North America is the
northern continent of the Americas, situated in the Earth's northern hemisphere and in the western hemisphere. It is bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the North Atlantic Ocean, on the southeast by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the North Pacific Ocean; South America lies to
North America covers an area
of about 24,709,000 square kilometers (9,540,000
square miles), about 4.8% of the planet's surface or about 16.5% of
its land area. As of July 2008, its population
was estimated at nearly 529 million
people. It is the third-largest
area, following Asia
, and the fourth in population after Asia
, and Europe
South America are generally accepted as having been named after the
Italian explorer Amerigo
Vespucci by the German cartographers Martin Waldseemüller and Matthias Ringmann.
explored South America between 1497 and 1502, was the first
European to suggest that the Americas were not the East Indies
, but a different landmass previously
unknown by Europeans. In 1507, Waldseemüller produced a world map,
in which he placed the word "America" on the continent of South
America, in the middle of what is today Brazil. He explained the
rationale for the name in the accompanying book Cosmographiae
- ab Americo inventore ... quasi Americi terram sive
Americam (from Americus the discoverer ... as if it were the
land of Americus, thus America).
For Waldseemüller, no one should object to the naming of the land
after its discoverer. He used the Latinized version of Vespucci's
name (Americus Vespucius), but in its feminine form "America",
following the examples of "Europa" and "Asia".
Later, when other mapmakers added North America, they extended the
original name to it as well: in 1538, Gerard Mercator
used the name America to all
of the Western Hemisphere on his world map.
Some argue that the convention is to use the surname for naming
discoveries except in the case of royalty and so a derivation from
"Amerigo Vespucci" could be problematic. Ricardo Palma (1949)
proposed a derivation from the "Amerrique" mountains of Central
America—Vespucci was the first to discover South America and the
mountains of Central America, which connected
his discoveries to those of Christopher Columbus
Alfred E. Hudd proposed a theory in 1908 that the continents are
named after a Welsh merchant named Richard Amerike
from Bristol, who is
believed to have financed John Cabot
voyage of discovery from England to Newfoundland in 1497. A
minutely explored belief that has been advanced is that America was
named for a Spanish sailor bearing the ancient Visigothic
name of 'Amairick'. Another is that
the name is rooted in a Native American
North America is the source of much of what humanity knows about
periods. The geographic
area that would later become the United States has been the source
of more varieties of dinosaurs
other modern country. According to paleontologist
Peter Dodson, this is primarily
due to stratigraphy, climate and geography, human resources, and
history. Much of the Mesozoic Era
represented by exposed outcrops in the many arid regions of the
continent. The most significant Late
dinosaur-bearing fossil deposit in
North America is the Morrison
of the western United States.
Scientists have several theories as to the
of the early human population
of North America
. The indigenous peoples of North
themselves have many creation
, by which they assert that they have been present on the
land since its creation.
Before contact with Europeans
natives of North America were divided into many different polities
, from small bands
of a few families to large empires
. They lived in several "culture
", which roughly correspond to geographic and biological zones
and give a good indication of the main lifeway
or occupation of the people who lived there
(e.g. the Bison hunters
of the Great Plains
, or the farmers
Native groups can also be classified by their language family
). It is important to note
that peoples with similar languages did not always share the same
, nor were they
Scientists believe that the Inuit
the high Arctic
came to North America much
later than other native groups, as evidenced by the disappearance
of Dorset culture
artifacts from the
their replacement by the Thule
During the thousands of years of native inhabitation on the
continent, cultures changed and shifted. Archaeologists often name
different cultural groups they discover after the site where they
are first found. One of the oldest cultures yet found is the
Clovis culture of modern New Mexico.
A more recent example is the group of
related cultures called the Mound
(e.g. the Fort Walton
), found in the Mississippi
valley. They flourished from 300 BC to the 150s AD.
The more southern cultural groups of North America were responsible
for the domestication
of many common
now used around the world,
such as tomatoes
. Perhaps most importantly they
domesticated one of the world's major staples, maize
As a result of the development of agriculture in the south, many
important cultural advances were made there. For example, the
, built huge pyramids
, had a complex calendar
, and developed the concept of
zero around 400 CE, a few hundred years after the Mesopotamians.
The Mayan culture was still present when the Spanish
arrived in Central America
, but political dominance in
the area had shifted to the Aztec
Upon the arrival of the Europeans in the "New
, Native American population declined substantially,
primarily due to the introduction of European diseases to which the
Native Americans lacked immunity. Native peoples found their
culture changed drastically. As such, their affiliation with
political and cultural groups changed as well, several linguistic
groups went extinct
, and others
changed quite quickly. The names and cultures that Europeans
recorded for the natives were not necessarily the same as the ones
they had used a few generations before, or the ones in use
Geography and extent
America occupies the northern portion of the landmass generally
referred to as the New World, the Western
Hemisphere, the Americas, or simply
America (which is sometimes considered a single continent and North America a subcontinent).
A satellite composite image of North
North America's only land
connection to South America
is at the
Isthmus of Panama
. The continent is
generally delimited on the southeast by the Darién
watershed along the
Colombia-Panama border, or
at the Panama
Canal; according to other sources, its southern limit is
the Isthmus of
Tehuantepec, Mexico, with
Central America tapering and
extending southeastward to South America.
Before the Central
American isthmus was raised, the region had been underwater.
islands of the West
Indies delineate a submerged former land bridge, which had connected North America
and South America via what are now Florida and Venezuela.
Much of North America is on the North American Plate
The continental coastline is long and irregular. The Gulf of Mexico is the largest body of water indenting the
continent, followed by Hudson
Bay. Others include the Gulf of Saint
Lawrence and the Gulf of California.
numerous islands off the continent’s coasts:
principally, the Arctic Archipelago, the Bahamas, Turks &
Caicos, the Greater and
Lesser Antilles, the Aleutian
Islands, the Alexander Archipelago, the many thousand islands of the British Columbia Coast, Newfoundland and Greenland, a self-governing Danish island, and
the world's largest, is on
the same tectonic plate (the North American Plate) and is part of
North America geographically. Bermuda is not part of the Americas, but is an oceanic
island which was formed on the fissure of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge over 100 million
years ago. The nearest landmass to it is Cape Hatteras, North
Carolina, and it is
often thought of as part of North America, especially given its
historical, political and cultural ties to Virginia and other parts of the continent.
The vast majority of North America is on the North American Plate
. Parts of California and western Mexico form the
partial edge of the Pacific Plate,
with the two plates meeting along the San Andreas fault. The southernmost portion of the continent
and much of the West
Indies lie on the Caribbean
Plate, whereas the Juan de
Fuca and Cocos plates border the
North American Plate on its western frontier.
continent can be divided into four great regions (each of which
contains many subregions): the Great Plains stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian
Arctic; the geologically young, mountainous west, including the
Rocky Mountains, the Great Basin, California and Alaska; the raised
but relatively flat plateau of the Canadian Shield in the northeast; and the
varied eastern region, which includes the Appalachian
Mountains, the coastal plain along the Atlantic seaboard, and
the Florida peninsula. Mexico, with its long plateaus and cordilleras, falls largely in the western region, although the
eastern coastal plain does extend south along the
western mountains are split in the middle and into the main range
of the Rockies and the coast
ranges in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia with the Great Basin—a lower area containing
smaller ranges and low-lying deserts—in between.
highest peak is Denali in
United States Geographical Survey states that
the geographic center of North America is "6 miles west of
Pierce County, North Dakota" at approximately , approximately 15 miles
(25 km) from Rugby, North Dakota.
The USGS further states that “No marked or
monumented point has been established by any government agency as
the geographic center of either the 50 States, the conterminous
United States, or the North American continent.” Nonetheless, there
is a 15-foot (4.5 m) field stone obelisk
in Rugby claiming to mark the center.
Image:North america terrain 2003 map.jpg|North America bedrock
and terrainImage:North america basement
rocks.png|North American cratons
rocksImage:North america craton nps.gif|North American craton
The prevalent languages in
, and French
. The term Anglo-America is used to refer to the anglophone countries of the Americas:
namely Canada (where
English and French are co-official) and the United States, but also sometimes Belize and parts
of the Caribbean. Latin America
refers to the other areas of the Americas (generally south of the
United States) where the Romance
languages, derived from Latin, of
Spanish and Portuguese (but French speaking countries are not usually
included) predominate: the other republics of Central America (but not always Belize), part of
the Caribbean (not the Dutch, English or French speaking areas),
Mexico, and most of
South America (except Guyana, Suriname, French
Guiana (FR) and The
Falkland Islands (UK).
The French language has historically played a significant role in
North America and retains a distinctive presence in some regions.
officially bilingual; French is the official language of the
province of Quebec and is
co-official with English in the province of New Brunswick. Other French-speaking locales include the
province of Ontario (the official language is English, but there is an
estimated 500 000 Franco-Ontarians), the French West Indies and Saint-Pierre
and Miquelon, as well as the U.S.
state of Louisiana, where French is also an official language.
included with this group based on historical association but
Haitians speak Creole and
French. Similarly there remains small segments in
Lucia and the Commonwealth of Dominica that speak unique French and creole languages
alongside their English speaking majorities.
Socially and culturally, North America presents a well-defined
entity. Canada and the United States have a similar
culture and similar traditions as a result of both countries being
former British colonies.
A common cultural and economic
market has developed between the two nations because of the strong
economic and historical ties. Spanish-speaking North America shares
a common past as former Spanish
. In Mexico and the Central American countries where
civilizations like the Maya
developed, indigenous people preserve traditions across modern
boundaries. Central American and Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations
have historically had more in common due to geographical proximity
and the fact that, after winning independence from Spain, Mexico
never took part in an effort to build a Central American Union.
Mexico, particularly cities such as Monterrey and Chihuahua, are strongly influenced by the culture and way of
life of the United States.
Emigration to Canada and the
United States remains a significant attribute of many nations close
to the southern border of the United States. As the British Empire
and its influences declined, the Anglophone Caribbean states have
witnessed the economic influence of northern North America increase
on the region. In the Anglophone Caribbean this influence is in
part due to the fact that the majority of English speaking
Caribbean countries have populations of less than 200,000 people
and many of these countries now have expatriate
diasporas living abroad that are
larger than those remaining at home.
Economically, Canada and the United States are the wealthiest and
most developed nations
continent, followed by Mexico, a newly industrialized country
the countries of Central America and the Caribbean are at various
levels of development. The most important trade blocs
are the Caribbean Community and Common Market
the North American
Free Trade Agreement
, and the recently signed Central American Free
—the last of these being an example of the
economic integration sought by the nations of this sub-region as a
way to improve their financial status.
Demographically, North America is a racially and ethnically diverse
continent. Its three main racial groups are Whites
). There is a significant
minority of Amerindians
among other less numerous groups.
Countries and territories
North America is often divided into subregions but no universally
accepted divisions exist. Central America comprises the southern
region of the continent, but its northern terminus varies between
sources. Geophysically, the
region starts at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico (namely the Mexican states of Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana
Roo, and Yucatán). The United Nations geoscheme includes
Mexico in Central America; conversely, the European Union excludes both Mexico and
Belize from the
, Mexico is
frequently not considered a part of Central America.
Non-Native American Nations Control
over N America 1750-2008
is used to refer
to the northern countries and territories of North America: Canada,
the United States, Greenland, Bermuda, and St. Pierre and Miquelon.
They are often considered distinct from the southern portion of the
Americas, which largely comprise Latin
. The term Middle America is sometimes used
to collectively refer to Mexico, the nations of Central America, and the Caribbean.
The term North America
may mean different things to
different people in the world according to the context. Usage other
than that of the entire continent includes:
- In English, North
America may be used to refer to the United States and Canada
together. Alternatively, usage often includes Mexico (as with
North American Free
Trade Agreement) and other entities.
- In Latin America, Spain, Portugal, and some other parts of
Europe, North America usually designates a subcontinent
(subcontinente in Spanish) of the Americas containing
Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and often Greenland, Saint
Pierre and Miquelon, and Bermuda.
North America, in whole or in part, has been historically referred
to by other names:
the nations of North America cooperate together on a shared
telephone system known as the North American Numbering Plan
(NANP) which is an integrated telephone numbering plan of 24
countries and territories: the United States and its territories, Canada, Bermuda, and 16 Caribbean nations.
- p. 9, The Cosmographiæ Introductio of Martin
Waldseemüller in Facsimile, translated by Edward Burke and
Mario E. Cosenza, introduction by Joseph Fischer and Franz von
Wieser, edited by Charles George Herbermann, New York: The United
States Catholic Historical Society, 1907.
- The Naming of America: Fragments We've Shored
Against Ourselves. By Jonathan Cohen
- Dodson, Peter (1997). "American Dinosaurs." Encyclopedia of
Dinosaurs. Edited by Phillip J. Currie and Kevin Padian.
Academic Press. p. 10-13.
- Weishampel, David B; et al (2004). "Dinosaur distribution (Late
Jurassic, North America)." In: Weishampel, David B.; Dodson, Peter;
and Osmólska, Halszka (eds.): The Dinosauria, 2nd, Berkeley:
University of California Press. Pp. 543–545. ISBN
- pp. 42–46, A Concise History of World Population: An
Introduction to Population Processes, Massimo Livi Bacci,
Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2001, 3rd ed., ISBN
- The five rings of the Olympic flag represent the five
inhabited, participating continents ( Africa, America, Asia, Europe, and
- Océano Uno, Diccionario Enciclopédico y Atlas Mundial,
"Continente", page 392, 1730. ISBN 84-494-0188-7
- Los Cinco Continentes (The Five Continents), Planeta-De
Agostini Editions, 1997. ISBN 84-395-6054-0
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Central
- The American Heritage Dictionary, "Central
- Land areas and population estimates are taken from The 2008
World Factbook which currently uses July 2008 data, unless
- Depending on definitions, Aruba, Netherlands Antilles, Panama, and Trinidad and
Tobago have territory in one or both of North and South
- Water area makes up a considerable portion of this entity's
total area. Therefore, for a more accurate figure on which to
calculate population density, this figure includes land area
- Estimates as of July 2006. Since Guadeloupe and Martinique have
been upgraded from overseas departments to regions of France, they
are no longer listed separately in The World Factbook.
Therefore, these figures are from the last edition in which they appear --
- Due to ongoing activity of the Soufriere
Hills volcano beginning in July 1995, much of Plymouth's
de jure capital
was destroyed and government offices were relocated to
- Panama is generally
considered a North American country, though some authorities divide
it at the Panama
Canal; land area and population figures are for the entire
- Includes the U.S.
state of Hawaii, which
is distant from the North American landmass in the Pacific Ocean and is,
thus, commonly included with the other territories of Oceania.
- Burchfield, R. W., ed. 2004. "America." Fowler's Modern English
Usage (ISBN 0-19-861021-1) New York: Oxford University
Press, p. 48 -- quotation reads: "the term 'North America' is
mostly used to mean the United States and Canada together.
Countries to the south of the United States are described as being
in Central America (Mexico, Nicaragua, etc.) or South America
(Brazil, Argentina, etc.)"; see also:
McArthur, Tom. 1992. "North American." The Oxford Companion to
the English Language (ISBN 0-19-214183-X) New York: Oxford
University Press, p. 707.
- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration: refers to "Three nations, on the same
- Martin W. Lewis and Kären E. Wigen. (1997). "The Myth of
Continents." (ISBN 0520207432) University of California Press, p.
40 -- quotation reads: "In regard to North America one can detect a
similar shift between official designation and popular conception.
Strictly speaking, the North American continent includes Panama and
all points north, but in common parlance Central America is usually
excluded, while in some circumstances Mexico is deleted as well";
see also the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
refers to "Three nations, on the same continent"
- Countries of North America: includes Bermuda,
Canada, Mexico, St. Pierre and Miquelon, and the United States
- What's the difference between North, Latin, Central,
Middle, South, Spanish and Anglo America?, about.com
- North America, Microsoft Encarta. Archived 2009-10-31.
- North America, msuglobalaccess.net : describes
"North America includes Canada, the United States, Mexico, and
their related territories, lying north of Central and South
- Security and
Prosperity Partnership Of North America
- In Ibero-America, North America is considered a
subcontinent containing Canada, the United States, Mexico,
Greenland, Bermuda and Saint-Pierre and Miquelon." Norteamérica (Mexican version)"/ (Spaniard version). Encarta Online Encyclopedia.. Archived 2009-10-31.
- In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh sent Philip Amadas and
Barlowe to lead an exploration of what is now the North Carolina coast,
and they returned with word of a regional "king" named "Wingina."
This was modified later that year by Raleigh and the Queen to
"Virginia", perhaps in part noting her status as the "Virgin
- " North America"/" Central America". The Columbia
Encyclopedia, 6th ed. 2001-6. New York, Columbia University Press.
- " North America"/" Central America". Encyclopædia Britannica.
2006. Chicago, Encyclopædia Britannica,
- UN Statistics Division: Composition of macro
geographical (continental) regions, geographical sub-regions, and
selected economic and other groupings
- GeoHive: The population of continents, regions and
- " North America" ( Archived 2009-10-31)/ " Central America" ( Archived 2009-10-31). MSN
Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006.
- American Heritage Dictionaries, North America and
- Houghton Mifflin Company, "North America"
- Council on
for North American Higher Education Collaboration
- WordNet Princeton University: Central America
- Crystal Reference Encyclopedia, "North America"
- Internet World Map Study showing the geographic
distribution of the Internet across North America.