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Wednesday, September 2. 2009
A re-post -
In a comment on our piece about clear-cutting, a reader let us know about this book: 1491: New Revelations about the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann.
Human fantasies about the Garden of Eden, like human utopian fantasies, just never give up. You might almost think we all wish we were back in the womb.
I ordered the book, but here's a quote from Charles Mann's 2002 essay in The Atlantic on the subject:
It's a fascinating subject to me. Here's the whole essay.
Image: An early version of Edward Hicks' Peaceable Kingdom
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If accurate-pretty impressive for a people (continent) that had neither the wheel or significant pack/work animals and only flint tools. As for the change in Mississippi shoreline setttlement, wonder if it flooded then as in recent times?
Wonder how those pigs were able to propagate so well in a predator-filled environment with which they had no experiance?
Really interesting topic.
Out this way, agriculture amounted to digging camus roots with a stick.
On the other hand, the rivers being fat with salmon, one wouldn't want to extend oneself.
I'm not buying the idea about the Amazon, but fire was used in North America a lot.
Keeping things in perspective, when Lewis and Clark came back from the Pacific, they stopped near here, to pick up their supplies, and visited with a chief, just back from a trip to the south, to the Shoshoni country, with a necklace of scalps around his neck.
On the always other hand, the mutual slaughter engaged in by the peoples of the old world hadn't occured here, basically for lack of means.
Though they were doing a pretty good job of keeping the blood flowing, and hence, the circulation of the energy of the universe, in their view, in central America.
Having read the article, I'm a little disturbed by the inference that white man's disease wiped out these populations. The abandonment of Cahokia (a mound site mentioned in the essay), for instance, pre-dates Columbus by about 100 years, and Soto's pigs by 160 years.
It is speculated that the Anasazi abandoned their cliffs around 1300 AD due to a "300 year drought" that also preceded Columbus and Soto's pigs.
I wonder why the author didn't mention that a good number of civilizations were long gone or already in steep decline before the pig invasion of 1539? He obviously researched this article pretty thoroughly.
Still, interesting essay.
Ironic that once upon a time, no body wanted to attribute sophisticated edifices to the Indians because they thought they were too stupid. Now they want to deny it because it doesn't jive with their romanticized idea a the noble savage.
Either way, it's peculiar that folks want to deny basic human tendencies to the Indians as though they are separate from all other races of man.
Whatever the arguments about technology, if you've read and digested 'Black Elk Speaks' and his great vision, you will know some were no pikers when it comes to 'spirituality'.
And indeed, a circular of teepees doesn't look so bad in comparison to LA or Mexico City these days.
"Europeans, accustomed to the serfdom that thrived from Naples to the Baltic Sea, were puzzled and alarmed by the democratic spirit and respect for human rights in many Indian societies, especially those in North America."
Do those human rights include human sacrifice?
I had another thought about the article last night. And if I missed it please correct me.
But when they calculate population in the Americas as compared to Europe are they accounting for area?
I mean, a 100 people to 10 square miles is very different from 100 people to 1000 square miles, at least in terms of social structure, culture and civilization.
This book is one of the most informative works on the human and natural history of any landscape I've ever read. I cannot recommend it highly enough and I'm sure that even if history is not your thing, you will be enthralled.
If you want to find out a little more about it, I suggest checking out Amazon's "reader forum" at the book's webpage...the author actually shows up from time to time to answer reader's questions.
I'm hoping to see PBS or some other information-based production outlet create a series of programs for TV. We are due...there's been a lot of new findings and understandings that have come along since we first heard these foundational stories in our school days...and even today the same old stuff is being repeated.
Our historic understanding is in dire need of an upgrade.
A most interesting article. It certainly provides a great deal to think about when we speak of "wilderness" or "forever wild" as it is promoted in national and state parks such as Yellowstone or New York's Adirondack region.
One of the things that was of interest in a class on warfare was that genocide predates the coming of the 15th century Europeans to the North American continent. One of the earliest records from french priests in Canada is that of the last battles that had been going on between the Iriquois and Hurons for, apparently, centuries. It is one that traces the migration of the Hurons around Lake Erie and into Ontario and the final extermination of the tribe by Mohawk raids on the last islands held by the Hurons.
That was not something introduced by any settler as there were no white settlers by then, and the traditional warfare, itself, predates any European influence. Got that 'peaceful native' idea pretty much wiped out by that course as it went through primative warfare across all continents, and covered tribes from the Highland Dani to the Yanamamo... really we should have spent more time on the Thai as they, apparently, had an entire neolithic to early iron age concept of warfare that was quite methodical. The only time you get 'peaceful natives' is when they are so isolated and the populations are sub-120 per tribe that survival trumps human conflict.
Human sacrifice only applied in those societies that had taken up agriculture, in however rudimentary a way. It was not a hunter/gatherer phenomena. It is always associated with the planters, not the hunters.
"The only time you get 'peaceful natives' is when they are so isolated and the populations are sub-120 per tribe that survival trumps human conflict."
No, I don't think that is right. While recognizing the violence among the natives,(let us not forget the violence among ourselves) if the diggers/fishers/hunters around here are a useful guide, there was some violence but not endemic. The violence here was among those who spoke a little different language, and also, when one group wandered over into what the other considered its buffalo grounds. But it was not as you indicate, always a part of the everyday life. And the population was much much higher than your 120. There was some of it to be sure, but not as a law of anthropology as you indicate. It is wrong to try to apply a certain rule to allthe native Americans, as you will run up against a counter example soon enough.
The book is indeed excellent, and answers nicely some of the objections brought up here.
Bob, my point was that ritual human sacrifice was practiced in the Americas but not in Europe, but the writer seems to missed that point when he is talking about the great "human rights" the indigenous people had.
Historians have a tough task when evaluating America before Columbus. And just about anywhere else.
During the recently ended era of European dominance the achievements of other groups were overlooked and/or downplayed.
Sometimes that was deliberate, sometimes not.
To be fair, it wasn't easy to do independent field research when it took weeks to travel from Britain to India. And the forensic sciences were primitive.
So the inevitable cultural backlash has come and will keep coming. Europeans once got too much credit, so now they probably get too little.
Some Black scholar proclaims everything of consequence was invented in Africa but the evidence was deliberately destroyed by the whites.
And a Muslim scholar announces Muslims invented virtually everything and no one else ever contributed one thought.
The mound cities in the Mississippi Valley were actually huge empires surpassing Rome. They had steamboats on the rivers. Or so people may be told in forty years.
In every land and every clime there are foolish or unsupportable claims contending with solid investigation.
The Chinese vigorously seek evidence of Chinese explorations; some argue Europe was reached, others America. And maybe so, I don't know.
All we can do is weigh an argument and hope the evidence isn't fabricated.
I read this a year or so ago. I am a Master Gardener living on pure sand. There is a live oak, red bay forest here. I have a terrible time trying to grow any beautiful plantings. When I saw this I was determined to make my own terra preta. I can get the burned wood/charcoal and organic matter such as leaves, but so far I don't have a source for the pottery cherds. I am still trying. I think it is very intriguing. If anyone reading this has suggestions please let me know.
Ruth H says..."When I saw this I was determined to make my own terra preta. I can get the burned wood/charcoal and organic matter such as leaves, but so far I don't have a source for the pottery cherds. I am still trying. I think it is very intriguing. If anyone reading this has suggestions please let me know."
My thoughts, too, Ruth, though I am not the gardener in the family (my wife is the gardener). The author's description of the terra preta process as "sourdough starter" was particularly apt. It would seem this is a fertile (pun intended) field of study for some enterprising gardener, and I would suspect there has been some work done in formally understanding the process. Perhaps you could begin by getting in touch with the scholars cited in that part of the article through their unversities to talk to them about it. How this came to be understood and then manipulated/i by the native tribes is mind-boggling.
Yes, the time is long overdue for a reappraisal of our foundational schoolbook texts addressing these matters.