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South America

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South America Map
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South America Map

The Native Americans settled in this continent at least 11,000 years ago. They probably came from North America, but originated in Asia. In the Andes some of them developed sophisticated civilizations. The last and most brilliant of these were the Incas. Their civilization was destroyed in the early 1500's by conquerors from Spain. Many of the Native American peoples were killed or were wiped out by European diseases. Their lands were taken over, mainly as Spanish and Portuguese colonies. Millions of new settlers, from Italy as well as from Spain and Portugal, flooded into the continent. In the 1820's the settlers began to break away from the rule of Spain and Portugal in a series of bloody wars of independence.

During the 1800's many of the new nations prospered, but usually the settlers' descendants profited while the Native Americans stayed poor. The gap between rich and poor widened. Poverty increased after 1929, when the world economy went into decline. Strikes, riots, civil wars, corruption and greed led armies to seize power and rule by dictatorship in almost all the countries of South America at some point. In recent decades more and more South American governments have been democratically elected. There _has been a general concern to preserve political sfebiJLLty and improve basic living conditions. The continent has great wealth of natural resources, but earning money from them often upsets the delicate balance of nature.

South America has one of the richest varieties of wildlife in the world. In the Amazon Basin alone there are at least 44,000 different kinds of plants, 2,500 types of river fish and 1,500 species of birds. In the rainforests large bird-eating spiders and mammals include armadillos, jaguars and sloths. In the rivers are manatees, freshwater dolphins, giant catfish and electric eels. Of the thousands of forest insects, many are yet to be identified and studied.