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Author Topic: Introduction to History of the Americas  (Read 815 times)
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« on: September 27, 2006, 09:16:39 PM »

A Hupa man, 1923

The history of the Americas is the collective history of North and South America, including Central America and the Caribbean. It begins with people migrating to these areas from Asia and possibly Oceania during the height of an Ice Age. These groups are generally believed to have had little or no contact with peoples of the "Old World" until the coming of Europeans in the 15th century.

The ancestors of today's Native Americans were hunter-gatherers who migrated into North America. The most popular theory asserts that migrants came to the Americas via the Bering Land Bridge. Small Paleo Indian groups probably followed the mammoth and other prey animals. It is possible that groups of people may also have wandered into North America on shelf or sheet ice along the northern Pacific coast.

Cultural traits brought by the first immigrants later evolved and spawned such cultures as Iroquois on North America and Pirah? of South America. These cultures later developed into civilizations, just as in the Old World. In many cases, these cultures expanded at a later date than their Old World counterparts. Cultures that may be considered advanced or civilized include: Cahokia, Zapotec, Toltecs, Olmec, Aztecs, and the Inca.

Migration into the continents

Exactly when the first group of people migrated into the Americas is subject to much debate. Recent archaeological finds suggest multiple waves of migration, some of which may have taken place as early as 40,000 BCE. All theories agree that the Inuit and related peoples arrived separately and at a much later date, probably around the 6th century, moving across the glaciers from Siberia into Canada.

It is generally believed that the North American continent received the first people, Asian nomads who crossed the Bering Land Bridge, which connected Siberia and Alaska over the Bearing Sea. For many years, scientists accepted that the earliest people were of the Clovis culture, with sites dating from some 13,500 years ago. Older sites occupied up to 20,000 years ago are still not widely accepted, although they are supported by recent DNA evidence. By 10,000 BCE, humans are thought to have reached Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America. Artifacts have been found in both North and South America which have been dated to about 10,000 BCE.

Other groups have additional beliefs about ancient visitors to the Americas. For example, the Book of Mormon, a religious text used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other denominations within the Latter Day Saint movement, follows a family of Israelites who set out for the "promised land" about 600 BCE. This text records their arrival in the Americas and information on resulting cultures and civilizations.

Before advanced civilizations

After the migration or migrations, it was several thousand years before the first complex civilizations arose, emerging at earliest 5000 BCE. They were hunter-gatherers and even with the emergence of advanced civilizations, most of the continent's area was still inhabited by such societies until the 18th century. Hunter gatherer societies were quickly displaced with only a few in South America surviving into the 21st century. Numerous archaeological cultures can be identified with some of the classifications including Early Paleo-Indian Period, Late Paleo-Indian Period, Archaic Period, Early Woodland Period, Middle Woodland Period and Late Woodland Period.

Language families of North American indigenous peoples


Civilizations were started long after migration. Several large, centralized civilizations developed in the Western Hemisphere (e.g., the Chavń in the Andes, the Aztecs and the Maya in Central America). The capital of the Cahokians, Cahokia - located near modern East St. Louis, Illinois may have reached a population of over 20,000. At its peak, between the 12th and 13th centuries Cahokia was the most populous city in North America. Monk's Mound, the major ceremonial center of Cahokia, remains the largest earthen construction of the prehistoric New World. Far larger cities where built by the Maya and Aztecs. Cities of the Aztecs and Incas were as large as the largest in the Old World, with estimates of 300,000 in Tenochtitlan. The market established there was the largest ever seen by the conquistadors when they arrived.

These civilizations developed agriculture as well, breeding maize (corn) from having ears 2-5 cm in length to perhaps 10-15 cm in length. Potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins and avocados are other plants grown by Natives. They did not develop extensive livestock as there were few suitable species; however the guinea pig was raised for meat in the Andes. By the 15th century CE, maize had been transmitted from Mexico and was being farmed in the Mississippi River Valley, but further developments were cut short by the arrival of Europeans. Potatoes were utilized by the Inca and chocolate by the Aztec.

Representation of the populations of pure Amerindian peoples in Latin America. (Source : World Fact book 1999)

European discovery and colonization

Thousands of years after the Indians arrived, the continent was rediscovered by Europeans. Initially the Vikings established a short-lived settlement in Newfoundland, with some evidence suggesting the Norsemen penetrated as far as Minnesota, either coming down from Hudson Bay or going west through the Great Lakes. Theories exist about other Old World discoveries of the east coast (or of the west coast by the Chinese), but none of these are considered proven. Evidence has been found of settlements during the period of the Roman Republic (509-31 BCE), by immigrants from the Celtic lands of Europe in the area of New England. It was the later voyage of Christopher Columbus that led to extensive European colonization of the Americas and the marginalization of its inhabitants. While we know that many immigrants and discoverers had already come to this new world of the Americas, that it has been "discovered' many times, Columbus came at a time in which many technical developments in sailing techniques and communication made it possible to report his voyages easily and to spread the world of them throughout western Europe. It was also a time of growing economic rivalries that led to a competition for the establishment of colonies.

The mass death of the Native Americans from slavery, disease and war led to severe changes in the population and ethnic identity of America's inhabitants. The slave labor of Americans killed by European incursions was replaced by that of sub-Saharan African peoples through the slave trade. Native populations became increasingly minor as the European and African slave populations grew rapidly. The dominance of white peoples continued through the period of widespread independence from European rule, begun in the late 18th century by the United States

There is a substantial difference though, between the English and Spanish areas and models of colonisation. While Native Americans suffered death, slavery and exploitation throughout the Americas and were virtually exterminated almost everywhere, Native Americans, along with Mestizos, now make up the majority of the population in many Central and South American countries due to higher rates of intermarriage between the Spanish and Native Americans, [citation needed] the lower rates of European immigration there, and the lack of the black-white racial classification system found in the United States.

The number of Native Americans is increasing now in the U.S. by actual population growth, changing enrollment laws, and from the immigration from Spanish America, especially from Mexico, though the definition being applied to them is Hispanic.

Effects of slavery

Slavery has had a significant role in the economic development the New World after the colonization of the Americas by the Europeans. Slaves helped build the roads upon which they were transported. The cotton, tobacco, and sugar cane harvested by slaves became important exports for the United States and the Caribbean countries.

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« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2007, 11:06:59 AM »

Bering land bridge theory disputed

Melissa Ludwig

Schoolchildren can recite the story of the first Americans.

     About 12,000 years ago, prehistoric humans walked out of Siberia, trekked across the Bering land bridge and down an ice-free corridor into inner North America, where they hunted Ice Age elephants and peopled the new world.

     But mounting evidence is slowly turning that story to fiction, said Michael Collins, an archaeologist with the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin.

     For more than 20 years, Collins and other scientists have been digging up artifacts from Chile to Texas that convince them the first Americans didn't walk here at all, but came by boat, and arrived much earlier than previously thought.

     "This has been hotly debated," Collins said. "That theory has held sway for 70 years or so. But a few of us for the last 25 years have come to seriously doubt that theory."

     Collins is in San Antonio today to talk about the shifting debate over the first Americans. Collins and archaeologist Robert Ricklis, who excavated a 7,000-year-old cemetery near Victoria, will speak at a Southern Texas Archaeological Association meeting at the University of the Incarnate Word. The meeting is open to the public.

     For decades, the first Americans were thought to be the Clovis people, named after a site in Clovis, N.M., where 11,000-year-old fluted points were found in the 1930s. Since then, Collins said, other sites in Pennsylvania, Chile and Virginia have yielded older finds.

     Collins first became convinced of "pre-Clovis" ancestors in 1967, after discovering burned mammal bones with butcher marks at a site called Cueva Quebrada in Val Verde County. Carbon dating of charcoal put the bones at 14,000 years old. To this day, most other scientists have ignored those findings, Collins said.

     In the 1970s, Collins worked on a site in southern Chile called Monte Verde, which contained artifacts at least 1,000 years older than those at the Clovis sites. At first, many scientists attacked the validity of the evidence and clung to the theory that the Clovis people arrived first, Collins said. Over time, they began to accept the site and the tide of opinion turned, he said.

     "I spent 20 years of my life being beat up over that project, as did everyone else," Collins said. "It has finally, begrudgingly, earned the support of a significant majority of archaeologists."

     But if the Clovis people were not here first, who were the first Americans?

     "It's really a case of stay tuned," Collins said. Theories have been proffered, but none universally accepted, he said.

     Collins himself believes America was likely peopled on two fronts. Coastal communities in both Asia and Europe likely made their way to the New World on boats, sticking close to ice shelves to fish and hunt sea mammals. Though no ancient boats have been found, Collins points to evidence that Asians traveled to Australia 50,000 years ago, presumably in boats, since the island continent has never been connected to a land mass.

     Collins also points to evidence from Japan that suggests prehistoric humans 30,000 years ago ate deep-sea fish and possessed obsidian found only on distant Japanese islands, which also suggests the use of boats.

     Though this far-flung evidence interests Collins, his efforts to debunk the Clovis-first theory are closer to home.

     For the past several years, he has led work at the Gault site, a large Clovis campsite midway between Georgetown and Fort Hood. A rich bounty of evidence at Gault suggests the Clovis people were not highly mobile hunters, as previously thought. It's more likely they were somewhat settled hunter-gatherers who occasionally felled a mammoth, but lived mostly on plants and smaller game such as frogs, turtles and birds.

     "(Gault) is the poster child for Clovis not fitting the theoretical model," Collins said.


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« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2007, 09:58:38 PM »

First American Settlers Not Who We Thought

The Clovis People, a prehistoric group of mastodon hunters distinguished by their unique spear points and once thought to be the first Americans, likely populated North America after other humans had already arrived, a new study concludes.

The Clovis and their hunting technologies were not the first inhabitants of the New World, researchers write in the Feb. 23 issue of the journal Science, addressing a longstanding debate on the first New World humans.

The people were named for artifacts found at Clovis, New Mexico, but evidence for this culture has since been found elsewhere.

Land bridge

The "Clovis-First" model purports that the Clovis people trekked across the Bering land bridge from Siberia to Alaska and then followed an ice-free corridor between two Canadian ice sheets, reaching North America some 11,500 years ago. From there, the people were thought to have spread throughout the continent and down to the tip of South America.

?For decades, archaeologists have been chipping away at the Clovis-First model,? said lead scientist Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University. Most of the whittling came from studies in which material excavated from older sites showed evidence for people in the Americas before Clovis.

Waters and Thomas Stafford of Stafford Research Laboratories in Colorado used a radiocarbon method to re-date artifacts dug up at more than 25 Clovis culture sites in North America. Past age estimates of Clovis material relied on a suite of methods, most of which have since advanced in precision and accuracy.

The new results reveal that Clovis spear points [image] and other tool technologies appeared in the New World 13,100 years ago and trailed off about 12,900 years ago. They reported the dates as 11,050 to 10,800 radiocarbon years ago, but radiocarbon dates don?t match up one-to-one with calendar years. They are longer.

So the Waters and Stafford dates suggest the Clovis arrived about 400 years later than once thought. Also, in archaeological time, the Clovis culture seemed to have lasted just 200 years, not enough time for the group to journey from northeast Asia through the Americas.

New model

Waters puts forth a new model for how the first people populated the New World and it more than rules out the Clovis people as trend-setting firsts.

?What we now need to do is recognize the fact that Clovis is not first, and move on and start developing a new model for the peopling of the Americas,? Waters told LiveScience.

?We need to, once and for all, stop thinking of the peopling of the Americas as a single event,? he added, ?and instead I think we need to start thinking of the peopling of the Americas as a process with people arriving at different times, taking different routes and coming from different places in northeast Asia.?



« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2007, 10:37:40 PM »

A very interesting piece. It would be helpful if you would reference it.
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« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2007, 10:42:26 PM »




« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2007, 02:39:13 AM »

« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2007, 03:01:43 AM »

The new results reveal that Clovis spear points [image] and other tool technologies appeared in the New World 13,100 years ago and trailed off about 12,900 years ago.

Were the Clovis people the first Americans?
Since the mid 20th century, the standard theory among archaeologists has been that the Clovis people were the first inhabitants of the Americas. The primary support of the theory was that no solid evidence of pre-Clovis human inhabitation had been found. According to the standard accepted theory, the Clovis people crossed the Beringia land bridge over the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska during the period of lowered sea levels during the ice age, then made their way southward through an ice-free corridor east of the Rocky Mountains in present-day western Canada as the glaciers retreated.

Alternative theories

Pre-Clovis sites
Many Archaeologists have long debated the possible existence of a culture older than Clovis in North and South America. Archaeologists working at these sites have identified and dated certain artifacts as pre-Clovis, but some of these claims have been disputed by other archaeologists.

    * One such site, Monte Verde in Chile, appear to have remains from before Clovis mixed with technology similar to Clovis.

    * Another candidate for a pre-Clovis site is Topper in South Carolina, where in 2004 there were found worked stone tools that have been dated by radiocarbon techniques to 50,000 years ago, although there is currently significant dispute regarding these dates.

    * A possible pre-Clovis site is located at Cactus Hill in southern Virginia.

    * Another possible pre-Clovis site is Meadowcroft Rockshelter in southwestern Pennsylvania.

    * An additional candidate is the Tlapacoya site in central Mexico, with bones, hearths, middens, and a curved obsidian blade, all dated to over 21,700 years BP.

    * A site in southwester Missouri, the Big Eddy Site, is generating a lot of interest and has several possible pre-clovis artifacts. In situ artifacts have been found in this well stratified site in association with charcoal. Five different samples have been AMS dated to between 11,300 BP to 12,675 BP.

    * Finally, a site with stone tools, alleged to be from 13,000 to 15,000 years old based on surrounding geology, was discovered in Walker, Minnesota in 2006. [1]

Coastal migration route
Recent studies of the mitochondrial DNA of First Nations/Native Americans suggests that the people of the New World may have diverged genetically from Siberians as early as 20,000 years ago, far earlier than the standard theory would suggest. According to one alternative theory, the Pacific coast of North America may have been free of ice such as to allow the first peoples in North America to come down this route prior to the formation of the ice-free corridor in the continental interior. No solid evidence has yet been found to support this hypothesis except that genetic analysis of coastal marine life indicate diverse fauna persisting in refugia throughout the Pleistocene ice ages along the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia; these refugia include common food sources of coastal aboriginal peoples, suggesting that a migration along the coastline was feasible at the time.

Solutrean hypothesis
The controversial Solutrean hypothesis proposed in 1999 by Smithsonian archaeologist Dennis Stanford and colleague Bruce Bradley (Stanford and Bradley 2002), suggests that the Clovis people could have inherited technology from the Solutrean people who lived in southern Europe between about 21,000-17,000 years ago, and who created the first Stone Age artwork in present-day southern France. The link is suggested by the similarity in technology between the spear points of the Solutreans and those of the Clovis people. Such a theory would require that the Solutreans crossed via the edge of the pack ice in the North Atlantic Ocean that then extended to the Atlantic coast of France. They could have done this using survival skills similar to those of the modern Inuit people. Supporters of this hypothesis suggest that stone tools found at Cactus Hill (an early American site in Virginia), that are knapped in a style between Clovis and Solutrean, support a possible link between the Clovis people and Solutrean people in Europe. The idea is also supported by mitochondrial DNA analysis (see Map in Single-origin hypothesis) which has found that some members of some native North American tribes have a maternal ancestry (called haplogroup X) (Schurr 2000), which appears to be more closely linked to the maternal ancestors of some present day individuals in Europe and western Asia than to the ancestors of any present-day individuals in eastern Asia.

Opponents of the hypothesis that the Solutreans crossed the Atlantic point to the difficulty of the ocean crossing, as well as the lack of art work (such as that found at Lascaux in France) among the Clovis people, as indicative that no such link exists. Significantly, there is also a 5,000 radiocarbon year time difference between the Solutrean of France and the Clovis of the New World, and there are no archaeological sites in Europe north of Paris to have been the origin of the alleged Solutrean populations who crossed the Atlantic to become the Clovis (Straus 2000). However, evidence suggests that canoes built previous to 9500 BC have been found.

Possible pre-Clovis anvilstone

Missouri State University
Center for Archaeological Research
Big Eddy
For over 13,000 years, beautifully crafted stone spear points and other artifacts have lain along the Sac River in Cedar County exactly where ancient Indians left them, frozen in place by the accumulation of over 13 feet of river sediment. But beginning in the 1970s, the river that protected the site began destroying it. The bank began eroding sideways, gradually destroying what archaeologists named the Big Eddy site, a unique window into Missouri's, and the nation's, past.

Recognizing that much of the erosion was due to large volumes of water released from the nearby Stockton Dam for power generation, the Kansas City District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funded five seasons of archaeological excavations at Big Eddy between 1997 and 2005. When archaeologists from the Center for Archaeological Research (CAR) at Missouri State University in Springfield began their work in 1997, they only knew for certain that it contained evidence of Indian occupation dating back about 8,000 years. But as work progressed, they discovered artifacts that are among the oldest ever found on the continent, finds made even more important because they have been little disturbed since their deposition as much as 13,000 or more years ago.

Although much has been accomplished at the site with Corps funding, the Missouri State Center for Archaeological Research is seeking donations from individuals and corporations to continue its work at Big Eddy in the near future. We need to further explore the earliest deposits at the site. Failure to act may rob us of what could be one of the most important archaeological sites in the nation for understanding the earliest Americans.

Many groups of prehistoric Indians chose the Big Eddy site as a place to camp over thousands of years. The adjacent Sac River would have provided foods such as fish, mussels, water fowl, and edible aquatic and semi-aquatic plants, while the surrounding forests and prairies contained other useful terrestrial plants and various animals such as deer and turkey. Stone was another critical resource; several different kinds of chert, the flint-like rock used to make stone tools, was readily available in the gravel bars of the Sac River and along the bluff slopes near the site.

Archaeologists divide prehistoric time into a series of periods based on general changes in how Indians lived, such as the invention of pottery or the use of agriculture. Within each period, there are numerous subperiods, cultures, and traditions based on common features such as tool types or pottery decoration. At Big Eddy, every major period is represented in the river terrace, with the more recent material near the top and the oldest artifacts 11 to 13 feet deep.

While all the remains at the site are important for understanding various aspects of prehistoric Indian life, some of the oldest deposits at Big Eddy, which date to the Paleoindian period (about 11,500 to 13,500 years old), are what make the site critically important. Paleoindian peoples traditionally have been considered the first documented inhabitants of the Americas. The ancestors of American Indians perhaps entered North America from Asia sometime around 15,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age. For several millennia, they left behind only limited, scattered traces of their existence. During the Paleoindian period, there is evidence of small nomadic bands having spread throughout most of the Americas.

At least three (and perhaps as many as five) Paleoindian cultures are definitely represented at Big Eddy, each characterized by distinctive types of spear points: Clovis (or to some, Gainey), Dalton, and San Patrice. Archaeologists believe Clovis existed from about 12,500 to 13,500 years ago and Dalton from about 11,500 to less than 12,500 years ago. Though carbon-14 dates for these cultures are rare, 15 dates have been obtained from Paleoindian deposits at Big Eddy.

Big Eddy is of fundamental importance to understanding the early occupation of the Midwest. Paleoindian sites that yield substantial data on how these people lived are very rare. Spear points from the period are well known throughout the Midwest and other regions. Most often they are found as isolated artifacts on ridge tops or at sites with artifacts from many periods mixed together. While Big Eddy was used by Indians over thousands of years, the gradual build up of terrace deposits at the site left artifacts from the different periods vertically separated. In archaeological jargon, it is a well-stratified site. Such sites are common in some river valleys, but few have produced remains as old as those at Big Eddy.

This stratification has provided nearly unprecedented data on the Clovis, Dalton, and San Patrice cultures. Archaeology is far more than documenting spear points and other eye-catching artifacts; it tries to use the full range of material left by past peoples to understand their environment and how they lived. While styles of spear points tend to change over time, many other tools do not. The manufacture of stone tools also produces many waste flakes, bits of stone that were abandoned or discarded as cobbles or large flakes were shaped into tools. These waste flakes can be important clues about how tools were manufactured and where the stone was obtained. In a stratified site all the material associated with a particular culture can be studied separately from the material remains of older and younger cultures.

The sealed strata also allow analysis of where particular activities were conducted across the site. Most of the artifacts and waste flakes are still resting where they were left thousands of years ago. In the Dalton and San Patrice stratum, archaeologists have uncovered dozens of areas where stone tools were manufactured and other activities were conducted. These materials have greatly increased our knowledge of each occupation's spatial organization.

The presence of both Clovis and Dalton-San Patrice strata offers a unique opportunity to study the relationship between these cultures. Clovis peoples lived in an environment much different from that of today. Glaciers still covered large areas of North America, although they were melting rapidly at about this time. Ice Age animals such as mastodons and mammoths roamed the plains and forests?and were hunted by the Clovis people. By Dalton?San Patrice times these animals were extinct.

An even more exciting prospect is the possibility that at least one occupation level predating the Clovis culture is present at the Big Eddy site. Tantalizing yet inconclusive evidence of human occupation dating to 14,000 to 15,000 years ago was found in 1999, 2002, and 2005. If future excavations fully document such an ancient occupation, we will have discovered one of the oldest sites in the New World.

The importance of the Big Eddy site has already been widely recognized by archaeologists across the country, many of whom have visited the site at one or more times during the four field seasons:

"The Big Eddy site has the potential of being one of the most important stratified Paleoindian sites in the country."
--Dr. Dennis Stanford, Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution

"This is the first discovery of such a significant multicomponent Paleoindian site in a stratified alluvial context. As such it is a major archaeological discovery."
--Dr. C. Vance Haynes, Regents Professor, University of Arizona

"[Big Eddy] truly may be one of the archaeological 'treasures' of the midcontinent."
--Dr. R. Bruce McMillan, Director Emeritus, Illinois State Museum

The urgency now is to complete excavations of the pre-Clovis-age deposits before they are lost forever. Unfortunately, it is very expensive to excavate deep, stratified archaeological deposits. Excavation in these unprecedented strata requires meticulous, time-consuming hand work by skilled professionals. The excavation crew must also be paid, housed, and fed for up to several months, and various specialists are required to analyze charcoal, reconstruct the geology and environment of the area, and provide radiocarbon dates.

The Center for Archaeological Research is committed to doing everything possible to complete the excavations before the site washes away. But we need the help of people who recognize the importance of saving the knowledge buried at Big Eddy and preserving it for future generations. PLEASE help us!
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« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2007, 04:15:00 PM »

  The Atlantic Monthly | March 2002 | Source

Before it became the New World, the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought?an altogether more salubrious place to live at the time than, say, Europe. New evidence of both the extent of the population and its agricultural advancement leads to a remarkable conjecture: the Amazon rain forest may be largely a human artifact

by Charles C. Mann

The plane took off in weather that was surprisingly cool for north-central Bolivia and flew east, toward the Brazilian border. In a few minutes the roads and houses disappeared, and the only evidence of human settlement was the cattle scattered over the savannah like jimmies on ice cream. Then they, too, disappeared. By that time the archaeologists had their cameras out and were clicking away in delight.

Below us was the Beni, a Bolivian province about the size of Illinois and Indiana put together, and nearly as flat. For almost half the year rain and snowmelt from the mountains to the south and west cover the land with an irregular, slowly moving skin of water that eventually ends up in the province's northern rivers, which are sub-subtributaries of the Amazon. The rest of the year the water dries up and the bright-green vastness turns into something that resembles a desert. This peculiar, remote, watery plain was what had drawn the researchers' attention, and not just because it was one of the few places on earth inhabited by people who might never have seen Westerners with cameras.

From Atlantic Unbound:

Interviews: "The Pristine Myth"
(March 7, 2002)
Charles C. Mann talks about the thriving and sophisticated Indian landscape of the pre-Columbus Americas
Clark Erickson and William Bal?e, the archaeologists, sat up front. Erickson is based at the University of Pennsylvania; he works in concert with a Bolivian archaeologist, whose seat in the plane I usurped that day. Bal?e is at Tulane University, in New Orleans. He is actually an anthropologist, but as native peoples have vanished, the distinction between anthropologists and archaeologists has blurred. The two men differ in build, temperament, and scholarly proclivity, but they pressed their faces to the windows with identical enthusiasm.

Dappled across the grasslands below was an archipelago of forest islands, many of them startlingly round and hundreds of acres across. Each island rose ten or thirty or sixty feet above the floodplain, allowing trees to grow that would otherwise never survive the water. The forests were linked by raised berms, as straight as a rifle shot and up to three miles long. It is Erickson's belief that this entire landscape?30,000 square miles of forest mounds surrounded by raised fields and linked by causeways?was constructed by a complex, populous society more than 2,000 years ago. Bal?e, newer to the Beni, leaned toward this view but was not yet ready to commit himself.

Erickson and Bal?e belong to a cohort of scholars that has radically challenged conventional notions of what the Western Hemisphere was like before Columbus. When I went to high school, in the 1970s, I was taught that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait about 12,000 years ago, that they lived for the most part in small, isolated groups, and that they had so little impact on their environment that even after millennia of habitation it remained mostly wilderness. My son picked up the same ideas at his schools. One way to summarize the views of people like Erickson and Bal?e would be to say that in their opinion this picture of Indian life is wrong in almost every aspect. Indians were here far longer than previously thought, these researchers believe, and in much greater numbers. And they were so successful at imposing their will on the landscape that in 1492 Columbus set foot in a hemisphere thoroughly dominated by humankind.

Given the charged relations between white societies and native peoples, inquiry into Indian culture and history is inevitably contentious. But the recent scholarship is especially controversial. To begin with, some researchers?many but not all from an older generation?deride the new theories as fantasies arising from an almost willful misinterpretation of data and a perverse kind of political correctness. "I have seen no evidence that large numbers of people ever lived in the Beni," says Betty J. Meggers, of the Smithsonian Institution. "Claiming otherwise is just wishful thinking." Similar criticisms apply to many of the new scholarly claims about Indians, according to Dean R. Snow, an anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University. The problem is that "you can make the meager evidence from the ethnohistorical record tell you anything you want," he says. "It's really easy to kid yourself."

More important are the implications of the new theories for today's ecological battles. Much of the environmental movement is animated, consciously or not, by what William Denevan, a geographer at the University of Wisconsin, calls, polemically, "the pristine myth"?the belief that the Americas in 1491 were an almost unmarked, even Edenic land, "untrammeled by man," in the words of the Wilderness Act of 1964, one of the nation's first and most important environmental laws. As the University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon has written, restoring this long-ago, putatively natural state is, in the view of environmentalists, a task that society is morally bound to undertake. Yet if the new view is correct and the work of humankind was pervasive, where does that leave efforts to restore nature?

The Beni is a case in point. In addition to building up the Beni mounds for houses and gardens, Erickson says, the Indians trapped fish in the seasonally flooded grassland. Indeed, he says, they fashioned dense zigzagging networks of earthen fish weirs between the causeways. To keep the habitat clear of unwanted trees and undergrowth, they regularly set huge areas on fire. Over the centuries the burning created an intricate ecosystem of fire-adapted plant species dependent on native pyrophilia. The current inhabitants of the Beni still burn, although now it is to maintain the savannah for cattle. When we flew over the area, the dry season had just begun, but mile-long lines of flame were already on the march. In the charred areas behind the fires were the blackened spikes of trees?many of them, one assumes, of the varieties that activists fight to save in other parts of Amazonia.

After we landed, I asked Bal?e, Should we let people keep burning the Beni? Or should we let the trees invade and create a verdant tropical forest in the grasslands, even if one had not existed here for millennia?

Bal?e laughed. "You're trying to trap me, aren't you?" he said.

Like a Club Between the Eyes

According to family lore, my great-grandmother's great-grandmother's great-grandfather was the first white person hanged in America. His name was John Billington. He came on the Mayflower, which anchored off the coast of Massachusetts on November 9, 1620. Billington was not a Puritan; within six months of arrival he also became the first white person in America to be tried for complaining about the police. "He is a knave," William Bradford, the colony's governor, wrote of Billington, "and so will live and die." What one historian called Billington's "troublesome career" ended in 1630, when he was hanged for murder. My family has always said that he was framed?but we would say that, wouldn't we?

A few years ago it occurred to me that my ancestor and everyone else in the colony had voluntarily enlisted in a venture that brought them to New England without food or shelter six weeks before winter. Half the 102 people on the Mayflower made it through to spring, which to me was amazing. How, I wondered, did they survive?

In his history of Plymouth Colony, Bradford provided the answer: by robbing Indian houses and graves. The Mayflower first hove to at Cape Cod. An armed company staggered out. Eventually it found a recently deserted Indian settlement. The newcomers?hungry, cold, sick?dug up graves and ransacked houses, looking for underground stashes of corn. "And sure it was God's good providence that we found this corn," Bradford wrote, "for else we know not how we should have done." (He felt uneasy about the thievery, though.) When the colonists came to Plymouth, a month later, they set up shop in another deserted Indian village. All through the coastal forest the Indians had "died on heapes, as they lay in their houses," the English trader Thomas Morton noted. "And the bones and skulls upon the severall places of their habitations made such a spectacle" that to Morton the Massachusetts woods seemed to be "a new found Golgotha"?the hill of executions in Roman Jerusalem.

To the Pilgrims' astonishment, one of the corpses they exhumed on Cape Cod had blond hair. A French ship had been wrecked there several years earlier. The Patuxet Indians imprisoned a few survivors. One of them supposedly learned enough of the local language to inform his captors that God would destroy them for their misdeeds. The Patuxet scoffed at the threat. But the Europeans carried a disease, and they bequeathed it to their jailers. The epidemic (probably of viral hepatitis, according to a study by Arthur E. Spiess, an archaeologist at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, and Bruce D. Spiess, the director of clinical research at the Medical College of Virginia) took years to exhaust itself and may have killed 90 percent of the people in coastal New England. It made a huge difference to American history. "The good hand of God favored our beginnings," Bradford mused, by "sweeping away great multitudes of the natives ... that he might make room for us."

By the time my ancestor set sail on the Mayflower, Europeans had been visiting New England for more than a hundred years. English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese mariners regularly plied the coastline, trading what they could, occasionally kidnapping the inhabitants for slaves. New England, the Europeans saw, was thickly settled and well defended. In 1605 and 1606 Samuel de Champlain visited Cape Cod, hoping to establish a French base. He abandoned the idea. Too many people already lived there. A year later Sir Ferdinando Gorges?British despite his name?tried to establish an English community in southern Maine. It had more founders than Plymouth and seems to have been better organized. Confronted by numerous well-armed local Indians, the settlers abandoned the project within months. The Indians at Plymouth would surely have been an equal obstacle to my ancestor and his ramshackle expedition had disease not intervened.

Faced with such stories, historians have long wondered how many people lived in the Americas at the time of contact. "Debated since Columbus attempted a partial census on Hispaniola in 1496," William Denevan has written, this "remains one of the great inquiries of history." (In 1976 Denevan assembled and edited an entire book on the subject, The Native Population of the Americas in 1492.) The first scholarly estimate of the indigenous population was made in 1910 by James Mooney, a distinguished ethnographer at the Smithsonian Institution. Combing through old documents, he concluded that in 1491 North America had 1.15 million inhabitants. Mooney's glittering reputation ensured that most subsequent researchers accepted his figure uncritically.

That changed in 1966, when Henry F. Dobyns published "Estimating Aboriginal American Population: An Appraisal of Techniques With a New Hemispheric Estimate," in the journal Current Anthropology. Despite the carefully neutral title, his argument was thunderous, its impact long-lasting. In the view of James Wilson, the author of The Earth Shall Weep (1998), a history of indigenous Americans, Dobyns's colleagues "are still struggling to get out of the crater that paper left in anthropology." Not only anthropologists were affected. Dobyns's estimate proved to be one of the opening rounds in today's culture wars.

Dobyns began his exploration of pre-Columbian Indian demography in the early 1950s, when he was a graduate student. At the invitation of a friend, he spent a few months in northern Mexico, which is full of Spanish-era missions. There he poked through the crumbling leather-bound ledgers in which Jesuits recorded local births and deaths. Right away he noticed how many more deaths there were. The Spaniards arrived, and then Indians died?in huge numbers, at incredible rates. It hit him, Dobyns told me recently, "like a club right between the eyes."

It took Dobyns eleven years to obtain his Ph.D. Along the way he joined a rural-development project in Peru, which until colonial times was the seat of the Incan empire. Remembering what he had seen at the northern fringe of the Spanish conquest, Dobyns decided to compare it with figures for the south. He burrowed into the papers of the Lima cathedral and read apologetic Spanish histories. The Indians in Peru, Dobyns concluded, had faced plagues from the day the conquistadors showed up?in fact, before then: smallpox arrived around 1525, seven years ahead of the Spanish. Brought to Mexico apparently by a single sick Spaniard, it swept south and eliminated more than half the population of the Incan empire. Smallpox claimed the Incan dictator Huayna Capac and much of his family, setting off a calamitous war of succession. So complete was the chaos that Francisco Pizarro was able to seize an empire the size of Spain and Italy combined with a force of 168 men.

Smallpox was only the first epidemic. Typhus (probably) in 1546, influenza and smallpox together in 1558, smallpox again in 1589, diphtheria in 1614, measles in 1618?all ravaged the remains of Incan culture. Dobyns was the first social scientist to piece together this awful picture, and he naturally rushed his findings into print. Hardly anyone paid attention. But Dobyns was already working on a second, related question: If all those people died, how many had been living there to begin with? Before Columbus, Dobyns calculated, the Western Hemisphere held ninety to 112 million people. Another way of saying this is that in 1491 more people lived in the Americas than in Europe.

His argument was simple but horrific. It is well known that Native Americans had no experience with many European diseases and were therefore immunologically unprepared?"virgin soil," in the metaphor of epidemiologists. What Dobyns realized was that such diseases could have swept from the coastlines initially visited by Europeans to inland areas controlled by Indians who had never seen a white person. The first whites to explore many parts of the Americas may therefore have encountered places that were already depopulated. Indeed, Dobyns argued, they must have done so.

Peru was one example, the Pacific Northwest another. In 1792 the British navigator George Vancouver led the first European expedition to survey Puget Sound. He found a vast charnel house: human remains "promiscuously scattered about the beach, in great numbers." Smallpox, Vancouver's crew discovered, had preceded them. Its few survivors, second lieutenant Peter Puget noted, were "most terribly pitted ... indeed many have lost their Eyes." In Pox Americana, (2001), Elizabeth Fenn, a historian at George Washington University, contends that the disaster on the northwest coast was but a small part of a continental pandemic that erupted near Boston in 1774 and cut down Indians from Mexico to Alaska.

Because smallpox was not endemic in the Americas, colonials, too, had not acquired any immunity. The virus, an equal-opportunity killer, swept through the Continental Army and stopped the drive into Quebec. The American Revolution would be lost, Washington and other rebel leaders feared, if the contagion did to the colonists what it had done to the Indians. "The small Pox! The small Pox!" John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail. "What shall We do with it?" In retrospect, Fenn says, "One of George Washington's most brilliant moves was to inoculate the army against smallpox during the Valley Forge winter of '78." Without inoculation smallpox could easily have given the United States back to the British.

So many epidemics occurred in the Americas, Dobyns argued, that the old data used by Mooney and his successors represented population nadirs. From the few cases in which before-and-after totals are known with relative certainty, Dobyns estimated that in the first 130 years of contact about 95 percent of the people in the Americas died?the worst demographic calamity in recorded history.

Dobyns's ideas were quickly attacked as politically motivated, a push from the hate-America crowd to inflate the toll of imperialism. The attacks continue to this day. "No question about it, some people want those higher numbers," says Shepard Krech III, a Brown University anthropologist who is the author of The Ecological Indian (1999). These people, he says, were thrilled when Dobyns revisited the subject in a book, Their Numbers Become Thinned (1983)?and revised his own estimates upward. Perhaps Dobyns's most vehement critic is David Henige, a bibliographer of Africana at the University of Wisconsin, whose Numbers From Nowhere (1998) is a landmark in the literature of demographic fulmination. "Suspect in 1966, it is no less suspect nowadays," Henige wrote of Dobyns's work. "If anything, it is worse."

When Henige wrote Numbers From Nowhere, the fight about pre-Columbian populations had already consumed forests' worth of trees; his bibliography is ninety pages long. And the dispute shows no sign of abating. More and more people have jumped in. This is partly because the subject is inherently fascinating. But more likely the increased interest in the debate is due to the growing realization of the high political and ecological stakes.

Inventing by the Millions

In May 30, 1539, Hernando de Soto landed his private army near Tampa Bay, in Florida. Soto, as he was called, was a novel figure: half warrior, half venture capitalist. He had grown very rich very young by becoming a market leader in the nascent trade for Indian slaves. The profits had helped to fund Pizarro's seizure of the Incan empire, which had made Soto wealthier still. Looking quite literally for new worlds to conquer, he persuaded the Spanish Crown to let him loose in North America. He spent one fortune to make another. He came to Florida with 200 horses, 600 soldiers, and 300 pigs.

From today's perspective, it is difficult to imagine the ethical system that would justify Soto's actions. For four years his force, looking for gold, wandered through what is now Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas, wrecking almost everything it touched. The inhabitants often fought back vigorously, but they had never before encountered an army with horses and guns. Soto died of fever with his expedition in ruins; along the way his men had managed to rape, torture, enslave, and kill countless Indians. But the worst thing the Spaniards did, some researchers say, was entirely without malice?bring the pigs.

According to Charles Hudson, an anthropologist at the University of Georgia who spent fifteen years reconstructing the path of the expedition, Soto crossed the Mississippi a few miles downstream from the present site of Memphis. It was a nervous passage: the Spaniards were watched by several thousand Indian warriors. Utterly without fear, Soto brushed past the Indian force into what is now eastern Arkansas, through thickly settled land?"very well peopled with large towns," one of his men later recalled, "two or three of which were to be seen from one town." Eventually the Spaniards approached a cluster of small cities, each protected by earthen walls, sizeable moats, and deadeye archers. In his usual fashion, Soto brazenly marched in, stole food, and marched out.

After Soto left, no Europeans visited this part of the Mississippi Valley for more than a century. Early in 1682 whites appeared again, this time Frenchmen in canoes. One of them was R?n?-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. The French passed through the area where Soto had found cities cheek by jowl. It was deserted?La Salle didn't see an Indian village for 200 miles. About fifty settlements existed in this strip of the Mississippi when Soto showed up, according to Anne Ramenofsky, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico. By La Salle's time the number had shrunk to perhaps ten, some probably inhabited by recent immigrants. Soto "had a privileged glimpse" of an Indian world, Hudson says. "The window opened and slammed shut. When the French came in and the record opened up again, it was a transformed reality. A civilization crumbled. The question is, how did this happen?"

The question is even more complex than it may seem. Disaster of this magnitude suggests epidemic disease. In the view of Ramenofsky and Patricia Galloway, an anthropologist at the University of Texas, the source of the contagion was very likely not Soto's army but its ambulatory meat locker: his 300 pigs. Soto's force itself was too small to be an effective biological weapon. Sicknesses like measles and smallpox would have burned through his 600 soldiers long before they reached the Mississippi. But the same would not have held true for the pigs, which multiplied rapidly and were able to transmit their diseases to wildlife in the surrounding forest. When human beings and domesticated animals live close together, they trade microbes with abandon. Over time mutation spawns new diseases: avian influenza becomes human influenza, bovine rinderpest becomes measles. Unlike Europeans, Indians did not live in close quarters with animals?they domesticated only the dog, the llama, the alpaca, the guinea pig, and, here and there, the turkey and the Muscovy duck. In some ways this is not surprising: the New World had fewer animal candidates for taming than the Old. Moreover, few Indians carry the gene that permits adults to digest lactose, a form of sugar abundant in milk. Non-milk-drinkers, one imagines, would be less likely to work at domesticating milk-giving animals. But this is guesswork. The fact is that what scientists call zoonotic disease was little known in the Americas. Swine alone can disseminate anthrax, brucellosis, leptospirosis, taeniasis, trichinosis, and tuberculosis. Pigs breed exuberantly and can transmit diseases to deer and turkeys. Only a few of Soto's pigs would have had to wander off to infect the forest.

Indeed, the calamity wrought by Soto apparently extended across the whole Southeast. The Coosa city-states, in western Georgia, and the Caddoan-speaking civilization, centered on the Texas-Arkansas border, disintegrated soon after Soto appeared. The Caddo had had a taste for monumental architecture: public plazas, ceremonial platforms, mausoleums. After Soto's army left, notes Timothy K. Perttula, an archaeological consultant in Austin, Texas, the Caddo stopped building community centers and began digging community cemeteries. Between Soto's and La Salle's visits, Perttula believes, the Caddoan population fell from about 200,000 to about 8,500?a drop of nearly 96 percent. In the eighteenth century the tally shrank further, to 1,400. An equivalent loss today in the population of New York City would reduce it to 56,000?not enough to fill Yankee Stadium. "That's one reason whites think of Indians as nomadic hunters," says Russell Thornton, an anthropologist at the University of California at Los Angeles. "Everything else?all the heavily populated urbanized societies?was wiped out."

Could a few pigs truly wreak this much destruction? Such apocalyptic scenarios invite skepticism. As a rule, viruses, microbes, and parasites are rarely lethal on so wide a scale?a pest that wipes out its host species does not have a bright evolutionary future. In its worst outbreak, from 1347 to 1351, the European Black Death claimed only a third of its victims. (The rest survived, though they were often disfigured or crippled by its effects.) The Indians in Soto's path, if Dobyns, Ramenofsky, and Perttula are correct, endured losses that were incomprehensibly greater.

One reason is that Indians were fresh territory for many plagues, not just one. Smallpox, typhoid, bubonic plague, influenza, mumps, measles, whooping cough?all rained down on the Americas in the century after Columbus. (Cholera, malaria, and scarlet fever came later.) Having little experience with epidemic diseases, Indians had no knowledge of how to combat them. In contrast, Europeans were well versed in the brutal logic of quarantine. They boarded up houses in which plague appeared and fled to the countryside. In Indian New England, Neal Salisbury, a historian at Smith College, wrote in Manitou and Providence (1982), family and friends gathered with the shaman at the sufferer's bedside to wait out the illness?a practice that "could only have served to spread the disease more rapidly."

Indigenous biochemistry may also have played a role. The immune system constantly scans the body for molecules that it can recognize as foreign?molecules belonging to an invading virus, for instance. No one's immune system can identify all foreign presences. Roughly speaking, an individual's set of defensive tools is known as his MHC type. Because many bacteria and viruses mutate easily, they usually attack in the form of several slightly different strains. Pathogens win when MHC types miss some of the strains and the immune system is not stimulated to act. Most human groups contain many MHC types; a strain that slips by one person's defenses will be nailed by the defenses of the next. But, according to Francis L. Black, an epidemiologist at Yale University, Indians are characterized by unusually homogenous MHC types. One out of three South American Indians have similar MHC types; among Africans the corresponding figure is one in 200. The cause is a matter for Darwinian speculation, the effects less so.

In 1966 Dobyns's insistence on the role of disease was a shock to his colleagues. Today the impact of European pathogens on the New World is almost undisputed. Nonetheless, the fight over Indian numbers continues with undiminished fervor. Estimates of the population of North America in 1491 disagree by an order of magnitude?from 18 million, Dobyns's revised figure, to 1.8 million, calculated by Douglas H. Ubelaker, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian. To some "high counters," as David Henige calls them, the low counters' refusal to relinquish the vision of an empty continent is irrational or worse. "Non-Indian 'experts' always want to minimize the size of aboriginal populations," says Lenore Stiffarm, a Native American-education specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. The smaller the numbers of Indians, she believes, the easier it is to regard the continent as having been up for grabs. "It's perfectly acceptable to move into unoccupied land," Stiffarm says. "And land with only a few 'savages' is the next best thing."

"Most of the arguments for the very large numbers have been theoretical," Ubelaker says in defense of low counters. "When you try to marry the theoretical arguments to the data that are available on individual groups in different regions, it's hard to find support for those numbers." Archaeologists, he says, keep searching for the settlements in which those millions of people supposedly lived, with little success. "As more and more excavation is done, one would expect to see more evidence for dense populations than has thus far emerged." Dean Snow, the Pennsylvania State anthropologist, examined Colonial-era Mohawk Iroquois sites and found "no support for the notion that ubiquitous pandemics swept the region." In his view, asserting that the continent was filled with people who left no trace is like looking at an empty bank account and claiming that it must once have held millions of dollars.

The low counters are also troubled by the Dobynsian procedure for recovering original population numbers: applying an assumed death rate, usually 95 percent, to the observed population nadir. Ubelaker believes that the lowest point for Indians in North America was around 1900, when their numbers fell to about half a million. Assuming a 95 percent death rate, the pre-contact population would have been 10 million. Go up one percent, to a 96 percent death rate, and the figure jumps to 12.5 million?arithmetically creating more than two million people from a tiny increase in mortality rates. At 98 percent the number bounds to 25 million. Minute changes in baseline assumptions produce wildly different results.

"It's an absolutely unanswerable question on which tens of thousands of words have been spent to no purpose," Henige says. In 1976 he sat in on a seminar by William Denevan, the Wisconsin geographer. An "epiphanic moment" occurred when he read shortly afterward that scholars had "uncovered" the existence of eight million people in Hispaniola. Can you just invent millions of people? he wondered. "We can make of the historical record that there was depopulation and movement of people from internecine warfare and diseases," he says. "But as for how much, who knows? When we start putting numbers to something like that?applying large figures like ninety-five percent?we're saying things we shouldn't say. The number implies a level of knowledge that's impossible."

Nonetheless, one must try?or so Denevan believes. In his estimation the high counters (though not the highest counters) seem to be winning the argument, at least for now. No definitive data exist, he says, but the majority of the extant evidentiary scraps support their side. Even Henige is no low counter. When I asked him what he thought the population of the Americas was before Columbus, he insisted that any answer would be speculation and made me promise not to print what he was going to say next. Then he named a figure that forty years ago would have caused a commotion.

To Elizabeth Fenn, the smallpox historian, the squabble over numbers obscures a central fact. Whether one million or 10 million or 100 million died, she believes, the pall of sorrow that engulfed the hemisphere was immeasurable. Languages, prayers, hopes, habits, and dreams?entire ways of life hissed away like steam. The Spanish and the Portuguese lacked the germ theory of disease and could not explain what was happening (let alone stop it). Nor can we explain it; the ruin was too long ago and too all-encompassing. In the long run, Fenn says, the consequential finding is not that many people died but that many people once lived. The Americas were filled with a stunningly diverse assortment of peoples who had knocked about the continents for millennia. "You have to wonder," Fenn says. "What were all those people up to in all that time?"

Buffalo Farm

In 1810 Henry Brackenridge came to Cahokia, in what is now southwest Illinois, just across the Mississippi from St. Louis. Born close to the frontier, Brackenridge was a budding adventure writer; his Views of Louisiana, published three years later, was a kind of nineteenth-century Into Thin Air, with terrific adventure but without tragedy. Brackenridge had an eye for archaeology, and he had heard that Cahokia was worth a visit. When he got there, trudging along the desolate Cahokia River, he was "struck with a degree of astonishment." Rising from the muddy bottomland was a "stupendous pile of earth," vaster than the Great Pyramid at Giza. Around it were more than a hundred smaller mounds, covering an area of five square miles. At the time, the area was almost uninhabited. One can only imagine what passed through Brackenridge's mind as he walked alone to the ruins of the biggest Indian city north of the Rio Grande.

To Brackenridge, it seemed clear that Cahokia and the many other ruins in the Midwest had been constructed by Indians. It was not so clear to everyone else. Nineteenth-century writers attributed them to, among others, the Vikings, the Chinese, the "Hindoos," the ancient Greeks, the ancient Egyptians, lost tribes of Israelites, and even straying bands of Welsh. (This last claim was surprisingly widespread; when Lewis and Clark surveyed the Missouri, Jefferson told them to keep an eye out for errant bands of Welsh-speaking white Indians.) The historian George Bancroft, dean of his profession, was a dissenter: the earthworks, he wrote in 1840, were purely natural formations.

Bancroft changed his mind about Cahokia, but not about Indians. To the end of his days he regarded them as "feeble barbarians, destitute of commerce and of political connection." His characterization lasted, largely unchanged, for more than a century. Samuel Eliot Morison, the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, closed his monumental European Discovery of America (1974) with the observation that Native Americans expected only "short and brutish lives, void of hope for any future." As late as 1987 American History: A Survey, a standard high school textbook by three well-known historians, described the Americas before Columbus as "empty of mankind and its works." The story of Europeans in the New World, the book explained, "is the story of the creation of a civilization where none existed."

Alfred Crosby, a historian at the University of Texas, came to other conclusions. Crosby's The Columbian Exchange: Biological Consequences of 1492 caused almost as much of a stir when it was published, in 1972, as Henry Dobyns's calculation of Indian numbers six years earlier, though in different circles. Crosby was a standard names-and-battles historian who became frustrated by the random contingency of political events. "Some trivial thing happens and you have this guy winning the presidency instead of that guy," he says. He decided to go deeper. After he finished his manuscript, it sat on his shelf?he couldn't find a publisher willing to be associated with his new ideas. It took him three years to persuade a small editorial house to put it out. The Columbian Exchange has been in print ever since; a companion, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900, appeared in 1986.

Human history, in Crosby's interpretation, is marked by two world-altering centers of invention: the Middle East and central Mexico, where Indian groups independently created nearly all of the Neolithic innovations, writing included. The Neolithic Revolution began in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago. In the next few millennia humankind invented the wheel, the metal tool, and agriculture. The Sumerians eventually put these inventions together, added writing, and became the world's first civilization. Afterward Sumeria's heirs in Europe and Asia frantically copied one another's happiest discoveries; innovations ricocheted from one corner of Eurasia to another, stimulating technological progress. Native Americans, who had crossed to Alaska before Sumeria, missed out on the bounty. "They had to do everything on their own," Crosby says. Remarkably, they succeeded.

When Columbus appeared in the Caribbean, the descendants of the world's two Neolithic civilizations collided, with overwhelming consequences for both. American Neolithic development occurred later than that of the Middle East, possibly because the Indians needed more time to build up the requisite population density. Without beasts of burden they could not capitalize on the wheel (for individual workers on uneven terrain skids are nearly as effective as carts for hauling), and they never developed steel. But in agriculture they handily outstripped the children of Sumeria. Every tomato in Italy, every potato in Ireland, and every hot pepper in Thailand came from this hemisphere. Worldwide, more than half the crops grown today were initially developed in the Americas.

Maize, as corn is called in the rest of the world, was a triumph with global implications. Indians developed an extraordinary number of maize varieties for different growing conditions, which meant that the crop could and did spread throughout the planet. Central and Southern Europeans became particularly dependent on it; maize was the staple of Serbia, Romania, and Moldavia by the nineteenth century. Indian crops dramatically reduced hunger, Crosby says, which led to an Old World population boom.

Along with peanuts and manioc, maize came to Africa and transformed agriculture there, too. "The probability is that the population of Africa was greatly increased because of maize and other American Indian crops," Crosby says. "Those extra people helped make the slave trade possible." Maize conquered Africa at the time when introduced diseases were leveling Indian societies. The Spanish, the Portuguese, and the British were alarmed by the death rate among Indians, because they wanted to exploit them as workers. Faced with a labor shortage, the Europeans turned their eyes to Africa. The continent's quarrelsome societies helped slave traders to siphon off millions of people. The maize-fed population boom, Crosby believes, let the awful trade continue without pumping the well dry.

Back home in the Americas, Indian agriculture long sustained some of the world's largest cities. The Aztec capital of Tenochtitl?n dazzled Hern?n Cort?s in 1519; it was bigger than Paris, Europe's greatest metropolis. The Spaniards gawped like hayseeds at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away. They had never before seen a city with botanical gardens, for the excellent reason that none existed in Europe. The same novelty attended the force of a thousand men that kept the crowded streets immaculate. (Streets that weren't ankle-deep in sewage! The conquistadors had never heard of such a thing.) Central America was not the only locus of prosperity. Thousands of miles north, John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, visited Massachusetts in 1614, before it was emptied by disease, and declared that the land was "so planted with Gardens and Corne fields, and so well inhabited with a goodly, strong and well proportioned people ... [that] I would rather live here than any where."

Smith was promoting colonization, and so had reason to exaggerate. But he also knew the hunger, sickness, and oppression of European life. France?"by any standards a privileged country," according to its great historian, Fernand Braudel?experienced seven nationwide famines in the fifteenth century and thirteen in the sixteenth. Disease was hunger's constant companion. During epidemics in London the dead were heaped onto carts "like common dung" (the simile is Daniel Defoe's) and trundled through the streets. The infant death rate in London orphanages, according to one contemporary source, was 88 percent. Governments were harsh, the rule of law arbitrary. The gibbets poking up in the background of so many old paintings were, Braudel observed, "merely a realistic detail."

The Earth Shall Weep, James Wilson's history of Indian America, puts the comparison bluntly: "the western hemisphere was larger, richer, and more populous than Europe." Much of it was freer, too. 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. In theory, the sachems of New England Indian groups were absolute monarchs. In practice, the colonial leader Roger Williams wrote, "they will not conclude of ought ... unto which the people are averse."

Pre-1492 America wasn't a disease-free paradise, Dobyns says, although in his "exuberance as a writer," he told me recently, he once made that claim. Indians had ailments of their own, notably parasites, tuberculosis, and anemia. The daily grind was wearing; life-spans in America were only as long as or a little longer than those in Europe, if the evidence of indigenous graveyards is to be believed. Nor was it a political utopia?the Inca, for instance, invented refinements to totalitarian rule that would have intrigued Stalin. Inveterate practitioners of what the historian Francis Jennings described as "state terrorism practiced horrifically on a huge scale," the Inca ruled so cruelly that one can speculate that their surviving subjects might actually have been better off under Spanish rule.

I asked seven anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians if they would rather have been a typical Indian or a typical European in 1491. None was delighted by the question, because it required judging the past by the standards of today?a fallacy disparaged as "presentism" by social scientists. But every one chose to be an Indian. Some early colonists gave the same answer. Horrifying the leaders of Jamestown and Plymouth, scores of English ran off to live with the Indians. My ancestor shared their desire, which is what led to the trumped-up murder charges against him?or that's what my grandfather told me, anyway.

As for the Indians, evidence suggests that they often viewed Europeans with disdain. The Hurons, a chagrined missionary reported, thought the French possessed "little intelligence in comparison to themselves." Europeans, Indians said, were physically weak, sexually untrustworthy, atrociously ugly, and just plain dirty. (Spaniards, who seldom if ever bathed, were amazed by the Aztec desire for personal cleanliness.) A Jesuit reported that the "Savages" were disgusted by handkerchiefs: "They say, we place what is unclean in a fine white piece of linen, and put it away in our pockets as something very precious, while they throw it upon the ground." The Micmac scoffed at the notion of French superiority. If Christian civilization was so wonderful, why were its inhabitants leaving?

Like people everywhere, Indians survived by cleverly exploiting their environment. Europeans tended to manage land by breaking it into fragments for farmers and herders. Indians often worked on such a grand scale that the scope of their ambition can be hard to grasp. They created small plots, as Europeans did (about 1.5 million acres of terraces still exist in the Peruvian Andes), but they also reshaped entire landscapes to suit their purposes. A principal tool was fire, used to keep down underbrush and create the open, grassy conditions favorable for game. Rather than domesticating animals for meat, Indians retooled whole ecosystems to grow bumper crops of elk, deer, and bison. The first white settlers in Ohio found forests as open as English parks?they could drive carriages through the woods. Along the Hudson River the annual fall burning lit up the banks for miles on end; so flashy was the show that the Dutch in New Amsterdam boated upriver to goggle at the blaze like children at fireworks. In North America, Indian torches had their biggest impact on the Midwestern prairie, much or most of which was created and maintained by fire. Millennia of exuberant burning shaped the plains into vast buffalo farms. When Indian societies disintegrated, forest invaded savannah in Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Texas Hill Country. Is it possible that the Indians changed the Americas more than the invading Europeans did? "The answer is probably yes for most regions for the next 250 years or so" after Columbus, William Denevan wrote, "and for some regions right up to the present time."

When scholars first began increasing their estimates of the ecological impact of Indian civilization, they met with considerable resistance from anthropologists and archaeologists. Over time the consensus in the human sciences changed. Under Denevan's direction, Oxford University Press has just issued the third volume of a huge catalogue of the "cultivated landscapes" of the Americas. This sort of phrase still provokes vehement objection?but the main dissenters are now ecologists and environmentalists. The disagreement is encapsulated by Amazonia, which has become the emblem of vanishing wilderness?an admonitory image of untouched Nature. Yet recently a growing number of researchers have come to believe that Indian societies had an enormous environmental impact on the jungle. Indeed, some anthropologists have called the Amazon forest itself a cultural artifact?that is, an artificial object.

Green Prisons

Northern visitors' first reaction to the storied Amazon rain forest is often disappointment. Ecotourist brochures evoke the immensity of Amazonia but rarely dwell on its extreme flatness. In the river's first 2,900 miles the vertical drop is only 500 feet. The river oozes like a huge runnel of dirty metal through a landscape utterly devoid of the romantic crags, arroyos, and heights that signify wildness and natural spectacle to most North Americans. Even the animals are invisible, although sometimes one can hear the bellow of monkey choruses. To the untutored eye?mine, for instance?the forest seems to stretch out in a monstrous green tangle as flat and incomprehensible as a printed circuit board.

The area east of the lower-Amazon town of Santar?m is an exception. A series of sandstone ridges several hundred feet high reach down from the north, halting almost at the water's edge. Their tops stand drunkenly above the jungle like old tombstones. Many of the caves in the buttes are splattered with ancient petroglyphs?renditions of hands, stars, frogs, and human figures, all reminiscent of Mir?, in overlapping red and yellow and brown. In recent years one of these caves, La Caverna da Pedra Pintada (Painted Rock Cave), has drawn attention in archaeological circles.

Wide and shallow and well lit, Painted Rock Cave is less thronged with bats than some of the other caves. The arched entrance is twenty feet high and lined with rock paintings. Out front is a sunny natural patio suitable for picnicking, edged by a few big rocks. People lived in this cave more than 11,000 years ago. They had no agriculture yet, and instead ate fish and fruit and built fires. During a recent visit I ate a sandwich atop a particularly inviting rock and looked over the forest below. The first Amazonians, I thought, must have done more or less the same thing.

In college I took an introductory anthropology class in which I read Amazonia: Man and Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise (1971), perhaps the most influential book ever written about the Amazon, and one that deeply impressed me at the time. Written by Betty J. Meggers, the Smithsonian archaeologist, Amazonia says that the apparent lushness of the rain forest is a sham. The soils are poor and can't hold nutrients?the jungle flora exists only because it snatches up everything worthwhile before it leaches away in the rain. Agriculture, which depends on extracting the wealth of the soil, therefore faces inherent ecological limitations in the wet desert of Amazonia.

As a result, Meggers argued, Indian villages were forced to remain small?any report of "more than a few hundred" people in permanent settlements, she told me recently, "makes my alarm bells go off." Bigger, more complex societies would inevitably overtax the forest soils, laying waste to their own foundations. Beginning in 1948 Meggers and her late husband, Clifford Evans, excavated a chiefdom on Maraj?, an island twice the size of New Jersey that sits like a gigantic stopper in the mouth of the Amazon. The Maraj?ara, they concluded, were failed offshoots of a sophisticated culture in the Andes. Transplanted to the lush trap of the Amazon, the culture choked and died.

Green activists saw the implication: development in tropical forests destroys both the forests and their developers. Meggers's account had enormous public impact?Amazonia is one of the wellsprings of the campaign to save rain forests.

Then Anna C. Roosevelt, the curator of archaeology at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, re-excavated Maraj?. Her complete report, Moundbuilders of the Amazon (1991), was like the anti-matter version of Amazonia. Maraj?, she argued, was "one of the outstanding indigenous cultural achievements of the New World," a powerhouse that lasted for more than a thousand years, had "possibly well over 100,000" inhabitants, and covered thousands of square miles. Rather than damaging the forest, Maraj?'s "earth construction" and "large, dense populations" had improved it: the most luxuriant and diverse growth was on the mounds formerly occupied by the Maraj?ara. "If you listened to Meggers's theory, these places should have been ruined," Roosevelt says.

Meggers scoffed at Roosevelt's "extravagant claims," "polemical tone," and "defamatory remarks." Roosevelt, Meggers argued, had committed the beginner's error of mistaking a site that had been occupied many times by small, unstable groups for a single, long-lasting society. "[Archaeological remains] build up on areas of half a kilometer or so," she told me, "because [shifting Indian groups] don't land exactly on the same spot. The decorated types of pottery don't change much over time, so you can pick up a bunch of chips and say, 'Oh, look, it was all one big site!' Unless you know what you're doing, of course." Centuries after the conquistadors, "the myth of El Dorado is being revived by archaeologists," Meggers wrote last fall in the journal Latin American Antiquity, referring to the persistent Spanish delusion that cities of gold existed in the jungle.

The dispute grew bitter and personal; inevitable in a contemporary academic context, it has featured vituperative references to colonialism, elitism, and employment by the CIA. Meanwhile, Roosevelt's team investigated Painted Rock Cave. On the floor of the cave what looked to me like nothing in particular turned out to be an ancient midden: a refuse heap. The archaeologists slowly scraped away sediment, traveling backward in time with every inch. When the traces of human occupation vanished, they kept digging. ("You always go a meter past sterile," Roosevelt says.) A few inches below they struck the charcoal-rich dirt that signifies human habitation?a culture, Roosevelt said later, that wasn't supposed to be there.

For many millennia the cave's inhabitants hunted and gathered for food. But by about 4,000 years ago they were growing crops?perhaps as many as 140 of them, according to Charles R. Clement, an anthropological botanist at the Brazilian National Institute for Amazonian Research. Unlike Europeans, who planted mainly annual crops, the Indians, he says, centered their agriculture on the Amazon's unbelievably diverse assortment of trees: fruits, nuts, and palms. "It's tremendously difficult to clear fields with stone tools," Clement says. "If you can plant trees, you get twenty years of productivity out of your work instead of two or three."

Planting their orchards, the first Amazonians transformed large swaths of the river basin into something more pleasing to human beings. In a widely cited article from 1989, William Bal?e, the Tulane anthropologist, cautiously estimated that about 12 percent of the nonflooded Amazon forest was of anthropogenic origin?directly or indirectly created by human beings. In some circles this is now seen as a conservative position. "I basically think it's all human-created," Clement told me in Brazil. He argues that Indians changed the assortment and density of species throughout the region. So does Clark Erickson, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist, who told me in Bolivia that the lowland tropical forests of South America are among the finest works of art on the planet. "Some of my colleagues would say that's pretty radical," he said, smiling mischievously. According to Peter Stahl, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, "lots" of botanists believe that "what the eco-imagery would like to picture as a pristine, untouched Urwelt [primeval world] in fact has been managed by people for millennia." The phrase "built environment," Erickson says, "applies to most, if not all, Neotropical landscapes."

"Landscape" in this case is meant exactly?Amazonian Indians literally created the ground beneath their feet. According to William I. Woods, a soil geographer at Southern Illinois University, ecologists' claims about terrible Amazonian land were based on very little data. In the late 1990s Woods and others began careful measurements in the lower Amazon. They indeed found lots of inhospitable terrain. But they also discovered swaths of terra preta?rich, fertile "black earth" that anthropologists increasingly believe was created by human beings.

Terra preta, Woods guesses, covers at least 10 percent of Amazonia, an area the size of France. It has amazing properties, he says. Tropical rain doesn't leach nutrients from terra preta fields; instead the soil, so to speak, fights back. Not far from Painted Rock Cave is a 300-acre area with a two-foot layer of terra preta quarried by locals for potting soil. The bottom third of the layer is never removed, workers there explain, because over time it will re-create the original soil layer in its initial thickness. The reason, scientists suspect, is that terra preta is generated by a special suite of microorganisms that resists depletion. "Apparently," Woods and the Wisconsin geographer Joseph M. McCann argued in a presentation last summer, "at some threshold level ... dark earth attains the capacity to perpetuate?even regenerate itself?thus behaving more like a living 'super'-organism than an inert material."

In as yet unpublished research the archaeologists Eduardo Neves, of the University of S?o Paulo; Michael Heckenberger, of the University of Florida; and their colleagues examined terra preta in the upper Xingu, a huge southern tributary of the Amazon. Not all Xingu cultures left behind this living earth, they discovered. But the ones that did generated it rapidly?suggesting to Woods that terra preta was created deliberately. In a process reminiscent of dropping microorganism-rich starter into plain dough to create sourdough bread, Amazonian peoples, he believes, inoculated bad soil with a transforming bacterial charge. Not every group of Indians there did this, but quite a few did, and over an extended period of time.

When Woods told me this, I was so amazed that I almost dropped the phone. I ceased to be articulate for a moment and said things like "wow" and "gosh." Woods chuckled at my reaction, probably because he understood what was passing through my mind. Faced with an ecological problem, I was thinking, the Indians fixed it. They were in the process of terraforming the Amazon when Columbus showed up and ruined everything.

Scientists should study the microorganisms in terra preta, Woods told me, to find out how they work. If that could be learned, maybe some version of Amazonian dark earth could be used to improve the vast expanses of bad soil that cripple agriculture in Africa?a final gift from the people who brought us tomatoes, corn, and the immense grasslands of the Great Plains.

"Betty Meggers would just die if she heard me saying this," Woods told me. "Deep down her fear is that this data will be misused." Indeed, Meggers's recent Latin American Antiquity article charged that archaeologists who say the Amazon can support agriculture are effectively telling "developers [that they] are entitled to operate without restraint." Resuscitating the myth of El Dorado, in her view, "makes us accomplices in the accelerating pace of environmental degradation." Doubtless there is something to this?although, as some of her critics responded in the same issue of the journal, it is difficult to imagine greedy plutocrats "perusing the pages of Latin American Antiquity before deciding to rev up the chain saws." But the new picture doesn't automatically legitimize paving the forest. Instead it suggests that for a long time big chunks of Amazonia were used nondestructively by clever people who knew tricks we have yet to learn.

I visited Painted Rock Cave during the river's annual flood, when it wells up over its banks and creeps inland for miles. Farmers in the floodplain build houses and barns on stilts and watch pink dolphins sport from their doorsteps. Ecotourists take shortcuts by driving motorboats through the drowned forest. Guys in dories chase after them, trying to sell sacks of incredibly good fruit.

All of this is described as "wilderness" in the tourist brochures. It's not, if researchers like Roosevelt are correct. Indeed, they believe that fewer people may be living there now than in 1491. Yet when my boat glided into the trees, the forest shut out the sky like the closing of an umbrella. Within a few hundred yards the human presence seemed to vanish. I felt alone and small, but in a way that was curiously like feeling exalted. If that place was not wilderness, how should I think of it? Since the fate of the forest is in our hands, what should be our goal for its future?

Novel Shores

Hernando de Soto's expedition stomped through the Southeast for four years and apparently never saw bison. More than a century later, when French explorers came down the Mississippi, they saw "a solitude unrelieved by the faintest trace of man," the nineteenth-century historian Francis Parkman wrote. Instead the French encountered bison, "grazing in herds on the great prairies which then bordered the river."

To Charles Kay, the reason for the buffalo's sudden emergence is obvious. Kay is a wildlife ecologist in the political-science department at Utah State University. In ecological terms, he says, the Indians were the "keystone species" of American ecosystems. A keystone species, according to the Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson, is a species "that affects the survival and abundance of many other species." Keystone species have a disproportionate impact on their ecosystems. Removing them, Wilson adds, "results in a relatively significant shift in the composition of the [ecological] community."

When disease swept Indians from the land, Kay says, what happened was exactly that. The ecological ancien r?gime collapsed, and strange new phenomena emerged. In a way this is unsurprising; for better or worse, humankind is a keystone species everywhere. Among these phenomena was a population explosion in the species that the Indians had kept down by hunting. After disease killed off the Indians, Kay believes, buffalo vastly extended their range. Their numbers more than sextupled. The same occurred with elk and mule deer. "If the elk were here in great numbers all this time, the archaeological sites should be chock-full of elk bones," Kay says. "But the archaeologists will tell you the elk weren't there." On the evidence of middens the number of elk jumped about 500 years ago.

Passenger pigeons may be another example. The epitome of natural American abundance, they flew in such great masses that the first colonists were stupefied by the sight. As a boy, the explorer Henry Brackenridge saw flocks "ten miles in width, by one hundred and twenty in length." For hours the birds darkened the sky from horizon to horizon. According to Thomas Neumann, a consulting archaeologist in Lilburn, Georgia, passenger pigeons "were incredibly dumb and always roosted in vast hordes, so they were very easy to harvest." Because they were readily caught and good to eat, Neumann says, archaeological digs should find many pigeon bones in the pre-Columbian strata of Indian middens. But they aren't there. The mobs of birds in the history books, he says, were "outbreak populations?always a symptom of an extraordinarily disrupted ecological system."

Throughout eastern North America the open landscape seen by the first Europeans quickly filled in with forest. According to William Cronon, of the University of Wisconsin, later colonists began complaining about how hard it was to get around. (Eventually, of course, they stripped New England almost bare of trees.) When Europeans moved west, they were preceded by two waves: one of disease, the other of ecological disturbance. The former crested with fearsome rapidity; the latter sometimes took more than a century to quiet down. Far from destroying pristine wilderness, European settlers bloodily created it. By 1800 the hemisphere was chockablock with new wilderness. If "forest primeval" means a woodland unsullied by the human presence, William Denevan has written, there was much more of it in the late eighteenth century than in the early sixteenth.

Cronon's Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (1983) belongs on the same shelf as works by Crosby and Dobyns. But it was not until one of his articles was excerpted in The New York Times in 1995 that people outside the social sciences began to understand the implications of this view of Indian history. Environmentalists and ecologists vigorously attacked the anti-wilderness scenario, which they described as infected by postmodern philosophy. A small academic brouhaha ensued, complete with hundreds of footnotes. It precipitated Reinventing Nature? (1995), one of the few academic critiques of postmodernist philosophy written largely by biologists. The Great New Wilderness Debate (1998), another lengthy book on the subject, was edited by two philosophers who earnestly identified themselves as "Euro-American men [whose] cultural legacy is patriarchal Western civilization in its current postcolonial, globally hegemonic form."

It is easy to tweak academics for opaque, self-protective language like this. Nonetheless, their concerns were quite justified. Crediting Indians with the role of keystone species has implications for the way the current Euro-American members of that keystone species manage the forests, watersheds, and endangered species of America. Because a third of the United States is owned by the federal government, the issue inevitably has political ramifications. In Amazonia, fabled storehouse of biodiversity, the stakes are global.

Guided by the pristine myth, mainstream environmentalists want to preserve as much of the world's land as possible in a putatively intact state. But "intact," if the new research is correct, means "run by human beings for human purposes." Environmentalists dislike this, because it seems to mean that anything goes. In a sense they are correct. Native Americans managed the continent as they saw fit. Modern nations must do the same. If they want to return as much of the landscape as possible to its 1491 state, they will have


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« Reply #8 on: May 24, 2007, 10:05:42 PM »

Archaeologist Says Clarke County Site May Be Lost De Soto Battleground

Thursday, May 24, 2007

By CONNIE BAGGETT-Staff Reporter

   A Mobile archaeologist said this week that he believes he has found a site in southern Clarke County that could be the Indian stronghold Mauvilla, where Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto fought a bloody battle in the mid-1500s.

   If he is correct, he has solved a mystery that for decades left others with false leads and dashed hopes.

   Andrew Holmes, who works as a archaeological field technician for Barry Vittor and Associates conducting environmental assessments at construction projects, said he used a mathematical equation, global positioning satellite technology and various sources to pinpoint his Mauvilla.

   He said that artifacts and other evidence indicate that he is correct, but he acknowledged that it will take a lot of excavating to prove it.

   "The site is in Clarke County in the forks of the Alabama and Tombigbee," Holmes said, "right where all the documentation says it is. All the records we have said it's there, right where I found it."

   Historians and archaeologists have long debated De Soto's route and the location of Mauvilla, also known as Mauvila, Maubila and Mabila. Some have even questioned whether such a place existed.

   De Soto, appointed governor of Cuba and charged with settling North America for Spain, looted village after village and spread disease across what is now the Southeastern United States as he and about 650 soldiers plundered, looking for gold. As was his pattern, De Soto kidnapped Chief Tascaluza who, according to various accounts from the time, led the Spaniards into a trap at Mauvilla.

   Warriors ambushed De Soto and took much of the advance guard's supplies. Soldiers battled with Indians for a day at Mauvilla, leaving more than 3,000 warriors dead. De Soto lost some 20 soldiers in the battle and dozens more died later of injuries.

   De Soto's expedition, which never recovered, ended after the explorer died. De Soto's men placed his body in the Mississippi River to keep it from the Indians.

   Holmes credited two sources aiding his search for Mauvilla: the research of his father and an account of De Soto's explorations written in the late 1500s.

   Holmes' father, N.H. Holmes Jr., an architect and archaeologist in Mobile, was a member of the De Soto Commission in the 1980s. The commission probed the known information regarding the explorer's route through Alabama and the Southeast and reported its findings in the late 1980s. Some sites were accepted as De Soto contact sites, but much of the route remained in heated debate, including the site of Mauvilla.

   "There has been a lot of interest in Clarke County as a potential site for Mauvilla," said Greg Waselkov, director of the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of South Alabama. "Some think it is somewhere near Gainestown, but the bottom line is no one has found anything really convincing that I've seen."

   Holmes said nails that he recovered at the site have been analyzed. They match the process used by Spaniards in 1540, the time of the expedition.

   Waselkov said his department loaned Holmes samples of metal objects from old Spanish sites in Mobile to compare with others, but said he was not aware of any definitive results.

   Waselkov said there are two camps regarding the possible location of Mauvilla, the Clarke County group and the Cahaba group. Debate between the two schools of thought can get heated, he said.

   "Spanish iron is a good indication," Waselkov said, "but the site can be proved pretty easily if it's the right one. Mauvilla was a huge battle and is pretty well described in accounts from eyewitnesses. It will be a small enclosed place that was burned once the battle was done and it was abandoned by the Spanish. It was occupied by hundreds or thousands.

   "This site may be a good candidate, but when the study of the site starts, it should be pretty obvious if it's the right one." Waselkov said. "A lot of people were killed there, and remains should be there."

   Holmes said his father calculated the location based on landmarks that had been pinpointed along rivers. It was his father's work that led him to the place he believes is Mauvilla.

   "I worked with him, and with the Bedsole Foundation for 25 years doing field work, and recently did a review of my father's assessments and matched them with the Garcilaso record of the De Soto expedition. I have this perfect geometric triangulation of the site that matches exactly the Garcilaso description of the area," he said.

   Garcilaso, the son of a Spanish officer and Inca princess, was born in Cuzco, Peru, in 1537. Years after De Soto's ill-fated journey, Garcilaso interviewed the expedition's survivors. He published a written report in 1587.

   Although Garcilaso's account has had its share of critics over the centuries, it contains detailed descriptions of places along De Soto's route.

   Holmes said the Clarke County site is covered by an oval mound, but fits the description that tells of an east gate and west gate, one street, and a square in the center.

   Marilyn Culpepper, executive director of the Historic Mobile Preservation Society, who has known Holmes for years, said Tuesday, "I saw some of the artifacts he has recovered from this site and they are quite convincing. The global positioning triangulation he used led him right to the place. He deserves credit for the find. This could be a fantastic discovery."


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« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2007, 08:31:23 AM »

Comet Theory Collides With Clovis Research, My Explain Disappearance of Ancient People

   A theory put forth by a group of 25 geo-scientists suggests that a massive comet exploded over Canada, possibly wiping out both beast and man around 12,900 years ago, and pushing the earth into another ice age. 

   University of South Carolina archaeologist Dr. Albert Goodyear said the theory may not be such "out-of-this-world" thinking based on his study of ancient stone-tool artifacts he and his team have excavated from the Topper dig site in Allendale, as well as ones found in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

   The tools, or fluted spear points, made by flaking and chipping flint, were used for hunting and made by the Clovis people, who lived 13,100 to 12,900 years ago, and from the Redstone people who emerged afterwards. The two points are distinctly different in appearance, with Redstone points more impressively long and steeple-shaped.

   "I saw a tremendous drop-off of Redstone points after Clovis," said Goodyear. "When you see such a widespread decline or pattern like that, you really have to wonder whether there is a population decline to go with it."

   For every Redstone point, Goodyear says, there are four or five Clovis points. His findings are leading archaeologists from across North America to reexamine their fluted points, and their inventories are yielding similar results: a widespread decline of post-Clovis points that suggests a possible widespread decline of humans.

   "What is interesting is that Redstone people came after Clovis people and may have lasted as many centuries as Clovis did, probably even longer, but there are fewer of these Redstone points than Clovis ones," Goodyear said. "That is really odd, because if the Redstone culture simply came right after the Clovis culture you'd expect at least as many Redstone points as Clovis ones. We just don't see that, and the question is why, and what happened to the people who made these tools?"

   Archaeologists have long known that the great beasts of the age � the wooly mammoth and mastodon � suddenly disappeared around the same time period (12,900 - 12, 800 years ), but little was known about their demise. It was thought to be the result of over-hunting by Clovis man or climate change associated with a new ice age.

   The notion that a comet collided with Earth and caused these events was farfetched until recently, when the group of scientists began looking for evidence of a comet impact, which they call the Younger - Dryas Event. They turned to Goodyear and the pristine Clovis site of Topper.

   In 2005, Arizona geophysicist Dr. Allen West and his team traveled to Topper in hopes of finding concentrations of iridium, an extra-terrestrial element found in comets, in the layer of Clovis-era sediment.

   "They found iridium and plenty of it," said Goodyear. "The high concentrations were much higher than you would normally see in the background of the earth's crust. That tends to be an indicator of a terrestrial impact from outer space."

   The researchers also found high iridium concentrations at six other Clovis sites throughout North America, as well as in and along the rims of the Carolina Bays, the elliptically shaped depressions that are home to an array of flora and fauna along South Carolina's coast.

   The Younger- Dryas Event suggests that a large comet exploded above Canada, creating a storm of fiery fragments that rained over North America. The fragments could have easily killed the giant mammals of the day, as well as Clovis man.

   "No one has ever had a really good explanation for the disappearance of mammoth and mastodon," Goodyear said. "The archaeological community is waking up to the Younger-Dryas Event. It doesn't prove that these Clovis people were affected by this comet, but it is consistent with the idea that something catastrophic happened to the Clovis people at the same time period."

   The comet theory dominated the recent annual meetings of the American Geophysical Union held in Mexico. Goodyear's Clovis-Redstone point study and West's research on the comet were featured at the AGU meetings and by the journal, Nature. The comet will be the subject of documentaries featured on the National Geographic Channel and NOVA television late this fall and in early 2008.

The Topper story

   Dr. Al Goodyear, who conducts research through the University of South Carolina's S.C. Institute of Anthropology and Archaeology, began excavating Clovis artifacts along the Savannah River in Allendale County in 1984. In 1998, with the hope of finding evidence of a pre-Clovis culture earlier than the accepted 13,100 years, Goodyear began a concerted digging effort on a site called Topper, located on the property of the Clariant Co.

   His efforts paid off. Goodyear unearthed blades made of flint and chert that he believed to be the tools of an ice age culture back some 16,000 years or more. His findings, as well as similar ones yielded at other pre-Clovis sites in North America, sparked great change and debate in the scientific community.

   Believing that if Clovis and Redstone people thrived near the banks of the Savannah River, Goodyear thought the area could haven been an ideal location for a more ancient culture. Acting on a hunch in 2004, Goodyear dug even deeper down into the Pleistocene Terrace and found more artifacts of a pre-Clovis type buried in a layer of sediment stained with charcoal deposits. Radio carbon dates of the burnt plant remains yielded dates of 50,000 years, which suggested man was in South Carolina long before the last ice age. Goodyear's finding not only captured international media attention, but it has put the archaeology field in flux, opening scientific minds to the possibility of an even earlier pre-Clovis occupation of the Americas.

   Since 2004, Goodyear has continued his Clovis and pre-Clovis excavations at Topper. With support of Clariant Corp. and SCANA, plus numerous individual donors, a massive shelter and viewing deck now sit above the dig site to allow Goodyear and his team of graduate students and community volunteers to dig free from the heat and rain and to protect what may be the most significant early-man dig in America.


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