Maps are tools for portraying the organization and distribution of American Indian Cultures. Ethnographic maps depict the distribution of Indian tribes with common ethnic affinities, and linguistic maps group them by common language characteristics. As noted earlier, indications of tribal range appear on a number of early maps, but the first systematic efforts map the geographic distribution of Indian cultural groups did not begin to appear until the early nineteenth century. Most ethnographic and linguistic maps focus on cultural and language associations at the time of European contact and often do not reflect the migrations and adaptations that occurred either prior to or after the encounter.
Portrayals of other aspects of Indian distribution appear primarily on recent maps, including items illustrating Indian land occupancy and use in relationship to Native American land claims; population maps that are usually based on federal census data and illustrate the distribution of individuals rather than tribes and archeological maps that portray the locations and distribution patterns of prehistoric Indian culture and habitation. The Geography and Map Division holds maps illustrating all of these aspects of the cultural and ethnic distribution of North American Indians.
The maps in this section have been digitized by the Library and are available for viewing and download online. Select the link on the map or in the caption to view a copy of the map that can be enlarge to view the detail.
This represents one of the first attempts to graphically illustrate the distribution and migrations of Amerindian tribes in the eastern United States.
Former Treasury Secretary, Albert Gallatin, founded the American Ethnological Society, and was an early nineteenth-century recognized authority on Indian languages. His map of Indian tribal distribution accompanied his study of Indian languages, titled A Synopsis of the Indian Tribes within the United States East of the Rocky Mountains.
Powell, the founder of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution, conducted numerous archeological, linguistic, and ethnographic studies of American Indians. Though his anthropological ideas are outdated, his map reflects years of research into North American ethnology.