American Elephants

Put This One on Your Christmas List, or Give It to a Good Friend by The Elephant's Child
November 5, 2017, 6:47 am
Filed under: Politics

This was a post I had intended to write just before Columbus Day, and I forgot. It’s simply an urge for you to buy a book. The book is 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann. Terrific book,that is simply fascinating. I will copy from the inside of the dust jacket.

A GROUNDBREAKING STUDY that radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans in 1492.

Traditionally, Americans learned in school that the ancestors of the people who inhabited the Western Hemisphere at the time of Columbus’s landing had crossed the Bering Strait twelve thousand years ago, existed mainly in small nomadic bands; and lived so lightly on the land that the Americas was, for all practical purposes, still a vast wilderness.But as Charles C. Mann now makes clear; archaeologists and anthropologists have spent the last thirty years proving these and many other long-held assumptions wrong.

In a book that startles and persuades, Mann reveals how a new generation of researchers equipped with novel scientific techniques came to previously unheard-of conclusions. Among them:

  • In 1491, there were probably more people living in the Americas than in Europe.
  • Certain cities—such as Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital—were far greater in population than any contemporary European City. Furthermore, Tenochtitlán, unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets.
  • The earliest cities in the Western Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyramids.
  • Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico developed corn by a breeding process so sophisticated that the journal Science recently described it as “man’s first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering.”
  • Amazonian Indians learned how to farm the rain forest without destroying it—a process scientists are studying today in the hope of regaining this lost knowledge.
  • Native Americans transformed their land so completely that Europeans arrived in a hemisphere already massively “landscaped” by human beings.

Mann sheds clarifying light on the methods used to arrive at these new visions of the pre-Columbian Americas and how they have affected our understanding of our history and our thinking about the environment. His book is an exciting and learned account of scientific inquiry and revelation.

The book was published in 2005. There’s a paperback version, and used copies under $3.00, or new at $39.01 and  Charles C Mann followed it up with 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. You could probably tack up a copy of this on a campus bulletin board and cause a riot.


5 Comments so far
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That rainforest claim sounds interesting– last I heard, they were shocked about figuring out that rainforest areas had obviously been clear-cut and farmed before, that is, “destroyed” in a modern sense before assuming the modern, “natural” form. (think like if you had a house, and it burned down, adn someone found the foundation in a hundred or two years)

Got any more details?


Comment by Foxfier

Lots more, but you’d have to buy the book


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Sometimes authors will mention something interesting, and then never give any kind of support. 😀


Comment by Foxfier

Apparently they did not do “slash and burn” as we are accustomed to as natives “cleared” the land and then planted. They did “slash and char” putting the charcoal back into the soil, which creates a better soil. A complicated way of improving the soil called terra preta. “For a long time clever people who knew tricks that we have yet to learn used big chunks of Amazonia non-destructively. Faced with an ecological problem, the Indians fixed it. They were in the midst of terraforming the Amazon when Columbus showed up and ruined everything.” They are still studying it.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

You mean exactly like you do for hay/grass fields, at least if the local gov’t will allow it? (Great way to remove nasty weeds, too.)


Comment by Foxfier

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