North America is a continent located in the Northern Hemisphere and nearly completely inside the Western Hemisphere. It may also be seen of as the northern portion of a single continent, the continent of North America. North America is bounded by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea and, to the west and south, by the Pacific Ocean. The Arctic Ocean is the northernmost of these boundaries. In terms of geography, Greenland is considered to be a part of North America since it is located on the North American Tectonic Plate.
A total land area of about 24,709,000 square kilometres (9,540,000 square miles) is occupied by North America, accounting for approximately 16.5 percent of the Earth's land area and 4.8 percent of its total surface area. North America is the third-largest continent by land, after Asia and Africa, and the fourth-largest by population, after Asia, Africa, and Europe. It is also the most populous continent in the world. In 2013, the country's population was projected to be about 579 million people spread among 23 autonomous states, accounting for approximately 7.5 percent of the world's total population.
North America was originally colonised by humans during the last glacial era, when they crossed the Bering land bridge, which occurred about 40,000 to 17,000 years ago. On the basis of current evidence, the so-called Paleo-Indian era lasted until about 10,000 years ago (the beginning of the Archaic or Meso-Indian period). The classic period is generally defined as the period between the sixth and thirteenth centuries. The pre-Columbian era came to an end in 1492, with the commencement of the transatlantic migrations of European settlers during the Age of Discovery and the early modern period, which marked the beginning of the transatlantic migrations of European settlers. In contrast, the first known European allusions to North America (other than Greenland) date back to about 1000 AD and are found in Norse sagas, where it is referred to as Vinland. The contacts between European colonists, indigenous peoples, African slaves, immigrants from Europe, Asia, and South Asia, and the descendants of these groups have resulted in the current cultural and ethnic patterns.
Most North Americans speak European languages, such as English, Spanish, or French, as a result of Europe's colonisation of the Americas, and their cultures are generally similar to those of Western civilizations. While indigenous people in portions of Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central America are losing their cultural traditions, they are still speaking their native languages in those regions of those countries.