Friday, February 23, 2007

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus was well worth my time. Charles C. Mann doesn't set out to show that current anthropology and archaeology are wrong. Rather, he sets out to show that like almost everything else, it has ceased to be black and white (which it once seemed to be - answers were cast in stone, and only the finer points were argued) and become many shades of gray. New theories are everywhere in archaeology, from the number of individuals inhabiting the new world - Florida coasts thick with fires and villages, likewise the Amazon, once thought virtually uninhabitable - to the number of natives killed off by European disease before the Europeans ever arrived in number (maybe even 98-99%), to questions about the land bridge and when immigration actually happened, and by what route, to the genetic engineering of crops and the complete terraforming of the land, to the level of sophistication and extent of the cities. 1491 addresses many of the new frontiers in the archaeology of the new world and how these changes in the perception of new world history affect archaeologists, native americans, and conservationists. And Mann puts forward numerous examples of convincing incidents to back up these new theories - mounds made of millions and millions of pottery shards, charred soil still giving added agricultural production in the Amazon today, linked islands of growth, and birth and death patterns post contact as disease spread from coast to coast on both continents until it bottlenecked in Panama.

The Wikipedia article is fairly in depth if you're interested, but not willing to commit to 350 pages.

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