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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus Paperback – October 10, 2006
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NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology that radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492—from “a remarkably engaging writer” (The New York Times Book Review).
Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.
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“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.”
“Concise and brilliantly entertaining.... Reminiscent of John McPhee's eloquence with scientific detail.”
—Los Angeles Times
About the Author
CHARLES C. MANN, a correspondent for The Atlantic, Science, and Wired, has written for Fortune, The New York Times, Smithsonian, Technology Review, Vanity Fair, and The Washington Post, as well as for the TV network HBO and the series Law & Order. A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he is the recipient of writing awards from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation. His 1491 won the National Academies Communication Award for the best book of the year. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
- Publisher : Vintage; First Edition (October 10, 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 541 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1400032059
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400032051
- Lexile measure : 1210L
- Item Weight : 1.2 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.2 x 1.2 x 7.94 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #7 in Native American History (Books)
- #9 in Ecology (Books)
- #73 in United States History (Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on March 6, 2023
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I've put up pictures of the Haglia Sophia before, but why not show it again?
I'll just say watch John Romer's Testament episode 6 I do believe for good video of the inside and outside of the Haglia Sophia. He goes straight up the outside doors and knocks on them . . . and opens them up! It's like something out of the 'Lord of the Rings"!
How about a Venice picture,
When the Portuguese, Spanish, English and French went west, they found a world of riches. This wealth essentially made Venice a relic of the past. A measure of the fame and former power of the Venicians was when Gasper Corte-Real found Venician swords and jewelry on some of the Natives that he captured! This was in 1501, just a few years after Chritopher Columbuses successful voyages.
Lots of things happened, lots of discoveries at this time of course. Even my writeup about rivers throughout human history doesn't cover it all! That kind of covers a good amount of the great voyages that happened back then. I can't help noting Tisquantum, Samoset and Massasoit. These three met what were called the Pilgrims around 1600 A.D.(a hundred years after lots of Spanish and Portuguese exploration had already been done). The Pilgrims first went to Denmark. But they left there because those people were too free thinking for their taste. So, they packed their bags and went all the way across the ocean to practice their Puritan religion. Their descendents went through the Salem witch trials.
Tisquantum led a remarkable life. Tisquantum met other explorers after the Puritans. A Thomas Hunt captured him. Thomas Hunt was a kind of lieutenant of a John Smith, of Pocahontus fame. Thomas Hunt took Tisquantum all the way to Europe and back where he died of plague from the Europeans.
As it turns out, plagues brought by the Europeans seem to be the major culprit for how the Europeans conquered the Americas comparatively easily. One recent remarkable revelation about this is the Native American's lack of immune system may be due to a cometary Impact tens of thousands of years ago. The impact removed lots of animals that would have carried and spread viruses.
One remarkable story of some of the great Native American empires conquered supposedly by one man army Europeans was a Spaniard Francisco Pizarro. Pizarro reportedly conquered the Inca around 1533 A.D. Maybe he did; but, he conquered a substantially weakened Inca empire. Pizarro was killed in a political assassination and power struggle. But, natives buried his remains in a Roman Catholic church that still stands to this day.
Here's the outside of the Cathedral of Lima
Today, the scientific exploration of both the great European discoveries of the America and who and how the Native Americans got there is a rapidly shifting field. There's no firm conclusions to be drawn. Everyone has a theory . . . Asians, ten lost tribes of Israel(which helped found the Christian sect of Mormons; it's in their book of Mormon), Egyptians, the people from the lost city of Atlantis. One remarkable possibility though has been the boat conjecture.
For the longest time, people assumed the Native Americans came across the Bering straight into North America. But, people argue that some of the 30,000 year old finds in South America suggest those people could not have gotten through all that wilderness in so fast a time. How could they have done it? The remarkable revelation here is by boat! Recently, I've posted about the remarkable Indonisian cave paintings to like 40,000 years ago. People would have had to boat from Asia to Indonesia, and as everyone knows, the Australians also would have had to boat to get there as well! So, the boat suggestion has plausibility, and in my opinion is a great revelation of contempory scientific understanding of Human history and of how Native Americans got to the Americas.
Remarkably, when the Europeans found the Americas, it didn't dawn on them that this was a challenge to their religion. Does the bible mention anything about the Americas and Native Americans? That they know nothing of their religion. If they knew nothing of Christianity, wouldn't that suggest something to the Europeans? It never dawned on 99.99 percent of them. They just went about trying to convert them. The technologies and science that are similar and dissimilar to one another are some of the real revelations of the discovery of the Americas(the fact that Jesus Christ was not known to the Native Americans should have been, but anyways).
Ecologists have argued that ecological diversity was of major importance of the founding of civilization. They argue that Mesopotamia was an ecologicaly diverse area. As Jared Diamond(through Charles Mann's "1491") says, "a wide ranger of altitudes and topographies within a short distance". The fertile crescent has mountains in Iran and the Dead Sea, and the lowest places on the Earth bracket the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Another place is Peru, where going from mountain to sea has 20 of the the worlds 34 major types of environment. Down there arose a variety of cultures. They ultimately led to the Inca. Another interesting diverse area was Oaxica a little bit higher in contemporary Mexico. This area originated Maize, or corn.
The area had a diversity of people who grew Maize in a great variety of colors.
Maize appears to have been a genetic engineering effort of the peoples of the Oaxica. Today's scientific thinkers would initially recoil from such an idea. They'd note that Gregory Mendel in the mid 1800s came up with the idea of genetics. But, if you learn about what he did, you might think, hey? This is a simple experiment he did; why could't some cultures thousands of years ago have done such simple things? Well yea. This is kind of like why didn't Archimedes think of the place value system for numbers? Why didn't the Greeks think to apply their deductive logic to numbers and algebra like they did to Geometry? This really comes to show that the cultural upbringing of a person influences what he innovates, and that every theorem is a precious thing because people innovate based on what's in their heads at a given time. It also suggests that taking the general viewpoint, philosophicaly/spiritiually is valuable for figuring out nature(everything in it, including humanity). I've struggled to say this in this blog! So, the discovery of Maize in the America was a great discovery. It spread all up and down North and South America. All Native Americans cherished Maize. They made their religion say they were made from Maize. One of the most mysterious Native American cultures were the Olmecs. They arose shortly after Maize was created.
The earliest we know of them so far is that of 1800 B.C. Within three centuries, San Lorenzo was built. San Lorenzo was destroyed around 1200 B.C. which is why all those gigantic heads are found dispersed all over the place. That's how far back in time those gigantic heads go! A La Venta and the last of the Olmecs was destroyed around 350 B.C. I'm not going to speculate too much on why the Olmecs fell. I've mentioned the reason those great heads are dispersed. Seeing those heads and realizing how far back they date is enough to suggest how great of a civilization they were. Charles Mann, in his 1491, says they figured out Venus and retrograde motion. I'm not sure how they know that.
Everyone knows the great architecture of the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca. I don't want to dwell on that. The Inca had another most remarkable science/technology in their language. It consisted of ropes and knots in them. In fact, it was a binary number language. I had suggested early on in this blog that maybe language gets its ability to swap words around by mathematics. That mathematics came first before natural language. I later tried to laugh it off; but, remarkably, the recent scientific studies of Native Americans history shows the Inca language was mathematical! Unfortunately, they were a comparative late and fleeting(two hundred years) culture. Still, it's a tantalizing piece of empirical evidence.
Another remarkable science/technology of the Native Americans was the use of fire. An ecological understanding of plants shows there's what's called 'succession plants.' Because of natural disasters, there's plants that have evolved to go into destroyed ecosystems to prepare the way for later plants to get the ecosystem going again. If there were no disasters, these plants would go extinct. Native Americans, and in particular the South American rain forest cultures(including the Maya), found that the use of fire allowed them to take advantage of this succession plants and shape the Rain forests . . . ! Instead of domesticating animals, they influenced where animals would go by the use of fire to shape ecosystems. This was done in the North Americas. In the South Americas, the use of fire was used to influence which fruiting plants they wanted to grow naturally. This is one major example of the great things we can learn about changing cultural lifestyles to be more ecologically friendly.
Another remarkable technology that still hasn't been taken advantage of much is tension architecture. Much is made of how the Native Americans never innovated the wheel. This is kind of an example of what people innovate depends on their cultureal upbringing. But, this is more geological influence. The Native Americans knew about circles and wheels, but their environment generally had no practial use for it. The science/technologies innovated by the New and Old world wasn't because one was dumber than the other.
In the old world(Europe, Africa and the Orient), the major architectural innovation was the arch.
This Roman aqueduct is in Spain
The arch and even the post/lintel are compression archtecture based. There's some small examples of arches in Maya temples, but they were not extensive; you'd have to look hard to find the small examples. What the Native Americans appear to have innovated was tension technologies. I don't know of any extant example of this. They used rope and cotton to make their boats and houses and bridges and so on. But, this made me pull out an old Scientific American and finally read an article I always meant to read! It was the January 1998 issue, and Tensigrity was the cover page article.
I don't want to get into all the biological insights that tensigrity reveals; just the definitions. Tensigrity has both tensional and compressional elements. Only the stress parts are separated from the compression components. The compression and tensional members are like dual to one another, the compressional members are compressed by the tensional members, and tensional members are pulled by the compressional members. So, if an elements is taken out, all structural members, whether compression or tensional take up the forces that former member once held. All the members feel all the forces all the others feel. All the forces are balanced out. I'm thinking this can be a new way of understanding self-organisation in both natural and technologies. How does something self-assemble when a member is taken out?
I start out my write up with examples of Tensigrity pictures . . . !
I end this with a great Native American quote!
"He goes his way singing, offering flowers.
And his words rain down
Like jade and quetzal plumes.
Is this what pleases the Giver of Life?
Is that the only truth on earth?" - Ayocuan Cuetzpaltzin
The Native Americans struggled with the same problems Plato did in understanding truth in a changing world. This piece of Native American poetry broke the philosphical problem. One can't understand it without knowing the cultural meaning of the words.
Flowers and song meant poetry, the highest art. 'jade and quetzal feathers' meant 'gold and silver.' The song of the bird stood for aesthetic inspiration. The poetry suggests there's a time when mankind can touch truth of our fleeting lives; that time is the moment of creation. Here artistic creation.
Right when Native Americans made this cultural breakthrough to valueing intellectual persuits, Christopher Columbus succeeded in finding lands west of the old world. This launched a rush of exploration from the Europeans. By historical accident, plagues affected them more than the Europeans. Well, there's still indians here.
One Native American architecture Charles Mann fails to mention in his 1491 book is a Native American Stonehenge and the Anasazi of the Arizona, New Mexico . . . Chico Canyon in general.
In my opinion, he is not successful in the first objective of describing Indian demography. However, I doubt there are enough research available to tackle this objective. They may never be enough research as there were multiple occupations of land by unknown populations throughout the period from the first arrivals of the peoples loosely described as Indians to the present day. Also, the populations were dynamic, growing and shrinking depending on the social and natural environments of various groups of Indians. The task may just be too difficult to build a record of Indian populations prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Mann has tried to report the research faithfully but the Indian populations of Western United States and that of Argentina in my opinion, not well researched, and thus understated in this book. It is also possible that populations reported are also understated.
Mann has been more successful in the second two objectives and particularly the third. I think the overriding theme of this book is that pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas shaped their environment to fit their needs, no more than we do today and certainly, no less. Where we think that that current forests are wild and untouched by man, in fact, they are the results of previous inhabitation of the lands. There is no more a representation of this than the forests in the vicinity of the Amazon River. However, after the demise of the inhabiting culture, what remains is an overgrowth of plant and animal life. And this is true in North and Central America as well! It can be said definitively based on research that the Indian populations did not live lightly on the land.
I found the book at the first reading contradictory of what I had been taught of American Indians after growing up in Montana and having lived with Yupik Eskimos (technically, Eskimos are not Indians,) in Western Alaska. In the first Chapter, Mann indicates that I would have this experience. But I find the research he quotes valid and confirmatory of his arguments. In addition, he often provides alternative arguments. Mann is not the author of this research, but the reporter of the research.
Before reading and finishing the book, I did not read reviews of it. Thus, as I read it, I was amazed at the information and oftentimes, skeptical. However, I read several of the research reports referenced. Then, on finishing the book, I read several reviews both positive and critical. The book is widely acclaimed. The critical reviews stem mainly from people who found the book too detailed for their tastes and too difficult to read. One of the critical reviews was from an interpreter of the Cahokia site in Illinois who questions Mann’s statements which originated from Professor Woods. However, this same interpreter does not provide alternative research to support his claims.
There probably is nothing more understood in the United States, and perhaps the World, than the pre-Columbus North and South American cultures. There are many reasons for this.
First and foremost, Columbus in his search for Asia did not know the Americas nor had he ever been to the coastlines of Asia. Therefore, on reaching America, he thought he had reached Asia and thought the peoples he witnessed where of India. Thus, he named them “Indians” and the name, despite the confusion, has remained to this day and is a global term for all of the pre-Columbus inhabitants even though there are major distinctions in their cultures and genetics. While a number of the various tribes and nations object to the use of the word “Indian,” no better term has emerged that all will accept. For a discussion of this, see Appendix A of 1491.
Second, most of the pre-Columbus inhabitants of the Americas either did not have writing or not a form of writing recognized by the European explorers and invaders. The result was that much of the written information of the pre-Columbus inhabitants had been lost either through decay of whatever records there were or through the willful destruction of the records by the invaders. Where there were no known records, Europeans interested in pre-Columbus cultures had to rely on the inhabitants themselves who were often recent transplants to the regions.
Third, the pre-Columbus population of the Americas has been estimated from the finds of various archeological sites to be as high as 125 million people. Yet when early European scholars arrived to study and record Indian cultures, they found only remnants of the populations. It is accepted that European diseases such as small pox, influenza, and others, killed the vast majority of the populations that existed and that this happened in a very short time after the arrival of the first Europeans. For example, De Soto records thousands of people living in current day Arkansas. When La Salle visited this area a century later, he could find almost no traces of man. The estimates that Charles Mann seems to believe that the population loss was 95%! While this is arguable, it is also creditable based on eye witness accounts of the effects of small pox on various indigenous peoples. Thus, many Europeans recorded for history the shell-shocked left overs of populations essentially no longer functional.
For these reasons, the attempt to build a history of pre-Columbus cultures will be problematic. Also, the popular cultures we have today in the United States have built up fantasies around the Indian cultures which are also promulgated in our school systems. These have influenced past researchers trying to understand Indian cultures. And they made, now known, mistakes in their assumptions and conclusions. As Mann clearly shows, the research today using more modern techniques is building a much different picture. The archeology of the Americas shows that we need to question almost everything that we have been taught.
It is taught that the Indians cross the land bridge at Beringia during the last ice age (13,000 years ago,) and then descended South using a narrow strip of land near the current Continental Divide which did not ice over some 12, 000 years ago. Then it would take another 1000 years to enter and populate South America. Yet, the evidence suggests something different also happened. The ice-free path proposed has yet to yield artifacts that would support such a theory. It is possible that perhaps the path was the Western seaboard of North America, though. The genetics of certain Indians in Amazonia are distinct from those of North America. An archaeological dig in Southern Chiles found human artifacts that predated the supposed Beringia crossing. There is evidence of culture at Painted Rock Cave near Santarem on the Amazon River that is contemporary with the Clovis culture which is the earliest found in North America. Thus, while Beringia may be part of the story, it not all of the story on how the Americas were populated. More research is still needed here.
Another major point assumed was that the Indian cultures did not have the sophistication of European cultures in pre-Columbus societies. Research finds that the Olmec, who were inhabitants of Mexico approximately 1800 B.C., were using the number zero in its mathematical form well before it was invented in India a few centuries A.D. They created a 365-day calendar more accurate than the calendars in use in Europe. In addition, they were recording the Olmec history on folded books of bark paper, now called codices. Many of these were destroyed by the Spanish when they were found, so only a few remain extant. It can be said their cultures were different than those of the European but no less complex.
Overall, this book while not easy to read, if a very worthwhile read. I feel this is a work in progress: new research will emerge on the Indian populations of the Americas. Mann has provided a current state of the art understanding of Indian cultures in the Americas based on known and referenced research. It is clear that what schools are teaching about Indian populations needs to change and acknowledge the results of this research.
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It delves into multiple areas, provides compelling background and evidence. The bottom line, what you were taught in school is wrong. Much of this information is not ‘new’, which leads to understand how our own bias is maintaining an incorrect narrative on the Americas.