America is a continent of the Americas, situated entirely
in the Western Hemisphere and mostly in the Southern
Hemisphere. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific
Ocean and on the north and east by the Atlantic Ocean;
North America and the Caribbean Sea lie to the northwest.
America was named in 1507 by cartographers Martin
Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann after Amerigo
Vespucci, who was the first European to suggest that
the Americas were not the East Indies, but a New World
unknown to Europeans.
America has an area of 17,840,000 square kilometers
(6,890,000 sq mi), or almost 3.5% of the Earth's surface.
As of 2005, its population was estimated at more than
371,000,000. South America ranks fourth in area (after
Asia, Africa, and North America) and fifth in population
(after Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America).
America comprises the major southern portion of the
landmass generally referred to as the New World, the
Western Hemisphere, the Americas, or simply America
(which is sometimes considered a single continent
and South America a subcontinent). It is south and
east of the Colombia-Panama border according to most
authorities or, according to a few, the Panama Canal
which transects the Isthmus of Panama. Geologically,
almost all of mainland South America sits on the South
American Plate. Geopolitically and geographically,
all of Panama – including the segment east of
the Panama Canal in the isthmus – is generally
considered a part of North America alone and among
the countries of Central America.
the continent became attached to North America only
recently with the formation of the Isthmus of Panama
approximately 3 million years ago, resulting in the
Great American Interchange. The Andes, likewise a
comparatively young and seismically restless mountain
range, run down the western edge of the continent;
the land to the east of the Andes is largely tropical
rainforest, the vast Amazon River basin. The continent
also contains drier regions such as East Patagonia
and the extremely arid Atacama Desert. Hundreds of
millions of years ago, South America formed part of
the southern supercontinent Gondwana. South America
and Africa began to rift apart about 180 million years
ago, opening the Atlantic Ocean.
South American continent also includes various islands,
many of which belong to countries on the continent.
Many of the islands of the Caribbean (or West Indies)
– e.g., the Leeward and Lesser Antilles –
sit atop the Caribbean Plate, a tectonic plate with
a diffuse topography. The islands
of Aruba, Barbados, Trinidad, and Tobago sit on the
northerly South American continental shelf. The Netherlands
Antilles and the federal dependencies of Venezuela
lie along the northerly South American. Geopolitically,
the island states and overseas territories of the
Caribbean are generally grouped as a part or subregion
of North America. The South American nations that
border the Caribbean Sea – including Colombia,
Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana –
are also known as Caribbean South America. Other islands
are the Galápagos, Easter Island (in Oceania
but belongs to Chile), Robinson Crusoe Island, Chiloé
Island, Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands.
America is home to the world's highest waterfall,
Angel Falls in Venezuela, the largest river (by volume),
the Amazon River, the longest mountain range, the
Andes, the driest desert, the Atacama Desert, the
largest rainforest, the Amazon Rainforest, the highest
railroad, Ticlio Peru, the highest capital city, La
Paz, Bolivia, the highest commercially navigable lake
in the world, Lake Titicaca, and the world's southernmost
town, Puerto Toro, Chile.
America's major mineral resources are gold, silver,
copper, iron ore, tin, and oil. The many resources
of South America have brought high income to its countries
especially in times of war or of rapid economic growth
by industrialized countries elsewhere. However, the
concentration in producing one major export commodity
often has hindered the development of diversified
economies. The inevitable fluctuation in the price
of commodities in the international markets has led
historically to major highs and lows in the economies
of South American states, often also causing extreme
political instability. This is leading to efforts
to diversify their production to drive them away from
staying as economies dedicated to one major export.
America is home to many interesting and unique species
of animals including the llama, anaconda, piranha,
jaguar, vicuña, and tapir. The Amazon rainforests
possess high biodiversity, containing a major proportion
of the Earth's species.
largest country in South America by far, in both area
and population, is Brazil, followed by Argentina.
Regions in South America include the Andean States,
the Guianas, the Southern Cone, and Brazil.
people in some English-speaking countries, there is
a tendency to confuse the linguistic and geographic
divisions of the Americas: thus, Mexico, some Central
American and Caribbean territories, despite their
location in or next to North America, are mistakenly
included in South America. The term Latin America
is used when referring to those territories whose
official or national languages come from Latin
(namely Spanish and Portuguese, sometimes also French).
Conversely, Anglo-America is used to refer to areas
whose language is English, mainly the United States
of America and most of Canada, but also other parts
of the Americas, including some islands. Similarly,
areas where English is just prominent are considered
part of the Anglosphere.
rise of agriculture and domestication of animals
America is thought to have been first inhabited by
people crossing the Bering Land Bridge, which is now
the Bering Strait. Some archaeological finds do not
fit this theory, and have led to an alternative theory
Pre-Siberian American Aborigines. The first evidence
for the existence of agricultural practices in South
America date back to circa 6500 BCE, when potatoes,
chillies and beans began to be cultivated for food
in the highlands of the Amazon Basin. Pottery evidence
further suggests that manioc, which remains a staple
foodstuff today, was being cultivated as early as
2000 BCE many agrarian village communities had been
settled throughout the Andes and the surrounding regions.
Fishing became a widespread practice along the coast
which helped to establish fish as a primary source
of food. Irrigation systems were also developed at
this time, which aided in the rise of an agrarian
American cultures began domesticating llamas, vicuñas,
guanacos, and alpacas in the highlands of the Andes
circa 3500 BCE. Besides their use as sources of meat,
and wool, these animals were used for transportation
of goods (maximum load for a llama is typically 40
rise of agriculture and the subsequent appearance
of permanent human settlements allowed for the multiple
and overlapping beginnings of civilizations in South
earliest known settlements, and culture in South America,
and the Americas altogether, are the Valdivia on the
south east coast of Ecuador.
earliest known South American civilization was at
Norte Chico, on the central Peruvian coast. Though
a pre-ceramic culture, the monumental architecture
of Norte Chico is contemporaneous with the pyramids
of Ancient Egypt. The Chavín established a
trade network and developed agriculture by 900 BCE,
according to some estimates and archaeological finds.
Artifacts were found at a site called Chavín
de Huantar in modern Peru at an elevation of 3,177
meters. Chavín civilization spanned 900 BCE
to 300 BCE.
Muisca were the main indigenous civilization in what
is now modern Colombia. They established a confederation
of many clans, or cacicazgos, that had a free trade
network among themselves. They were goldsmiths and
important Pre-Columbian cultures include: Moche (100
BCE – 700 CE, at the northern coast of Peru);
Tiuahuanaco or Tiwanaku (100 BCE – 1200 BCE,
Bolivia); the Cañaris (in south central Ecuador),
Paracas and Nazca (400 BCE – 800 CE, Peru);
Wari or Huari Empire (600 – 1200, Central and
northern Peru); Chimu Empire (1300 – 1470, Peruvian
northern coast); Chachapoyas; and the Aymaran kingdoms
(1000 – 1450, Bolivia and southern Peru).
1494, Portugal and Spain, the two great maritime powers
of that time, on the expectation of new lands being
discovered in the west, signed the Treaty of Tordesillas,
by which they agreed that all the land outside Europe
should be an exclusive duopoly between the two countries.
Treaty established an imaginary line along a north-south
meridian 370 leagues west of Cape Verde Islands, roughly
46° 37' W. In terms of the treaty, all land to
the west of the line known to comprehend most of the
South American soil), would belong to Spain, and all
land to the east, to Portugal. As accurate measurements
of longitude were impossible at that time, the line
was not strictly enforced, resulting in a Portuguese
expansion of Brazil across the meridian.
in the 1530s, the people and natural resources of
South America were repeatedly exploited by foreign
conquistadors, first from Spain and later from Portugal.
These competing colonial nations claimed the land
and resources as their own and divided it into colonies.
infectious diseases (smallpox, influenza, measles,
and typhus) to which the native populations had no
immune resistance, and systems of forced labor, such
as the haciendas and mining industry's mita, decimated
the native population under Spanish control.
slaves were brought in large quantities for several
centuries for a number of reasons, both political
and economical, however, it was mainly because they
were much better fitted than the American natives
for hard labor in tropical climate, such as sugar
cane plantations or gold mining.
Spaniards were committed to convert their native subjects
to Christianity, and were quick to purge any native
cultural practices that hindered this end. However,
most initial attempts at this were only partially
successful, as native groups simply blended Catholicism
with traditional idolatry and their polytheistic beliefs.
Furthermore, the Spaniards did impose their language
to the degree they did their religion, although the
Roman Catholic Church's evangelization in Quechua,
Aymara and Guaraní actually contributed to
the continuous use of these native languages albeit
only in the oral form.
the natives and the Spaniards interbred, forming a
mestizo class. Essentially all of the mestizos of
the Andean region were offspring of an amerindian
mothers and Spanish fathers. Mestizos and the Indian
natives were often forced to pay extraordinary taxes
to the Spanish crown and were punished more harshly
for disobeying the law.
native artworks were considered pagan idols and destroyed
by Spanish explorers, this included many gold and
silver sculptures and other artifacts found in South
America, which were melted down before their transport
to Spain or Portugal.
was a portugese,dutch and eventually a british colony.
the country was once partition into three parts each
being control by one of the colonial powers until
the country was finally taken over fully by the british.
South American possessions of the Spanish Crown won
their independence between 1804 and 1824 in the South
American Wars of Independence. Simón Bolívar
of Venezuela and José de San Martín
of Argentina were the most important leaders of the
independence struggles. Bolívar led a great
army southward while San Martín led an army
across the Andes Mountains, meeting up with General
Bernardo O'Higgins in Chile, and then marched northward.
The two armies finally met in Guayaquil, Ecuador,
where they cornered the Royal Army of the Spanish
Crown and forced its surrender.
Brazil, a Portuguese colony, Dom Pedro I (also Pedro
IV of Portugal), son of the Portuguese king Dom João
VI, proclaimed the country's independence in 1822
and became Brazil's first Emperor. This was peacefully
accepted by the crown in Portugal.
Bolivar attempted to unify politically the Spanish-speaking
parts of the continent, they rapidly became independent
states without political connections between them,
despite some latter attempts such as the Peruvian
- Bolivian Confederation.
few countries did not gain independence until the
* Guyana, from the United Kingdom, in 1966
* Suriname, from Dutch control, in 1975
Guiana remains part of France as of 2007, and hosts
the European Space Agency's principal spaceport, the
Guiana Space Centre.
continent, like many others, became a battlefield
of the Cold War in the late 20th century. Some governments
of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay were overthrown
or displaced by U.S.-aligned military dictatorships
in the 1960s and 1970s. To curtail opposition, their
governments detained tens of thousands of political
prisoners, many of whom were tortured and/or killed
(on inter-state collaboration, see Operation Condor).
Economically, they began a transition to neoliberal
economic policies. They placed their own actions within
the U.S. Cold War doctrine of "National Security"
against internal subversion. Throughout the 1980s
and 1990s, Peru suffered from an internal conflict
(see Túpac Amaru Revolutionary a sa Movement
and Shining Path). Colombia currently faces an internal
conflict, often described as a civil war, which started
in 1964 with the creation of Marxist guerrillas (FARC-EP)
and now involves several illegal armed groups of both
leftist and rightist leanings as well as the private
armies of powerful drug lords and the Colombian state
itself. Revolutionary movements and right-wing military
dictatorships became common after World War II, but
since the 1980s a wave of democratization came through
the continent, and democratic rule is widespread now.
allegations of corruption are still very common and
several countries have developed crises which have
forced the resignation of their governments, although,
in most occasions, regular civilian succession has
continued this far.
indebtedness turned out into a severe problem in late
1980's, and some countries, despite having strong
democracies, have not yet developed political institutions
capable of handling such crises without recurring
to unorthodox economical policies, as most recently
illustrated by Argentina's default in the early 21st
the first decade of the 21st century, South American
governments have drifted to the political left, with
socialist leaders being elected in Chile, Bolivia,
Brazil, Venezuela and leftist presidents in Argentina,
Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay. Despite this tendency
of moving to the nominal left of the political spectrum,
most of South America's governments, in real terms,
embrace free-market capitalism.
countries in the table below are categorised according
to the scheme for geographic regions and subregions
used by the United Nations, and data included are
per sources in cross-referenced articles. Where they
differ, provisos are clearly indicated.
to histories of high inflation in nearly all South
American countries, interest-rates and thus investment
remain high and low, respectively. Interest rates
are usually twice that of the United States. For example,
interest-rates are about 22% in Venezuela and 23%
in Suriname. The exception is Chile, which has been
successfully implementing free market economic policies
since the 1980s and increased its social spending
since the return of democratic rule in the early 1990s.
This has led to economic stability and interest rates
in the low single digits.
Union of South American Nations is a planned continent-wide
free trade zone to unite two existing free-trade organizations
– Mercosur and the Andean Community.
economic gap between the rich and poor in most South
American nations is considered to be larger than in
most other continents. In Venezuela, Paraguay, Bolivia
and many other South American countries, the richest
20% may own over 60% of the nation's wealth, while
the poorest 20% may own less than 5%. This wide gap
can be seen in many large South American cities where
makeshift shacks and slums lie adjacent to skyscrapers
and upper-class luxury apartments.
is the official language of most countries in the
continent, however, the majority of South Americans
speak Portuguese, as it's the official language of
Brazil, which holds about the 51% of the South American
population. Dutch is the official language of Suriname;
English is the official language of Guyana (please
note:even though english is the official language
of Guyana,there are at least 12 languages spoken in
the country such as hindi,arabic,portugese,various
indigenous dialects among others depending on the
location, "ethnicity," religion,education
among varios factors and at one time it was thought
to have the most amount of languages spoken in a single
country, but unfortunately most have since died out,
though it is still possible to find people who live
near the upper corintyne area who speak dutch) Falkland
Islands, and French is the official language of French
languages of South America include, among several
others, Quechua in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador); Guaraní
in Paraguay and, to a much less extent, in Bolivia;
Aymara in Bolivia, Peru and less often in Chile, while
Mapudungun is spoken in certain pockets of southern
Chile and, more rarely, Argentina.
languages found in South America include Hindi and
Indonesian in Suriname; Italian in Argentina, Brazil,
Uruguay, Venezuela, and Colombia; and German in certain
pockets in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Colombia
and Paraguay. Welsh remains spoken and written in
the historic towns of Trelew and Rawson in the Argentinean
Patagonia. There are also small clusters of Japanese-speakers
in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Ecuador.
Arabic speakers, often of Lebanese, Syrian or Palestinian
descent, can be found in Arab communities in Brazil,
Colombia, Argentina and less frequently in Chile.
most of the continent's countries, the upper classes
and well-educated people regularly study English,
French, German or Italian. In those areas where tourism
is a significant industry, English and some other
European languages are often spoken. There are small
Spanish speaking areas in Southernmost Brazil, due
to the proximity of Uruguay.
Americans are culturally enriched by the historic
connection with Europe, especially Spain and Portugal,
and the impact of mass culture from the United States
American nations have a rich variety of music. Some
of the most famous genres include cumbia from Colombia,
samba and bossa nova from Brazil, and tango from Argentina.Also
well known is the non-commercial folk genre Nueva
Canción movement which was founded in Argentina
and Chile and quickly spread to the rest of the Latin
America. People on the Peruvian coast created the
fine guitar and cajon duos or trios in the most mestizo
(mixed) of South American rhythms such as the Marinera
(from Lima), the Tondero (from Piura), the 19th century
popular Creole Valse or Peruvian Valse and the soulful
Arequipan Yaravi. In the late 20th century, Rock en
español emerged by young hipsters influenced
by British pop and American rock in Argentina, Chile,
Colombia, and Uruguay. Brazil has a Portuguese-language
pop rock industry as well a great variety of other
literature of South America has attracted considerable
critical and popular acclaim, especially with the
Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 1970s, and the
rise of authors such as Gabriel García Márquez
and Mario Vargas Llosa in novels, and Pablo Neruda
and Jorge Luis Borges in other genres.
of South America's broad ethnic mix, South American
cuisine takes on African, American Indian, Asian and
European influences. Bahia, Brazil, is especially
well-known for its West African-influenced cuisine.
Argentines, Chileans and Uruguayans regularly consume
wine, while Argentina along with Paraguay, Uruguay
and people in southern Chile and Brazil enjoy a sip
of Mate a regional brewed herb cultivated for its
drink. Pisco is a liquor distilled from grapevine
produced in Peru and Chile, however, there is a recurring
dispute between those countries regarding its origins.
Peruvian cuisine mixes elements from Chinese, Japanese,
Spanish, African, Andean and Amazonic food.
of Indigenous peoples, such as the Quechua and Aymara,
make up the majority of the population in Peru and
Bolivia, and are a significant element in most other
former Spanish colonies. Exceptions to this include
Argentina and Uruguay. At least three South American
indigenous languages (Quechua in Peru and Bolivia,
Aymara also in Bolivia, and Guarani in Paraguay) are
recognized along with Spanish as national languages.
Model: In some parts of the world South America is
viewed as a subcontinent of America (a single continent
in these areas), for example Latin America, Latin
Europe, and Iran. In most of the countries with English
as an official language, however, it is considered
a continent. (Credit: