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Culture Watch

In this issue:

For those who already understood that the indigenous peoples of the Americas had developed sophisticated societies before Columbus arrived in 1492, 1491 will provide eye-opening specifics and an incredible number of revisions in what they thought they knew. In the historical novel, The Widow of the South, the Battle of Franklin proved to be one of the bloodiest fights of the War Between the States. More than 9,000 soldiers fell that day, generals along with foot soldiers. Comparing human beings to fine wines, cheeses, and trees may seem amusing, but Dr. Andrew Weil‘s point in Healthy Aging is that aging can bring reward is well taken.

1491

New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
By Charles C. Mann, © 2005
Published by Alfred A. Knopf,
337 pp

For those of us brought up on the notion that Columbus and/or the Vikings were the first “civilized” people to set foot in the Americas, this book will be a stunning revelation. For those who already understood that the indigenous peoples of the Americas had developed sophisticated societies before Columbus arrived in 1492, 1491 will provide eye-opening specifics and an incredible number of revisions in what they thought they knew.

For one thing, those societies were as different from one another as the French are from the English or, for that matter, the Chinese. For another, they sprang into existence much earlier than we were taught, and the origins of the indigenous peoples are no longer thought certain. While some still hold to the theory that the ancestors of Indians walked from Siberia across a land bridge that crossed the Bering Strait at the end of the last ice age, and drifted down across North America through an ice-free corridor between two glaciers, there are several new theories to consider. One is that America was populated by peoples who came by boat from the Bering Strait, down the Pacific coast. And then there are the skulls of an early people called the Lagoa Santa, that resemble the skulls of Australian aborigines more than those of Indians, the theory there being that Australian aborigines came to Tierra del Fuego via Antarctica. More such skulls have been found in Baja California.

The author believes that we need to revise our chronology for the settlement of the Western Hemisphere. He cites new research that claims that the “New World” (a misnomer if ever there was one) was populated much earlier than scholars have previously thought, and that the total population of the two continents far outstripped the populations of Europe and Asia — that is until Columbus and his sailors brought smallpox over with them. Mann’s theory is that the Indians described by the sixteenth and seventeenth Europeans were merely the remnants of a huge population, struggling to survive when their centers of civilization, their governments, and their entire culture were decimated by disease that had spread like wildfire following the arrival of Mr. Columbus and his crew.

Mann is a wonderful writer, readily accessible even though his subject is complex (and despite the fact that he uses an occasional big word like “fissiparous” that may send you to your dictionary). In fact, the author weaves a number of fascinating tales into a coherent whole so cleverly that at times the book reads almost like a novel.

But make no mistake: there is no question as to Mr. Mann’s scholarly approach and intent. The research behind 1491 is extensive, and the book boasts excellent sections for Appendices and Notes, and a Bibliography that will provide enthusiasts with further avenues to explore. Mr. Mann balances his information, quoting anthropologists and archaeologists who hold differing views. At times he announces his own persuasions, but at others, simply states what has been said on a subject, and leaves it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

Page 2, 1491, Page 3 1491 & Widow of the South, Page 4 Healthy Aging

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© 2005 Julia Sneden for SeniorWomenWeb
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