Main articles: Settlement of the Americas, Population history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, and Pre-Columbian era
The Americas were thought to have been first inhabited by people crossing the Bering Land Bridge, now known as the Bering strait, from northeast Asia into Alaska well over 10,000 years ago. The earliest known settlement, however, was identified at Monte Verde, near Puerto Montt in Southern Chile. Its occupation dates to some 14,000 years ago and there is some disputed evidence of even earlier occupation. Over the course of millennia, people spread to all parts of the continents. By the first millennium AD/CE, South America’s vast rainforests, mountains, plains and coasts were the home of tens of millions of people. The earliest settlements in the Americas are of the Las Vegas Culture from about 8000 BC and 4600 BC, a sedentary group from the coast of Ecuador, the forefathers of the more known Valdivia culture, of the same era. Some groups formed more permanent settlements such as the Chibchas (or "Muiscas" or "Muyscas") and the Tairona groups. These groups are in the circum Caribbean region. The Chibchas of Colombia, the Quechuas and Aymaras of Bolivia and Perú were the three indigenous groups that settled most permanently.
A view of Machu Picchu, a pre-Columbian Inca site in Peru. One of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The region was home to many indigenous peoples and advanced civilizations, including the Aztecs, Toltecs, Caribs, Tupi, Maya, and Inca. The golden age of the Maya began about 250, with the last two great civilizations, the Aztecs and Incas, emerging into prominence later on in the early fourteenth century and mid-fifteenth centuries, respectively. The Aztec empire was ultimately the most powerful civilization known throughout the Americas, until its downfall in part by the Spanish invasion.