Native American Civilizations: Evolving Historical Ressassment

Figure 1.--A generation ago there was general agreement over the settlement of the Americas by Native Americans based on the Clovis First theory. We now know that virtually everything we thought we knew was wrong. Currently specialists on Native Americans are engaged in a wide-ranging debate about every aspect of Native American history. The one aspect on which there is general agreement is that Siberian nomads crossed over a Bearing Sea land bridge formed during the inter-glacial period. The area is now called Beringia. Just when and how that crossing progressed and how the nomads moved south are some of the many debates currently underway. Itis now believed that the original Siberians remained in Beringia for sime time, presumably blocked by the glaciers covering what is now Canada and the northern areas of the Unitd States. This is a 1904 Worlds Fair Alaska photo of an Eskimo boy and his faithful sled dog in front of an an igloo. The technology by which he and his family lived was not greatly changed from that which evolved in Beringia after the original crossing. Source: Library of Congress LC1672.

Our understanding of history gradually unfolds over time. It is commonly true that what seems very obvious to contemporary people looks very different a generation later. We often change our views with the benefits of hindsight. Improved historical methods have also assisted us. No where is this more true than the historical assessment of Native Americans. e know of no historical area in which assessmnts have so radically changed. Virtually everything we thought we knew about Native Americans a generation ago has been proven wrong. And here we are not talking about Hollywood depictions. We are talking about the work of respected archeologists and anthropologists who dominated Native American studies. In the past two decades we have found that Native Americans have been present in the Western Hemisphere far longer than previously thought and had developed a far more sophisticated and complex socities than previously believed. Specialists hotly debate just how long. Here the work at Monte Verde in Chile and DNA work have forced fundamental reassessments of major theories such as Clovis First. The pre-Colombian population was also much larger than previously believed, although there is still intense differences as to actual population levels. But the most serious mistake in our assessment of Native Americans has been the commonly held belief that Native American peoples lacked agency and had little impact on the enviroment. The ruins studed throughout Meso-America and the Peruvian Andes an coast stand in testimony to those achievenents. Achievements in agriculture, astronomy, engeneering, mathematics, textiles, and writing, are impressive. Surely one of the most significant accomplishments of any society over time was the domestication of corn and the potato. These two accomplishments changed Europe and indeed mankind more than any other technological achievement, making possible a population explosion. Europeans first encountering the advanced Native american civilizations were so amazed by the technological achievements, especially the monumental archetecture of Native Americans, that a long series of popular authors have ascribed these achievements to other peoples including aliens. HBC is not prone to politically correct group speak, but this idea that Native Americans were incapable of high-cultural achievements is pure and simply racist. There is a corelary line of thought. That Native Americans live in harmony with their enviroment without harming it or leaving a significant footprint. This line of thought has a long history, symbolized by Rosseau's nobel savage and taken up bu the modern politically correct obsessed. We now know that Native Americans significntly shaped their environment. Some believe that the Great American prarie was significantly expanded by Native American use of fire. And in some cases Native American cultures perished because they did mot manage their environment well. The current theories on the collapse of Teotiauacan and the Maya are essentially environmental mismanagement and scientists studing many other Native American cultures are coming up with similar theories.


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Created: 12:49 AM 3/10/2009
Last updated: 3:49 AM 12/14/2013