Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/74

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districts most favourable for human habitation; and it is possible in some measure to trace the movements by which their migrations had proceeded, and the steps by which they acquired dominion over lower or less powerful peoples in whose midst they settled. Foremost among these dominant peoples stand the Nahuatlaca or Mexicans, who had their chief seat at Mexico on the plateau of Anahuac, and the Aymara-Quichua, or Peruvians, whose centre of dominion was at Cuzco in the Andes. On the subjugation of these two peoples the Spanish-American Empire was founded. Next in importance, but of lower grade, come the Caribs of Venezuela and the West Indian archipelago, the first ethnological group encountered by Colombo, and the only one known to him; the Tupi-Guarani of Brazil, who had conquered and occupied most of the shore which fell to the lot of Portugal; the Iroquois, who held the district colonised by France; and the Algonquins, who occupied with less power of resistance to invasion that colonised by England. It is remarkable that all these nations appear once to have been maritime and fishing peoples, to have multiplied and developed their advancement in the immediate neighbourhood of the sea, and thence to have penetrated and settled various tracts of the interior. We trace them to three maritime districts, all extremely favourable to practice in fishing, navigation, and exploration: (1) the Nahuatlaca, Iroquois, and Algonquins, to British Columbia; (2) the Aymara-Quichua and the Tupi-Guarani to the ancient "Argentine sea"—a vast body of salt water which at no very remote period filled the great plain of Argentina—and to the chain of great lakes which once existed to the north of it; (3) the Caribs to the Orinoco, whence they spread by a natural advance to the West Indian archipelago, and probably to the valley of the Mississippi, where one branch of them, at no very remote period before the Discovery, perhaps founded large agricultural pueblos, still traceable in the earthworks which in many places line the banks of that great river and its tributaries, and threw up the "Animal Mounds" which are among the most curious monuments of ancient America.

The Nahuatlaca or "Civilised People" (nahua = rule of life; tlacatl, pi. tlaca = man) appear to have originally dwelt at no great distance from the Iroquois and Algonquins, on the North American coast opposite Vancouver Island, where their peculiar advancement had its first development. With them the history, in the ordinary sense, of aboriginal America begins. The Nahuatlaca alone among American peoples possessed a true though inaccurate chronology, and kept painted records of contemporary and past events. Pinturas preserved at Tezcuco variously assigned the years 387 and 439 of the Christian era as the date of the earliest migration to the south from maritime lands far to the north of California. A more probable date—about a.d. 780—was furnished to the earliest Spanish enquirers as the time when the first swarm of the Aculhuaque, or "Strong Men," arrived in Anahuac from Aculhuacan,