor. Prence set policy regarding the inclusion or exclusion of Quakers (in fact, Plymouth Colony was particularly intolerant of the Quakers, a group that was also persecuted in England), and established more peaceful relations with the region’s indigenous population.
  • Decorative domestic objects signified social status and values among colonial families. Silver was most highly prized, followed by textiles, furniture, ceramics, and glass. For Puritans like Thomas Prence, the display of such objects also reflected the religious belief that their wealth signified that they were predestined to go to Heaven.
  • In British colonial America, makers combined artistic influences from different European periods, styles, and countries to produce ornate furniture. These objects were important for their daily domestic use and as a visible display of the owner’s wealth and status.
*The Separatist Pilgrims were part of the larger Puritan movement in England. However, in American history texts, the term Puritan often refers only to the colonists at Massachusetts Bay. Those who founded Plymouth colony are often referred to as “Separatists” or “Pilgrims.”
"The earliest English settlers of New England were called “Puritans,” a label coined and hurled at them derisively by their enemies. The label stuck; and even today, nearly four hundred years later, we tend to think of the first settlers of Massachusetts as dour killjoys. This view of Puritan society derives from the prejudices of later generations, who disparaged their Puritan progenitors as the kind of repressive folk they most loved to hate.
The “Puritan” epithet both clarifies and obscures these early English settlers for us. Members of the Church of England, they did not wish to leave the church but to purify it. Their “purifying” mission sought to rid the church of its elaborate customs and showy ritual. They wanted a simple style of worship, appropriate to what they viewed as God’s truth . As their model , they took the “primitive church,” Christianity in its earliest years before its institutionalization- and to Puritan eyes, corruption-in Rome.
In rejecting pomp and ostentation, the Puritans were also condemning the church as an elitist institution allied with the aristocracy. They sought to make religion appropriate to the values of their own emerging middle class. The Puritans believed that salvation did not lie in a set of rituals performed by the church on behalf of the sinner but in a drama within the soul of the believer, and they called those whom God had saved “saints.” They believed in a “revolution of the saints” and viewed themselves as the culmination of a biblical narrative that extended without interruption from ancient Jerusalem to their own time.
The Puritans were not democrats: like most people of their day, they subscribed to a hierarchical view of the world organized in a “Great Chain of Being,” a scale that ranked all creation from the lowest orders to the highest in graduated steps, mirroring the mind of God. Though they despised the “corruption” of aristocratic culture, they nonetheless maintained the deferential customs of a class society in which the “lower orders” deferred to the authority of their “betters.” They had only a limited notion of what we call today scientific causality. They viewed all events as direct signs from God, rather than as the results of natural causes.
And yet, even as they dragged a large portion of the late- medieval world across the ocean with them, the Puritans also produced the first outlines of modern social life. They enjoyed the highest literacy rate in seventeenth-century Western society, insisting that salvation was tied to a person’s ability to read the Bible. Within six years of founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in Boston, the Puritans established Harvard College (1636); and within ten years, they were publishing the first books in English in the New World."
-From Angela L. Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J. Wolf, and Jennifer L. Roberts, American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity (Washington University Libraries, 2018), p. 64. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

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More to think about

In the colonial homes of Puritans, the display of the family’s silver and textile collections showed their social status and reflected their cultural values. How is this practice continued today through objects displayed in the home? What are some examples in your own home that serve as displays of your values, concerns, and beliefs?

Portraits of John and Elizabeth Freake (and their baby)

Left: Unknown artist (known as Freake painter), John Freake, c. 1671 and 1674, oil on canvas, 42 x 36 3/4 inches / 108 x 93.3 cm (Worcester Art Museum) Right: Freake painter, Elizabeth Clarke Freake (Mrs. John Freake) and Baby Mary, c. 1671 and 1674, oil on canvas, 42 1/2 x 36 3/4 inches / 108 x 93.3 cm (Worcester Art Museum)

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Paquimé Jars

Effigy jar, c. 1200–1450, clay and paint, Paquimé, Chihuahua, Mexico, 23 x 18 cm; and jar with parrot design, c. 1150–1450, coiled and hand built, painted clay, attributed to Paquimé, Chihuahua, Mexico, 20 x 24 cm

Key points

  • The archaeological site of Paquimé (also known as Casas Grandes) in northern Mexico was a large city filled with several thousand people that flourished for two centuries, from c.1150 until about 1350 C.E. It is one of numerous sites associated with the Mogollon tradition (c. 200–1450 C.E.). The Mogollon cultural area spanned across what is today northern Mexico into Arizona and New Mexico. To more fully understand the history of the Mogollon—including Paquimé—we must set aside our modern day distinction between
    and the Southwestern United States, a divide which is reinforced by the existence of national borders. Instead, we must focus on the cultural and historical connections throughout the broader geographic region that occupies the southern portion of
  • The decorative features of these two jars from Paquimé reflect the existence of vast trade networks that operated throughout the region. For instance, the macaws, or parrots depicted on the ovoid jar are tropical birds, not native to the area around Paquimé, and would have been imported from areas far to the south controlled by the Maya. The
    features a strap across the figure’s forehead that would have supported a merchant’s pack on his back. The pack might have carried any number of goods moving throughout the region, including raw materials like turquoise or cacao, animals like parrots, or finished goods like these two jars.
  • The style on both jars employs geometric and linear patterns along with flat shapes and areas of color, all depicted in a specifically chosen palette of beige, black, and reddish-brown. The repetition of pattern and forms across the curved surface of each jar enlivens the designs and activates a sense of movement.
  • The function of these two jars is not totally clear to us today. Based on archaeological evidence and scholarly research, it appears that different vessels were used for different purposes: some have been found as funerary urns, some likely had a ritual function, and some may have just been decorative or used as valuable trade goods. While research on this topic will continue, we may never fully know the range of uses for these jars.

Go deeper

Learn more about the effigy jar at the National Museum of the American Indian
John A. Burrison, Global Clay: Themes in World Ceramic Traditions (United States: Indiana University Press, 2017).
Marit K. Munson, The Archaeology of Art in the American Southwest (AltaMira Press, 2011).
Barbara L. Moulard, et al. Casas Grandes and the Ceramic Art of the Ancient Southwest (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2005).

More to think about

Our modern understanding of Mexico and the U.S. as distinct nations can make it hard for us to envision a past when national borders did not exist and this broader territory within North America was a more fluid space for cultural exchange, trade, and travel. Where else in the world has this happened? What artworks and artists have prompted you to step back from your modern perspective and reassess your understanding of the past?

Research project idea

Today we live in a global economy and many things we use regularly are sourced or produced elsewhere in the world, then shipped to stores in our community or warehouses for online commerce. While the scope of global exchange is more extensive today than in the past, due to advancements in things like travel, technology, and refrigeration, the practice of cross-cultural exchange or long-distance trade is not at all new. In fact, many items that we think of as commonplace in our society today were not originally local to us. This is especially true for resources like plants and animals—think of the macaw depicted on Paquimé ceramics which was not local to that area. Pick a plant or animal that you see frequently in your community and research its history. To give you a sense of what kinds of stories you might uncover, watch these videos to learn about how colonizers took the potato and cacao bean back to Europe from South and Central America, respectively, and how the increased production of these crops on a global scale supported the growth of European imperialism.

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