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Human habitation of Venezuela could have commenced at least 15,000 years ago from which period leaf-shaped tools, together with chopping and plano-convex scraping implements, have been found exposed on the high riverine terraces of the Rio Pedregal in western Venezuela. Late Pleistocene hunting artifacts, including spear tips, have been found at a similar series of sites in north-western Venezuela known as "El Jobo"; according to radiocarbon dating, these date from 13,000 to 7,000 BC.
Venezuela was first colonized by Spain in 1522 in what is now Cumaná. These portions of eastern Venezuela were incorporated into New Andalusia. Administered by the Audiencia of Santo Domingo since the early 16th century, most of Venezuela became part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada in the early 18th century, and was then reorganized as an autonomous Captaincy General starting in 1776.
In the 16th century, during the Spanish colonization, indigenous peoples such as many of the Mariches, themselves descendants of the Caribs rejected paganism and embraced Roman Catholicism. Some Spaniards treated the natives harshly. Indian caciques (leaders) such as Guaicaipuro and Tamanaco attempted to resist Spanish incursions, but were ultimately defeated; Tamanaco was put to death by order of Caracas' founder Diego de Losada.After a series of unsuccessful uprisings, Venezuela—under the leadership of Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan marshal who had fought in the American Revolution and the French Revolution—declared independence on 5 July 1811. This began the Venezuelan War of Independence. However, a devastating earthquake that struck Caracas in 1812, together with the rebellion of the Venezuelan llaneros, helped bring down the first Venezuelan republic. A second Venezuelan republic, proclaimed on 7 August 1813, lasted several months before being crushed as well.
Sovereignty was only attained after Simón Bolívar, aided by José Antonio Páez and Antonio José de Sucre, won the Battle of Carabobo on 24 June 1821. José Prudencio Padilla and Rafael Urdaneta's victory in the Battle of Lake Maracaibo on 24 July 1823, helped seal Venezuelan independence. New Granada's congress gave Bolívar control of the Granadian army; leading it, he liberated several countries and founded Gran Colombia.Sucre, who won many battles for Bolívar, went on to liberate Ecuador and later become the second president of Bolivia. Venezuela remained part of Gran Colombia until 1830, when a rebellion led by Páez allowed the proclamation of a newly independent Venezuela; Páez became the first president of the new republic. Two decades of warfare had cost the lives of between a quarter and a third of the Venezuelan population, which in 1830 numbered no more than 800,000.
Much of Venezuela's nineteenth century history was characterized by political turmoil and dictatorial rule.