Summary highlights from 1491 and 1493, by Charles Mann

Human populations in the Western Hemisphere—that is, the indigenous peoples of the Americas—were more numerous, had arrived earlier, were more sophisticated culturally, and controlled and shaped the natural landscape to a greater extent than scholars had previously thought.

He notes that two of the six independent centers of civilization in the world arose in the Americas: the first, Norte Chico or Caral-Supe, in present-day northern Peru; and that of Mesoamerica in what is now Central America.

Mann develops his arguments from a variety of recent re-assessments of longstanding views about the pre-Columbian world, based on new findings in demographyclimatologyepidemiologyeconomicsbotany,geneticsimage analysispalynologymolecular biologybiochemistry, and soil science. Although there is no consensus, and Mann acknowledges controversies, he asserts that the general trend among scientists currently is to acknowledge:

  1. (a) population levels in the Native Americans were probably higher than traditionally believed among scientists and closer to the number estimated by “high counters”;

(b) humans probably arrived in the Americas earlier than thought, over the course of multiple waves of migration to the New World (not solely by the Bering land bridge over a relatively short period of time);

  1. The level of cultural advancement and the settlement range of humans was higher and broader than previously imagined; and
  2. The New Worldwas not a wilderness at the time of European contact, but an environment which the indigenous peoples had altered for thousands of years for their benefit, mostly with fire.

These three main foci (origins/population, culture, and environment) form the basis for three parts of the book.

colonist John Smith of the southern Jamestown colony noted that “the awful truth…it [gun] could not shoot as far as an arrow could fly.” Moccasinswere more comfortable and sturdy than the boots Europeans wore, and were preferred by most during that era because their padding offered a more silent approach to warfare; canoes could be paddled faster and were more maneuverable than any small European boats.

discusses the importance of the large number of newly introduced infectious diseases and the likelihood that these played a far more significant role in the Native American decline than warfare or other actions by Europeans. He notes that while Europeans probably derived less benefit from their possession of horses than expected, as e.g. the stepped roads of Inca settlements were impassable to horses, the Inca did not maximize their use of anti-horse inventions to stop the Spanish intruders. The Inca Empire collapsed because by the time Europeans arrived, smallpox and other epidemics had already swept through cities, due mostly to the natives’ lack of immunity to Eurasian diseases.

The contrasting approaches of “High Counters” and “Low Counters” among historians are discussed. Among the former, anthropologist Henry F. Dobyns estimated the number of pre-Columbian Native Americans as close to 100 million

Part Two: Very Old Bones[edit]

Mann then goes into the provenance and dating of human remains that may shed light on the period of first settlement of the Americas. The Clovis culture in New Mexico was one of the first to be assessed using carbon dating. While it at first appeared to originate between 13,500 and 12,900 years ago, following immigration from Siberia over the Bering land bridge, recent evidence indicates that Paleo-Indians were present in the Americas at even earlier dates.

Agriculture is another focus of this section, as Mann explores Andean and Mesoamerican cultures. The agricultural development of maize from essentially inedible precursors like teosinte was significant for the rise in crop surpluses, populations and complex cultures, and pivotal in the rise of civilizations such as the Olmec. Mann notes that Mesoamericans did not have the luxury of “stealing” inventions from others, since they were geographically isolated in comparison to the cultures of Eurasia, leading to an absence of inventions that played fundamental roles in other cultures (such as the wheel) and also lacked domesticated large animals.

Mann discusses the growing evidence against the perception that Indians were not active in transforming their lands. Most Indians shaped their environment with fire, employing slash-and-burn techniques to create grasslands for cultivation and to encourage the abundance of game animals. Indians domesticated fewer animals and cultivated plant life differently from their European counterparts, but did so quite intensively.

Mann argues that Indians were a keystone species, one that “affects the survival and abundance of many other species”. By the time the Europeans arrived in number to supplant the indigenous population in the Americas, the previous dominant people had been almost completely eliminated, mostly by disease, with a consequent disruption of societies and environmental control. Decreased environmental influence and resource competition would have led to population explosions in species such as the American bison and the passenger pigeon, and because fire clearing had ceased, forests would have expanded and become denser. The world discovered by Christopher Columbus was to begin to change from that point on, so Columbus “was also one of the last to see it in pure form”.

Mann concludes that we must look to the past to write the future. “Native Americans ran the continent as they saw fit. Modern nations must do the same. If they want to return as much of the landscape as possible to its state in 1491, they will have to create the world’s largest gardens.”1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann

China was then the earth’s wealthiest, most powerful nation. By virtually any measure—per capita income; military strength; average lifespan; agricultural production; culinary, artistic, and technical sophistication—it was equal to or superior to the rest of the world. Much as rich nations like Japan and the United States today buy little from sub-Saharan Africa, China had long viewed Europe as too poor and backward to be of commercial interest. Its principal industry was textiles, mainly wool. China, meanwhile, had silk. Reporting to the Spanish king in 1573, the viceroy in Mexico lamented that “neither from this land nor from Spain, so far as can now be learned, can anything be exported thither that they do not already possess.” With silver, though, Spain finally had something China wanted. Badly wanted, in fact—Spanish silver literally became China’s money supply. But there was an unease about having the nation’s currency in the hands of foreigners. The court feared that the galleon trade—the first large-scale, uncontrolled international exchange in Chinese history—would usher in large-scale, uncontrolled change to Chinese life. The fears were entirely borne out. 652

California paleoecologists (scientists who study past ecosystems) surveyed the fire history of thirty-one sites in Central and South America in 2008 and found that in every one the amount of charcoal in the soil—an indicator of fire—had increased substantially for more than two thousand years. Enter now the Columbian Exchange. Eurasian bacteria, viruses, and parasites sweep through the Americas, killing huge numbers of people—and unraveling the millennia-old network of human intervention. Flames subside to embers across the Western Hemisphere as Indian torches are stilled. In the forests, fire-hating trees like oak and hickory muscle aside fire-loving species like loblolly, longleaf, and slash pine, which are so dependent on regular burning that their cones will only open and release seed when exposed to flame. Animals that Indians had hunted, keeping their numbers down, suddenly flourish in great numbers. And so on. Using fire, indigenous people in the Americas cleared big areas for agriculture and hunting, as shown in this map of North America’s eastern seaboard. European diseases caused a population crash across the hemisphere—and an extraordinary ecological rebound as forests filled in abandoned fields and settlements. (Map credit Map1.3) The end of native burning and the massive reforestation drew so much carbon dioxide from the air that an increasing number of researchers believes it was a main driver of the three-century cold snap known as the Little Ice Age. Indigenous pyromania had long pumped carbon dioxide into the air. At the beginning of the Homogenocene the pump suddenly grows feeble. Formerly open grasslands fill with forest—a frenzy of photosynthesis. In 1634, fourteen years after the Pilgrims land in Plymouth, colonist William Wood complains that the once-open forests are now so choked with underbrush as to be “unuseful and troublesome to travel through.” Forests regenerate across swathes of North America, Mesoamerica, the Andes, and Amazonia. Ruddiman’s idea was simple: the destruction of Indian societies by European epidemics both decreased native burning and increased tree growth. Each subtracted carbon dioxide from the air. In 2010 a research team led by Robert A. Dull of the University of Texas estimated that reforesting former farmland in American tropical regions alone could have been responsible for as much as a quarter of the temperature drop—an analysis, the researchers noted, that did not include the cutback in accidental fires, the return to forest of unfarmed but cleared areas, and the entire temperate zone. In the form of lethal bacteria and viruses, in other words, the Columbian Exchange (to quote Dull’s team) “significantly influenced Earth’s carbon budget.” It was today’s climate change in reverse, with human action removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere rather than adding them—a stunning meteorological overture to the Homogenocene. 811Virginia and points south have already proven so unhealthy for Europeans that plantation overseers are finding it difficult to persuade laborers to come from overseas to work in the tobacco fields. Some landowners already have resolved this problem by purchasing workers from Africa. Partly driven by the introduction of malaria, a slave market is beginning to quicken into existence, a profitable exchange that will entwine itself over time with the silver market. As ever, the ships from Africa will form a kind of ecological corridor, through which travel passengers not on any official manifest. Crops like yams, millet, sorghum, watermelon, black-eyed peas, and African rice will follow the slave ships to the Americas. So will yellow fever. 845

Great Plains. From their southern edge come herds of Spanish horses, scores at a time, brought by silver galleons on the return trip across the Atlantic. Apache and Ute race hundreds of miles south to meet the horses, followed by Arapaho, Blackfoot, and Cheyenne. As European villagers learned from Mongol horsemen, peasant farmers, tied to their land, are sitting ducks for cavalry assault. The rush by Indian nations to acquire horses is thus a kind of arms race. All over the North American West and Southwest, native farmers are abandoning their fields and leaping onto the backs of animals from Spain. Long-sedentary societies are becoming wanderers; the “ancient tradition” of the nomadic Plains Indian is coming into existence, a rapid adaptation to the Columbian Exchange. As natives acquire horses, they come into conflict with each other and the labor force on Spain’s expanding ranches. The ranch workers are Indians, African slaves, and people of mixed ancestry. In a kind of cultural panic, the colonial government has created a baroque racial lexicon—mestizo, mulatto, coyote, morisco, chino, lobo, zambaigo, albarazado—to label particular genetic backgrounds. All of these people and more meet in Mexico City, the capital of New Spain, the richest piece of Spain’s American empire. Wealthier and more populous than any city in Spain, it is an extraordinary jumble of cultures and languages, with no one group forming the majority. Neighborhoods are divided by ethnicity—one entire barrio is occupied by Tlaxcalans from the east. As the back-and-forth continues, engineers struggle to prevent the city from physical collapse. Mexico City has flooded six times in the last four decades, once remaining inundated for five years. A troubled, teeming, polyglot metropolis with an opulent center and seething ethnic neighborhoods at its periphery that is struggling to fend off ecological disaster—from today’s perspective, the Mexico City of 1642 seems strikingly familiar. It is the world’s first twenty-first-century city. 851

When Colón founded La Isabela, the world’s most populous cities clustered in a band in the tropics, all but one within thirty degrees of the equator. At the top of the list was Beijing, cynosure of humankind’s wealthiest society. Next was Vijayanagar, capital of a Hindu empire in southern India. Of all urban places, these two alone held as many as half a million souls. Cairo, next on the list, was apparently just below this figure. After these three, a cluster of cities were around the 200,000 mark: Hangzhou and Nanjing in China; Tabriz and Gaur in, respectively, Iran and India; Tenochtitlan, dazzling center of the Triple Alliance (Aztec empire); Istanbul (officially Kostantiniyye) of the Ottoman empire; perhaps Gao, leading city of the Songhay empire in West Africa; and, conceivably, Qosqo, where the Inka emperors plotted their next conquests. Not a single European city would have made the list, except perhaps Paris, then expanding under the vigorous rule of Louis XII. Colón’s world was centered around hot places, as had been the case since Homo sapiens first stared in amazement at the African sky. Now, a century and a half later, that order is in the midst of change. It is as if the globe has been turned upside down and all the wealth and power are flowing from south to north. The once-lordly metropolises of the tropics are falling into ruin and decrepitude. In the coming centuries, the greatest urban centers will all be in the temperate north: London and Manchester in Britain; New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia in the United States. By 1900 every city in the top bracket will be in Europe or the United States, save one: Tokyo, the most Westernized of eastern cities. From the vantage of an extraterrestrial observer, the change would have seemed shocking; an order that had characterized human affairs for millennia had been overturned, at least for a while. Today the tumult of ecological and economic exchange is like the background radiation of our ever more crowded and unstable planet. 885

Europeans would have been impressed by these numbers; Michael Williams, a historical geographer at Oxford, argued that the eastern U.S. forest may have been more populous in 1600 than even “densely settled parts of western Europe.” The ruler of this land was known by multiple names and titles, a hallmark of kings everywhere; Powhatan, the name used most often by the colonists, was also the name of the village in which he was born. Wary, 988

By a quirk of biological history, the pre-Columbian Americas had few domesticated animals; no cattle, horses, sheep, or goats graced its farmlands. Most big animals are tamable, in the sense that they can be trained to lose their fear of people, but only a few species are readily domesticable—that is, willing to breed easily in captivity, thereby letting humans select for useful characteristics. In all of history, humankind has been able to domesticate only twenty-five mammals, a dozen or so birds, and, possibly, a lizard. Just six of these creatures existed in the Americas, and they played comparatively minor roles: the dog, eaten in Central and South America and used for labor in the far north; the guinea pig, llama, and alpaca, which reside in the Andes; the turkey, raised in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest; the Muscovy duck, native to South America despite its name; and, some say, the iguana, farmed in Mexico and Central America.* The lack of domestic animals had momentous consequences. In a country without horses, donkeys, and cattle, the only source of transportation and labor was the human body. Compared to England, Tsenacomoco had slower communications (no galloping horses), a dearth of plowed fields (no straining oxen) and pastures (no grazing cattle), and fewer and smaller roads (no carriages to accommodate). Battles were fought without cavalry; winters endured without wool; logs skidded through the forest without oxen. Distances loomed larger when people had to walk from place to place; indeed, in terms of the time required for Powhatan’s orders to reach his minions, Tsenacomoco may have been the size of England itself (it was much less populous, of course). Jamestown was founded inside the small indigenous empire of Tsenacomoco. Most Tsenacomoco villages were located along the rivers that served as the empire’s highways. Because the water at the river mouths was brackish, the villages were mostly upstream. The English put Jamestown as far upriver as they could—but not far enough to avoid the bad water. (Map credit Map1.4) Just as most Europeans lived in small farm villages, most of Powhatan’s people—the “Powhatan Indians,” as the newcomers called them—lived in settlements of a few hundred inhabitants surrounded by large tracts of cleared land: fields of maize and former maize fields. The villages clustered along the three rivers—the Rappahannock, York, and James—that served as the empire’s main thoroughfares. Sailing up the James when they arrived, the English saw the banks lined with farms, fields greenly shimmering with newly planted maize, stands of tall trees interspersed among them. Even the groundwater was salty. Chesapeake Bay is the remains of a giant meteor crater. The impact shattered rock for miles, letting seawater infiltrate. The U.S. government suggests that salt levels should not exceed 20 milligrams per liter (mg/L); Jamestown water had more than twenty times as much and other settlements had even higher levels. Europe, too, had its own prosperous riverside farms. But there the similarities ended. To create a farm plot, Europeans cleared forestland, yanked out the stumps with horses and oxen, and plowed the result, again with horses or oxen, until it was a flat expanse of nearly bare soil. In these stripped areas farmers planted single crops: solid rustling expanses of wheat or barley or rye. Fallow plots were used as pasture. Dotting the open areas were patches of forest, clearly demarcated as such, used for hunting and wood. 1011

Rather than covering fenced plots with neat rows of wheat, the Powhatan planted many crops at once, as shown in this replica Wendat (Huron) garden in the Crawford Lake Conservation Area in Ontario, Canada. These farms and gardens were so different from anything the English knew that the newcomers often couldn’t recognize native fields as cultivated land. (Illustration credit 1.3) Lacking draft animals and metal tools, the Powhatan perforce used different methods and obtained different results. They toppled trees by circling their bases with a ring of fire, then laboriously hacked at the burned zone with stone axes until the trunk collapsed. Brush and slash were put to the torch, leaving a heave of blackened stumps. Around the stumps farmers dug shallow holes with long-handled hoes made from bone or clamshells, dropping in each hole a few kernels of maize and several beans. As the maize grew, the young colonist Henry Spellman observed, “the beans run up thereon”—twining themselves around the growing maize. Below the maize grew squash and gourds, pumpkin and melon, common beans and runner beans, ropy vines asprawl in every direction. Here and there patches of thick-leaved tobacco plants stood. The ensemble of charred stumps, hummocked land, and overlapping crops could stretch for considerable distances: “thirty to forty acres of treeless land per capita,” in one historian’s “conservative” estimate. Smith saw family plots that covered as much as two hundred acres—a third of a square mile. Except for defensive palisades, Powhatan farmers had no fences around their fields. Why screen off land if no cattle or sheep had to be kept inside? The English, by contrast, regarded well-tended fences as hallmarks of civilization, 1041

according to Virginia D. Anderson, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Fenced fields kept animals in; fenced woodlots kept poachers out. The lack of physical property demarcation signified to the English that Indians didn’t truly occupy the land—it was, so to speak, unimproved. Equally unfamiliar was the Powhatan practice of scattering their farm plots within larger cleared areas. To the Indians, fallow lands were a kind of communal larder, a place for naturally occurring useful plants, including grains (little barley, sumpweed, goosefoot), edible greens (wild lettuce, wild plantains), and medicinals (sassafras, dogbane, smartweed). Because none of these species existed in Europe, the English didn’t know the groundcover was useful. Instead they saw “unused” land, something that bewildered them. How could Indians go to the trouble of clearing the land but then not use it? Even Tsenacomoco’s streams were different than their English equivalent. English waterways ran swiftly in the spring, scouring away the soil from steep banks, then turned to dribbling trickles in July and August. Beyond the riverbanks the land was drier; one could hike for miles in summer without stepping into mud. Chesapeake Bay was, by contrast, a seemingly endless patchwork of bogs, marshes, grassy ponds, seasonally flooded meadows, and slow-moving streams. It seemed to be wet everywhere, no matter what the season. Credit for the watery environment belongs to the American beaver (Castor canadensis), which had no real English equivalent. Weighing as much as sixty pounds, these big rodents live in dome-shaped lodges made by blocking streams with mud, stones, leaves, and cut saplings—as many as twenty dams per mile of stream. The dams smear the water across the landscape, so to speak, transforming a rushing rivulet into a series of broad pools and mucky wetlands linked by shallow, multiply branched channels. Indians regarded this as a fine thing—easier to take a canoe through a set of ponds than a narrow, quick-flowing stream. English accounts, by contrast, are filled with descriptions of colonists unhappily stumbling through the sopped countryside.* The freshwater marshes favored the growth of tuckahoe (Peltandra virginica, arrow arum), a semi-aquatic plant found in stands throughout the eastern United States and Canada. Tuckahoe has a bulb-like, underground rhizome (enlarged stem area used for storage) that every spring sends out a thin stalk with a long leaf shaped like a child’s sketch of an arrowhead. It was a standing larder for the people of Tsenacomoco, always ready in the springtime if they exhausted the maize from the previous fall. Standing shin deep in the marsh, women mucked about with their bare feet and hands, gradually working loose the roots. The work was unpleasant; when I dug up some tuckahoe one warm spring day in Virginia, I ended up perspiring in the heat even as the cold mud numbed my feet. Tuckahoe root contains calcium oxalate, a potentially fatal poison. To break down the toxin, women sliced the peeled root, baked the slices, then ground them into flour with a mortar and pestle. At home I made tuckahoe flour with an oven and a food processor, then added water and boiled up some porridge. One mouthful was enough to tell me why native people preferred maize. 1054

Prowling through the woods one evening, John Smith navigated “by the aboundance of fires all over the woods.” Regular fall burning kept the Maryland forest so open, the Jesuit priest Andrew White wrote in 1634, that “a coach and four horses may travel [through it] without molestation.” The statement is hyperbole, but not entirely false—rather than paving roads, Indians used fire to make what the ecological historian Stephen J. Pyne has called “corridors of travel.” Well-used paths could be six feet wide, hundreds of miles long, and cleared completely of brush and stones. Occasionally one did find unburned patches of land, Virginia colonist William Byrd warned, and these were dangerous. In those places, “the dead Leaves and Trash of many years are heapt up together, which … furnish fewel for a conflagration that carries all before it.” Because Indian burning killed underbrush and saplings, the forest encountered by the early English colonists was a soaring space, hushed as a cathedral, formed by widely spaced walnut and oak six feet in diameter—a beautiful sight, but one just as artificial as the burned-off clearings. “Much as cooking helped rework an intractable environment into food and as the forge refashioned rock into metals,” Pyne explained, native fire “remade the land into usable forms.” 1083


Despite a global eradication program that began in the 1950s, malaria is still responsible for unimaginable suffering: some three-quarters of a million deaths per annum, the great majority of them children under the age of five. Every year about 225 million people contract the disease, which even with modern medical care can incapacitate for months. In Africa it afflicts so many people so often that economists believe it is a major drag on development; since 1965, according to one widely cited calculation, countries with high rates of malaria have had annual per capita growth rates 1.3 percent less than countries without malaria, enough to ensureRead more at location 1649


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Before these maladies arrived, the most thickly inhabited terrain north of Mexico was what is now the southeastern United States, and the wet forests of Mesoamerica and Amazonia held millions of people. After malaria and yellow fever, these previously salubrious areas became inhospitable. Their former inhabitants fled to safer lands; Europeans who moved into the emptied real estate often did not survive a year. The high European mortality rates had long-lasting impacts, the Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology economists Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson, and James A. Robinson have argued. Even today, the places where European colonists couldn’t survive are much poorer than places that Europeans found more healthful. The reason, the researchers said, is that the conquering newcomers established different institutions in disease zones than they did in healthier areas. Unable to create stable, populous colonies in malarial areas, Europeans founded what Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson called “extractive states,” the emblematic example being the ghastly Belgian Congo in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, where a tiny cohort of high-collared Europeans forces a mass of chained, naked slaves, “shadows of disease and starvation,” to build a railroad to ship ivory from the interior. Tobacco brought malaria to Virginia, indirectly but ineluctably, and from there it went north, south, and west, until much of North America was in its grip. Sugarcane, another overseas import, similarly brought the disease into the Caribbean and Latin America, along with its companion, yellow fever. Because both diseases killed European workers in American tobacco and sugar plantations, colonists imported labor in the form of captive Africans—the human wing of the Columbian Exchange. In sum: ecological introductions shaped an economic exchange, which in turn had political consequences that have endured to the present.Read more at location 1658


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the colonists wanted to expand the plantation area. To do that, they would have to take down huge trees with hand tools; break up soil under the hot sun; hoe, water, and top the growing tobacco plants; cut the heavy, sticky leaves; drape them on racks to dry; and pack them in hogsheads for shipping. All of this would require a lot of labor. Where could the colonists acquire it? Before answering this question make the assumption, abundantly justified, that the colonists have few moral scruples about the answer and are concerned only with maximizing ease and profit. From this point of view, they had two possible sources for the required workforce: indentured servants from England and slaves from outside of England (Indians or Africans). Servants or slaves: which, economically speaking, was the best choice? Indentured servants were contract laborers recruited from England’s throngs of unemployed. Because the poor could not afford the costly journey across the sea, planters paid for the voyage and servants paid off the debt by working for a given period, typically four to seven years. After that, indentured servants were free to claim their own land in the Americas. Slavery is harder to define, because it has existed in many different forms. But its essence is that the owner acquires the right to coerce labor from slaves, and slaves never gain the right to leave; they must work and obey until they die or are freed by their owners. Indentured servants are members of society, though at a low rank. Slaves are usually not considered members of society, either because they were born far away or because they somehow have forfeited their social standing, as in the occasional English practice of turning convicts into slaves. During the last quarter of the seventeenth century, England chose slaves over servants—indeed, it became the world’s biggest slaver. So well known nowadays is the English embrace of slavery that the idea of another path is hard to grasp. But in many respects the nation’s turn to bondage is baffling—the institution has so many inherent problems that economists have often puzzled over why it exists. More baffling still is the form that bondage took in the Americas: chattel slavery, a regime much harsher than anything seen before in Europe or Africa.Read more at location 1840


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At least 600,000 soldiers died in the Civil War, the most deadly conflict in U.S. history. Most of those lives were not lost in battle. Disease killed twice as many Union troops as Confederate bullets or shells. Malaria affected the course of the war itself. Sick soldiers had to be carried in litters or shipped out at considerable cost. With so many sick for so long the resource drain was constant. Confederate generals did not control malaria or even know what it was, but it was an extra arrow in their quiver. Plasmodium likely delayed the Union victory by months or even years.Read more at location 2309


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Initially the North proclaimed that its goal was to preserve the nation, not free slaves; with few dissenting votes, Congress promised rebel states that “this war is not waged” for the “purpose of overthrowing or interfering with [their] rights or established institutions,” where “established institutions” was taken to mean slavery. The longer the war ground on, the more willing grew Washington to consider radical measures. Should part of the credit for the Emancipation Proclamation be assigned to malaria? The idea is not impossible.Read more at location 2313


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Cornwallis later estimated that only 3,800 of his 7,700 men were fit to fight. McNeill takes pains to credit the bravery and skill of the revolution’s leaders. But what he wryly referred to as “revolutionary mosquitoes” played an equally critical role. “Anopheles quadrimaculatus stands tall among the Founding Fathers,” he said to me. With Cornwallis’s troops falling to the Columbian Exchange in ever-greater numbers, the British army surrendered, effectively creating the United States, on October 17, 1781.Read more at location 2341


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the great maritime expeditions sponsored by the Ming emperor Yongle in the early fifteenth century. Such a mark did they leave that some historians believe they were the font of the stories of Sinbad the Sailor.Read more at location 2371


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Built in enormous dry docks, encrusted with precious metals, replete with technical innovations—double hulls, watertight compartments, rust-proofed nails, mechanical bilge pumps—that Europe would not discover for a century, the Chinese ships were marvels for their time. The flagship of their commander, Zheng He, was more than 300 feet long and 150 feet wide, the biggest wooden vessel ever constructed. Records claim it had nine masts. Zheng’s grandest expedition had 317 ships, an amazing figure even now. The Spanish Armada, then the largest fleet in European history, consisted of about 130; the biggest was half the size of Zheng’s flagship. To celebrate the 2010 Olympics, China displayed this exact copy of Zheng He’s flagship.Read more at location 2373


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1491 (Second Edition): New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

the first widely available scholarly article on them did not appear until 2009, and new findings are coming every year. According to the Finnish archaeologists who first brought the Acre earthworks to attention, “it is obvious” that “relatively high population densities” were “quite common everywhere in the Amazonian lowlands.” The Finns here are summing up the belief of a new generation of researchers into the Amazon: much of the river was more crowded in 1000 A.D. than it is now, especially in its lower half. Dense collections of villages thronged the bluffs that line the shore, with their people fishing in the river and farming the floodplains and sections of the uplands. Most important were the village orchards that marched back from the bluffs for miles. Amazonians practiced a kind of agro-forestry, farming with trees, unlike any kind of agriculture in Europe, Africa, or Asia. Not all the towns were small. Near the Atlantic was the chiefdom of Marajó, based on an enormous island at the mouth of the river. Marajó’s population, recently estimated at 100,000, may have been equaled or even surpassed by a still-nameless agglomeration of people six hundred miles upstream, at Santarém, a pleasant town that today is sleeping off the effects of Amazonia’s past rubber and gold booms. The ancient inhabitation beneath and around the modern town has barely been investigated. Almost all that we know is that it was ideally located on a high bluff overlooking the mouth of the Tapajós, one of the Amazon’s biggest tributaries. On this bluff geographers and archaeologists in the 1990s found an area more than three miles long that was thickly covered with broken ceramics, much like Ibibate. According to William I. Woods, an archaeologist and geographer at the University of Kansas, the region could have supported as many as 400,000 inhabitants, at least in theory, making it one of the bigger population centers in the world. And so on. Western scholars have written histories of the world since at least the twelfth century. As children of their own societies, these early historians naturally emphasized the culture they knew best, the culture their readership most wanted to hear about. But over time they added the stories of other places in the world: chapters about China, India, Persia, Japan, and other places. Researchers tipped their hats to non-Western accomplishments in the sciences and arts. Sometimes the effort was grudging or minimal, but the vacant reaches in the human tale slowly contracted. One way to sum up the new scholarship is to say that it has begun, at last, to fill in one of the biggest blanks in history: the Western Hemisphere before 1492. It was, in the current view, a thriving, stunningly diverse place, a tumult of languages, trade, and culture, a region where tens of millions of people loved and hated and worshipped as people do everywhere. Much of this world vanished after Columbus, swept away by disease and subjugation. So thorough was the erasure that within a few generations neither conqueror nor conquered knew that this world had existed. 727

In 1491 the Inka ruled the greatest empire on earth. Bigger than Ming Dynasty China, bigger than Ivan the Great’s expanding Russia, bigger than Songhay in the Sahel or powerful Great Zimbabwe in the West Africa tablelands, bigger than the cresting Ottoman Empire, bigger than the Triple Alliance (as the Aztec empire is more precisely known), bigger by far than any European state, the Inka dominion extended over a staggering thirty-two degrees of latitude—as if a single power held sway from St. Petersburg to Cairo. The empire encompassed every imaginable type of terrain, from the rainforest of upper Amazonia to the deserts of the Peruvian coast and the twenty-thousand-foot peaks of the Andes between. “If imperial potential is judged in terms of environmental adaptability,” wrote the Oxford historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto, “the Inka were the most impressive empire builders of their day.” The Inka goal was to knit the scores of different groups in western South America—some as rich as the Inka themselves, some poor and disorganized, all speaking different languages—into a single bureaucratic framework under the direct rule of the emperor. The unity was not merely political: the Inka wanted to meld together the area’s religion, economics, and arts. Their methods were audacious, brutal, and efficient: they removed entire populations from their homelands; shuttled them around the biggest road system on the planet, a mesh of stone-paved thoroughfares totaling as much as 25,000 miles; and forced them to work with other groups, using only Runa Sumi, the Inka language, on massive, faraway state farms and construction projects.* To monitor this cyclopean enterprise, the Inka developed a form of writing unlike any other, sequences of knots on strings that formed a binary code reminiscent of today’s computer languages (see Appendix B, “Talking Knots”). So successful were the Inka at remolding their domain, according to the late John H. Rowe, an eminent archaeologist at the University of California at Berkeley, that Andean history “begins, not with the Wars of [South American] Independence or with the Spanish Conquest, but with the organizing genius of [empire founder] Pachakuti in the fifteenth century.” 1440

Pachakuti dispatched an army to Chincha under Qhapaq Yupanki (Ka-pok Yu-pan-ki, meaning roughly “Munificent Honored One”), a kind of adopted brother. Marching into the valley with thousands of troops, Qhapaq Yupanki informed the fearful local gentry that he wanted nothing from Chincha whatsoever. “He said that he was the son of the Sun,” according to the report of two Spanish priests who investigated the valley’s history in the 1550s. “And that he had come for their good and for everyone’s and that he did not want their silver nor their gold nor their daughters.” Far from taking the land by force, in fact, the Inka general would give them “all that he was carrying.” And he practically buried the Chincha leadership under piles of valuables. In return for his generosity, the general asked only for a little appreciation, preferably in the form of a large house from which the Inka could operate, and a staff of servants to cook, clean, and make the things needed by the outpost. And when Qhapaq Yupanki left, he asked Chincha to keep expressing its gratitude by sending craftspeople and goods to Qosqo. A decade later Pachakuti sent out another army to the valley, this one led by his son and heir, Thupa Inka Yupanki (“Royal Honored Inka”). Thupa Inka closeted himself with the local leadership and laid out many inspired ideas for the valley’s betterment, all of which were gratefully endorsed. Following the Inka template, the local leaders drafted the entire populace into service, dividing households by sex and age into cohorts, each with its own leader who reported to the leader of the next larger group. “Everything was in order for the people to know who was in control,” the Spanish priests wrote. Thupa Inka delegated tasks to the mobilized population: hewing roads to link Chincha to other areas controlled by the Inka, building a new palace for the Inka, and tending the fields set aside for the Inka. Thupa Inka apparently left the area in charge of his brother, who continued managing its gratitude. The next visit came from Pachakuti’s grandson, probably in the 1490s. With him came escalating demands for land and service—the veneer of reciprocity was fading. By that point the Chincha had little alternative but to submit. They were surrounded by Inka satrapies; their economy was enmeshed with the imperial machinery; they had hundreds or thousands of people doing the empire’s bidding. The Chincha elite, afraid to take on the Inka army, always chose compliance over valor, and were rewarded with plum positions in the colonial government. But their domain had ceased to exist as an independent entity. 1530

soldiers. If brigades were tied up as occupiers, they could not be reassigned quickly. As a result, the Inka were almost forced to co-opt local rulers instead of displacing them. They did so with a vengeance. Pachakuti gave command of the military to his son Thupa Inka in 1463 and turned his attention to totally rebuilding Qosqo in imperial style, in the process becoming one of history’s great urban planners. 1556

From a few incidents in which before and after totals are known with relative certainty, Dobyns calculated that in the first 130 years of contact about 95 percent of the people in the Americas died. To estimate native numbers before Columbus, one thus had to multiply census figures from those times by a factor of twenty or more. The results obtained by this procedure were, by historical standards, stunningly high. 1980

When Columbus landed, Cook and Borah concluded, the central Mexican plateau alone had a population of 25.2 million. By contrast, Spain and Portugal together had fewer than ten million inhabitants. Central Mexico, they said, was the most densely populated place on earth, with more than twice as many people per square mile than China or India. “Historians and anthropologists did not, however, seem to be paying much attention” to Cook and Borah, Dobyns wrote. Years later, his work, coupled with that of Denevan, Crosby, and William H. McNeill, finally made them take notice. Based on their work and his own, Dobyns argued that the Indian population in 1491 was between 90 and 112 million people. Another way of saying this is that when Columbus sailed more people lived in the Americas than in Europe. According to a 1999 estimate from the United Nations, the earth’s population in the beginning of the sixteenth century was about 500 million. If Dobyns was right, disease claimed the lives of 80 to 100 million Indians by the first third of the seventeenth century. All these numbers are at best rough approximations, but their implications are clear: the epidemics killed about one out of every five people on earth. According to W. George Lovell, a geographer at Queen’s University in Ontario, it was “the greatest destruction of lives in human history.” Dobyns published his conclusions in the journal Current Anthropology in 1966. They spawned rebuttals, conferences, even entire books. (Denevan assembled one: The Native Population of the Americas in 1492.) “I always felt guilty about the impact of my Current Anthropology article,” Dobyns told me, “because I thought and still think that Cook and Borah and Sauer had all said this in print earlier, but people weren’t listening. I’m still puzzled by the reaction, to tell you the truth. Maybe it was the time—people were prepared to listen in the 1960s.” 1996

*Because of their obsession with gold, the conquistadors are often dismissed as “gold crazy.” In fact they were not so much gold crazy as status crazy. Like Hernán Cortés, who conquered Mexico, Pizarro was born into the lower fringes of the nobility and hoped by his exploits to earn titles, offices, and pensions from the Spanish crown. To obtain these royal favors, their expeditions had to bring something back for the king. Given the difficulty and expense of transportation, precious metals—“nonperishable, divisible, and compact,” as historian Matthew Restall notes—were almost the only goods that they could plausibly ship to Europe. Inka gold and silver thus represented to the Spaniards the intoxicating prospect of social betterment. 2042

Through art alone, the Mexica said, can human beings approach the real. 2595

The first European adventurers in the Western Hemisphere did not make careful population counts, but they repeatedly described indigenous America as a crowded, jostling place—“a beehive of people,” as Las Casas put it in 1542. To Las Casas, the Americas seemed so thick with people “that it looked as if God has placed all of or the greater part of the entire human race in these countries.” So far as is known, Las Casas never tried to enumerate the original native population. But he did try to calculate how many died from Spanish disease and brutality. In Las Casas’s “sure, truthful estimate,” his countrymen in the first five decades after Columbus wiped out “more than twelve million souls, men and women and children; and in truth I believe, without trying to deceive myself, that it was more than fifteen million.” Twenty years later, he raised his estimate of Indian deaths—and hence of the initial population—to forty million. Las Casas’s successors usually shared his ideas—the eighteenth-century Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavijero, for example, asserted that the pre-Columbian population of Mexico alone was thirty million. 2762

The Americas were filled with an enthusiastically diverse assortment of peoples who had knocked about the continents for millennia. “We are talking about enormous numbers of people,” she told me. “You have to wonder, Who were all these people? And what were they doing?” 2785

In the first section of this book, I described the sometimes meandering path by which most (but not all) researchers had come to believe that Indian numbers were far higher than previously thought, and traced some of the consequences of this belief. In this section, I focus on a second, parallel process—how most (but not all) anthropologists, anthropologists, geneticists, and linguists have come to believe that Indian societies were older and more sophisticated than was thought possible even twenty years ago. 2878

two massive volumes in 1989 and 1997. In the twenty years between the first shovelsful of dirt and the final errata sheets, the scientists concluded that paleo-Indians had occupied Monte Verde at least 12,800 years ago. Not only that, they turned up suggestive indications of human habitation more than 32,000 years ago. Monte Verde, in southern Chile, is ten thousand miles from the Bering Strait. Archaeologists have tended to believe that paleo-Indians would have needed millennia to walk from the north end of the Americas to the south. If Monte Verde was a minimum of 12,800 years old, Indians must have come to the Americas thousands of years before that. For the most part, archaeologists had lacked the expertise to address the anti-Clovis evidence from genetics and linguistics. But Monte Verde was archaeology. Dillehay had dug up something like a village, complete with tent-like structures made from animal hides, lashed together by poles and twisted reeds—a culture that he said had existed centuries before Clovis, and that may have been more sophisticated. 3447

“For archaeology,” deFrance said, “what may be important” in the end is not the scope of the society “but where it emerged from and the food supply. You can’t eat cotton.” Evidence one way or the other may emerge if Moseley and Shady, as planned, return to Aspero. If they are correct, and Aspero turns out to be substantially older than now thought, it might win the title of the world’s oldest city—the place where human civilization began. “Maybe we might actually stop people calling it the ‘New World,’ ” Moseley joked. Norte Chico chiefdoms were almost certainly theocratic, though not brutally so; leaders induced followers to obey by a combination of ideology, charisma, and skillfully timed positive reinforcement. Scattered almost randomly around the top of the mounds are burned, oxidized chunks of rock—hearth stones—in drifts of fish bones and ash. To Haas and Creamer, these look like the remains of feasts. The city rulers encouraged and rewarded the workforce during construction and maintenance of the mound by staging celebratory roasts of fish and achira root right on the worksite. Afterward they mixed the garbage into the mound, incorporating the celebration into the construction. At these feasts, alcohol in some form was almost certainly featured. So, perhaps, was music, both vocal and instrumental; excavating Caral, Shady discovered thirty-two flutes made of pelican wingbones tucked into a recess in the main temple. 3885

Parisians from every social class united to create the enormous Champ de Mars as a monument to the new society. Working in heavy rainfall without coercion or pay, they dug out the entire enormous space to a depth of four feet and then filled it up with enough sand and gravel to make an outdoor amphitheater suitable for half a million people. The whole huge effort took only three weeks. Something analogous—an awed, wondering celebration of a new mode of existence—may have occurred at the Norte Chico. Even today, the contrast is startling between the desert and the irrigated land, with its lush patchwork of maize, sugar, and fruit trees. Beyond the reach of the water the barrens instantly commence; the line of demarcation is sharp enough to cross with a step. To people born into a landscape of rock and fog, the conflagration of green must have been a dazzlement. Of course they would exalt the priests and rulers who promised to maintain this miracle. The prospect of a drunken feast afterward would be a bonus. A recently discovered drawing etched onto a gourd (left) has led some researchers to posit that the fanged Staff God was a central figure in an Andean religious tradition that lasted almost four thousand years. (Right, a Staff God from the first millennium A.D.) (Illustration Credit 6.3) The only known trace of the Norte Chico deities may be a drawing etched into the face of a gourd. It depicts a sharp-toothed, hat-wearing figure who faces the viewer frontally and holds a long stick or rod vertically in each hand. When Creamer found the gourd in 2002, the image shocked Andeanists. It looked like an early version of the Staff God, a fanged, staff-wielding deity who is one of the main characters in the Andean pantheon. Previously the earliest manifestation of the Staff God had been thought to be around 500 B.C. According to radiocarbon tests, the Norte Chico gourd was harvested between 2280 and 2180 B.C. The early date implies, Haas and Creamer argued, that the principal Andean spiritual tradition originated in the Norte Chico, and that this tradition endured for at least four thousand years, millennia longer than had been previously suspected. 3898

The primacy of exchange over a wide area, the penchant for collective, festive civic work projects, the high valuation of textiles and textile technology—Norte Chico, it seems possible to say, set the template for all of them. And only Norte Chico. For the next four thousand years, Andean civilization was influenced by only one major import from the world outside: maize. A few other minor crops made the trip later, including tobacco, domesticated in Amazonia, then exported north to become the favorite vice of Indians from Mesoamerica to Maine. But it is a mark of maize’s social, cultural, and even political centrality that it was the first—and for centuries the only—phenomenon to pass from Mexico to the Andes. The next major import, alas, was smallpox. 3942

First soak the dried maize kernels in a bath of lime and water to remove their thin, translucent skins (a process with its own special verb, nixtamalizar). Then stone-grind the kernels into masa, a light, slightly sticky paste with a distinct maize fragrance. Made without salt, spices, leavening, or preservatives, masa must be cooked within a few hours of being ground, and the tortilla should be eaten soon after it is cooked. Hot is best, perhaps folded over with mushrooms or cheese in a tlacoyo. Like a glass of wine, he said, a tortilla should carry the flavor of its native place. “You want to try some?” I did. The smells in the shop—dry-toasted maize, melting farm cheese, squash flowers sautéing in home-pressed oil—were causing my stomach to direct urgent messages to my brain. Ramírez Leyva gave me a plateful of tlacoyos. “This is exactly what you would have eaten here ten thousand years ago,” he said. In his enthusiasm, he was overstating, but not by much. Indians didn’t have cheese, for one thing. And they didn’t eat tortillas ten thousand years ago, though tortillas are indeed ancient. It is known that 11,500 years ago paleo-Indians were hunting from caves in what is now Puebla, the state northwest of Oaxaca. These were not mastodon and mammoth hunters—both species were already extinct. Instead they preyed on deer, horse, antelope, jackrabbit, and, now and then, giant turtle, 3975

Within the next two thousand years all of these animals except deer vanished, too, done in either by a local variant of overkill, the onset of hotter, drier conditions that shrank the available grassland, or both. Responding to the lack of game, people in Oaxaca and Puebla focused more on gathering. Shifting among productive locations, individual families, living on their own, ate seeds and fruit during the spring and fall and hunted during the winter. During the summer they joined together in bands of twenty-five to thirty—cactus leaves, a local favorite, were plentiful enough in that season to support larger groups. All the while their store of knowledge about the environment increased. People learned how to make agave plants edible (roast them), how to remove the tannic acid from acorns (grind them to a powder, then soak), how to make tongs to pick spiny cactus fruit, how to find wild squash flowers in the undergrowth, and other useful things. Along the way, perhaps, they noticed that seeds thrown in the garbage one year would sprout spontaneously in the next. The sum of these questions led to full-fledged agriculture—not just in the Tehuacán Valley, but in many places in southern Mexico. Squashes, gourds, peppers, and chupandilla plums were among the initial crops. The first cereal was probably millet—not the millet eaten today, which originated in Africa, but a cousin species, knotweed bristle-grass, which is no longer farmed. And then came maize. At the DNA level, all the major cereals—wheat, rice, maize, millet, barley, and so on—are surprisingly alike. But despite their genetic similarity, maize looks and acts different from the rest. It is like the one redheaded early riser in a family of dark-haired night owls. Left untended, other cereals are capable of propagating themselves. Because maize kernels are wrapped inside a tough husk, human beings must sow the species—it essentially cannot reproduce on its own. The uncultivated ancestors of other cereals resemble their domesticated descendants. People can and do eat their grain; in the Middle East, for example, the wild barley harvest from a small piece of land can feed a family. By contrast, no wild maize ancestor has ever been found, despite decades of search. Maize’s closest relative is a mountain grass called teosinte that looks nothing like it (teosinte splits into many thin stems, whereas maize has a single thick stalk). And teosinte, unlike wild wheat and rice, is not a practical food source; its “ears” are scarcely an inch long and consist of seven to twelve hard, woody seeds. An entire ear of teosinte has less nutritional value than a single kernel of modern maize. 3988

The grain in wild grasses develops near the top of the stem. As it matures, the stem slowly breaks up—shatters, in the jargon—letting the seed dribble to the ground. In wild wheat and barley, a common single-gene mutation blocks shattering. For the plant the change is highly disadvantageous, but it facilitates harvest by humans—the grain waits on the stem to be collected. The discovery and planting of nonshattering grain is thought to have been integral to the Neolithic revolution in the Middle East. Like other grasses, teosinte shatters, but there is no known nonshattering variant. (At least sixteen genes control teosinte and maize shattering, a situation so complex that geneticists have effectively thrown up their hands after trying to explain how a nonshattering type might have appeared spontaneously.) No known wild ancestor, no obvious natural way to evolve a nonshattering variant, no way to propagate itself—little wonder that the Mexican National Museum of Culture claimed in a 1982 exhibition that maize “was not domesticated, but created”—almost from scratch. In the 1960s Richard S. MacNeish, of Phillips Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts, led an archaeological team that meticulously combed Puebla’s Tehuacán Valley for signs of early agriculture. Like the Peruvian littoral, the Tehuacán Valley lies in a double rain shadow, sandwiched between two mountain ranges. The aridity similarly helps preserve archaeological evidence. MacNeish’s team sifted through fifty caves before they found anything. In site No. 50, a rockshelter near the village of Coxcatlán, the team found maize cobs the size of a cigarette butt. Ultimately, MacNeish’s team found 23,607 whole or partial maize cobs in five caves in the Tehuacán Valley. This ancient refuse became ammunition in a long-running academic battle between Harvard botanist Paul C. Mangelsdorf and George Beadle, a geneticist who worked at Stanford, Caltech, and the University of Chicago. In the late 1930s both men proposed theories about the origin of maize. 4008

wild grasses from the genus Tripsacum. Teosinte, he said, played no role in its development. Beadle had a simpler theory: maize was directly descended from teosinte. 4023

Maize originated, Iltis postulated, in a strange, wholesale mutation of teosinte, to which Indians added and subtracted features through intensive breeding. Mangelsdorf’s side found itself on the defensive; Iltis had gleefully pointed out that the “wild maize” cobs from the Tehuacán Valley were identical to those of an unusual, fully domesticated variety of popcorn from Argentina. By then the dispute over the origin of maize had filled almost as much paper—and became as acrimonious—as the battle over Clovis. In 1997 Mary W. Eubanks, a Duke University biologist, resuscitated the hybridization theory in a new variant. Maize, she suggested, might have been created by repeatedly crossing Zea diploperennis, a rare maize relative, and another cousin species, Eastern gamagrass. When species from different genera hybridize, the result can be what the biologist Barbara McClintock called “genomic shock,” a wholesale reordering of DNA in which “new species can arise quite suddenly.” In Eubanks’s theory, Indians came upon a chance combination of Zea diploperennis and gamagrass and realized that by mixing these two species they could shape an entirely new biological entity. As proof, she announced the creation of a Zea diploperennis–gamagrass hybrid in the laboratory that displayed the attributes of ancient maize. 4031

Geneticists from Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, estimated in 1998 that determined, aggressive, knowledgeable plant breeders—which Indians certainly were—might have been able to breed maize in as little as a decade by seeking the right teosinte mutations. From the historian’s point of view, the difference between the two models is unimportant. In both, Indians took the first steps toward modern maize in southern Mexico, probably in the highlands, more than six thousand years ago. Both argue that modern maize was the outcome of a bold act of conscious biological manipulation—“arguably man’s first, and perhaps his greatest, feat of genetic engineering,” Nina V. Federoff, a geneticist at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in 2003. Federoff’s description, which appeared in Science, intrigued me. It makes twenty-first-century scientists sound like pikers, I said when I contacted her. “That’s right,” she said. “To get corn out of teosinte is so—you couldn’t get a grant to do that now, because it would sound so crazy.” She added, “Somebody who did that today would get a Nobel Prize! 4049

Mexicans float in soup like croutons. “Every variety has its own special use,” Ramírez Leyva explained to me. 4063

As a rule domesticated plants are less genetically diverse than wild species, because breeders try to breed out characteristics they don’t want. Maize is one of the few farm species that is more diverse than most wild plants. 4066

Agriculture, and Fisheries Research. A landrace is a family of local varieties, each of which may have scores of “cultivars,” or cultivated varieties. As many as five thousand cultivars may exist in Mesoamerica. Maize is open pollinated—it scatters pollen far and wide. (Wheat and rice discreetly pollinate themselves.) Because wind frequently blows pollen from one small maize field onto another, varieties are constantly mixing. “Maize is terribly promiscuous,” Hugo Perales, an agronomist at the think tank Ecosur, in Chiapas, told me. Uncontrolled, open pollination would, over time, turn the species into a single, relatively homogeneous entity. But it does not, because farmers carefully sort through the seed they will sow in the next season and generally do not choose obvious hybrids. 4072

Almost all are Tzotzil, a southwestern branch of the Maya; in 1995, the most recent date for which census data are available, about 28,000 did not speak Spanish. According to a survey by Perales, 85 percent of the farmers plant the same maize landraces as their fathers, varieties that have been passed on and maintained for generations. The crop in the field today is the sum of thousands of individual choices made by community members in the past. Indian farmers grow maize in what is called a milpa. The term means “maize field,” but refers to something considerably more complex. A milpa is a field, usually but not always recently cleared, in which farmers plant a dozen crops at once, including maize, avocados, multiple varieties of squash and bean, melon, tomatoes, chilis, sweet potato, jicama (a tuber), amaranth (a grain-like plant), and mucuna (a tropical legume). In nature, wild beans and squash often grow in the same field as teosinte, the beans using the tall teosinte as a ladder to climb toward the sun; below ground, the beans’ nitrogen-fixing roots provide nutrients needed by teosinte. The milpa is an elaboration of this natural situation, unlike ordinary farms, which involve single-crop expanses of a sort rarely observed in unplowed landscapes. Milpa crops are nutritionally and environmentally complementary. Maize lacks digestible niacin, the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, necessary to make proteins and diets with too much maize can lead to protein deficiency and pellagra, a disease caused by lack of niacin. Beans have both lysine and tryptophan, but not the amino acids cysteine and methionine, which are provided by maize. As a result, beans and maize make a nutritionally complete meal. Squashes, for their part, provide an array of vitamins; avocados, fats. The milpa, in the estimation of H. Garrison Wilkes, a maize researcher at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, “is one of the most successful human inventions ever created.” 4084

Then farmers use artificial fertilizer, which at best is expensive, and at worst may inflict long-term damage on the soil. No one knows how long the system can continue. The milpa, by contrast, has a long record of success. “There are places in Mesoamerica that have been continuously cultivated for four thousand years and are still productive,” Wilkes told me. “The milpa is the only system that permits that kind of long-term use.” Likely the milpa cannot be replicated on an industrial scale. But by studying its essential features, researchers may be able to smooth the rough ecological edges of conventional agriculture. “Mesoamerica still has much to teach us,” Wilkes said. To Wilkes’s way of thinking, ancient Indian farming methods may be the cure for some of modern agriculture’s ailments. Beginning in the 1950s, scientists developed hybrid strains of wheat, rice, maize, and other crops that were vastly more productive than traditional varieties. The combination of the new crops and the greatly increased use of artificial fertilizer and irrigation led to the well-known Green Revolution. In many ways, the Green Revolution was a tremendous boon; harvests in many poor countries soared so fast that despite burgeoning populations the incidence of hunger fell dramatically. Unfortunately, though, the new hybrids are almost always more vulnerable to disease and insects than older varieties. In addition to being too costly for many small farmers, the fertilizer and irrigation can, if used improperly, damage the soil. Worst, perhaps, in the long run, the exuberant spread of the Green Revolution has pushed many traditional cultivars toward extinction, which in turn reduces the genetic diversity of crops. Wilkes believes that some or all of these difficulties may be resolved by reproducing features of the milpa in a contemporary setting. If this occurs, it will be the second time that the dissemination of Mesoamerican agricultural techniques will have had an enormous cultural impact—the first time being, of course, when they originated. From today’s vantage it is difficult to imagine the impact maize must have had in southern Mexico at the beginning, but perhaps a comparison will help. “Almost pure stands” of einkorn wheat covered “dozens of square kilometers” in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East, according to Jack R. Harlan and Daniel Zohary, two agronomists who pored over the area in the 1960s to determine the distribution of wild cereals. “Over many thousands of hectares” in those countries, they wrote in Science, “it would be possible to harvest wild wheat today from natural stands almost as dense as a cultivated wheat field.” In the Middle East, therefore, the impact of agriculture was thus less a matter of raising the productivity of wheat, barley, and other cereals than of extending the range in which they could be grown, by developing varieties that could flourish in climates and soils that daunt the wild plant. By contrast, the Americas had no wild maize, and thus no wild maize harvest. Stands of teosinte have been seen in the wild, but because the “ears” are tiny and constantly shattering they are difficult to harvest. Thus before agriculture the people of Mesoamerica had never experienced what it was like to stand in a field of grain. Grain fields—landscapes of food!—were part of the mental furniture of people in Mesopotamia. They were an astounding novelty in Mesoamerica. Indians not only created a new species, they created a new environment to put it in. Unsurprisingly, the reverberations sounded for centuries. Maize in the milpa, the Yale archaeologist Michael D. Coe wrote, “is the key … to the understanding of Mesoamerican civilization. Where it flourished, so did high culture.” The statement may be more precise than it seems. In the 1970s the geographer Anne Kirkby discovered that Indian farmers in Oaxaca considered it not worth their while to clear and plant a milpa unless it could produce more than about two hundred pounds of grain per… 4102

Díaz Castellano’s maize field was one of the 340,000 farms in Oaxaca. His farm, like about two-thirds of the farms in the state, occupied less than ten acres—unviably small by the standards of developed nations. Most landrace maize is grown on these farms, partly because of tradition and partly because they are usually in areas that are too high, dry, steep, or exhausted to support high-yield varieties (or owned by farmers too poor to afford the necessary fertilizer). As if being grown on tiny farms in bad conditions weren’t enough, landrace maize is usually less productive than modern hybrids; a typical yield is .4 to .8 tons per acre, whereas Green Revolution varieties in Oaxaca reap between 1.2 and 2.5 tons per acre when properly fertilized, a crippling advantage. The meager harvests may be enough for subsistence but can rarely be brought to market because farm villages are often hours away on dirt roads from the nearest large town. But even when farmers try, it is often little use: modern hybrids are so productive that despite the distances involved U.S. corporations can sell maize for less in Oaxaca than can Díaz Castellano. Landrace maize, he said, tastes better, but it is hard to find a way to make the quality pay off. He was lucky, he said, that Ramírez Leyva was trying to market his crop. 4174

criticize World History: Patterns of Change and Continuity, a high school text published two decades later, in time for my son to encounter it. Referring exclusively to the “four initial centers” of civilization, this “world history” allocated just nine pages to the pre-Columbian Americas. The thesis of the book in your hands is that Native American history merits more than nine pages. *Given the choice between their own scratchy wool and the Indians’ smooth cotton, the conquistadors threw away their clothes and donned native clothing. Later this preference was mirrored in Europe. When cotton became readily available there in the eighteenth century, it grabbed so much of the textile market that French woolmakers persuaded the government to ban the new fiber. The law failed to stem the cotton tide. 4205

Olmec date back to about 1800 B.C. At that time there was little to distinguish them from groups elsewhere in Mesoamerica. But something happened in Veracruz, some spark or incitement, a cultural quickening, because within the next three centuries the Olmec had built and occupied San Lorenzo, the first large-scale settlement in North America—it covered 2.7 square miles. On a plateau commanding the Coatzacoalcos river basin, San Lorenzo proper was inhabited mainly by the elite; everyone else lived in the farm villages around it. The ceremonial center of the city—a series of courtyards and low mounds, the latter probably topped with thatch houses—sat on a raised platform 150 feet high and two-thirds of a mile to a side. The platform was built of almost three million cubic yards of rock, much of it transported from mountain quarries fifty miles away. Scattered around the San Lorenzo platform were stone monuments: massive thrones for living kings, huge stone heads for dead ones. Rulers helped to mediate between supernatural forces in the air above and the watery place below where souls went after life. When kings died, their thrones were sometimes transformed into memorials for their occupants: the colossal heads. The features of these enormous portraits are naturalistically carved and amazingly expressive—thoughtful or fiercely proud, mirthful or dismayed. It is assumed they were placed like so many stone sentinels for maximum Orwellian impact: the king is here, the king is watching you.* Like the carvings and 4300

van der Donck ignored his duties and tramped around the forests and valleys upstate. He spent a lot of time with the Haudenosaunee, whose insistence on personal liberty fascinated him. They were, he wrote, “all free by nature, and will not bear any domineering or lording over them.” When a committee of settlers decided to complain to the government about the Dutch West India Company’s dictatorial behavior, it asked van der Donck, the only lawyer in New Amsterdam, to compose a protest letter and travel with it to The Hague. His letter set down the basic rights that in his view belonged to everyone on American soil—the first formal call for liberty in the colonies. It is tempting to speculate that van der Donck drew inspiration from the attitudes of the Haudenosaunee. The Dutch government responded to the letter by taking control of New Amsterdam from the Dutch West India Company and establishing an independent governing body in Manhattan, thereby setting into motion the creation of New York City. Angered by their loss of power, the company directors effectively prevented van der Donck’s return for five years. While languishing in Europe, he wrote a nostalgic pamphlet extolling the land he had come to love. Every fall, he remembered, the Haudenosaunee set fire to “the woods, plains, and meadows,” to “thin out and clear the woods of all dead substances and grass, which grow better the ensuing spring.” 5039

Rather than domesticate animals for meat, Indians retooled ecosystems to encourage elk, deer, and bear. Constant burning of undergrowth increased the numbers of herbivores, the predators that fed on them, and the people who ate them both. Rather than the thick, unbroken, monumental snarl of trees imagined by Thoreau, the great eastern forest was an ecological kaleidoscope of garden plots, blackberry rambles, pine barrens, and spacious groves of chestnut, hickory, and oak. The first Europeans in Ohio found woodlands that resembled English parks—they could drive carriages through the trees. Fifteen miles from shore in Rhode Island, Giovanni da Verrazzano found trees so widely spaced that the forest “could be penetrated even by a large army.” John Smith claimed to have ridden through the Virginia forest at a gallop. Incredible to imagine today, bison occurred from New York to Georgia. A creature of the prairie, Bison bison was imported to the East by Native Americans along a path of indigenous fire, as they changed enough forest into fallows for it to survive far outside its original range. When the Haudenosaunee hunted these animals, the historian William Cronon observed, they were harvesting a foodstuff which they had consciously been instrumental in creating. Few English observers could have realized this. People accustomed to keeping domesticated animals lacked the conceptual tools to recognize that the Indians were practicing a more distant kind of husbandry of their own. 5089

she concluded, Marajó was “one of the outstanding indigenous cultural achievements of the New World,” a powerhouse that lasted for more than a thousand years, had “possibly well over 100,000” inhabitants, and covered thousands of square miles. Rather than damaging the forest, Marajó’s “large population, highly intensive subsistence, [and] major systems of public works” had improved it: the places formerly occupied by the Marajóara showed the most luxuriant and diverse growth. “If you listened to Meggers’s theory, these places should have been ruined,” Roosevelt told me. Rather than pressing down on Marajó, she said, the river and forest opened up possibilities. In highland Mexico, “it wasn’t easy to get away from other people. With all those rocky hillsides and deserts, you couldn’t readily start over. But in the Amazon, you could run away—strike off in your canoe and be gone.” As in Huckleberry Finn? I asked. “If you like,” she said. “You could go [along the river] where you wanted and homestead—the forest gives you all kinds of fruit and animals, the river gives you fish and plants. That was very important to societies like Marajó. They had to be much less coercive, much more hang-loose, much more socially fluid, or people wouldn’t stay there.” Compared with much of the rest of the world at that time, people in the Amazon “were freer, they were healthier, they were living in a really wonderful civilization.” 5903

From the first days of contact, Europeans have perceived the Indians of the tropics as living in timeless stasis. Michel de Montaigne admiringly claimed in 1580 that the inhabitants of the Amazon had “no knowledge of numbers, no terms for governor or political superior, no practice of subordination or of riches or poverty … no clothing, no agriculture, no metals.” They abided, he said, “without toil or travail” in a “bounteous” forest that “furnishes them abundantly with all they need.… They are still in that blessed state of desiring nothing beyond what is ordained by their natural necessities: for them anything further is merely superfluous.” 5935

Of the 138 known domesticated plant species in the Amazon, more than half are trees. (Depending on the definition of “domesticated,” the figure could be as high as 80 percent.) Sapodilla, calabash, and tucumá; babaçu, açai, and wild pineapple; coco-palm, American-oil palm, and Panama-hat palm—the Amazon’s wealth of fruits, nuts, and palms is justly celebrated. “Visitors are always amazed that you can walk in the forest here and constantly pick fruit from trees,” Clement said. “That’s because people planted them. They’re walking through old orchards.” 6208

people domesticated the species thousands of years ago and then spread it rapidly, first through Amazonia and then up into the Caribbean and Central America. Bactris gasipaes was in Costa Rica 1,700 to 2,300 years ago and probably earlier. By the time of Columbus, one seventeenth-century observer wrote, Native Americans valued it so highly “that only their wives and children were held in higher regard.” Unlike maize or manioc, peach palm can thrive with no human attention. Tragically, this quality has proven to be enormously useful. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries many Amazonian Indians, the Yanomamo among them, abandoned their farm villages, which had made them sitting ducks for European diseases and slave trading. They hid out in the forest, preserving their freedom by moving from place to place; in what Balée calls “agricultural regression,” these hunted peoples necessarily gave up farming and kept body and soul together by foraging. The “Stone Age tribespeople in the Amazon wilderness” that captured so many European imaginations were in large part a European creation and a historical novelty; they survived because the “wilderness” was largely composed of their ancestors’ orchards. “These old forests, called fallows, have traditionally been classified as high forest (pristine forest on well-drained ground) by Western researchers,” Balée wrote in 2003. But they “would not exist” without “human agricultural activities.” Indeed, Amazonians typically do not make the distinction between “cultivated” and “wild” landscapes common in the West; instead they simply classify landscapes into scores of varieties, depending on the types of species in each. 6227

In Ka’apor-managed forests, according to Balée’s plant inventories, almost half of the ecologically important species are those used by humans for food. In similar forests that have not recently been managed, the figure is only 20 percent. Balée cautiously estimated, in a widely cited article published in 1989, that at least 11.8 percent, about an eighth, of the nonflooded Amazon forest was “anthropogenic”—directly or indirectly created by humans. Some researchers today regard this figure as conservative. “I basically think it’s all human created,” Clement told me. So does Erickson, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist who told me in Bolivia that the lowland tropical forests of South America are among the finest works of art on the planet. “Some of my colleagues would say that’s pretty radical,” he said. According to Peter Stahl, an anthropologist at the State University of New York in Binghamton, “lots” of researchers believe that “what the eco-imagery would like to picture as a pristine, untouched Urwelt [primeval world] in fact has been managed by people for millennia.” The phrase “built environment,” Erickson argued, “applies to most, if not all, Neotropical landscapes.” 6258

Most big terra preta sites are on low bluffs at the edge of the floodplain. Typically, they cover five to fifteen acres, but some encompass seven hundred or more. The layer of black soil is generally one to two feet deep but can reach more than six feet. According to a recent study led by Dirse Kern, of the Museu Goeldi in Belém, terra preta is “not associated with a particular parent soil type or environmental condition,” suggesting that it was not produced by natural processes. Another clue to its human origin is the broken ceramics with which it is usually mixed. “They practiced agriculture here for centuries,” Glaser told me. “But instead of destroying the soil, they improved it, and that is something we don’t know how to do today” in tropical soils. As a rule, terra preta has more “plant-available” phosphorus, calcium, sulfur, and nitrogen than is common in the rain forest; it also has much more organic matter, better retains moisture and nutrients, and is not rapidly exhausted by agricultural use when managed well. The key to terra preta’s long-term fertility, Glaser says, is charcoal: terra preta contains up to sixty-four times more of it than surrounding red earth. Organic matter “sticks” to charcoal, rather than being washed away or attaching to other, nonavailable compounds. “Over time, it partly oxidizes, which keeps providing sites for nutrients to bind to.” But simply mixing charcoal into the ground is not enough to create terra preta. Because charcoal contains few nutrients, Glaser argued, “high-nutrient inputs—excrement and waste such as turtle, fish, and animal bones—are necessary.” Special soil microorganisms are also likely to play a role in its persistent fertility. In 2010 a Brazilian–U.S. team of archaeologists, soil scientists, and molecular biologists found that terra preta had as much as a hundred times more bacteria than adjacent soils, and that these bacteria were almost completely different from those nearby. Many species were apparently new to science, and even those that seemed familiar were surprising—some were usually restricted to tropical rice paddies. Such findings raise the possibility that scientists might be able to create a “package” of charcoal, nutrients, and microfauna that could be used to transform bad tropical soil into terra preta. Despite the charcoal, terra preta is not a by-product of slash-and-burn agriculture. To begin with, slash-and-burn simply does not produce enough charcoal to make terra preta—the carbon mostly goes into the air in the form of carbon dioxide. Instead, Indians apparently made terra preta by a process that the soil scientist Christoph Steiner has dubbed “slash-and-char.” Instead of completely burning organic matter to ash, ancient farmers burned it incompletely to make charcoal, then stirred the charcoal into the soil. In addition to its benefits to the soil, slash-and-char releases much less carbon into the air than slash-and-burn, which has large potential implications for climate change. Trees store vast amounts of carbon in their trunks, branches, and leaves. When they die or people cut them down, the carbon is usually released into the atmosphere, driving global warming. Experiments by Makoto Ogawa of the Kansai Environmental Engineering Center, near Kyoto, Japan, demonstrated that charcoal retains its carbon in the soil for up to fifty thousand years. “Slash-and-char is very clever,” Ogawa told me. “Nobody in Europe or Asia that I know of ever understood the properties of charcoal in soil.” Indians are still making terra preta in this way, according to Hecht, the UCLA geographer. Hecht spent years with the Kayapó, in central Amazonia, watching them create “low-biomass” fires “cool enough to walk through” of pulled-up weeds, cooking waste, crop debris, palm fronds, and termite mounds. Burning, she wrote, is constant: “To live among the Kayapó is to live in a place where parts of the landscape smolder.” Hecht regards Indian fire as an essential part of the Amazonian… 6288

By about the time of Christ the central Amazon had at least some large, settled villages—Neves, Petersen, and Bartone excavated one on a high bank about thirty miles up the Río Negro. Judging by carbon dating and the sequence of ceramics, they believe the site was inhabited in two waves, from about 360 B.C., when terra preta formation began, to as late as 1440 A.D. “We haven’t finished working, but there seems to be a central plaza and some defensive ditches there,” Petersen told me in a conversation before his death in 2005. The plaza was at least a quarter mile long; the ditch, more than three hundred feet long and up to eighteen feet wide and six feet deep: “a big, permanent settlement.” Terra preta showed up at the papaya plantation between 620 and 720 A.D. By that time it seems to have been underneath villages throughout the central Amazon. Several hundred years later it reached the upper Xingú, a long Amazon tributary with its headwaters deep in southern Brazil. People had lived around the Xingú for a long time, but around 1100 or 1200 A.D., Arawak-speaking people appear to have moved in, jostling shoulders with people who spoke a Tupí-Guaraní language. In 2003 Heckenberger, who had worked with Petersen and Neves, announced in Science that in this area he and his colleagues had turned up remains of nineteen large villages linked by a network of wide roads “in a remarkably elaborate regional plan.” Around these settlements, which were in place between approximately 1250 and 1400 A.D., the Xinguanos built “bridges, artificial river obstructions and ponds, raised causeways, canals, and other structures … a highly elaborate built environment, rivaling that of many contemporary complex societies of the Americas and elsewhere.” The earlier inhabitants left no trace of terra preta; the new villages quickly set down thick deposits of black earth. “To me,” Woods said, “it looks as if someone invented it, and the technique spread to the neighbors.” Because Amazonia lacks stone and metal and its hot, wet climate rapidly destroys wood and cloth, material traces of past societies are hard to find. The main exception is pottery, striking examples of which survive, such as the highly decorative vessels from the Santarém area (right, this one probably made in the seventeenth century). Stone, being rare, was reserved for special items such as the pestles (left) used to grind the hallucinogenic snuff yobo. (Illustration Credit 9.6), (Illustration Credit 9.7) One of the biggest patches of terra preta is on the high bluffs at the mouth of the Tapajós, near Santarém. First mapped in the 1960s by the late Wim Sombroek, director of the International Soil Reference and Information Center in Wageningen, the Netherlands, the terra preta zone is three miles long and half a mile wide, suggesting widespread human habitation—exactly what Orellana saw. The plateau has never been carefully excavated, but observations by geographers Woods and Joseph McCann of the New School in New York City indicate that it is thick with ceramics. If the agriculture practiced in the lower Tapajós were as intensive as in the most complex cultures in precontact North America, Woods told me, “you’d be talking something capable of supporting about 200,000 to 400,000 people”—making it at the time one of the most densely populated places in the world. 6332

people who knew tricks that we have yet to learn used big chunks of Amazonia nondestructively. Faced with an ecological problem, the Indians fixed it. Rather than adapt to Nature, they created it. They were in the midst of terraforming the Amazon when Columbus showed up and ruined everything. 6372

Columbus remarked that “all the trees were as different from ours as day from night, and so the fruits, the herbage, the rocks, and all things.” Columbus was the first to see the yawning biological gap between Europe and the Americas. He was also one of the last to see it in pure 6387

At the time of Columbus the Western Hemisphere had been thoroughly painted with the human brush. Agriculture occurred in as much as two-thirds of what is now the continental United States, with large swathes of the Southwest terraced and irrigated. Among the maize fields in the Midwest and Southeast, mounds by the thousand stippled the land. The forests of the eastern seaboard had been peeled back from the coasts, which were now lined with farms. Salmon nets stretched across almost every ocean-bound stream in the Northwest. And almost everywhere there was Indian fire. The Indian impact on American ecosystems was transformative, subtle, and persistent, as suggested by these photographs of remnant Native American maize hills in the outskirts of Northampton, Massachusetts, in the 1920s. Maize had not grown in these abandoned pastures for centuries, but the handiwork of the land’s original inhabitants remained for those with eyes to see it. (Illustration Credit 10.1), (Illustration Credit 10.2) Agricultural terraces like these in Peru’s Colca Valley still cover thousands of square miles in Mesoamerica and the Andes, mute testimony to Native Americans’ enduring success in managing their landscapes. 6527

Indians had converted perhaps a quarter of the vast Amazon forest into farms and agricultural forests and the once-forested Andes to grass and brush (the Inka, worried about fuel supply, were planting tree farms). All of this had implications for animal populations. As Cahokia grew, Woods told me, so did its maize fields. For obvious reasons its farmers did not relish the prospect of buffalo herds trampling through their fields. Nor did they want deer, moose, or passenger pigeons eating the maize. They hunted them until they were scarce around their homes. At the same time, they tried to encourage these species to grow in number farther away, where they would be useful. “The net result was to keep that kind of animal at arm’s length,” Woods told me. “The total number of bison, say, seems to have gone down quite a bit, but they wanted to have them available for hunting in the prairie a couple days’ journey away.” When disease swept Indians from the land, this entire ecological ancien régime collapsed. Hernando De Soto’s expedition staggered through the Southeast for four years in the early sixteenth century and saw hordes of people 6545

When Indians died, the shaggy creatures vastly extended both their range and numbers, according to Valerius Geist, a bison researcher at the University of Calgary. “The post-Columbian abundance of bison,” in his view, was largely due to “Eurasian diseases that decreased [Indian] hunting.” The massive, thundering herds were pathological, something that the land had not seen before and was unlikely to see again. 6558

ecologists and archaeologists increasingly agree that the destruction of Native Americans also destroyed the ecosystems they managed. Throughout the eastern forest the open, park-like landscapes observed by the first Europeans quickly filled in. Because they did not burn the land with the same skill and frequency as its previous occupants, the forests grew thicker. Left untended, maize fields filled in with weeds, then bushes and trees. My ancestor Billington’s great-grandchildren may not have realized it, but the impenetrable sweep of dark forest admired by Thoreau was something that Billington never saw. Later, of course, Europeans stripped New England almost bare of trees. When the newcomers moved west, they were preceded by a wave of disease and then a wave of ecological disturbance. The former crested with fearsome rapidity; the latter sometimes took more than a century to tamp down, and it was followed by many aftershocks. “The virgin forest was not encountered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” wrote historian Stephen Pyne, “it was invented in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.” Far from destroying pristine wilderness, that is, Europeans bloodily created it. 6571

By 1800 the hemisphere was thick with artificial wilderness. If “forest primeval” means woodland unsullied by the human presence, Denevan has written, there was much more of it in the nineteenth century than in the seventeenth. The product of demographic calamity, the newly created wilderness was indeed beautiful. But it was built on Indian graves and every bit as much a ruin as the temples of the Maya. 6581

In 1983 Cronon laid out the history of the New England countryside in his landmark book, Changes in the Land. In it he observed that wilderness as it was commonly understood simply did not exist in the eastern United States, and had not existed for thousands of years. (A few years later, Denevan referred to the belief in widespread wilderness as “the pristine myth.”) When Cronon publicized this no-wilderness scenario in an article for the New York Times, environmentalists and ecologists attacked him as infected by relativism and postmodern philosophy. 6631

according to University of Toledo historian Barbara Mann, author of Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas (2004), the female-led clan councils set the agenda of the League—“men could not consider a matter not sent to them by the women.” Women, who held title to all the land and its produce, could vote down decisions by the male leaders of the League and demand that an issue be reconsidered. Under this regime women were so much better off than their counterparts in Europe that nineteenth-century U.S. feminists like Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, all of whom lived in Haudenosaunee country, drew inspiration from their lot. According to Haudenosaunee 6725

both traditional lore and contemporary astronomical calculations suggest that Haudenosaunee dates back to between 1090 and 1150 A.D. The former date was calculated by Seneca historian Paula Underwood, who based her estimate on the tally of generations in oral records. The latter came from historian Mann and her Toledo colleague, astronomer Jerry Fields. The Five Nations recorded the succession of council members with a combination of pegs and carved images on long wooden cylinders called Condolence Canes. (Iroquois pictographs could convey sophisticated ideas, but functioned more as a mnemonic aid than a true writing system. The symbols were not conventionalized—that is, one person could not easily read a document composed by another.) According to Mohawk historian Jake Swamp, 145 Tododahos spoke for the league between its founding and 1995, when Mann and Fields made their calculation. With this figure in hand, Mann and Fields calculated the average tenure of more than three hundred other lifetime appointments, including popes, European kings and queens, and U.S. Supreme Court justices. Multiplying the average by the number of Tododahos, the two researchers estimated that the alliance was probably founded in the middle of the twelfth century. To check this estimate, Mann and Fields turned to astronomical tables. Before 1600, the last total solar eclipse observable in upstate New York occurred on August 31, 1142. If Mann and Fields are correct, this was the date on which Tododaho accepted the alliance. The Haudenosaunee thus would have the second oldest continuously existing representative parliaments on earth. Only Iceland’s Althing, founded in 930 A.D., is older. Scholars debate these estimates, but nobody disputes that the Haudenosaunee exemplified the formidable tradition of limited government and personal autonomy shared by many cultures north of the Río Grande. 6733

To these thinkers, Indians were living demonstrations of wholly novel ways of being human—exemplary cases that were mulled over, though rarely understood completely, by countless Europeans. Colonists and stay-at-homes, intellectuals and commoners, all struggled to understand, according to the sociologist-historian Denys Delâge, of Laval University, in Québec, “the very existence of these relatively egalitarian societies, so different in their structure and social relationships than those of Europe.” The result, Delâge explained, was to promote a new attitude of “cultural relativism” that in turn fed Enlightenment-era debates “about the republican form of government, the rearing of children, and the ideals of freedom, equality, brotherhood, and the right to happiness.” It is no accident that Thomas More, writing Utopia in 1615, situated his exemplary nation in the Americas. Nor is the frequent referral to Indian examples in the writings of Montaigne, Locke, Voltaire, Jefferson, Franklin, and Thomas Paine. Nor that Hobbes’s source for his claim that the life of men outside society is “solitary, nasty, poor, brutal, and short” was “the savage people in many places of America.” Nor that the young Rousseau should put some of his earliest thoughts about society and the individual in an operetta about Columbus and the Indians. (The operetta, which is not viewed favorably even by Rousseau’s most ardent admirers, was never produced.) All were riveted, puzzled, inspired, and dismayed by what they heard of these strange new people across the sea. If these faraway intellectuals were much concerned with the lessons of native life, what about English and French colonists themselves, who knew intact native cultures for some three centuries? In the first two centuries of colonization, the border between natives and newcomers was porous, almost nonexistent. The two societies mingled in a way that is difficult to imagine now. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, the aging John Adams recalled the Massachusetts of his youth as a multiracial society. “Aaron Pomham the Priest and Moses Pomham the Kind of the Punkapaug and Neponsit Tribes were frequent Visitors at my Father’s House …,” he wrote nostalgically. “There was a numerous Family in this Town [Quincy, Mass., where Adams grew up], whose Wigwam was within a Mile of this House.” They frequently visited Adams, “and I in my boyish Rambles used to call at their Wigwam, where I never failed to be treated with Whortle Berries, Blackberries, Strawberries or Apples, Plumbs, Peaches, etc.…” Colonist Susanna Johnson described eighteenth-century New Hampshire as “such a mix … of savages and settlers, without established laws to govern them, that the state of society cannot easily be described.” In Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was equally familiar with Native American life. As a diplomat, he negotiated with the confederacy of Five Nations in 1744; in those days, knowledge of Indian ways was an essential part of the statesman’s toolkit. Among his closest friends was Conrad Weiser, an adopted Mohawk, and the Indians’ unofficial host at the talks. And one of the mainstays of Franklin’s printing business was the publication of Indian treaties, viewed then as critical state documents. 6775

“Every man is free,” the frontiersman Robert Rogers told a disbelieving British audience, referring to Indian villages. In these places, he said, no other person, white or Indian, sachem or slave, “has any right to deprive [anyone] of his freedom.” As for the Haudenosaunee, colonial administrator Cadwallader Colden declared in 1749, they had “such absolute Notions of Liberty, that they allow of no Kind of Superiority of one over another, and banish all Servitude from their Territories.” (Colden, who later became vice governor of New York, was an adoptee of the Mohawks.) 6805

Armand de Lom d’Arce, Baron of Lahontan, lived in French Canada between 1683 and 1694 and frequently visited the Huron. When the baron expatiated upon the superior practices of Europe, the Indians were baffled. The Huron, he reported in an account of his American years, could not understand why one Man should have more than another, and that the Rich should have more Respect than the Poor.… They brand us for Slaves, and call us miserable Souls, whose Life is not worth having, alleging, That we degrade ourselves in subjecting our selves to one Man [a king] who possesses the whole Power, and is bound by no Law but his own Will.… [Individual Indians] value themselves above anything that you can imagine, and this is the reason they always give for’t, That one’s as much Master as another, and since Men are all made of the same Clay there should be no Distinction or Superiority among them. [Emphasis in original.] Lahontan’s works, 6818