Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Jack Weatherford on Native Influence

I am reading a book by Jack Weatherford published in 1991 titled Native Roots which does a fine job of demonstrating how critical Indian technology and culture was to the establishment of Early North America. I will leave the details to Jack but one thing jumps out. The major earthen pyramid close by St Louis was the focus of the Mississippian Culture principal city known as Cahokia and joins Giza and the two Mexican Pyramids as the four largest built. At least as far as we currently know, since a number of others are in the process of been recognized.

This is the earmark of a large population base as we have discovered throughout Mesoamerica and the Amazon. The evidence has barely begun to be dug up, but the pre contact Mississippian population could compare to that of Mexico, and it should.

Again it is been consistently reported that all this was built up in the ten centuries preceding contact. The reason suggested is that new more hardy varieties of corn triggered this expansion. I am uncomfortable supporting that claim regarding the lack of antiquity of the Mississippian culture and I once again want to yell for everyone to dig deeper.

Merely twenty years ago, it was impossible to believe that the Amazon may have held populations in the tens of millions. Today it is plausible that the Mississippi could have supported millions. The problem is that the population did not use terra preta to leave a handy map of their lands and what evidence might have existed is long since plowed into dust.

We are reminded by this of the efficiency of successive plagues in wiping out native populations. A first pass will decimate a population of twenty millions down to perhaps three to four millions. A second pass before significant recovery will reduce that to a few hundred thousands. The last such die offs took place here in the nineteenth century along the west Coast and the effects were recorded. The epidemics were a generation apart, but every scourge showed up and took its share. No one had much of a chance and plenty of help was available, regardless of stories saying otherwise,

It is still hard for us to accept the scale of loss, but saying that a hemispheric population of one hundred million was reduced to well under ten million seems obscene. In the end it was nobodies fault, just as it was inevitable.

We have driven the antiquity of Amazon culture back to three to four thousand years BP, and Mesoamerica has also been found as old. We already know that the Lake Superior copper culture is as old. So although the absence of North American corn culture may be real, I do not trust it.

Developing a hardier corn variety is not challenging and they could begin in the semi tropical gulf Coast. Taking thousands of years appears to be a stretch. We will have to wait for the shovels to say otherwise.

One other thing I want to note. These cities were culture centers and their like has now been shown to exist throughout the Americas and was supported by the corn crop in the form of the three sisters self sustaining corn culture. I am not sure that these cities had a separate economic life. If not, then their dissolution could be simply on a ruler’s whim who simply wanted to start over and be bigger than his ancestors.

That means that it is a serious mistake to presume that the earliest strata of a given capital represents the beginnings of the whole culture.

No comments: