Pre-Columbian Cultures in North America Timeline

pre-columbian indian cultures in US timeline

Eleven pre-columbian indian cultures lived in north america between 15,000 years ago and 700 A.D.

Date Culture or event Comments
c. 15,000 years ago, near the end of the Ice Age First migration of Paleo-Indians in North America by people of Beringian subcontinent. Nomadic hunters from northeast Asia are believed to have crossed the Bering Strait land bridge (that scientists call Beringia) into present-day Alaska.
c. 11,200 years ago Clovis Culture Known for invention of superbly crafted grooved or fluted stone projectiles (Clovis points) first found near Clovis, New Mexico, in 1932. Clovis points have been found throughout the Americas. Hunted big game, notably mammoths.
c. 10,900 years ago Folsom Culture Named for site found near Folsom, New Mexico, 1926. Developed a smaller, thinner, fluted spear point than Clovis type. Hunted big game, notably the huge bison ancestor of the modern buffalo. First used a spear-throwing device called an atlatl (an Aztec word for “spear-thrower”). Discovery of Folsom point in 1927 gave first proof of Glacial Man in America.
c. 10,500 years ago Plano or Plainview Culture Named after the site in Plainview, Texas. They are associated primarily with the Great Plains area. Were bison hunters. Developed a delicately flaked spear point that lacked fluting. Adopted mass-hunting technique (jump-kill) to drive animal herds off a cliff. Preserved meat in the form of pemmican. First to use grinding stones to grind seeds and meat.
c. 8,500 years ago Northwest Coast Indians. Some modern descendants are the Tlingit, Haida, Kwakiutl, Nootka, and Makah tribes. Settled along the shores, rivers, and creeks of southeastern Alaska to northern California. A maritime culture, were expert canoe builders. Salmon fishing was important. Some tribes hunted whales and other sea mammals. Developed a high culture without the benefit of agriculture, pottery, or influence of ancient Mexican civilizations. Tribes lived in large, complex communities, constructed multifamily cedar plank houses. Evolved a caste system of chiefs, commoners, and slaves. Were highly skilled in crafts and woodworking that reached their height after European contact, which provided them steel tools. Placed an inordinate value on accumulated wealth and property. Held lavish feasts (called potlatches) to display their wealth and social status. Important site: Ozette, Wash. (a Makah village).
c. 500 B.C.–A.D. 200 Adena Culture Named for the estate called Adena near Chilicothe, Ohio, where their earthwork mounds were first found. Culture was centered in present southern Ohio, but also lived in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Were the pioneer mound builders in the U.S. and constructed spectacular burial and effigy mounds. Settled in villages of circular post-and-wattle houses. Primarily hunter-gatherers, they farmed corn, tobacco, squash, pumpkins, and sunflowers at an early date. Important sites: The Adena Mound, Ohio; Grave Creek Mound, W.V.; Monks Mound, Ill., is the largest mound. May have built the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio.
c. A.D. 300–1300 Hohokam people (a Pima Indian word meaning “The Vanished Ones”). Believed to be ancestors of the modern Papago (Tohono O’odham) and Pima (Akimel O’odham) Indian groups. Settled in present-day Arizona. Were desert farmers. Cultivated corn. Were first to grow cotton in the Southwest. Wove cotton fabrics. Built pit houses and later multi-storied buildings (pueblos). Constructed vast network of irrigation systems. Major canals were over 30 miles long. Built ball courts and truncated pyramids similar to those found in Middle America. First in world known to master etching (etched shells with fermented Saguaro juice). Traded with Mesoamerican Toltecs. Important sites: Pueblo Grande, Ariz.; Snaketown, Ariz; Casa Grande, Ariz.
c. 300 B.C.–A.D. 1100 Mogollon Culture Were highland farmers but also hunters in what is now eastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Named after cluster of mountain peaks along Arizona-New Mexico border. They developed pit houses, later dwelt in pueblos. Were accomplished stoneworkers. Famous for magnificent black on white painted pottery (Minbres Valley pottery), the finest North American native ceramics. Important settlements: Casa Malpais, Ariz. (first ancient catacombs in U.S., discovered there 1990); Gila Cliff, N.M.; Galaz, N.M. Casa Grandes in Mexico was largest settlement.
c. 300 B.C.–A.D. 1300 Anasazi (a Navajo word meaning “The Ancient Ones”). Their descendants are the Hopi and other Pueblo Indians. Inhabited Colorado Plateau “four corners,” where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet. An agricultural society that cultivated cotton, wove cotton fabrics. The early Anasazi are known as the Basketmaker People for their extraordinary basketwork. Were skilled workers in stone. Carved stone Kachina dolls. Built pit houses, later apartment-like pueblos. Constructed road networks. Were avid astronomers. Used a solar calendar. Traded with Mesoamerican Toltecs. Important sites: Chaco Canyon, N.M.; Mesa Verde, Colo.; Canyon de Chelly, Ariz.; Bandelier, N.M.; Betatkin, N.M. The Acoma Pueblo, N.M., built circa A.D. 1300 and still occupied, may be the oldest continuously inhabited village in the U.S.
c. 100 B.C.–A.D. 500 Hopewell Culture. May be ancestors of present-day Zuni Indians. Named after site in southern Ohio. Lived in Ohio valley, central Mississippi, and Illinois River Valleys. Were both hunter-gatherers and farmers. Villages were built along rivers, characterized by large conical or dome-shaped burial mounds and elaborate earthen walls enclosing large oval or rectangular areas. Were highly skilled craftsmen in pottery, stone, sculpture, and metalworking, especially copper. Engaged in widespread trade all over northern America extending west to the Rocky Mountains. Important sites: Newark Mound, Ohio; Great Serpent Mound, Ohio; Crooks Mound, La.
c. A.D.700–European contact. Mississippi Culture. Major tribes of the Southeast are their modern descendants. Extended from Mississippi Valley into Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Constructed large flat-topped earthen mounds on which were built wooden temples and meeting houses and residences of chiefs and priests. (They were also known as Temple Mound Builders.) Built huge cedar pole circles (“woodhenges”) for astronomical observations. Were highly skilled hunters with bow and arrow. Practiced large-scale farming of corn, beans, and squash. Were skilled craftsmen. Falcon and Jaguar were common symbols in their art. Had clear ties with Mexico. The largest Mississippian center and largest of all mounds (Monks Mound) was at Cahokia, Ill. Other great temple centers were at Spiro, Okla.; Moundville, Ala.; and Etowah, Ga.

Kumeyaay Bands

The four indigenous tribes which are native to the County of San Diego in Southern California include the Cahilla, Cupeno, Luiseno, and the Kumeyaay tribes. The Kumeyaay consist of two related groups, the Ipai and Tipai.The two coastal groups’ traditional homelands were approximately separated by the San Diego River: the northern Ipai (extending from Escondido to Lake Henshaw) and the southern Tipai (including the Laguna Mountains, Ensenada, and Tecate).

At the time of European contact, the Kumeyaay people had several autonomous bands with 30 patrilineal clans. Under the Spanish Mission system, bands living near Mission San Diego de Alcalá were called Diegueños.

Today, the 13 US bands of the Kumeyaay tribe, which are federally recognized tribes, include:

There are also five bands of Kumeyaay people in Mexico.

They live in five communities in Baja California, including:

  • Juntas de Neji
  • La Huerta
  • San Antonio Necua
  • Santa Catarina
  • San José de la Zorra

Kumeyaay Timeline (10000 BC-2001)

After hundreds of years of archaeological research by experts, and gathering of artifacts from many hundreds of Southern California indigenous sites, it is widely accepted that today’s Kumeyaay tribal members can trace their lineage back to at least 12,000 years in the San Diego area – that’s 600 generations.

PRE-CONTACT: 10000 BC – 1542

12000 BC – 5000 BC Paleo-Indian (San Dieguito)

The earliest documented inhabitants in what is now San Diego County are known as the San Dieguito Paleo-Indians, dating back to about 10,000 B.C. Different groups later evolved as the environment and culture diversified. It is from one of these groups that the Southern Diegueño emerged at about 3,000 B.C. The Southern Diegueño are the direct ancestors of the Sycuan Band currently living in Dehesa Valley. This was a world of astronomers, horticulturists, healers, scientists, and storytellers.

5000 BC – 1000 AD Milling Stone (La Jollan)

1000 – 1769 Pottery period (Yuman)


First European explorer in California, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer, sailed into what is known today as San Diego Bay and made first contact with the Kumeyaay people.


Sebastian Vizcaino, a wealthy merchant sailing from Acapulco to San Diego lands to explore. He bestows the name “San Diego” on the area.



The Portola expedition and the efforts of Father Junipero Serra were to establish a chain of Spanish missions and military forts (bases) on the West Coast and build good relations with the local indigenous tribes in an old-world effort to gain their cooperation in finding the fabled cities of gold so their untold wealth could be plundered for Spain and personal gain. Father Junípero Serra, established the first Franciscan mission in California near the ancient Kumeyaay village of Kosa’aay (Cosoy), known today as Old Town, San Diego.

It was under the strong influences of the “California Mission Period” (1769-1823) that some of the tribes took on the “Mission Indian” namesake, and their ethnographic art was labeled “Mission Indian” art. This name association continues today.

1770 Father Serra contemplates abandoning the mission

After one year of futile effort, not one Indian in San Diego has been converted to the Catholic faith. The Kumeyaay were the most resistant of all the California tribes to the conversion efforts of the Spanish priests.


The Kumeyaay resisted the Spaniards’ attempts to take their land, govern them, and convert them, including forcing them into slave labor forces. One year after the mission was completed, Father Luís Jayme was killed by rebellious warriors at Mission San Diego de Alcalá, November 4, 1775, and the mission was burned down.


Pre-Contact Kumeyaay were thriving populations of Native Americans who, by archeological criteria, were still living in the Stone Age with no use of metals or cloth fabrics when the first Spanish settlers arrived.

1798 First U.S. citizens reach San Diego

They arrived by walking from Baja California (where they had been put off a ship – presumably for some unacceptable behavior).

1777 The San Diego mission is re-established and was completed in 1784:

It was rebuilt four times between 1775 and 2008. The uprising was the first of a dozen similar incidents that took place in Alta California during the Mission Period, however, most rebellions tended to be localized and short-lived due to the Spaniards’ superior weaponry. Kumeyaay resistance more often took the form of non-cooperation (in forced labor), return to their homelands (desertion of forced relocation), and raids on mission livestock.

MEXICAN PERIOD (1812 – 1848):

1812 Mexican government makes grants of unoccupied lands in California.


BY 1821 the Kumeyaay had lost control of all their prime coastal tribal lands to the Spanish; the Spanish had been defeated by the Mexicans in the Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821); and San Diego had officially come under Mexican rule.

1821 Treaty of Cordoba marks the beginning of Mexican Independence:

Large land grants in the San Diego area are given to Mexican supporters

1824 Mexican Constitution

Mexican Constitution of 1824 grants equality to all citizens, including Indians.

1836 – 1842 KUMEYAAY WARS

In 1821, following the successful Mexican revolution, California became part of Mexico. The Mexican government sought to eliminate the Spanish system centered on the Missions and Pueblos.

Lands were carved up for distribution as Ranchos and Indians were either evicted or forced to work as laborers. This resulted in a massive uprising of Kumeyaay throughout their territory. Armed with modern weaponry and horses, Kumeyaay warriors launched recurring raids on the Mexican Ranchos.

Kumeyaay attacks on the now Mexican San Diego territory were to put down the abusive Mexican domination in the greater San Diego area and reclaim ancient Kumeyaay coastal lands and water rights.By 1842, the Ranchos had been abandoned and the warriors were attacking the last stronghold, the City of San Diego. The City was spared destruction by the entry of another faction, the United States of America.

1826 Skirmish between Indians and Mexican troops in San Diego kills 28 Kumeyaay.

1827 Smallpox epidemic sweeps through California Indian population.

1832 Malaria epidemic hits California.

1835 The Mexican military abandons the Presidio at San Diego


In 1846 the United States Government declared war against Mexico. The Mexican-American War ended with signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This treaty, between the Mexican and American governments, established the current US-Mexico border and divided California from Mexico. This meant the boundary cut the international border through the heart of the Kumeyaay ancestral homelands, and to this day the ‘border situation’ effectively alienates the southern Kumeyaay in Mexico from their northern Kumeyaay relatives in the United States.

This North American border region is known today as Southern California (County of San Diego) and Baja California Norte (Mexico), and it is located in the extreme southwestern corner of the U.S.A.

1847 U.S. – Mexico hostilities end with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

United States pledges in the treaty to respect Indian land rights.


The California gold rush sealed the fate of the California Indians for the next 150-plus years. In 1848, Indians in California out numbered whites by ten to one. The gold rush brought 300,000 gold prospectors and immigrants pouring into California during this seven-year period, effectively tripling California’s population in seven years. During the ten year period from 1845 to 1855, approximately 100,000 indigenous people perished, reversing the balance of whites to Indians.

This changed the course California’s history by bringing the full weight of the invaders’ superior weaponry, their foreign diseases, and their greed for gold and land bearing down on the aboriginal population of California. The ensuing U.S. government and California state and local militia control over the Kumeyaay were blatantly genocidal to the California Indian peoples.

Local, State and Federal governments supported the genocide of California Indians. City governments paid bounties on heads or scalps of Indians. Volunteer militias received reimbursement from the State treasury for their expenses in Indian extermination. Furthermore, the Federal government would often reimburse the State for much of the claims against the treasury by militias.

In 1845 the California Indian population is estimated to have been 150,000. By 1855, the native population had dropped to 50,000. By 1900, only about 16,500 survived.

Of the 16,500 or so surviving California Indians in 1900, only around 1,000 Kumeyaay Indians are believed to have survived at the turn of the 20th century in San Diego County, and all but their least desirable tribal lands had been taken by settlers, state and federal officials.

1850 California becomes a state.

1851 Indian revolt against Warner Ranch

Defeated, after burning the ranch house and stage station; Indians resist efforts of sheriff to collect taxes.

1852 “Garra Revolt” ends with the arrest of Antonio Garra

Garra is executed after being found guilty of treason, murder, and theft in the aftermath of organizing Warner’s Ranch area Indians.

US TREATY PERIOD (1852 – Present):

1852 Treaty of Santa Ysabel

The unratified Treaty of “Santa Ysabel was meant to establish a Kumeyaay Diegueño Indian Reservation over 60 miles inland in the most remote, hostile, high-mountain deserts of San Diego County, Riverside County and Imperial County.

Unfortunately, the Treaty of Santa Ysabel was illegally and unethically voted down and placed under seal by the Senate of the United States. State sponsored militias then sought to enslave or exterminate all Indians in California. The population of Indians in California dropped by 90% from 1850 to 1860. Because of the nearby Mexican border and the lack of large gold strikes to lure more Americans, the Kumeyaay on the Mexican side of the border fared somewhat better than the northern tribes on the US side.

1859 Indian property awarded to settlers in Rancho Land Grants.

1860 Common School act excludes Indians from California public schools.

1862 San Diego City Council orders the sheriff to remove “the Indian rancheria” one-half mile from any town residence.

1869 The San Francisco Alta newspaper reports that 22,000 California Indians have died in less than 20 years from disease and deprivation.

1870 Gold discovered in Julian, CA – Reservation in area cancelled.

1875 President Grant gives executive order, setting aside Indian land allowing the establishment of reservations for the Santa Ysabel, Pala, Sycuan, La Jolla, Rincon, Viejas, and Capitan Grande bands.

1877 Severe San Diego drought results in attacks on Indians holding water resources.

1885 California Southern Railroad gives San Diego its first rail connection with the East and population grows to 40,000 within two years.

1891 La Jolla and Cuyapaipe Reservations established.

1893 Campo Indian Reservation established, Pauma and Yuima Reservation at the foothills of Mount Palomar, and Rincon Reservation officially established.

1900 Total Indian population in California drops to about 16,500 (11,800 of this number are considered “landless”).

1901-1903 Additional funds set aside to purchase more acreage for reservations.

1912 A small reservation is created for San Diego’s Jamul Band of Mission Indians.

1924 Citizenship Act Passed

Under the Citizenship Act of 1924, Indians get US citizenship. Women get right to vote (including Indian women). However, Indians could not vote for local officials.


1932 Kumeyaay forced off ancestral land on the San Diego River, making way for the El Capitan Dam and its reservoir. The federal government helps to relocate the Barona Band to the present-day Barona Reservation.

1934 Reservation established for the Viejas Band from their displacement by the reservoir.

1952 Indians get full right to vote.


They are now able to vote for local politicians.


1953 Public Law 280 authorized states unilaterally to assume jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters on reservations.


1958 Interstate Highway 8 opens in San Diego County, following ancient Indian trails through Mission Valley.


1969 The La Jolla Band sues the cities of Escondido and Vista to recover water diverted from Reservation lands in 1895 and 1924.


1969 Seizure of Alcatraz Island


Indians took over Alcatraz to bring public attention to Indian issues. Most California Indians are living in abject poverty.


1976 The Health Clinic and Community Center is opened on the Sycuan Reservation, in cooperation with six other reservations.


1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act is passed.


For the first time in 100 years, american indians can excercise the American constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.


1982 Anthony Pico is elected tribal chairman of the San Diego the Viejas Band and subsequently becomes a national voice in Native American affairs, particularly on the matter of Indian gaming.


1983 Sycuan Indian Reservation opens a gaming center offering bingo games.


In 1989, 1992 and 2000 the facility is expanded and new types of gaming offered.


1988 Congress enacts the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to bring tribal gaming under a regulatory structure and to give state governments added control over the types of casino-style games allowed on reservations.


1990 Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act was passed by the 101st Congress.


1991 Viejas Reservation starts a gaming operation.


1992 Native Cultures Institute begins organizing cross-border travel to reunite members of tribes split by international boundaries, including the Kumeyaay of San Diego and Baja, Mexico.


1994 The Native American Environmental Protection Coalition (NAEPC) is founded in Southern California to share common concerns and bring a team effort to the protection, preservation, and restoration of the environment.

1996 A special California State Senate committee report concludes that Indians in California receive less consideration in state policy making than Indians in other states.


1997 The Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee is formed, with representatives from 12 Kumeyaay bands in the San Diego area, to work with museums and universities in the implementation of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

1998 A Kumeyaay Border Task Force works with federal immigration officials to secure the rights of Baja, Mexico, Indians to freely visit and interact with Kumeyaay in the U.S.

1984 Barona Band builds a bingo hall and initiates gaming on their reservation.

1999 Viejas tribal chairman Anthony Pico delivers the first “state of the tribe” public address, announcing that “tribes are governments and that (the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians) are not an extinct people or a stagnant culture.”

1999 The Sycuan Tribe is named as a contender in the multi-million dollar bidding war for naming rights to the planned San Diego Padre downtown ballpark.

1999 The Barona Tribe opens the first Museum on a San Diego County Indian Reservation.

2000 California voters end years of debate and legal battles over casino-style Indian gaming by enacting Proposition 1A, a constitutional amendment removing the legal impediment resulting in the overturn of Proposition 5 (a gaming initative enacted in 1998 but overturned by the California Supreme Court)

2001 Casinos open for Campo, Pala, Pauma, Rincon and San Pasqual Tribes.