Peoples who occupied North America before the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th cent. They have long been known as Indians because of the belief prevalent at the time of Columbus that the Americas were the outer reaches of the Indies (i.e., the East Indies). Most scholars agree that Native Americans came into the Western Hemisphere from Asia via the Bering Strait in a series of migrations. From Alaska they spread east and south. The several waves of migration are said to account for the many native linguistic families while the common origin is used to explain the physical characteristics that Native Americans have in common (though with considerable variation)Mongoloid features, coarse, straight black hair, dark eyes, sparse body hair, and a skin color ranging from yellow-brown to reddish brown. Many scholars accept evidence of Native American existence in the Americas back more than 25,000 years. In pre-Columbian times (prior to 1492) the Native American population of the area N of Mexico is estimated to have been between one and two million. From prehistoric times until recent historic times there were roughly six major cultural areas, excluding that of the Arctic, i.e., Northwest Coast, Plains, Plateau, Eastern Woodlands, Northern, and Southwest.