Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

North America, 1400–1600 A.D.

Northwest Coast
Algonquin Language cultures, ca. 1000–1600
Iroquian Language cultures, ca. 1000–1550
League of the Iroquois, ca. 1550–present
Mississippian cultures, ca. 800–1600
Archaic cultures, ca. 7000 b.c.–1800 a.d.
Puebloan cultures, ca. 700–1600
Southern Athapaskan cultures, ca. 1500–1700
Late Marine cultures, ca. 500–1700
Thule cultures, ca. 1000–1850


Encompasses present-day Canada and the United States

At the beginning of the fifteenth century, many native peoples populate North America. They speak countless languages and follow diverse patterns that are adapted to, and vary with, their environments. In some areas—such as the Northeast—they begin to group into more centralized political structures, while in the South, with the weakening of the important Mississippian centers, populations disperse into smaller communities. The arrival of Europeans at the end of the century, followed by the coming of fishermen, fur traders, gold seekers, and colonists, alters Native American lifeways forever. Contacts between Europeans and Native Americans increase during the following century, particularly in the Northeast, where trade expands and the arts of the region begin a period of integration of foreign elements into objects of everyday use. Such integration, in one measure or another, occurs throughout the continent, the specifics varying with time, place, and groups involved. New diseases, too, arrive with the Europeans, beginning a cycle of decimation that will last until the nineteenth century.

    • 1400 Moundville in Alabama becomes less residential while maintaining its ceremonial functions, and eventually experiences a loss of population and wealth. The political power of the Southeastern chiefdoms of Etowah and Spiro ends. The centers are abandoned.

    • 1400 The Kachina cult spreads to the Puebloan Zuni and Hopi peoples, and eventually throughout the Southwest.

    • 1425 The populations of villages along the Zuni River in central New Mexico grow. A defensive architecture of multistory, windowless apartments are built of adobe-surfaced stone. The flat roofs are used as public spaces.

    • 1492 Christopher Columbus lands on an island in the Caribbean, and claims it for the kings of Spain.

    • 1497 John Cabot claims Newfoundland for England; Europeans begin to fish on the Grand Banks, leading to contact with coastal tribes.

    • 1500 The power and position of the last important Mississippian culture center, Moundville in Alabama, declines.

    • 1515 European fishermen investigate the possibilities of trade in animal furs. The fur trade becomes a major economic force throughout North America.

    • 1525 Southern Athapaskan peoples migrate to the Southwest from west central Canada; they will become the Apache and the Navajo, among others.

    • 1540 The Spanish soldier/explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado searches for the legendary wealth of the Seven Cities of Cibola—actually Zuni villages—but finds no treasure there or elsewhere in the Southwest. Disappointed, his journey is characterized by brutal contact with Indian groups.

    • 1550 Cultural patterns emerge along the Northwest Pacific Coast that will persist into historic times. Central features include permanent village life and large lineage houses.

    • 1550 The League of the Iroquois, the Northeast confederacy of Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca peoples, forms to avoid continuing conflict among them.

    • 1585 An English settlement is established on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. Colonist John White makes an important series of watercolor drawings of people and places.

    • 1598 Spanish settlers under Juan de Oñate, searching for precious metals, occupy San Juan Pueblo in the Río Grande valley of New Mexico. Franciscan missionaries are active.