Friday, February 20, 2009

Crossing the Continent 1527

A book is out this past year titled Crossing the Continent 1527 – 1540 by Robert Goodwin and is reconstruction of the experiences of the four survivors of an ill fated Spanish expedition to land and penetrate Florida, just a couple of generations after first contact and in the first generation of the conquest of Mexico.

This is one of the first results of the placing of the contents of the Archivo General De Indias (AGI) on the internet at We will undoubtedly see many more reports emerge which is very welcome. Fresh informed eyes see new things and there never seem to be enough eyes.

For whatever reason, I am an informed eyeball regarding mining and its related artifacts. I can at least begin the process of discovery when confronted with new evidence. Here we have another fresh report of a band producing copper to sell to others. The unit of sale is in the form of a very small bell, containing an amount of copper similar to what is in a penny.

Once again, I had checked the four corners region for Bronze Age copper mining activity and had found it. Here again we learn that just after contact, that a local copper economy still existed before populations were decimated and destroyed by disease. The copper trade clearly did not completely disappear and clans continue to own and exploit copper resources.

Before the survivors made it to the upper reaches of the Rio Grande they had traveled from Florida along the coast to the environs of Galveston by small water craft. They then spent five years among local Indians. We get a glimpse of life ways that still relied on harvesting the natural bounty, rather than any form of agriculture. It is not obvious why this is so except that particular tribal groups adhered to historical life ways and their associated territories more than we want to accept.

Perhaps we need to recall that crop agriculture is a recent development in northern Europe. We assume some form of slash and burn preceded the steel plow, but that was surely small scale and used as a supplement to the diet provided by cattle herding. So slash and burn agriculture needs large tribal acreages to supply the ongoing large tracts of fallow land as well as ample hunting ground for deer to supply meat.

We also know that large villages did exist throughout the Mississippi valley. However this report was simply outside that world and missed any evidence of it totally. So while I was looking for a hint of a more settled corn culture similar to the Pueblo Indians extant and discovered in this report, I did get an independent confirmation of the existence of an indigenous copper trade.

The sources are not as rich as I would have wished, but I recommend this book as a good glimpse of the conditions on the ground during this era. We have all forgotten or mostly never knew just how hard it is for a family to feed itself year round without the application of agriculture. These peoples spent far too much of their time hungry in a very good climate.

We also learn just what a staple the prickly pear really was in these areas. Other tree nuts are also mentioned as are pine nuts, now been brought into our own cuisine.

Most importantly this is a tale of bare survival by four men out of well over two hundred men. Most were lost to drowning, the rest to disease mostly and a very few to conflict. Their benefactors struggled as much to stay alive. I have read many similar tales were the struggle for bare survival overwhelmed everyone.

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