The first human inhabitants of North America are believed to be of Asian origin; they crossed over to Alaska from NE Asia roughly 20,000 years ago, and then moved southward through the Mackenzie River valley. European discovery and settlement of North America dates from the 10th cent., when Norsemen settled (986) in Greenland. Although evidence is fragmentary, they probably reached E Canada c.1000 at the latest. Of greater impact on the subsequent history of the continent were Christopher Columbus's exploration of the Bahamas in 1492 and later landings in the West Indies and Central America, and John Cabot's explorations of E Canada (1497), which established English claims to the continent. Spanish and French expeditions also explored much of North America.
Although the population of Canada and the United States is still largely of European origin, it is growing increasingly diverse with substantial immigration from Asia, Latin America, and Africa; it is also highly urbanized (about 74% live in urban areas); much of the population is centered in large conurbations and coalescing urban belts along the southern margin of Canada and in the northeastern quadrant of the United States around the Great Lakes and along the Atlantic coast. Mexico's population, about 60% mestizo (of European and Native American descent), is increasingly urbanized (about 72%). People of European descent are a minority in most Central American and Caribbean countries, and the population outside the major cities is largely rural. The largest urban agglomerations on the continent are Mexico City, New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.