In 1500, North America had no cities to match Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, with its estimated population of 200–300,000 when the Spanish explorer, Cortés, arrived. The bulk of the continent was sparsely populated by nomadic hunter-gatherers. In the far north, food, clothing, shelter and tools were derived primarily from seal, walrus and whales; in the sub-Arctic, from caribou; on the plains in North America’s interior, from buffalo. Where climate and soils permitted, in the south and along the coasts, subsistence agriculture was the norm, allowing sedentary cultures to develop. In the northwest, rich salmon migration grounds and vigorous trade networks created, uniquely, a network of fixed settlements based on agriculture. The total Native American population at the time of European first settlements was in the region of 5 million, although this figure could be an underestimate. By the 1700s, European diseases had decimated many indigenous populations.
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