The prehistory of the Americas (North, South, and Central America, and the Caribbean) begins with people migrating to these areas from Asia during the height of an Ice Age. These groups are generally believed to have been isolated from peoples of the "Old World" until the coming of Europeans in the 10th century from Norway and with the voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1492.The ancestors of today's American Indigenous peoples were the Paleo-Indians; they were hunter-gatherers who migrated into North America. The most popular theory asserts that migrants came to the Americas via Beringia, the land mass now covered by the ocean waters of the Bering Strait. Small lithic stage peoples followed megafauna like bison, mammoth (now extinct), and caribou, thus gaining the modern nickname "big-game hunters." Groups of people may also have traveled into North America on shelf or sheet ice along the northern Pacific coast.Cultural traits brought by the first immigrants later evolved and spawned such cultures as Iroquois on North America and Piraha of South America. These cultures later developed into civilizations. In many cases, these cultures expanded at a later date than their Old World counterparts. Cultures that may be considered advanced or civilized include Norte Chico, Cahokia, Zapotec, Toltec, Olmec, Maya, Aztec, Chimor, Mixtec, Moche, Mississippian, Puebloan, Totonac, Teotihuacan, Huastec people, Purepecha, Izapa, Mazatec, Muisca, and the Inca.After the voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1492, Spanish, Portuguese and later English, French and Dutch colonial expeditions arrived in the New World, conquering and settling the discovered lands, which led to a transformation of the cultural and physical landscape in the Americas. Spain colonized most of the Americas from present-day Southwestern United States, Florida and the Caribbean to the southern tip of South America. Portugal settled in what is mostly present-day Brazil while England established colonies on the Eastern coast of the United States, as well as the North Pacific coast and in most of Canada. France settled in Quebec and other parts of Eastern Canada and claimed an area in what is today the central United States. The Netherlands settled New Netherland (administrative centre New Amsterdam - now New York), some Caribbean islands and parts of Northern South America.European colonization of the Americas led to the rise of new cultures, civilizations and eventually states, which resulted from the fusion of Native American and European traditions, peoples and institutions. The transformation of American cultures through colonization is evident in architecture, religion, gastronomy, the arts and particularly languages, the most widespread being Spanish (376 million speakers), English (348 million) and Portuguese (201 million). The colonial period lasted approximately three centuries, from the early 16th to the early 19th centuries, when Brazil and the larger Hispanic American nations declared independence. The United States obtained independence from England much earlier, in 1776, while Canada formed a federal dominion in 1867. Others remained attached to their European parent state until the end of the 19th century, such as Cuba and Puerto Rico which were linked to Spain until 1898. Smaller territories such as Guyana obtained independence in the mid-20th century, while certain Caribbean islands and French Guiana remain part of a European power to this day.