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Luis de Velasco, a 16th-century viceroy of New Spain (Mexico), put the total for the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America at about 5,000,000; some modern scholars, however, have suggested a figure two to five times larger for the year 1492.
The pre-Columbian population of what is now the United States and Canada, with its more widely scattered societies, has been variously estimated at somewhere between 600,000 and 2,000,000.
Generally, the hottest months are June to August, and the coolest month is January.
Rainfall is negligible, except on the coast, with rain usually occurring during the winter months (December to March).
After that the continent began to receive great numbers of people from the Old World—primarily Europe and Africa—and it underwent a profound transformation.
The discussion that follows primarily covers the nonindigenous peoples of mainland North America.
The ethnohistory of the North American Indians is treated in more detail in the article Native American, and that of the Mesoamerican peoples is discussed in Pre-Columbian Civilizations; for treatment of the peoples in the Caribbean region, North America of the initial wave of peoples from whom the American Indians (or Native Americans) emerged is still a matter of considerable uncertainty.
According to prevailing thought, it is relatively certain that they were Asiatic peoples who originated in northeastern Siberia and crossed the Bering Strait (perhaps when it was a land bridge) into Alaska and then gradually dispersed throughout the Americas.
By that time, the Indians there had not yet adopted intensive agriculture or an urban way of life, although the cultivation of corn, beans, and squash supplemented hunting and fishing throughout the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys and in the Great Lakes–St.
Lawrence River region, as well as along the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coastal Plain.
In those areas, semisedentary peoples had established villages, and, among the Iroquois and the Cherokee, powerful federations of tribes had been formed.