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Pre-Columbian Americans used technology and material culture that included fire and the fire drill; the domesticated dog; stone implements of many kinds; the spear-thrower (atlatl), harpoon, and bow and arrow; and cordage, netting, basketry, and, in some places, pottery.Many indigenous American groups were hunting-and-gathering cultures (hunting and gathering culture), while others were agricultural peoples.Small kin-based bands were the predominant form of social organization, although seasonal gatherings of larger groups occurred at favoured fishing locales.Moose, caribou, beavers, waterfowl, and fish were taken, and plant foods such as berries, roots, and sap were gathered.On the coasts, sea mammals and fish formed the bulk of the diet.
The comparative study of cultures falls largely in the domain of anthropology, which often uses a typology known as the culture area approach to organize comparisons across cultures.
This region lies south of the Arctic and encompasses most of present-day Alaska and most of Canada, excluding the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island), which are part of the Northeast culture area.
The topography is relatively flat, the climate is cool, and the ecosystem is characterized by a swampy and coniferous boreal forest (taiga) ecosystem.
Notably, some scholars prefer to combine the Northeast and Southeast into one Eastern Woodlands culture area or the Plateau and Great Basin into a single Intermontane culture area.
Each section below considers the location, climate, environment, languages, tribes, and common cultural characteristics of the area before it was heavily colonized.