1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

3.9 138
by Peter Johnson, Charles C. Mann
     
 

Based on the latest scientific findings, this breakthrough book argues that most of what we thought we knew about the Americas before Columbus was wrong. In the last 20 years, archaeologists and anthropologists equipped with new scientific techniques have made far-reaching discoveries about the Americas. For example, Indians did not cross the Bering Strait 12,000…  See more details below

Overview

Based on the latest scientific findings, this breakthrough book argues that most of what we thought we knew about the Americas before Columbus was wrong. In the last 20 years, archaeologists and anthropologists equipped with new scientific techniques have made far-reaching discoveries about the Americas. For example, Indians did not cross the Bering Strait 12,000 years ago, as most of us learned in school. They were already here. Their numbers were vast, not few. And instead of living lightly on the land, they managed it beautifully and left behind an enormous ecological legacy.In this riveting, accessible work of science, Charles Mann takes us on an enthralling journey of scientific exploration. We learn that the Indian development of modern corn was one of the most complex feats of genetic engineering ever performed. That the Great Plains are a third smaller today than they were in 1700 because the Indians who maintained them by burning died. And that the Amazon rain forest may be largely a human artifact.Compelling and eye-opening, this book has the potential to vastly alter our understanding of our history and change the course of today’s environmental disputes.

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Editorial Reviews

Midwest Book Review
If you haven't read [it] because the book form seems too weighty, don't miss the audio edition. . . . [It] is even more gripping as an audio listen, allowing listeners to absorb more of the many facts than printed word seems to readily offer.
Boston Globe
. . . a landmark of a book that drops ingrained images of colonial America into the dustbin.
Kevin Baker
Mann navigates adroitly through the controversies. He approaches each in the best scientific tradition, carefully sifting the evidence, never jumping to hasty conclusions, giving everyone a fair hearing—the experts and the amateurs; the accounts of the Indians and their conquerors. And rarely is he less than enthralling. A remarkably engaging writer, he lucidly explains the significance of everything from haplogroups to glottochronology to landraces. He offers amusing asides to some of his adventures across the hemisphere during the course of his research, but unlike so many contemporary journalists, he never lets his personal experiences overwhelm his subject.
—The New York Times Book Review
Alan Taylor
… Mann's 1491 vividly compels us to re-examine how we teach the ancient history of the Americas and how we live with the environmental consequences of colonization.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
This production is-as most nonfiction audios ought to be-a "reading" as distinct from a "performance." Johnson renders this thoroughly researched, well-written history of early North and South American Indian populations in a strong, clear voice, with excellent intonation. His diction is almost too perfect-one occasionally focuses on pronunciation rather than content. Most of the book is written in narrative form that sweeps listeners through an exciting rethinking of all we ever learned about when so-called Indians first inhabited the American continents and how they may have come here, about their numbers, religions, cultures, inventions, social structures and their relations to European invaders and settlers. When Mann relates the internecine battles among schools of anthropologists and archeologists, however, the listener might wish he had the book in hand for clarity. It might be wise from the start to make a list of the numerous Indian and European individuals and groupings. This audiobook is well worth the trouble. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, June 20). (August) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
The boom in new scholarship on the Western Hemisphere before Columbus is intelligently synthesized in 1491, the engrossing bestseller by the able science popularizer Mann. Sifting adroitly through the accumulating evidence and the academic disputes, Mann drives home these arguments: the Americas may well have birthed the world's first complex civilization (seizing that claim from Mesopotamia); in 1491 the Americas were densely populated by a dazzling panoply of diverse civilizations superior to 1491 Europe in many areas, including technology, statecraft, and epic poetry; and Indians throughout the Americas, far from living in a pristine, untouched ecology, found ways to manage and improve their environments (that "low-hanging fruit" grew in planted orchards). European viruses, more than guns or steel, explain the utter demise of glorious empires and up to 100 million natives. Mann softens his myth-bashing by underplaying the systematic cultural genocide of the Counter Reformation conquistadors. With its many enlightening comparisons to European achievements, 1491 should be required reading in all high school and university world history courses.
Library Journal
What were the Americas like before the arrival of Christopher Columbus changed the native cultures of the Western Hemisphere forever? Mann, a correspondent for Science and the Atlantic Monthly, provides a fascinating, in-depth examination of this question, identifying tantalizing clues and offering new conclusions from recently discovered archaeological evidence. He explores three different but ultimately related themes. First, the demographics of pre-contact Native American societies are examined to demonstrate that populations in many parts of the Americas were actually much larger than previously believed. (In fact, in all likelihood, more people were living in the Americas, pre-1492, than in Europe.) Next, Mann probes the probability that native peoples inhabited the Americas much earlier than previously thought. Finally, he examines the ecological impact that indigenous groups had on their environments. Mann has done a superb job of analyzing and distilling information, offering a balanced and thoughtful perspective on each of his themes in engaging prose. Including an extensive bibliography, this excellent archaeological synthesis is highly recommended for anthropology and archaeology collections in academic and large public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/05.]-Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Coll. Lib., Westerville, OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Unless you're an anthropologist, it's likely that everything you know about American prehistory is wrong. Science journalist Mann's survey of the current knowledge is a bracing corrective. Historians once thought that prehistoric Indian peoples somehow lived outside of history, adrift and directionless, "passive recipients of whatever windfalls or disasters happenstance put in their way"; that view was central to the myth of the noble savage. In fact, writes Mann (Noah's Choice, with Mark L. Plummer, 1995), Native Americans were as active in shaping their environments as anyone else. They built great and wealthy cities; they lived, for the most part, on farms; and their home continents "were immeasurably busier, more diverse, and more populous than researchers had previously imagined." In defending this view, Mann visits several thriving controversies in the historic/prehistoric record. One is the question of pre-contact demographics: old-school scholars had long advanced the idea that there were only a few million Native Americans at the time of the Columbian arrival, whereas revisionists in the 1960s posited that there were eight million on the island of Hispaniola alone, a figure punctured by revisionists of revisionism, now beset by Native American activists for the political incorrectness of adjusting the census. Another controversy is the chronology of human presence in the Americas: the old date of 12,000 b.c., courtesy of the Bering Land Bridge in Alaska, no longer cuts it. Other arguments center on the nature of Native American societies such as the Aztec and Inca, the latter of whom built a great empire that, defying Western notions of logic, had no market component. Mannaddresses each controversy with care, according the old-timers their due while making it clear that his sympathies lie, in the main, with the rising generation. He closes with a provocative thesis: namely, that the present worldwide movement toward democracy owes not to Locke or Newtonian physics, but to Indians, "living, breathing role models of human liberty."An excellent, and highly accessible, survey of America's past: a worthy companion to Jake Page's In the Hands of the Great Spirit (2003). First printing of 40,000
From the Publisher
“A journalistic masterpiece.”
—The New York Review of Books

“Marvelous. . . . A sweeping portrait of human life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. . . . A remarkably engaging writer.”
—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Fascinating. . . . A landmark of a book that drops ingrained images of colonial American into the dustbin, one after the other.”
—The Boston Globe

“A ripping, man-on-the-ground tour of a world most of us barely intuit. . . . An exhilarating shift in perspective. . . . 1491 erases our myth of a wilderness Eden. It replaces that fallacy with evidence of a different genesis, exciting and closer to true.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Mann tells a powerful, provocative and important story. . . . 1491 vividly compels us to re-examine how we teach the ancient history of the Americas and how we live with the environmental consequences of colonization.”
—The Washington Post Book World

“Engagingly written and utterly absorbing. . . . Part detective story, part epic and part tragedy.”
—The Miami Herald

“Provocative. . . . A Jared Diamond-like volley that challenges prevailing thinking about global development. Mann has chronicled an important shift in our vision of world development, one out young children could end up studying in their text books when they reach junior high.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Marvelous. . . . A revelation. . . . Our concept of pure wilderness untouched by grubby human hands must now be jettisoned.”
—The New York Sun

“Monumental. . . . Mann slips in so many fresh, new interpretations of American history that it all adds up to a deeply subversive work.”
—Salon

“Concise and brilliantly entertaining. . . . Reminiscent of John McPhee's eloquence with scientific detail.”
—Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565119789
Publisher:
HighBridge Company
Publication date:
08/04/2005
Edition description:
Abridged, 9 CDs, 11 hours
Pages:
1
Sales rank:
568,933
Product dimensions:
5.13(w) x 5.88(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

1491


By Charles C. Mann

Random House

Charles C. Mann
All right reserved.

ISBN: 140004006X


Chapter One

Why Billington Survived

The Friendly Indian


On March 22, 1621, an official Native American delegation walked through what is now southern New England to negotiate with a group of foreigners who had taken over a recently deserted Indian settlement. At the head of the party was an uneasy triumvirate: Massasoit, the sachem (political-military leader) of the Wampanoag confederation, a loose coalition of several dozen villages that controlled most of what is now southeastern Massachusetts; Samoset, sachem of an allied group to the north; and Tisquantum, a distrusted captive, whom Massasoit had reluctantly brought along as an interpreter.

Massasoit was an adroit politician, but the dilemma he faced would have tested Machiavelli. About five years before, most of his subjects had fallen before a terrible calamity. Whole villages had been depopulated--indeed, the foreigners ahead now occupied one of the empty sites. It was all he could do to hold together the remnants of his people. Adding to his problems, the disaster had not touched the Wampanoag's longtime enemies, the Narragansett alliance to the west. Soon, Massasoit feared, they would take advantage of the Wampanoag's weakness and overrun them.

Desperate threats require desperate countermeasures. In a gamble, Massasoit intended to abandon, even reverse, a long-standing policy. Europeans had been visiting New England for at least a century. Shorter than the natives, oddly dressed, and often unbearably dirty, the pallid foreigners had peculiar blue eyes that peeped out of the masks of bristly, animal-like hair that encased their faces. They were irritatingly garrulous, prone to fits of chicanery, and often surprisingly incompetent at what seemed to Indians like basic tasks. But they also made useful and beautiful goods--copper kettles, glittering colored glass, and steel knives and hatchets--unlike anything else in New England. Moreover, they would exchange these valuable items for cheap furs of the sort used by Indians as blankets. It was like happening upon a dingy kiosk that would swap fancy electronic goods for customers' used socks--almost anyone would be willing to overlook the shopkeeper's peculiarities.

Over time, the Wampanoag, like other native societies in coastal New England, had learned how to manage the European presence. They encouraged the exchange of goods, but would only allow their visitors to stay ashore for brief, carefully controlled excursions. Those who overstayed their welcome were forcefully reminded of the limited duration of Indian hospitality. At the same time, the Wampanoag fended off Indians from the interior, preventing them from trading directly with the foreigners. In this way the shoreline groups put themselves in the position of classic middlemen, overseeing both European access to Indian products and Indian access to European products. Now Massasoit was visiting a group of British with the intent of changing the rules. He would permit the newcomers to stay for an unlimited time--provided that they formally allied with the Wampanoag against the Narragansett.

Tisquantum, the interpreter, had shown up alone at Massasoit's home a year and a half before. He spoke fluent English, because he had lived for several years in Britain. But Massasoit didn't trust him. He seems to have been in Massasoit's eyes a man without anchor, out for himself. In a conflict, Tisquantum might even side with the foreigners. Massasoit had kept Tisquantum in a kind of captivity since his arrival, monitoring his actions closely. And he refused to use him to negotiate with the colonists until he had another, independent means of communication with them.

That March Samoset--the third member of the triumvirate--appeared, having hitched a ride from his home in Maine on an English ship that was plying the coast. Not known is whether his arrival was due to chance or if Massasoit had asked him to come down because he had picked up a few English phrases by trading with the British. In any case, Massasoit first had sent Samoset, rather than Tisquantum, to the foreigners.

Samoset had walked unaccompanied and unarmed into the circle of rude huts in which the British were living on March 17, 1621. The colonists saw a robust, erect-postured man wearing only a loincloth; his straight black hair was shaved in front but flowed down his shoulders behind. To their further amazement, this almost naked man greeted them in broken but understandable English. He left the next morning with a few presents. A day later he came back, accompanied by five "tall proper men"--the phrase is the colonist Edward Winslow's--with three-inch black stripes painted down the middle of their faces. The two sides talked inconclusively, each warily checking out the other, for a few hours. Five days later, on the 22nd, Samoset showed up again at the foreigners' ramshackle base, this time with Tisquantum. Meanwhile Massasoit and the rest of the Indian company waited out of sight.

Samoset and Tisquantum spoke with the colonists for about an hour. Perhaps they then gave a signal. Or perhaps Massasoit was simply following a schedule. In any case, he and the rest of the Indian party appeared without warning at the crest of a hill on the south bank of the creek that ran through Patuxet. Alarmed by Massasoit's sudden entrance, the settlers withdrew to the hill on the opposite bank, where they had emplaced their few cannons behind a half-finished stockade. A standoff ensued.

Finally Winslow exhibited the decisiveness that later led to his selection as colony governor. Wearing a full suit of armor and carrying a sword, he waded through the stream and offered himself as a hostage. Tisquantum, who walked with him, served as interpreter. Massasoit's brother took charge of Winslow and then Massasoit crossed the water himself followed by Tisquantum and twenty of Massasoit's men, all ostentatiously unarmed. The colonists took the sachem to an unfinished house and gave him some cushions to recline on. Both sides shared some of the foreigners' homemade moonshine, then settled down to talk, Tisquantum translating.

To the colonists, Massasoit could be distinguished from his subjects more by manner than by dress or ornament. He wore the same deerskin shawls and leggings and like his fellows had covered his face with bug-repelling oil and reddish-purple dye. Around his neck hung a pouch of tobacco, a long knife, and a thick chain of the prized white shell beads called wampum. In appearance, Winslow wrote afterward, he was "a very lusty man, in his best years, an able body, grave of countenance, and spare of speech." The Europeans, who had barely survived the previous winter, were in much worse shape. Half of the original colony now lay underground beneath wooden markers painted with death's heads; most of the survivors were malnourished.

Their meeting was a critical moment in American history. The foreigners called their colony Plymouth; they themselves were the famous Pilgrims.* As schoolchildren learn, at that meeting the Pilgrims obtained the services of Tisquantum, usually known as "Squanto." In the 1970s, when I attended high school, a popular history text was America: Its People and Values, by Leonard C. Wood, Ralph H. Gabriel, and Edward L. Biller. Nestled among colorful illustrations of colonial life was a succinct explanation of Tisquantum's role:

A friendly Indian named Squanto helped the colonists. He showed them how to plant corn and how to live on the edge of the wilderness. A soldier, Captain Miles Standish, taught the Pilgrims how to defend themselves against unfriendly Indians.

My teacher explained that maize was unfamiliar to the Pilgrims and that Tisquantum had demonstrated the proper maize-planting technique--sticking the seed in little heaps of dirt, accompanied by beans and squash that would later twine themselves up the tall stalks. And he told the Pilgrims to fertilize the soil by burying fish alongside the maize seeds, a traditional native technique for producing a bountiful harvest. Following this advice, my teacher said, the colonists grew so much maize that it became the centerpiece of the first Thanksgiving. In our slipshod fashion, we students took notes.

The story in America: Its People and Values isn't wrong, so far as it goes. But the impression it gives is entirely misleading.

Tisquantum was critical to the colony's survival, contemporary scholars agree. He moved to Plymouth after the meeting and spent the rest of his life there. Just as my teacher said, Tisquantum told the colonists to bury several small fish in each maize hill, a procedure followed by European settlers for the next two centuries. Squanto's teachings, Winslow concluded, led to "a good increase of Indian corn"--the difference between success and starvation.

Winslow didn't know that fish fertilizer may not have been an age-old Indian custom, but a recent invention--if it was an Indian practice at all. So little evidence has emerged of Indians fertilizing with fish that some archaeologists believe that Tisquantum actually picked up the idea from European farmers. The notion is not as ridiculous as it may seem. Tisquantum had learned English because British sailors had kidnapped him seven years before. To return to the Americas, he in effect had to escape twice--once from Spain, where his captors initially sold him into slavery, and once from England, to which he was smuggled from Spain, and where he served as a kind of living conversation piece at a rich man's house. In his travels, Tisquantum stayed in places where Europeans used fish as fertilizer, a practice on the Continent since medieval times.

Skipping over the complex course of Tisquantum's life is understandable in a textbook with limited space. But the omission is symptomatic of the complete failure to consider Indian motives, or even that Indians might have motives. The alliance Massasoit negotiated with Plymouth was successful from the Wampanoag perspective, for it helped to hold off the Narragansett. But it was a disaster from the point of view of New England Indian society as a whole, for the alliance ensured the survival of Plymouth colony, which spearheaded the great wave of British immigration to New England. All of this was absent not only from my high school textbooks, but from the academic accounts they were based on.

This variant of Holmberg's Mistake dates back to the Pilgrims themselves, who ascribed the lack of effective native resistance to the will of God. "Divine providence," the colonist Daniel Gookin wrote, favored "the quiet and peaceable settlement of the English." Later writers tended to attribute European success not to European deities but to European technology. In a contest where only one side had rifles and cannons, historians said, the other side's motives were irrelevant. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Indians of the Northeast were thought of as rapidly fading background details in the saga of the rise of the United States--"marginal people who were losers in the end," as James Axtell of the College of William and Mary dryly put it in an interview. Vietnam War--era denunciations of the Pilgrims as imperialist or racist simply replicated the error in a new form. Whether the cause was the Pilgrim God, Pilgrim guns, or Pilgrim greed, native losses were foreordained; Indians could not have stopped colonization, in this view, and they hardly tried.

Beginning in the 1970s, Axtell, Neal Salisbury, Francis Jennings, and other historians grew dissatisfied with this view. "Indians were seen as trivial, ineffectual patsies," Salisbury, a historian at Smith College, told me. "But that assumption--a whole continent of patsies--simply didn't make sense." These researchers tried to peer through the colonial records to the Indian lives beneath. Their work fed a tsunami of inquiry into the interactions between natives and newcomers in the era when they faced each other as relative equals. "No other field in American history has grown as fast," marveled Joyce Chaplin, a Harvard historian, in 2003.

The fall of Indian societies had everything to do with the natives themselves, researchers argue, rather than being religiously or technologically determined. (Here the claim is not that indigenous cultures should be blamed for their own demise but that they helped to determine their own fates.) "When you look at the historical record, it's clear that Indians were trying to control their own destinies," Salisbury said. "And often enough they succeeded"--only to learn, as all peoples do, that the consequences were not what they expected.

This chapter and the next will explore how two different Indian societies, the Wampanoag and the Inka, reacted to the incursions from across the sea. It may seem odd that a book about Indian life before contact should devote space to the period after contact, but there are reasons for it. First, colonial descriptions of Native Americans are among the few glimpses we have of Indians whose lives were not shaped by the presence of Europe. The accounts of the initial encounters between Indians and Europeans are windows into the past, even if the glass is smeared and distorted by the chroniclers' prejudices and misapprehensions.

Second, although the stories of early contact--the Wampanoag with the British, the Inka with the Spanish--are as dissimilar as their protagonists, many archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians have recently come to believe that they have deep commonalities. And the tales of other Indians' encounters with the strangers were alike in the same way. From these shared features, researchers have constructed what might be thought of as a master narrative of the meeting of Europe and America. Although it remains surprisingly little known outside specialist circles, this master narrative illuminates the origins of every nation in the Americas today. More than that, the effort to understand events after Columbus shed unexpected light on critical aspects of life before Columbus. Indeed, the master narrative led to such surprising conclusions about Native American societies before the arrival of Europeans that it stirred up an intellectual firestorm.

Coming of Age in the Dawnland

Consider Tisquantum, the "friendly Indian" of the textbook. More than likely Tisquantum was not the name he was given at birth.

Continues...


Excerpted from 1491 by Charles C. Mann Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

CHARLES C. MANN has co-written four previous books on scientific subjects including The Second Creation, selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the 15 best books of the year. A four-time National Magazine Award finalist, he is a contributing correspondent for Science and for The Atlantic. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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