The history of South America is the study of the past, particularly the written record, oral histories, and traditions, passed down from generation to generation on the continent of South America. The continent continues to be home to indigenous peoples, some of whom built high civilizations prior to the arrival of Europeans in the late 1400s and early 1500s. South America has a history that has a wide range of human cultures and forms of civilization. The Caral Supe civilization, also known as the Norte Chico civilization in Peru is the oldest civilization in the Americas and one of the first six independent civilizations in the world; it was contemporaneous with the Egyptian pyramids. It predated the Mesoamerican Olmec by nearly two millennia.
Indigenous peoples' thousands of years of independent life were disrupted by European colonization from Spain and Portugal and by demographic collapse. The resulting civilizations, however, were very different from those of their colonizers, both in the mestizos and the indigenous cultures of the continent. Through the trans-Atlantic slave trade, South America (especially Brazil) became the home of millions of people of the African diaspora. The mixing of ethnic groups led to new social structures.
The tensions between Europeans, indigenous peoples, and African slaves and their descendants shaped South America, starting in sixteenth century. Most of Spanish America achieved its independence in the early nineteenth century through hard-fought wars, while Portuguese Brazil first became the seat of the Portuguese empire and then an empire independent of Portugal. With the revolution for independence from the Spanish crown achieved during the 19th century, South America underwent yet more social and political changes. These have included nation building projects, absorbing waves of immigration from Europe in the late 19th and 20th centuries, dealing with increased international trade, colonization of hinterlands, and wars about territory ownership and power balance. During this period there has also been the reorganization of Indigenous rights and duties, subjugation of Indigenous peoples living in the states' frontiers, that lasted until the early 1900s; liberal-conservative conflicts among the ruling classes, and major demographic and environmental changes accompanying the development of sensitive habitats.
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