Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
THE MAIZE IN THE ARSONIC MAZE
Main review (page 3)
CHARLES C. MANN — 1493, HOW EUROPE’S DISCOVERY OF THE AMERICAS REVOLUTIONIZED TRADE, ECOLOGY AND LIFE ON EARTH — 2011
Appendix A (page 48)
CHARLES C. MANN — 1491, NEW REVELATIONS OF THE AMERICAS BEFORE COLUMBUS — 2005–2006–2011
APPENDIX B (page 71)
THE AFRICAN PRESENCE IN ANCIENT AMERICA — 1976
CHARLES C. MANN — 1493, HOW EUROPE’S DISCOVERY OF THE AMERICAS REVOLUTIONIZED TRADE, ECOLOGY AND LIFE ON EARTH — 2011
It may occasionally take some time to discover a book, an idea, a theory. That was the case with Charles C. Mann. I had reservations on the first book, 1491 [Appendix A] and I have even more with the second. The first problem is the fact that, like the first book, this second book is collecting information from various sources that are duly identified — no plagiarism or theft of intellectual property at stake here — but besides this collecting of data, there is not much. First, the value of the various sources is not really assessed in any contradictory and objective way. He sets side by side different interpretations of events from different points of view, at times contradictory, but he does not go beyond this confrontation. He accumulates theses and antitheses but he never gets to any synthesis because he does not assess the truth-value of the various points of view, and when his text seems to be leaning one way rather than another it is only an illusion, an impression you get, a feeling in no way supported by some scientific valuation. Second, the only personal work of the author is the presentation itself, the presentation of his collected data in order to support — in no way prove — his a-priori hypothesis that is entirely condensed, contained and confined in the subtitle of the book, exactly 13 words, the fatidic number thirteen which, along with 20, is one of the numerical bases of the Maya mythology and their calendars. And a naïve Frenchman would add that this thirteen is contained in the title itself in French: “quatorze cent quatre-vingt-TREIZE.” And actually, 20 is there too in the surviving vigesimal counting system of the French with “QUATRE-VINGT” that should carry an “S” but does not because it is followed by “treize.” What I have just done here is what Mann does all along in his book. Putting data on his desk and considering that, as soon as this data is there, he only has to arrange it in the flat space of his desk or desktop for it to become a theory, a real scientifically historical truth. In other words, his accumulative presentation of different, even contradictory data is for him the post-modernism he wants to wrap himself in, and he forgets the essential third element:
1- Collect all data you can find because there is no truth, or all is true — which is an oxymoron since truth rejects everything that is not true, so all cannot be true.
2- Build up the contradictions among the various points of view, because there are only different points of view that are, according to the first principle, all and any one of them as true as any and every other one of them.
3- Postmodernism states that if there is maybe the beginning of something true it has to be built upon all the differences the data contain without negating or rejecting one single one of them all.
In other words the author gives us a bipolar (the medical meaning can be included in this term that I use with the simple meaning of “binary method that cuts every single vision or observation into two contradictory and antagonistic elements,” and we will come later to the etymological meaning of “bipolar” as opposed to “multipolar”) thinking dividing the world in systematic dual oppositions of As and Bs, but it never provides the beginning of a ternary vision that states the necessary synthesis that does not negate the thesis and the antithesis but brings them together in some kind of unity that has to be constantly modified because everything changes in this world, all the data is moving and the synthesis has no permanence, no stability, is nothing but a constantly moving process that constantly aims higher, targets farther and tries to reach a deeper truth that has evaded everyone so far, and this new deeper synthesis will not negate A and B. It will transcend A and B by bringing them together. Let me be clear here. I defend a materialistic Hegelianism as opposed to both traditional idealistic Hegelianism and materialistic Marxism. I here work on an enormous reality in this world, and in this book, western thinking simply ignores, meaning does not want to take into account, Buddhism and its three principles:
1- Anicca, everything changes constantly.
2- Dukkha, we are always misfitted to that changing reality and we have to constantly adapt, adjust our behavior or way of thinking.
3- Anatta, which is the result of these very first two principles, there is no stable essence of anything, no stable self, no stable mind, no divine — which would be unchanging — soul. The truth — if there is any truth in Buddhism — is in this absolute impermanence, in the fact life is nothing but a process, and in the reality that we have to constantly adapt our behaviors, our views, our beliefs to this impermanent material, psychological, mental reality, this everchanging reality. And that’s the task of the mind, this human construct which is never finished, completed, achieved in any way, and always has to reformat itself as soon as a new batch of data comes into view of this mind. That’s what Buddhist meditation is all about.
After having said this, I must admit that the author is totally ignorant of Buddhism, or Confucianism, or Taoism. Anyway, he would not integrate these oriental philosophies to change his way of thinking because, as he defines himself in the Prologue, he is “a reporter to the news division of the journal Science.” (page xx) That’s the answer he would level at what I am going to say: he is nothing but a journalist, not a scientist, so he cannot, in any way, build or construct a theory and he cannot judge, assess, or simply deem as more or less true or false any theory at all, any view at all he encounters and brings up in his writing. In other words, he is not responsible for what is written in the book. He is not a historian or a physicist, a physician, or a mathematician.
So all he says, and first of all his a-priori hypothesis in the subtitle of the book, is nothing but a hypothesis because if he pretended it were a theory he would have to respect and follow a complicated methodology that he does not follow nor respect.
He should take into account absolutely all available data. His ignorance of oriental thinking is probably the worst challenge to his hypothesis, the worst frustrating void in this hypothesis.
He should assess the value of every single source he uses, refers to, brings up. He cannot satisfy himself with lining them up, as some sort of gallery of statues in a mental museum. He cannot repetitively use what Adam Smith wrote in the second half of the 18th century to analyze and assess data and facts that occurred in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. Obviously, Raleigh, Cortés, or any other adventurer or conquistador could not know what Adam Smith was supposed to think and write three centuries later. We in our modern times can use the concept of Adam Smith or anyone we want to analyze the past and build what we want to think about it, but we cannot use these concepts to confront people of the past who then are more or less rejected as ignorant, incompetent, uncultured, and some might even say idiotic. This anachronic use of historically dated concepts to evaluate people who lived long before the historical validation of these concepts is definitely to be criticized, as being extremely arrogant (we will develop this reference to Adam Smith when dealing with slavery). Thus he should constantly present a continuum from total trust to total distrust, and position all the views he presents somewhere on this continuum between trustworthy and untrustworthy, objective and subjective, unbiased and biased (and do not forget implicit bias), and always in the time concerned by the facts and events considered, hence in the minds of the people living in that time. This is becoming trendy bigotry in today’s world: to judge, deem and assess peoples and actions of the past within the modern definition we have of human rights, justice, democracy, liberty, etc. We seem to forget that all the “rights” we may have today are the result of a slow and long emergence. THEY EXIST TODAY BECAUSE THEY DID NOT EXIST YESTERDAY OR IN THE PAST.
And it is also common to judge deem and assess any foreign entity within the rights and liberties we have in our own country. This way of thinking, behaving, acting is purely umbilical, self-centered, egotistic. It is not because I am right-handed that everyone should be righthanded. It is not because I can speak three languages and read about half a dozen, that everyone should be able to speak the same three languages and read the same half a dozen. We are all capable to learn something new every day, but we are not all capable to learn the same things and the same amount of knowledge every day. WE ARE ALL EQUAL BECAUSE WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT. I am afraid Charles C. Mann has an implicit homogenizing conception of the world and globalization.
That would lead us to the third moment in this methodology: the confrontation of all points of view in order to falsify or verify their truth-value, to prove or disprove their veracity, to support or reject what is being considered in these points of view. And such confrontation has to respect some standard rules of evaluation, and yet not be afraid of rejecting this or that standard rule, but it has to be justified methodologically, scientifically. Rejecting this or that idea, this or that method, because “some me, myself and I” thinks or believes it is justified, is not objective, not even acceptable. And any rule can be seen as valid only within some clear limits, and it is non-valid outside these limits. Two rules about the same phenomenon but with different validity bases should be brought together by integrating the two validity bases, but that’s not always simple. Is light some photons going from one emitting point A to one receiving point B? It is obviously true. But is light some photons advancing on a sinusoidal wave and not on a straight line? We also know it is true. We can easily bring the two together and yet in some cases the light will behave as if it were some photons advancing on a straight line and in some situations it will have to be seen as some photons advancing on a sinusoidal wave. What about freedom of speech?
1- We have total freedom of speech.
2- So, we have the right to say Black people are animals.
3- But do we have the right to put these people in slavery because we think they are animals?
OR THIS ALTERNATIVE
1- We have total freedom of expression.
2- So, we have the right to say Black people are just as human as we are.
3- So, do we have the right — and duty? — to provide them with the same level of comfort, education, healthcare, etc. as we have, or do we have the right to let and encourage them to get — or take? — the same level of comfort as we have?
How can we bring these two points of view together in a reasonable and sustainable synthesis? Is it possible to synthesize them?
Once I had to explain to a school inspector why I had given the students the assignment to prepare the arguments FOR and AGAINST racism for the next class. He was saying: “There are no arguments for racism which is unacceptable, and you should not even dream of planting such ideas in the heads of some students that there might be arguments for racism.” I just told him: “One-third of the class is from the Maghreb. They know all the arguments FOR racism because they are the victims of them.” And true enough with these students it is more difficult to make them find rich arguments against racism because one always knows better what one is the victim of than what one never experiences.
But this absence of scientific methodology leads him to an a priori immodest and arrogant introductory conclusion that wants to appear humble: “My excuse is that the subject is too big for any single work.” (page xxiv) I could not agree more, or less actually. Then, take only one part of the subject and do it properly, keeping the other parts for later. There is nothing more frustrating than a compilation that becomes unreadable with an enormous text of more than 500 pages. Plus 66 pages of notes in a font size that is half that of the main text, and thus represents 132 pages with the standard font size of the book. With 521 notes in these 66–132 pages. Not to speak of an enormous bibliography though the 26-page index is not really helpful to get a bird’s eye’s view of the book. The author has forgotten that “he or she who embraces too many people cannot give anyone a real hug.” He also forgot that a reader is not a gargantuan consumer of pages. If the author had tried to just give a two-page summary at the beginning of each chapter he would have realized how his compilation of points of view is in no way logical as a demonstration of conclusions that are not anyway and always very clear.
So, this being said, I am going to enter the real matter and discuss some elements, certainly not everything because, as the author says so wisely the subject is by far too vast for a proper discussion in a few thousand words.
The neologism Charles C. Mann uses to designate the modern “era” with a word that sounds like another geological period, i.e. “the homogenocene,” is misleading in many ways because Homo Sapiens is not producing or creating the world the way it is, though his/her/their actions have an important impact on this natural world in which he/she/they is/are living. We may understand the word as meaning this impact, but this impact is not a simple impact of human action onto the natural world, it is the result of the interaction between human action and the natural world, knowing that humans are part of this natural world, knowing that when they have a transformational impact on the natural world, the natural world in return has a transformational impact onto humans. The generative initiative is not only human. It is a coordinated, articulated, mutual, and reciprocal experience of humans and the natural world. It is difficult to state consciousness and intention on the side of the natural world, though it is perfectly normal to see some conscious intention or purpose in human action, and yet we cannot state humans are consciously and purposefully oriented towards all the side-effects and consequences of their actions. In fact, many of their actions are blind as for their effects, including short-term effects. The simple kneeling of a white police officer on the throat of a black defenseless man, to the point of causing his death, with three white police officers watching and doing nothing to stop it, had an immediate nano-second-termed effect and a never seen before, mostly at first spontaneous protest movement started in the USA and with worldwide repercussions. On the same line the “natural” pandemic caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus created in every country where it landed a health emergency within ten to fifteen days after contamination. And strict measures were to be taken straight away for curbing this natural spreading within a couple of weeks or a month. Hothouse gas accumulation started from the very domestication of fire by Homo Sapiens and other Hominins before him, and it may have taken several hundred thousand years to come to a critical point, but since 1945 and the careless industrialization of the whole world, led by the developed countries, the direct effects of this accumulation of hothouse gas are accelerating to the point it is difficult to really determine when the point of no return might be reached, if a pre-level of no return has not yet been reached, meaning some damage and consequences may be already irreversible. In fact, it is quite sane and sensible to say human actions have accelerated a natural cycle of earth life that carries and contains humans and their actions. But even so, the cycle is speeding up and the consequences are becoming more and more irreversible. The same cycle might have taken place naturally, but in geological time, that is to say in several or many hundred thousand years, not in hardly two and a half centuries if we consider the use of coal as being the starting point of this carbon dioxide accumulation, and it is obvious it is not the starting point but once again the accelerator of a natural cycle, though humanity did not know at the time the consequences of their starting to use coal massively.
The term “homogenocene” seems to imply the only genetic force at play here and now is the generative power of Homo Sapiens. What I say is that this is not true because the geological history of the earth is a vast succession of cycles that are generated “naturally” which is to say by forces and contraptions that exist in the geological nature of the earth in its special position in the universe. But the term associated with the title, 1493, following the previous volume, 1491, seems to imply there is a precise date starting this present human action in and impact on the natural world, and it is clearly stated as being Christopher Columbus reaching the Americas in 1492. Why is it not the arrival of the Portuguese in Kongo in 1493 and their immediate intervention into political strife there within the “royal” family with the stake of getting free access to the whole “kingdom” including of course Katanga, already known for its copper? Or as for that, why is it not the circumnavigation of Africa by the Phoenicians on the request of Egyptian Pharaohs? And there is more.
“According to Herodotus, the Phoenicians managed to circumnavigate Africa in a voyage in c. 600 BCE sponsored by the Egyptian pharaoh Necho. Starting from the Red Sea, they sailed westwards in a journey that took three years. The sailors of Phoenicia’s most successful colony Carthage were said to have sailed to ancient Britain in an expedition led by Himilco in c. 450 BCE. Another famous Carthaginian voyage, this time by Hanno in c. 425 BCE, reached the Atlantic coast of Africa as far down as modern Cameroon or Gabon. The voyage, whose purpose was to found new colonies and find new sources of valuable commodities (especially gold), is recorded on a stele from the temple of Baal Hammon at Carthage. In the tale, Hanno describes meeting savage tribes, volcanoes, and exotic animals such as gorillas.
“The Phoenicians were not limited to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, they also sailed down the Red Sea and possibly the Indian Ocean too. The book of I Kings in the Bible describes a Phoenician expedition during the 10th century BCE to a new land called Ophir in order to acquire gold, silver, ivory, and gems. The location of Ophir is not known but is variously considered to be in the Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, or even an island in the Indian Ocean. The ships of this fleet were built at Eziongeber on the Red Sea coast and funded by King Solomon. The great distance covered is suggested by the description that the expedition was repeated only every three years.
“The ancient historian Diodorus claimed that the Phoenicians reached the Atlantic islands of Madeira, the Canary Islands, and the Azores. There is, though, no archaeological evidence of direct Phoenician contact, only the discovery in 1749 CE of eight Carthaginian coins dating to the 3rd century BCE. Just how they got there can only be speculated upon.”
(The Phoenicians — Master Mariners, by Mark Cartwright, published on 28 April 2016, in Ancient History Encyclopedia, https://www.ancient.eu/article/897/the-phoenicians---master-mariners/#:~:text=According%20to%20Herodotus%2C%20the%20Phoenicians,journey%20that%20took%20three%20years.&text=425%20BCE%2C%20reached%20the%20Atlantic,as%20modern%20Cameroon%20or%20Gabon.)
And I am only considering the Mediterranean Sea, the Semitic Phoenicians, and their navigation around Africa and apparently up to England (proved by port names on the south coast of England having a Semitic etymology proved by Theo Vennemann last century), but also to various islands in the Atlantic Ocean. Note the use of the word “tale” to speak of these testimonies from Herodotus, and the fact that ancient Phoenician coins are not considered as archaeological proof of their presence there at that time (third century BCE). The myth of Christopher Columbus discovering the Americas is nothing but a myth. Homo Sapiens being what he/she is, had to go on with his migrations and sooner or later cross the Atlantic. Note also it is a standard vision of the Phoenicians who are not considered as navigating in the Indian Ocean though, being Semitic, it is normal they are connected to the Semitic Egyptians who are their main customers for Lebanese logs. There is a fair difference with the Persian polity or polities in the Middle East, before and after Alexander. This conglomerate brings together synthetic-analytical Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, and Indo-Aryan languages [Note how “Indo-“ in these three compounds is the result of an old tradition because at least two of them have no direct relation with India], and agglutinative Turkic languages, with a marginal presence of Semitic languages apart from Akkadian, the language of the scribes of the Sumerians. That may explain our non-orientation to the east, except for Alexander who stopped short of penetrating, let alone conquering, the Indian subcontinent. And I do not consider Extreme Oriental Asia, and particularly China, but we seem to forget Buddha lived in the seventh century BCE, and he grew up in Hindu India whose religious beliefs were founded on the Sanskrit Vedas, 15th to 12th centuries BCE.
The myth of setting a date as the beginning of a long process that started even before Homo Sapiens since Homo Sapiens inherited the linguistic and cultural patrimony of previous Hominins, particularly Homo Erectus and Homo Ergaster. The reference to the beginning of Homo Sapiens civilization around 70,000 BCE is itself a myth, but more about it later. Luckily Charles C. Mann does not refer to the infamous Neolithic revolution though he does not seem clear on the fact that after the peak of the latest Ice age (19,000BCE) in at least half a dozen areas in the world, isolated and having no connections together, agriculture developed, herding spread and permanent villages, cities, and commercial or religious buildings were erected. Note he worked on this part in his first book, but without taking into account the fact that Asia was particularly more advanced than Europe in such fields as sea-voyages, urban habitat, commercial exchanges, etc. Marco Polo and the Silk Roads are absent from Charles C. Mann’s approach. He thus misses the printing press with movable fonts probably originating in China and brought back to Europe in the15th century, not to speak of the bringing back of paper-making from the Middle East in the 12th-13th century crusades back to Europe. Paper-mills, paper, and then printing produced in Europe before (paper) and after (printing) the Black Death, all of these developments long before Christopher Columbus without which Christopher Columbus would never have come to the dream of reaching China and India by sailing west. There is no magic date. We are dealing here with a long process that started a long time ago. But more on that later.
It is amazing how western thought right now is constantly working on a creational pattern, though they have expunged in anything that pretends, truly or not, to be scientific the direct reference of the creationism of the three monotheist religions plus Hinduism. Buddhism refuses the concept of divine creation. For example, at 70,000 BCE, humans conquer the symbolic power as proved by archaeological artifacts on durable media. Before it, nothing, after it the emerging of “civilization.” Same pattern with the Neolithic revolution positioned around 12,000 BCE. Before no “agriculture” (meaning no conscious intervention in the natural garden to change it and made it produce more), no herding (despite the fact we have the archaeological proof of the proximity of some animals living next to humans in Europe in Cro-Magnon’s time or Gravettian areas), meaning agriculture and herding were invented, and as so many, including Charles C. Mann, think and state, in the Middle East, which is a reduction of reality, and how on earth did it spread to China, the Americas, Amazonia, Africa, the Niger and Congo valleys, etc.?
Most of these researchers or writers ignore language, which is not the case of Stephen Mithen who states language and linguistic — or at least oral and vocal communication — even with Neanderthals, and we can extend this remark to Denisovans. In fact, we should wonder about their common ancestor with Homo Sapiens, I mean Homo Erectus. Vocal communication first, linguistic communication second, both imply a level of symbolism. Monkeys only have vocal calls associated with some body-language, but even if they do not have the basic characteristic of language, that is to say, the rotation of vowels and consonants, their calls are symbolic since each call means something that all monkeys of the same linguistic species car understand. Stephen Mithen states that Neanderthals probably did not have the full rotation of vowels and consonants, and probably not the first articulation of human language, but he states these Hominins had some developed verbal communication, including some body-language, some intonation, some singing even in what he calls Hmmmm, “a hypothetical proto-music/language that was holistic (not composed of segmented elements), manipulative (influencing emotional states and hence the behavior of oneself and others), multimodal (using both sound and movement), musical (temporally controlled, rhythmic, and melodic), and mimetic (utilizing sound symbolism and gesture) — a musicking that he calls “Hmmmm” as an abbreviation of the before-mentioned communication modes.” (https://silentlistening.wordpress.com/2009/10/17/steven-mithen-the-singing-neanderthals/) But once again language, hence linguistic symbolism, was a long process with many stages. In the Bible, Adam is endowed from the very start with linguistic power received from creation and God can just tell him to name everything in the creation and he will be able to do with no hesitation, and since he is still alone with God whose word has created the whole universe and man himself, there is no human communication possible, just at best communication from Adam to God, or rather from God to Adam, but that is in no way human communication, and anyway what language does God use and what language does Adam use? How can language exist without human communication? And is it a root-language, an isolating language, an agglutinative language, or a synthetic-analytical language? The unified language before the Tower of Babel? We can accept the idea, but then the diversification of languages is a punishment to prevent global human communication, but what is the phylogeny behind this diversification? Here are the two verses in the Bible concerned by this situation.
2:19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. (Bible, King James Version, Genesis 2:19–20)
Communication is fundamental in all animal species from the smallest insect to the most developed Homo Sapiens. A process that is evolving virtually in the virtual mind of the concerned animals. That means I consider that the smallest ant has a mind, a virtual construct that is not only instincts but also experiential behaviors that are responses to particular circumstances. This western creationistic approach is an implicit bias for many people and an explicit bias for some of them, at least on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, according to their religious affiliation. And if we state there is no real starting point, if we state it is all a long process of emergence then time does not exist naturally. Only duration is experienced by all living organisms. Time is a human invention, devised by humans to quantify their experience of duration, which can be seen as the creative act of God who orders the alternation of nights and days, creates the Sun, the Moon and the stars, and that is all, nothing but a night-day cycle that comes over and over again and the length, hence the time measurement, of this cycle is not specified because time does not exist yet, has not yet been devised by man, and the Moon can shine in the middle of the day instead of the night, because the cycle of the Moon and the cycle of the Sun are not the same, which explains why Homo Sapiens in his own creative observation will create lunar and solar calendars to stick to the Sun star or/and to the Moon planet, not to mention Venus so important for the Maya. Why should one solar cycle be 24 hours long rather than 20 or 25? Charles C. Mann should know that there is nothing natural in the seven-day week, the “thirty”-day month. We can consider the month comes from a lunar cycle (but why is it 20 days with the Maya who are absolutely respectful of the Moon?): it is quantified in solar days, the duration of this lunar cycle, but why are there the alternating 30- and 31- day months in the Western standard calendar, with the one exception of 28 or 29 days?). In the same way, we can consider the 365-day year is a quantification in solar days of the duration of a solar year (with corrections every four years, and every century, and every millennium) that can only come from human observation. Charles C. Mann should know this because the Maya calendars are extremely different from ours, and he could have thought of the mixture of solar and lunar dimensions in the Chinese and other Extreme-Oriental calendars. That would have given him an alternative from the standard creationistic vision: “It all started when …”
Then we can consider that 1492 is an accelerating moment in this long process of emergence, of globalization, if, in durable terms, it is correct to speak of globalization. It would be probably better to speak of the return to some kind of Hominin unity but in diversity. Let me clearly state the various levels at which this emergence of reunified Hominin civilization (which does not mean homogenized despite the implicit bias of Charles C. Mann) proceeded. The emergence of Neanderthals was in Europe. The emergence of Denisovans was in (still to be defined) Central Asia. The emergence of Homo Sapiens was in north- and south-eastern Black Africa. And these emergence processes are only the continuation of the emergence of Homo Erectus from Africa in general with their migration to Europe and Asia where they evolved. If it is difficult to point out the precise moment when Homo Sapiens acquired from his/her own experience the rotation of vowels and consonants that enabled him/her to virtually develop the first articulation of human language, it is clear in the phylogeny of language that there are several stages, which cannot be understood in any other phylogenetic ordered succession.
Communication is not specifically human. Even oral communication is not specifically human if we consider all the animals, birds, and mammals, who emit sounds or produce singing, to communicate with their species-mates. But verbal communication requires this time what is considered as an articulated meaningful item. Can we consider the calls of monkeys as being such verbal items? I think we can though we have to understand these calls show no rotation of vowels and consonants, no real morphology, and no syntax. They are only opportunistic vowels articulated onto consonants that cannot be articulated and uttered without the vowels, each call attached to one real situational reference. They are only discrete calls that can only be concatenated without producing any call of a higher level carrying a meaning of its own different from the meanings of the constituents though derived from these meanings. We can call this monkey language a “discourse” and humans practice this communicational discourse or discursive communication but with a phylogenic evolution from all discursive communication like that of monkeys to human discursive communication.
The purely discursive communication that includes body language, intonation, musical rhythm, or harmonics, etc., is progressively reduced with the three articulations of human language that take care of the linguistic content of this communication progressively more and more inclusively, only keeping the non-linguistic as purely discursive, circumstantial and existential, even if at times the body language of a speaker tells you more than the groans, moans, and words he/she may utter.
The idea here is that the phylogeny of language is the phenomenon that dictated the migrations of Homo Sapiens out of Black Africa and the construction of the three vast phylogenic families of languages in this world and they have to go through the various levels they integrate. Hence the third articulation languages have a remnant of existential and experiential live communication (body language, original intonation and tone, rhythmic patterns and tempos, etc. Note some language actually integrate some of these elements in themselves, like tone in some second articulation languages, or intonation in some third articulation languages). Then it works vertically, and you can see for each vast phylogenic family what they have integrated into what de Saussure, Meillet, and Guillaume called “LANGUE.” All the rest remains discursive and hence is part of what linguists call “PAROLE” or “DISCOURS.”
The author never considers the languages of these Amerindians. From what we know, from Joseph Greenberg and other linguists, we can consider that in Siberia the old traditional languages were from two main families, agglutinative Turkic languages and Isolating Sino-Tibetan languages. We are speaking of oral languages since at the time of their migration to America they were not written. Joseph Greenberg claims there are only three language families in the Americas: Eskimo-Aleut, Na-Dene, and Amerind. His approach is basically founded on lexical characterization. The syntax is mainly not taken into account, or only consider indirectly through some words that are syntactic tools like person pronouns. From other studies, we get the idea that Indian languages in North America, neglecting the Eskimo-Aleut family, are either agglutinative (including holophrastic, meaning one full “sentence” is just one unparsed item corresponding to a full discursive utterance, which for me is surprising because if we implement the principle of Zellig Harris that there is a gap between two concatenated lexical items after the “final” phoneme of the first item when the probability of the initial phoneme of the next item is large, whereas there is no gap — and we are inside a particular item — if the probability of the initial phoneme of this next item is small) or isolating, which would be in phase with their Siberian origin.
But the book does not take into account the fact that in South America and Mesoamerica culture and civilization seems to have moved from south to north and in a lot deeper time than generally asserted. If we add to this the Cape Verde archaeological site in Chile that has reached the 25,000-Before-Present level, and there is a third level that should go back to the more than 30,000-Before-Present time, we have to state a southern migration from the South Pacific, the Polynesian islands, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Australia, and then Melanesia and South East Asia with two families of languages before the peak of the Ice Age: isolating languages in the Burma-Khmer variety, and Turkic languages of a more recent arrival in the Indian subcontinent, which questions the status of Tamil (Indo-Aryan languages will only arrive after the peak of the Ice Age in the Indian subcontinent). This should have kept the author awake and especially if the fact that ocean communication, based on ocean navigation has to be taken into account to understand the arrival of Homo Sapiens in the Americas.
But before discussing these Amerindians and the modern concept of Columbian Exchange, it is essential to understand this symbolicity or symbolism developed in pre-Homo-Sapiens Hominins as soon as they had developed, through experience and in their existential struggle to survive in a rather hostile universe, a communicational discourse, hence eventually a language, of some sort. Homo Sapiens just continued the development of this symbolicity or symbolism. Any Homo Sapiens community just went on with this development based on the heritage that had emerged in Black Africa before their distant ancestors had left Black Africa a long time before. Then this linguistic evolution went on all along the routes of their migrations out of Black Africa and beyond, on the basis of this inherited language in its phylogenic developmental level reached when leaving Black Africa, within its phylogenic level and in contact with languages that may be phylogenetically older or younger if they were not the first to migrate out of Black Africa, and these Amerindians were not the first, and they must have met many other Hominins along the way including some Denisovans. Strangely enough, a systematic DNA study has not been done to know the Denisovan heritage these Amerindians must have since they all, one way or another crossed Denisovan areas, and in South-East Asia it is thought today that the Denisovans survived probably up to close to the peak of the Ice Age, and we may even think that some integrated the Homo Sapiens communities arriving and developing in their areas.
This deep linguistic shortcoming of the book makes the Columbian Exchange hypothesis very doubtful. It did not create relationships in the southern Pacific Ocean. They had existed long before (Aborigines arrived in Australia at something like 50,000 BCE, and the Spaniards considered there was nothing because of the drastic genocidal epidemics and pandemics that eliminated 75 to 95% of the Indian population and had put an end to what probably existed before. The author does not catch this idea that Homo Sapiens, after their ancestor Homo Erectus, were a migrating species. To only consider archaeology is reducing the understanding of what happened. But even if we only consider archaeology, it is obvious the production of weapons and tools is not a marginal event, even in the species that are ancestors or the descendants of some ancestors of our own ancestors (Homo Erectus being the ancestors of Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo Sapiens, and maybe some other species that have not been discovered or identified yet). Weapons and tools imply in their production the Hominins who produce them have a project in their minds, and it is also clear that archaeological periods produce with the various Hominin species some technological styles and procedures that make tools and weapons typical of this or that period, of this or that area, of this or that species. And some areas in the world have been studied more carefully and it was discovered that there were exchanges from one community to others, be they of the same species or different species. The circulation of goods (weapons, tools, beads, ochre, and others) is regular and over vast areas. It is not possible to consider navigation is out of reach before, let’s say, the Phoenicians, when it is not before Christopher Columbus, concerning trans-oceanic navigation. In this last hypothesis, the Phoenicians are ignored this time due to their historical age, and of course, the vast Asian continent with the Chinese, the Persian Gulf, and Iranians and Arabs, not to mention the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia, this time due to our Europe-centricity: Buddhist monks navigated regularly from Sri Lanka to South East Asia, particularly Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam as soon as at least the first century before Christ with the development of Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka, a brand of Buddhism that practiced predication and missionarism as soon as the basic books had been codified in Pali, an Indo-Aryan language that was devised with no alphabet so that it could, and still can, be written with any linguistic alphabet.
In the same way, too many people have in their minds, explicitly or implicitly (it is implicit for Charles C. Mann), that there was a Neolithic Revolution that took place in the Middle East and spread out. This is and is only the pattern of what happened in Europe if we consider the Turkic original Europeans were nothing but hunters and gatherers even after having survived the Ice Age which was dramatic in Europe. Of course, agriculture is the result, the heritage of a long, very long survival procedure of Homo Sapiens in their migrations out of Black Africa and then across continents and oceans. This procedure is simply to take care of the natural garden in which they are living at first and for a very long time. A whole book would be necessary to explain this procedure which is both survival and ecological adaptation. Agriculture is the result of this very survival of humanity through the Ice Age, and first of all the peak of it dated around 19,000 BCE, hence stretching from 25,000 BCE and 14,000 BCE. But the book by assuming the Columbian Exchange, also assumes that a list of agricultural or agroindustrial products would reveal an enormous proportion of cultivars from the Americas with a strong concentration on the Spaniards, hence on Mesoamerica and South America, considering Amazonia as the hothouse laboratory of human agriculture. The reference to the afore-mentioned Columbian Exchange implies that before 1492 the rest of the world had no agriculture of any note, of any importance, which is absurd because if it were true they should all have died of hunger. So, the Chinese had no rice. The Africans had no cassava. The Indians had no cereals of any sort. The world was saved from starvation in the 15th century with the exportation of American cultivars and some reduce these to Maya cultivars. Charles C. Mann concentrates on the transpacific exchanges and only really considers silver from Peru-Bolivia brought by the Spanish and silk and other products of the type brought by the Chinese. And it all happened in the Philippines. He mentions that Chinese goods reached Europe through the Silk Roads that went west and was under the surveillance of the Ottoman Empire and Venice in the Mediterranean Sea. But he does not consider any real data on the subject. And even worse, in his “globalized” orientation he does not see that China today, after five centuries of being pushed down, invaded, opiumized, colonized, etc., is reopening the silk roads. The book is too old to know, having been published in 2011. Maybe but someone who is trying to tell us the future should have studied the problem which has been on the table since Leonid Brezhnev doubled up the Trans Siberian from a one-track railroad to a double-track railroad, not to speak of the construction of a Trans-Siberian motorway or freeway that has been completed only recently. He could not know at the time about the direct railroad link from the Chinese East Coast to Germany, France, England, and Spain by container trains practically every day if not, due to COVID-19, more since sea voyages have become very perilous. In today’s world the Columbian Exchange becomes unacceptable for two basic reasons:
1- It does as if nothing existed before 1492, and I mean starting at 300,000 years ago with the emergence of Homo Sapiens as a long-distance fast bipedal runner.
2- It does not take into account the fact that populist politicians are trying, and when it is Trump or Johnson succeeding, to break up this big “Columbian Exchange” because after producing the global colonization of the world, it has brought up a new dimension, new globalization that will not be based on homogenization and colonization.
This brings us to a fundamental mistake among these western thinkers because Charles C. Mann is not alone. For them, everything has to be captured in a dual way and globalization means then the domination of the world by one power that will impose by all means full dependence, full control, and full homogenization even if it means pushing anyone who may think differently down. The book is pathetically dramatic in this duality, binary thinking of his.
It is actually the survival in a de-Marxisized form of the 19th century systematic thinking that all is but a conflict between thesis and antithesis that have to confront each other till one dominates the other and destroys it. That is the basic vision of capitalism with all the pro-working-class thinkers, though they do not see the non-symmetrical vision of theirs. When you reduce humanity to the “bourgeoisie” (the private owners of the means of production) and the working class (those who sell their working power to the owners of the means of production, with or without the distinction of the lumpen-proletariat and the useful engineers, on one side, and the useless administrative cadres, on the other), you could see easily that in this dual bipolar (and I start using this term with its medical meaning as well as its morphological meaning when opposed to multipolar) vision the bourgeoisie cannot get rid of the working class, otherwise, there would be no production, hence no goods, henceforth no profit. But on the other hand, the Stalinist project of actually annihilating the bourgeoisie is leading to absurdity and the emergence of a new bureaucratic and state if not political (with only one party if possible) managing and controlling class that is nothing but a bourgeoisie without the name.
Some might even say that with Artificial Intelligence the bourgeoisie is going to get rid of the working class replaced by robots. That is just pushing the pawn too far. Imagine all the million jobs that will have to exist just to enable human beings in this society to survive without burning everything and first of all the robots who stole their work. Check what is happening in the coal mines in the USA. They were reopened by Trump’s new regulations, but robots are working underground and overground, not miners who are the fools of the fable.
Here is a representation of what it could be if we tried to go back to plain non-bipolar dialectics, the one advocated by Hegel and many scientists. We have to push aside the concept of antagonism between thesis and antithesis, and we should open this dialectic with a multiple thesis and a multiple antithesis with multiple contradictions.
What is most surprising is how Charles C. Mann states that agriculture started in the Middle East and then spread all over the world (at least something like forty thousand years after the last migration out of Black Africa) without specifying how it did it, which would be difficult because it may have started from the Middle East to go to Europe with the Indo-European migration from Iran to the whole of Europe, though we know very little before the arrival of the Indo-Europeans. Yet the Gravettians had developed some “gathering” that implied a little bit more than just picking and eating, especially when you consider the roots of reeds that the Gravettian collected, we can assume without devastating the area completely, so selecting the roots, and then dried them, ground them into powder and then cooked the powder in some gruel (like the ancestor of porridge) or some flatbread (the ancestor of pancakes or Arab pita and Indian roti). We can be sure these Turkic-speaking Gravettians were better gatherers than a bunch of young teenagers raiding an orchard. It is definitely more difficult to just say it started from the Middle East to the Indian subcontinent with the Indo-Aryan migration, first for the same reason as in the previous case and taking care of the natural garden for a long time, and because little was actually brought along. India and Pakistan were already populated when the Indo-Aryans arrived because both the Turkic and the isolating migrations had already taken place long before the Ice Age. And what’s more agriculture in the Indian subcontinent developed cereals that were not the same as those developed in the Middle East. Difficult to simply say “start and spread.”
But to go back to Amerindians, Charles C. Mann does not consider their languages, their cultures, their genes when they arrived and on which and with which they were going to build their communities in this new world they discovered at least ten thousand years before the peak of the Ice Age if we dare abandon the Clovis Hypothesis that has been for so long presented as the only possible theory particularly by some officials of the Smithsonian Institute. Charles C. Mann should have asked these fundamental questions that he did not ask. Let me give you some of them.
1- Were all Indians in the Americas all identical genetically in 1492? There were differences in blood group mapping between the South and the North. This has to be explored in depth.
2- Why were most non-native-Americans in 1492 immune against many (infantile) diseases which are not, most of them, fatal to children? Is this immunity genetic or developmental?
3- Why are (and were in 1492) most Black Africans immune against malaria and less sensitive to yellow fever? Was and is this immunity genetic or developmental?
4- Why did all native Americans have no immunity against infantile diseases, malaria, and yellow fever though they descended from the same Homo Sapiens stocks as in Asia, Europe, and Africa, and is it still true? If it is not, how did it happen?
5- Why do (and that was truer in 1492) Europeans have no immunity against malaria and yellow fever, and is it also the case in Asia?
6- Is immunity hereditary? From the basic DNA from both parents, or from the mitochondrial DNA of the mother, or both, or none?
7- The immunity system is hereditary, but does it carry the potential to become immune to diseases to which an individual is exposed, and which diseases if not all, or does it contain already acquired immunities for some diseases?
We are going through a pandemic right now, COVID-19, and we have gone through many others before like Ebola or AIDS, or polio even farther before. If we want to assess the tremendous genocide that was performed at first unawares but very fast with the intention to clean up an area before entering it, we have to ask these questions and the fundamental one is that since Amerindians came from Asia why and how did they develop their original genotype that did not include any active and reactive immunity system enabling them to face what humans had faced in other continents. What brought this complete cut? It is true it has to be studied and specified because as for that we do not have the data we need to even try to understand. Historically we can only state what we can see: the arrival of Europeans caused a tremendous vital catastrophe that eliminated between 75 and 95% of the Indian population in what is a couple of years after the first contact, which means over a century or so for the whole continent. And that’s why I do not like the term “exchange” since, apart from syphilis, there is no exchange, just contamination or infection or the Indians by the Europeans.
But let me shift to another question, that of the migrations to America.
So far Homo Erectus has not been found in the Americas, which seems to mean Homo Sapiens migrated to the Americas instead of evolving from Homo Erectus or an already descending specific Hominin group like Neanderthals from Homo Heidelbergensis who descended from Homo Erectus in Europe, or Homo Sapiens who descended from Homo Ergaster, themselves descending from Homo Erectus in Black Africa. We do not have much data about Denisovans except that they covered most of Asia and survived a lot longer than Neanderthals, once Homo Sapiens migrated into their territory, true enough long before the arrival of Homo Sapiens in Europe, probably 50,000 years earlier, and what’s more with variable connections with Homo Sapiens, from single to multiple encounters and even maybe full integration in South East Asia, and providing Homo Sapiens with the gene they needed to be able to survive and thrive at high altitudes and in great cold weather in the Himalayas, in Tibet particularly.
So far, the main dominant “theory” which should only have been a “hypothesis” was the Clovis Theory to which (some of) the people in the Smithsonian Institute are still sticking, though now they do not exclude as some twenty years ago other hypotheses. This Clovis approach stated the Homo Sapiens migrated from Siberia via Beringia and Alaska at a time when there was an open corridor through the ice sometime around 15–12,000 BCE. This approach generally does not consider the people in the Canadian Great North and Greenland. From what we know about Greenland today it was colonized by the Vikings who actually went as far as Newfoundland sometime around 1000 AD, and we can say the first permanent inhabitants of Greenland were Indians, with the Dorset people first, then the Inuit who took over. The Norse Vikings were there only for a short time (400 years).
“Although it has been speculated that there has been historical admixture between the Norse Vikings who lived in Greenland for a limited period ∼1,100–700 years ago [from around 1000 CE to about 1400 CE] and the Inuit, we found no evidence supporting this hypothesis. Similarly, we found no evidence supporting a previously hypothesized admixture event between the Inuit in East Greenland and the Dorset people, who lived in Greenland before the Inuit.” (“Uncovering the Genetic History of the Present-Day Greenlandic Population,” AJHG, Volume 96, Issue 1, 8 January 2015, Pages 54–69, Copyright © 2015 The American Society of Human Genetics. Published by Elsevier Inc., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajhg.2014.11.012)
It would be interesting to confront this Clovis theory to what Jared Diamond says about the colonization of Greenland by the Norse Vikings and their collapse in Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, Penguins, 2005_2011, a book our author could not ignore. These Dorset and then Inuit migrations in the Great North of North America and Greenland are not concerned by the Clovis approach which is positioned in New Mexico. But the “theory” has been so controversial for now twenty years at least, that it was reduced to the Clovis culture and the British Museum produced this synthetic presentation of it that shows how cautious this British institution is.
“How did humans reach America?
“North America was one of the last continents in the world to be settled by humans after about 15,000 BC. During the last Ice Age, water, which previously flowed off the land into the sea, was frozen up in vast ice sheets and glaciers so sea levels dropped. This exposed a land bridge that enabled humans to migrate through Siberia to Alaska. These early Americans were highly adaptable and Clovis points have been found throughout North America. It is remarkable that over such a vast area, the distinctive characteristics of the points hardly vary.
“Typical Clovis points, like the example above, have parallel to slightly convex edges which narrow to a point. This shape is produced by chipping small, parallel flakes off both sides of a stone blade. Following this, the point is thinned on both sides by the removal of flakes which leave a central groove or “flute.” These flutes are the principal feature of Clovis or “fluted” points. They originate from the base which then has a concave outline and end about one-third along the length. The grooves produced by the removal of the flutes allow the point to be fitted to a wooden shaft of a spear.
“The people who made Clovis points spread out across America looking for food and did not stay anywhere for long, although they did return to places where resources were plentiful.
“Clovis points are sometimes found with the bones of mammoths, mastodons, sloth, and giant bison. As the climate changed at the end of the last Ice Age, the habitats on which these animals depended started to disappear. Their extinction was inevitable but Clovis hunting on dwindling numbers probably contributed to their disappearance.
“Although there are arguments in favor of pre-Clovis migrations to America, it is the “Paleo-Indian” Clovis people who can be most certainly identified as the probable ancestors of later Native North American peoples and cultures.”
(© Trustees of the British Museum, our mission is to provide free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere. Khan Academy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/early-cultures/clovis-culture/a/clovis-culture)
The title implies that is the only migration route and event, though the last paragraph implies other approaches are not to be considered and this Clovis culture has to be considered as the oldest Indian culture in North America. This is of course to be corrected due to the existence of the Dorset and Inuit Indians, often known as Eskimos in the Great North, and it does not concern Mesoamerica and South America. Note today we do have archaeological evidence that in North America, in Alaska and Canada some Homo Sapiens were there around 25,000 years ago, if not BCE, anyway before the peak of the Ice Age.
But for Mesoamerica and South America, in the wake of this dominant Clovis hypothesis, research has lagged behind a lot. You have those who consider the Olmec statues have typical Black African features which would imply for the people interested in this fact that some Black Africans must have come to Mesoamerica, and for some others to Northern Brazil. It is the case of Ivan Van Sertima, They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America, in Journal of African Civilizations, Random House Trade Paperbacks, Reprint edition, September 23, 2003, from original in 1976. But this does not concern the arrival of Homo Sapiens in the Americas, but a possible African influence onto South and Mesoamerica. An influence that might have been an exchange, particularly on plants and cultivars.
“They Came Before Columbus reveals a compelling, dramatic, and superbly detailed documentation of the presence and legacy of Africans in ancient America. Examining navigation and shipbuilding; cultural analogies between Native Americans and Africans; the transportation of plants, animals, and textiles between the continents; and the diaries, journals, and oral accounts of the explorers themselves, Ivan Van Sertima builds a pyramid of evidence to support his claim of an African presence in the New World centuries before Columbus.
“Combining impressive scholarship with a novelist’s gift for storytelling, Van Sertima re-creates some of the most powerful scenes of human history: the launching of the great ships of Mali in 1310 (two hundred master boats and two hundred supply boats), the sea expedition of the Mandingo king in 1311, and many others. In They Came Before Columbus, we see clearly the unmistakable face and handprint of black Africans in pre-Columbian America, and their overwhelming impact on the civilizations they encountered.” (Presentation at https://www.amazon.com/They-Came-Before-Columbus-Civilizations/dp/0812968174)
What is interesting — and in 1976 little could be done with DNA, even in 2003 little could still be done and this edition was only a reprint — is the fact that tobacco, cassava or cotton that are attributed to Mesoamerican and South American Indians, particularly the Maya, can be found in Africa. The hypothesis they were transported by sea from Africa to America is oceanwise possible. Today serious research should be started on the DNA of these plants to find out their connections and which ones (on which side of the Atlantic) came first and if the others (on the other side of the Atlantic) are derived from them. Ivan Van Sertima has to be taken seriously today and vastly reexamined with modern science. The present book by Charles C. Mann does not consider this hypothesis, and I must say it is regrettable.
Then we have the serious problem of Cape Verde in Chili. Archaeologically this site has reached the second level that is dated as being 25,000 years old which makes it out of reach for even the earliest Homo Sapiens crossing from Siberia to Alaska. And the site is known for having a third layer that should go beyond 30,000 years ago. Some suggested that from Siberia some Homo Sapiens used boats to follow the southern edge of the ice cap and then the west coast of the American continent. If we want to make this Cape Verde settlement the result of this coast-cabotage it would require these Indians to have started from Siberia many thousand years earlier. It is easier to work on the idea of the old migration from South East Asia to Australia and then New Zealand and Madagascar. This migration is known in Australia as the Aborigine migration and it settled in Australia around 50–45,000 years ago. We do not have access to the data concerning New Zealand, and we have little data about New Caledonia. The rest of the South Pacific is only studied for the period after the Ice Age. We probably have to concentrate on the hypothesis that these Aborigines did not stop in Australia, and Madagascar, but went on navigating from island to island, henceforth to Chili that they could have reached around 35,000 years ago. That would bring up an important demographic northward migration up South America and to Mesoamerica and eventually further on to South West North America, though the Aztecs are asserted as coming from the north (though this is around 1000 AD). Anyway, this population from the south would have encountered the population from Siberia in North America.
We have many elements going that way. First of all, the stone culture of the people involved in this South Pacific migration. Charles C. Mann gives a tremendous number of elements going that way and his book is nearly ten years old. Today we know that cacao was domesticated three thousand years before the Mayas in Bolivian Amazonia, that it is not originally the same wild cacao tree in both cases but culture cannot go back in time: it cannot be a Maya innovation moving to Bolivia. It has to move in the proper time direction. So, it was a Bolivian innovation that moved or was reproduced by the Maya, and probably other Mesoamerican Indians. Archaeology is far behind in its excavations, and satellite pictures have shown that under the vegetation in the Amazonian jungle there are numerous stone structures of the pyramid type the Mayas used in their time. These stones structures have to be excavated and dated. Ancient pyramid cities in Peru, like Caral, are older than Maya cities and Maya pyramids. “Caral flourished between 2600 BC and 1800 BC” (https://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-americas/pyramid-cities-0012437), which means a long phase of maybe one thousand years or more before this flourishing phase. Nothing comes from nothing or from nowhere. Such considerations would go the same way as cacao. Charles C. Mann actually explores this movement from Amazonia to Mesoamerica, but he does not ask the fundamental question: where did these Peruvian, Bolivian, Amazonian Indians come from? From the North sounds absurd due to the timeline. Civilization does not go back in time. We have to consider there was a migration from the southmost region in Chile up north as far as Mesoamerica. Then we should study the genetics of these Indians. We already know a few things, for example, that as for blood groups South American and Mesoamerican Indians are purer, more unified than those in North America. despite what Charles C. Mann says about the original site of any evolving item being where this item is most diverse, I would say first, that blood groups are maybe not an evolving phenomenon, except via mutations, though blood groups seem to be rather stable from parents to children with the children sharing the eventual two groups of their parents, and I would say second, that in this case, the extremely long isolation of Indians across the South Pacific and then in South and Mesoamerica mays have caused the purity as the result of no exterior genes being brought in (in a way some inbreeding at the level of a whole continental mass and population), and I would say third, that North American Indians being more diverse as for their blood groups would imply that two populations met and mixed their genetic heritage. That is exactly the pattern in Europe where the Old Europeans (of the Cro-Magnon and Gravettian times long before the peak of the Ice Age) represent 75% of European DNA whereas the New Europeans of the Indo-European migration several thousand years after the peak of the Ice Age only represent 25% of this European DNA. We could also speak of the Neanderthals or Denisovan genetic heritage in Homo Sapiens. The percentage of this heritage shows contacts happening for a rather long period, and it enables us to evaluate the importance in demographic extension (rather marginal with Neanderthals by the way though more important with Denisovans) of such contacts, and it also proves the hybrid children and their mothers when Neanderthals or Denisovans, were integrated into the Homo Sapiens community since their original genes survived in Homo Sapiens. The very same reasoning produces a hypothesis that two Indian populations from two different Asian areas, but yet from similar demographic situations, meaning isolating-language-speaking populations mixed with Turkic-language-speaking populations and Denisovans around 50–30,000 years ago (the Indo-Aryan population will only arrive several thousand years after the peak of the Ice Age), from Siberia and South East Asia, migrated to the Americas following two main routes. One via Beringia and Alaska, and one via Chile and the Andes, the two met somewhere in northern Mesoamerica or South West North America.
I insist here on the fact that Charles C. Mann is a collector of data and that his collecting is decent and honest. He is missing some elements but most of these elements appeared in the field over the last ten years. He could obviously not know about my own research on the linguistic phylogeny of human language/languages and the connection of this phylogeny with the migrations out of BLACK Africa since I only started speaking on the subject and publishing articles in Québec, at Laval University, in 2015. But the data he presents should have led him to ask fundamental questions, the fundamental questions I myself asked at the time on the basis of the same data. But true enough, I am a linguist, and a phylogenic linguist at that, and Charles C. Mann is not, so he does not classify the languages spoken by these Indians, and he does not connect these languages with the migrations out of Black Africa, which is anyway far beyond the subject of his book. He states clearly the Clovis Theory has to be abandoned. He states clearly that Amazonia covering Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Guiana, was the back base of the agricultural evolution of the Americas without which there cannot be any Columbian Exchange hypothesis. But the question is: Where did these people come from? When did they start settling in South and Mesoamerica? What languages did they speak? The only one that is written extensively, despite the autodafes performed by the Spaniards and their Inquisition, is Maya. What kind of language is it? Is it a root, a stem, or a frond language? It is by studying the language linguistically, not only circumstantially at the descriptive superficial level, that we may find what language this Maya language evolved from because to just reconstruct some PROTO-Maya is not going to provide the origin of it just like PROTO-Indo-European does not tell us where this Indo-European came from. The book is thus doomed by its collecting strategy.
But what this book is most deficient about is slavery. First, let me push aside a regular reference to Adam Smith with this quotation: “The work done by freemen comes cheaper in the end than that performed by slaves.” (The Wealth of Nations) Adam Smith lived from 1723 to 1790, which makes this reference anachronistic most of the time. Then it is nothing but a quotation, and a quotation proves nothing.
Charles C. Mann does not consider some of the most fundamental elements on this subject. He is right when he says Indians were decimated by diseases. He forgets to clearly say that males, adult or not, were either systematically exterminated or maimed by amputation of hands and feet, which condemned them to die. I will not get into more detail. Let’s say we know how far the torturing of these males, adults or children, could go. Women were systematically raped but kept alive. So, Mann is right when he says this was a strong argument for bringing black slaves from Africa. But he does not clearly study the level of black African slaves in Spain itself. He does not consider in any detail the’ existence of slave-trade in western, eastern, and southern Africa long before Christopher Columbus. He speaks a lot about western Africa but does not specify the history of slavery in this part of Africa. Slavery existed within the various Black communities as far back as we can go, though not beyond the Peak of the Ice Age. The first change that appeared was after the long history of Black African slaves in Egypt (including their armed forces and the fact one dynasty of Black Pharaohs came out of it), the Middle East, Greece, Alexander’s Hellenistic empire, the Persian empire and other political entities going back to the emergence of agriculture and herding, including some rebellions of slaves who were employed in recuperating the black oil seeping out of the earth in Mesopotamia. The first change after the fall of the Roman Empire which was very enthusiastic about Black African slaves (among many other slaves), particularly in their armed forces as slave legion soldiers and of course as gladiators in circus fights, was the emergence of Christianity that declared the absolute equality of all humans in front of the Christian God. Man was created in the image of God. In the Old Testament that applied only to the Jews, with slaves all around and Arabs further on. Note Arab slaves were absolutely normal in the Old Testament, even though they were Semites like the Jews, which made communication easier since then they spoke the same Semitic language (Aramaic) or close Semitic languages (Aramaic and Arabic). Note the slave saga of the Jews in Egypt and their escape from this position with Moses does not really explain the origins of these Jews who are obviously not from the land of Israel that is only a Promised Land and not the territory from which they came. Note we could and should discuss what their religion was as compared to that of Egypt. In fact, they are Semites like the Egyptians, both sides spoke Semitic languages, and maybe even the same language or two dialects of the same language, they probably could communicate orally, and the Jews probably could read the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. The position of Jesus himself is not clear. He is a Jew and he preaches Judaism with some modifications, particularly the principle that what is important is not the rules against evil but the real mental practice of good and mental rejection of evil. Washing your hands before eating is nothing but a rule of some sort, whereas to be clean in your mind, in your soul, in your spirit is something that comes from far beyond superficial cleanliness. But the opening of this Jewish new way of looking only came later from a converted Jew, Saul, who took the name of Paul and declared himself the Apostle of Gentiles. (Note it should be Goyim in Hebrew, but Saul/Paul was preaching in Koine Greek.) He never was one of the twelve original apostles, not even after the exclusion of Judas. His conversion on the famous road to Damascus came long after Jesus’ death and he was particularly active against Jesus’ brother, James, and was responsible for James’ first expulsion from the Temple and his subsequent being thrown down over the walls of the city with the result of getting his legs broken, leading him into exile from Jerusalem where he will come back later on, this time to be tried by the priests, and be condemned to being thrown over the wall again, then forced to dig his own grave in which he was buried up to the neck, and finally stoned to death. James was the first bishop of Jerusalem appointed as such by Jesus himself. Saul, later known as Paul, was a Jew, a priest-to-become in the Temple, and a Roman citizen. He advocated the teachings of Jesus had to be delivered and preached to all human beings, thus including slaves, though there is no condemnation of slavery per se for a long time. It will only come clearly with the religious reform in Europe in the 9th century with Charlemagne. This reform imposed the absolute respect of Sunday, as a day without work entirely dedicated to the Lord. It also imposed the respect of the three religious one-week long celebrations of the Nativity of Jesus, the Passion of Jesus, and the Assumption of Mary. That represented more than 70 days of “no-work-just-religious-celebration” a year. That brought in the abolition of slavery, the abolition of the scattered property of land and the instatement of feudal land property and feudalism with a three-tiered society: nobility and clergy at the top; free or semi-free people working in cities, commerce and crafts; and the serfs attached to the land they are supposed to till. Note the three “tiers” I refer to here are modern categories. In the feudal system they had three estates:
“The ‘First Estate’ was the Church (clergy = those who prayed). The ‘Second Estate’ was the Nobility (those who fought = knights). It was common for aristocrats to enter the Church and thus shift from the second to the first estate. The ‘Third Estate’ was the Peasantry (everyone else, at least under feudalism: those who produced the food which supported those who prayed and those who fought, the members of the First and Second Estates).” (http://cola.calpoly.edu/~dschwart/engl430/estates.html)
This religious reform and its more than 70 days of no-work and full religious observance brought up the reinstatement of the old Roman invention of water mills to do a tremendous amount of work: flour mills, oil mills, tan mills, and fulling mills for hemp, both fiber and cloth. Paper fulling mills came later in the 13th century brought back from the Crusades and the Middle East.
All that is ignored and that prevents Charles C. Mann from seeing how much Catholicism could not endorse slavery, and yet they had to accept it since it was imposed from Spain as a heritage of the Muslim era there, and that led to the second great change that came from the third Semitic religion, Islam. Mahomed had to rule in the 7th century the fact that slavery was vastly present in the Arab, North African, and Middle Eastern world where Islam established itself. A special slave trade existed too, first, from west Africa to North Africa and thus to Spain and Portugal, and second from southern and east Africa to Libya and Egypt and from there to the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and Asia. It is this slave trade that practiced, on the way to Libya or Egypt, the castration flush to the belly of young boys no older than 12, for them to become eunuchs. No one knows really the fatality rate of this cruel practice without any anesthetics nor antibiotics. Mahomed introduced the rule that Muslims cannot enslave other Muslims. That led to a change in the slave trade concerned here. Before Mahomed, it was a dominant tribe enslaving and selling to the slave traders from the Mediterranean region members of weaker tribes or dominated tribes. Islam spread in Africa and it was adopted by the dominant tribes, or at least the tribes accepted by Islam and made dominant by becoming Muslims. This occurred in the 13th century in West Africa when the Mali Empire that had been dominated till then by animistic tribes was conquered and unified by Islam. Sundiata Keita became the leader of this empire after the battle of Kirina around 1235. He recuperated the slave trade, and the various animistic tribes were the target of his version of it, Muslims being of course protected from this fate. He established and proclaimed the Manden Charter in Kurukan Fuga (44 articles), reconstructed from “memory” in Conakry in 1999. It contains an article on slaves.
Article 20 : Ne maltraitez pas les esclaves, accordez-leur un jour de repos par semaine et faites en sorte qu’ils cessent le travail à des heures raisonnables. On est maître de l’esclave mais pas du sac qu’il porte. (https://www.humiliationstudies.org/documents/KaboreLaCharteDeKurukafuga.pdf)
Article 20: Do not mistreat slaves, give them one day of rest per week, and ensure that they stop work at reasonable hours. We are master of the slave, but not of the bag he is carrying.
The “bag” this slave carries has been the center of many discussions. Is it only a real bag with the possessions of the slaves, or is it more metaphorical and does it mean the mental and personal identity of the slave? But what we are interested in here is that the Mali Empire was systematically enslaving people from the tribes that had not converted to Islam, and it has to be noted here these tribes would become Christian when colonization came with a very ancient rivalry between the Christian tribes that were the target of the Muslim slave trade, and the Muslim tribes that were the slave traders of these old centuries (1230–1600). Colonization played on this opposition and it actually accepted the dominant Muslim tribes as their power go-between and the banning of slave-trade in general beyond the banning of the Transatlantic slave trade only came slowly and progressively all along the 20th century, and we could even think some forms of slavery still exist with the over-exploited position of immigrants from Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent mostly to and in western societies, not to speak of those who are either illegal immigrants and refugees.
By neglecting all this Charles C. Mann turns the Transatlantic slave trade into THE ONLY slave trade considered, hence a unique phenomenon which it never was, and the first Black African slaves in Europe or under European authority were already in Spain and Portugal long before the Christian Reconquest. The Reconquista was a period in the history of the Iberian Peninsula of about 780 years between the Umayyad conquest of Hispania in 711, the expansion of the Christian kingdoms throughout Iberia, and the fall of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada in 1492 (722 AD — January 2, 1492). Slavery there was pragmatically accepted by the new Christian king and queen. For them, it was only recuperating a situation they had not created and then continuing the practice under their own control to satisfy the needs in Spain and Portugal for a while, and only later (16th century) to satisfy the needs in the new colonies in the Americas. The author misses essentially the difference between slavery in the Catholic colonies (Spanish, Portuguese, and French) and the Protestant colonies (Anglo-Saxon, Dutch). He should have gotten interested in Denise Oliver-Velez. an adjunct Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz (https://www.newpaltz.edu/), a Contributing Editor for the blog Daily Kos (https://www.dailykos.com/blogs/Denise%20Oliver%20Velez?page=1), an activist and a community organizer. She introduced the concept of a three-tier racial society in the previously Catholic Spanish, Portuguese, and French colonies in the Americas, as opposed to the one-blood theory of the Protestant and Puritan Anglo-Saxon and Dutch colonies. A good starting reference for such an exploration is The Young Lords, A Reader, edited by Darrel Enck-Wanzer, Foreword by Iris Morales and Denise Oliver-Velez, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY PRESS, New York and London, © 2010 New York University.
On the Spanish and Portuguese side, the Crown, the Spanish/Iberic Catholic Church and the Inquisition imposed the Christianization of all slaves, the obligation for all of them to be married in the church (75% were males with only one African woman available for three men. The other two married Indian women, which enabled the children to be free (manumission from the free status of the mother), and at the same time for the children of these Indian women to inherit the genetic immunity and other elements carried by the African father. It is in this logic that the three-tier society is embedded. Free white people; free mixed-blood or Black or Indian people; Black, mixed-blood, or colored slaves. It is strange because Charles C. Mann insists tremendously on the maroons, these communities of escaping black slaves and Indian communities where they could find some refuge and protection. He insists on the fact the Spanish Crown systematically tried to find solutions with these maroon communities by granting them their freedom provided they stepped back into the normal legal behavior and action. At first, the Crown tried to fight them and bring them back into dependence. But they could not really cope because these communities were mostly living in wild jungle areas and could not really be destroyed. But at the same time since they were all Christians, it wa easier to re-integrate them as free citizens or subjects. What’s more when slaves they had to be provided one full day of control-free action when they could dedicate their time to their religious duties, first the Christian rituals of mass and communion, and then the marital duties of married couples, no matter whether the two spouses were slaves on the same plantation or different plantations. They had to have the possibility to travel to fulfill their religious and marital duties. What’s more, manumission was fundamental and there were many ways of getting free when a slave. Note the children were christened and all slaves were buried in consecrated land, hence in a Christian cemetery. This situation has little to do with what the situation in the southern English colonies was and the maroon phenomenon has little to do with the Underground Railroad, despite what Charles C. Mann may say, because the Underground Railroad was organized by whites from the northern Anglo-Saxon colonies and later US states to enable Black slaves to escape but under the constant menace of being recaptured and of being granted, up to 1850, the right for the slave owners to recuperate their property if they were the owner of the escaped slaves, and this became the Fugitive Slave Act or Fugitive Slave Law passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850. That law gave the federal government, hence its police force and its justice, the obligation to help the slave owners to recuperate their escaping slaves. This is the whole subject of the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison, based on the true story of Margaret Garner and her children.
The situation was grossly the same with the French in their vast Louisiana from New Orleans to Québec with a slightly different attitude towards Indians (in North America) considered mostly as trade partners. This is essential because the state of Louisiana had more free colored people when it was integrated into the USA as a slave state than enslaved colored people. It changed of course with the arrival of shipments of Black slaves and the closing up of manumission by American authorities, and yet Louisiana will be reconquered by the US army long before the end of the Civil War and it is the positive ratification of the 13th Amendment by Louisiana that enabled the said amendment to be ratified. And remember the majority for it in Congress (House of Representatives and Senate) was two-thirds + 1 of the votes and the ratification was three-fourths of the states. That means that both the vote on the proposition in Congress and the ratification could only go through thanks to the votes of Louisiana re-integrated as a non-slave state. We could, and actually, historically, we should say that the 13th Amendment, the liberation of slaves, could only become constitutional because of the French Code Noir that made Black slaves in Louisiana freer in number and everyday life than the same in Anglo-Saxon Protestant colonies and states. That’s a heritage from Napoleon, since it is a draft of the Napoleonic Code that was the model used to set up the Louisiana Civil Code, which was a French practice since France is based on Code Law whereas the USA and England are based on Common Law. And this Louisiana Civil Code is still active in Louisiana. Check the play and film A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams for the reference to the Louisiana Civil Code: “In the state of Louisiana we have the Napoleonic code according to which what belongs to the wife belongs to the husband and vice versa.” (Scene 2)
So, on this point, we have to come to the idea that slavery was not an invention of the Spaniards in the 16th century, or even in the 15th century (before Christopher Columbus) but a long practice in the Iberic peninsula under Muslim law up to 1492, just a few months before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in America. The Transatlantic slave trade was not even a new thing in the world because the Trans-African, Mediterranean, and Circum-Indian-Ocean slave trades had existed since long before Jesus Christ and the Christian Era and all along afterward. Think of the Black Africans from the Sahel and West Africa moving in very perilous ways at times to Libya, paying for their being transported to Europe in very risky ways to become at worst illegal immigrants or at best — and nothing else — refugees in Europe, overexploited if not even purely and simply enslaved in some European countries. And that can be extended to people from North Africa and the Middle East, and in Great Britain from the Indian Subcontinent, not to mention the expanding Chinatowns in Europe. And it is not better in the USA with their illegal immigrants without whom the US economy could not really work. Imagine all these upper-middle-class families who are using illegal immigrants for their daily home and childcare needs.
Before leaving this question of slavery, it would be nice to think one minute about the Dalits in India who are not even human since they are not divine. Human beings in India are created from various body parts of the main god Brahma. That determines the caste in which each human being is cast. Except for Dalits, the Untouchables, because they are not created from a body part of Brahma, but only from earth, and earth they have to remain all along, that earth human beings are walking on. They have to do the worst possible manual work. They have no human rights, and no rights at all. They are not even listed or counted. The census that is going on right now is supposed to be the first census ever that would count the Dalits. They are untouchable but they are not unrapable. Be they women, men, or children, they can all be raped and brutalized at all times, refused water from any public fountain, refused food if they do not satisfy conditions, and first of all to be of a divine human-caste, which they are not. In this case, the Dalits don’t even have a bag. It is thanks to various church or private initiatives some Dalits have been able to get some education in India or abroad, and it is thanks to the bigotry of Hindu caste-members who refused to have anything to do with the menial and down-to-earth, you know what earth is for them, jobs in the field of computer technology and science that today these educated Dalits are the backbone of the data-processing industry that is making India, if not rich, at least wealthy and developing. History can bring strange vengeful retributions.
It is time now to move to Charles C. Mann’s concept of “extractive states” and “Columbian Exchange.” “Extractive states” is the fundamental colonial concept. One country takes control of a region in the world and turns it into a colony with the imposition of a state organization whose only objective is to extract some goods for the sole benefit of the colonizer. In such a situation the colony is exploited till it cannot produce anything anymore, till the resources that have been exploited are no longer there, are exhausted. The colony never got anything, no education, no transportation, no health, no security, and no infrastructure except the ones necessary for the extraction of the goods and that are no longer necessary when the extraction is completed. The local population is then left in their misery and poverty with no help from anywhere to palliate this situation of dereliction. This is typically the case of the Spaniards and the extraction of silver in Bolivia. That silver only had value because Europe and first of all Spain, and China were regular buyers of it in various ways. Spain used that silver to pay for its wars in Europe (you know, of course, the Invincible Armada), its colonial ventures in the Americas and elsewhere, and for the goods that turned Spain into a privileged country (tobacco, sugar, spices, and a few more, including the cultivars from Mesoamerica), as long as silver kept arriving and kept its high value. On the Chinese side, the Spaniards transported some silver to the Philippines where Chinese merchants came with Chinese luxury goods, or goods that were luxurious in Spain, and first of all silk. The Spaniards had extracted the silver for a pittance given to the local Indian miners or the African slaves, with a high level of casualties, but no one cared, (and Charles C. Mann is slightly light on the use of mercury or quicksilver to refine the silver itself, mercury being a poison as bad in those days as radioactive uranium today, and the mercury still deposited, or abandoned next to the mine is still there polluting the soil, the rainwater that goes down into the rivers, etc.) and they used that silver with the high value it had for the Chinese and thus were able to “buy,” or rather “barter” this silver for a great number of goods that will take a very high value in Spain or Europe. The profit margin of this commercial activity was enormous though it has not been calculated. What was first, the cost of the silver brought by the Spaniards; second, the silver value of a full roll of silk fabric in the Philippines within the bartering procedure with the Chinese; and third, what was the silver value of the silk fabric in Spain? And then what were the costs all along, and practically around the whole globe, taking into account the cost of slave labor, and that will give the lie to Adam Smith any time you try to calculate these costs? There the research has not been done and you will not get in this book any precise calculations, though it is obvious the merchants and other people benefitting from this trade became extremely rich. The human cost is only alluded to in general characteristics, particularly about the fatality rate in these mines due to the absolute lack of security, various diseases, and the simple overexploitation and extreme violence of the mine-managers. With Indians, the cost was very low since they were paid nearly nothing, and their lives were expendable with no cost attached to their death. With slaves, it became more expensive since the slaves had to be bought and transported to the mines, but then they were resistant to the diseases that killed most Indians, and particularly malaria and yellow fever to which a high proportion of them was immune (93% in the case of malaria) whereas Europeans and Indians were highly sensitive.
You have the same pattern in the English colonies, at least the Southern colonies that were supposed to host big plantations that extracted some crops from the soil with the work of African slaves. It is of course absurd to quote Adam Smith here. The cost of African slaves is not only economic, or financial. It is also what Adam Smith does not take into account at all: the extreme power over these slaves, the possibility to make them work at a tremendous level of efficiency with whips and violence, and the public pedagogical lynching of one from time to time to remind them all they did not control their own lives. Strangely enough, the concept of lynching to turn, an African slave into what he or she is supposed to be, pure animal chattel, is never even alluded to. William Lynch’s speech on the bank of the James River in 1712 (Adam Smith was far from being born yet) is typical in the way it illustrates the tremendous power of the slave-owner, the tremendous ego-building of such power, and the tremendous social benefits it provides the slave-owner and his white employees with. And think of the fact the male children of the slave-owner and some of his foremen could take part in this brutal and violent management of this African chattel without any limits, from whipping them at will and ordering them around, to raping them, male, female or children, freely starting at the early age of twelve or thirteen. Those benefits — from the white slaveowner’s point of view of course, because these benefits are undebatable crimes against humanity — are so important, mentally, psychologically, socially, and culturally, that they have no real value in economic terms, and Adam Smith is irrelevant here. Charles C. Mann never enters this William Lynch’s logic. What is the real value of whipping a grownup slave to death when you are his master and, even better, thirteen? What is the real value of raping an African female slave in front of everyone, both all the slaves that are forced to watch and the whites who are so proud of what this 13-year-old boy is doing, sorry this 13-year-old “man” is doing?
“I caught the whiff of a dead slave hanging from a tree a couple of miles back. You are not only losing valuable stocks by hangings, you are having uprisings, slaves are running away, your crops are sometimes left in the fields too long for maximum profit, you suffer occasional fires, your animals are killed. Gentlemen, you know what problems are; I do not need to elaborate. I am not here to enumerate your problems; however, I am here to introduce you to a method of solving them…
“When it comes to breaking the uncivilized nigger, use the same process, but vary the degree and step up the pressure, so as to do a complete reversal of the mind. Take the meanest and most restless nigger, strip him of his clothes in front of the remaining male niggers, the female, and the nigger infant, tar and feather him, tie each leg to a different horse faced in opposite directions, set him afire and beat both horses to pull him apart in front of the remaining nigger. The next step is to take a bullwhip and beat the remaining nigger male to the point of death, in front of the female and the infant. Don’t kill him, but put the fear of God in him, for he can be useful for future breeding.” (The Willie Lynch Letter & the Making of a Slave, https://www.saberesafricanos.net/phocadownloadpap/libros/Lets_Make_A_Slave_The_Making_Of_A_Slave.pdf)
Adam Smith’s remark is not valid here. That’s why slavery was adopted so vastly in the world when agriculture was developed that required a special work organization in which all people were following the same objective, doing the same work and everyone was doing their assigned tasks in their assigned time. We cannot consider the slave market is a free labor market. Slaves are chattel and it is the great value they represent to the owner that is to be taken into account here, and that value is economic in the end since it produces the extraction of the goods and crops that will bring in money and profit to the slave-owner exclusively. The idea that the English reproduced what existed before them among Indians, that is to say, a vast slave system in the south, from Virginia down, and hardly any slaves in the north from Virginia up. Strangely enough, Charles C. Mann seems to have forgotten what he said in the first volume of his saga, 1491, which is that Europeans in fact never knew what these Americas were before their arrival because their arrival immediately spread extremely fatal diseases like smallpox and a few others, which caused the immediate loss of Indian population, hence the total disruption of the ecological and economic, not to mention the social system of the Indians. Indians were the balancing species in the Americas, keeping by their presence and hunting-gathering a certain equilibrium in nature. As soon as the Indians were gone that equilibrium was disrupted and within just a few years, the predator being gone, the prey could multiply, and the logic changed. Some animals multiplied, like deer, buffalo, and some others. What’s more, the Europeans brought some animals that also multiplied and without any predator in front of them. That is the case of rats that were naturally wild though perfectly able to live in osmosis with humans, and horses who got wild and had to be recaptured to be broken. The Indians did a lot of this hunting, not for food but for transportation and work. It is difficult then to say the English reproduced the social status of the Indians because the social status of the Indians was the direct result of the intervention of Europeans and the disruption this intervention caused. We cannot know in North America where there was no writing, no carving in stone, no durable recording on a durable medium, what Indian society was before the arrival of the Europeans. Epidemics that killed up to 50% or more of the population disrupted the social organization so much that some tribes tried to capture prisoners from other tribes to work as slaves because they could not be anything else since they were not from the same tribe, they didn’t speak the same language, and they even had some important cultural differences. To survive, some crops have to be grown and some hunting is to be done. The easier solution to replace the dead is to capture living neighbors, with that simple and apparently universal rule that one human group cannot enslave members of this human group but only members of “other” human groups (other tribes, speaking other languages, having other customs, etc.). But this is the result of the European disruption and the Europeans are implementing the same seemingly universal rule: enslave your neighbors provided they are different enough not to be part of your social community or tribe, and these are Indians; and if next door does not provide, then look for people from the outside. African slaves were a natural solution since it existed and had existed in Spain for centuries, and the Dutch were already in it, and the Anglo-Saxons were easily open to this practice vastly inherited, or recuperated, from the conquest of England by William the Conqueror and the two-tier society it created, the Normans on top and the Anglo-Saxon under, with a weak and fragile two-tier organization among these Anglo-Saxons with the serfs tilling the land and the Anglo-Saxon Barons who were a pale tolerated reflection of the Norman aristocracy. Note the Norman dominant community was a two-tier society too with the aristocracy at the top and all sorts of urban commercial and administrative more or less free but dependent people. The Puritans in the North just pushed the Indians away whom they considered as not being human beings or divine creatures since they had no soul. The standard Anglicans and other Protestants in the south did the same with Indians — Pocahontas’s christening is an exception — and imported African slaves to do the work, these slaves not being human beings, not deserving Christianization, not being under God’s protection as God’s creation, etc.
But that brings Charles C. Mann to another shortcoming. All African slaves were coming from a society whose culture was essentially oral except when Arabic was used in the Muslim countries and tribes with the exceptional “library” of Timbuktu. But one cultural element was universal, with differences for sure but universal nevertheless, among all Africans: their rhythmic music. Beyond language differences and note there is little data about Muslims among the slaves, probably because they were very few or none since the Muslim tribes were providing Europeans with slaves, rhythmic music was a common language with a great ritualistic and symbolic power. To work on the plantations and to produce the required quantity, the same for all, the slaves used a simple method: they sang or rather they hummed a working rhythm which probably prevented a lot of whipping in the evening when the work was measured and the collected crop was weighed. He only insists on maroons, which is probably notable in Florida, which is not English from the very start, and probably less elsewhere. To expand this rather weak argument he brings in the Underground Railroad which was only possible because the whites of the North made it possible. But he does not bring in the daily resistance in daily life as remembered or witnessed by some slaves themselves or some people observing these slaves with some empathy. One reference will be enough: Twelve Years a Slave is an 1853 memoir and slave narrative by American Solomon Northup as told to and edited by David Wilson. That daily resistance was probably a lot more effective to soften the hard life of most slaves and it nurtured the dream to be free one day, to get on the Underground Railroad if possible. The dream was nurtured by daily actions of resistance and to hum their life under control was probably fundamental. It produced a tremendous amount of Black American music like gospels, spirituals, jazz, blues, and many other genres, not to mention the rhythmic power that will bloom in the 20th century with pop music and pop culture, all of it developing from Black Americans, hence black resistance to slavery, not to mention the same in the West Indies (Jamaica, Cuba, and others) and Brazil.
To give a whiff of slave life in the English colonies and later US southern states, here is one ever-present element: being sold to the highest bidder, or being walked, neck-cuffed in pairs and chained in several-hundred-large gangs, here in a song re-published recently on Medium.com.
SONG OF THE COFFLE GANG
Slaves generally weren’t allowed to talk during their forced march. They were often allowed, even encouraged to sing. One such song was discovered by the black abolitionist William W. Brown and published in 1848.
This song is said to be sung by Slaves, as they are chained in gangs when parting from friends for the far-off South — children taken from parents, husbands from wives, and brothers from sisters.
See these poor souls from Africa,
Transported to America:
We are stolen, and sold to Georgia, will you go along with me?
We are stolen and sold to Georgia, go sound the jubilee.
See wives and husbands sold apart,
The children’s screams! — it breaks my heart;
There’s a better day coming, will you go along with me?
There’s a better day coming, go sound the jubilee.
O, gracious Lord! when shall it be,
That we poor souls shall all be free?
Lord, break them Slavery powers — will you go along with me?
Lord, break them Slavery powers, go sound the jubilee.
Dear Lord! dear Lord! when Slavery’ll cease,
Then we poor souls can have our peace;
There’s a better day coming, will you go along with me?
There’s a better day coming, go sound the jubilee.
(“Cof-fle: a line of animals or slaves fastened or driven along together” https://medium.com/the-hbcu-chronicles/cof-fle-a-line-of-animals-or-slaves-fastened-or-driven-along-together-1e5dc377742d, in The Anti-Slavery Harp: A Collection of Songs for Anti-Slavery Meetings, Electronic Edition, Brown, William W. (Compiler), 77KB, Stephen Railton Publisher, Institute for Advanced, Technology in the Humanities, Electronic Text Center, Charlottesville, Virginia, 2000, ©2000 Stephen Railton & the University of Virginia. All rights reserved. http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/abolitn/absowwbahp.html. Source: The Anti-Slavery Harp: A Collection of Songs for Anti-Slavery Meetings, Compiled by William W. Brown, A fugitive slave, 1848. Reprint Slave Poems and Songs, 82 pages, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, © June 20, 2015, ISBN 978–1514631072, https://www.amazon.com/Anti-Slavery-Harp-Collection-Songs-Meetings/dp/1514631075.
But let’s replace this slavery and its Transatlantic slave trade in the vaster context of human migrations from the very first one 200,000 tears ago or so from Black Africa where it all started to the whole world, before the Peak of the Ice Age and after. First the legend and then the map.
That leads us to the concept of Columbian Exchange that is central in Charles C. Mann’s book and thinking. The central idea is that when the Spaniards entered their bartering procedure with the Chinese, silver in exchange of silk, the globe was finally entirely closed up and he jumps to the idea that today’s globalization is the child of this bartering adventure that was only done for the profit a few could get out of it. But we must first have a global picture of the migrations of Homo Sapiens out of Black Africa before the peak of the Ice Age, including the migrations to the Americas, and then the migrations after the Ice Age, essentially the Indo-European and the Indo-Aryan migrations from the Iranian Plateau. (Previous map and its legend)
The modern time globalization did not appear, even as a potential one day in the 16th century when some bartering Spaniards met with some Chinese merchants and exchanged with them silver for silk and other Chinese commodities. The present globalization is the simple result of the fact that Homo Sapiens inherited from his ancestors, Homo Erectus particularly, and from his own genetic evolution that made him a long distance bipedal fast runner, the constant objective of migrating. Homo Sapiens is a migrating species and has always been. In our modern world that is so densely integrated as a commercial adventure, this migrating nature becomes the migrations of capital, people, and goods. We have reached our own limits and difficulties on this road are of two types: those in the world who are not benefitting from this global migratory nature, and those who want to stop it to defend their short-term if not selfish interest. In other words, the main dimension of sharing gets two obstacles in its way: those who do not benefit from this sharing and those who do not want to share.
That means Charles C. Mann misses the main point by pinpointing one event in human history as the beginning of a present phenomenon.
1- It was bound to happen, and the map shows it entirely. Sooner or later the Atlantic was to be crossed one way or the other. And it was. In fact, several times.
2- It is probably the fact that American Indians arrived in the Americas just sometime before the peak of the Ice Age which explains why they evolved in total seclusion or isolation with mutations that made them genetically different, though descending from the same stock. Isolation may have produced some homogenization, at least in South and Mesoamerica.
3- No matter how you look at it, humanity has only one starting point, Black Africa, and at most two nests, and there is no guarantee these two nests are true, one in North East Black Africa and one in South East Black Africa, with probably some movement within Black Africa. The concept of Black Africa is transferred from the present, but there is no reason to think that what we know today as Black Africa was not the original terrain and field of emerging Homo Sapiens. From there three main migrations will bring Homo Sapiens in the whole world before the peak of the Ice Age. After that peak, the world developed agriculture and herding in something like half a dozen zones, two activities that will eventually bring the modern world. Migrations after the peak of the Ice Age spread these various brands of agriculture and herding in wider territories and, in the last millennium or so, further migrations brought some sharing of various resources, agricultural, industrial, or commercial. The question that is emerging today and that has been on the table over the last three millennia or maybe more is about sharing territories. Conquest, colonization, and invasion are not sharing, and they often go along with extermination, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war. Is there an alternative based on sustainable sharing? Can sharing be sustainable?
4- China, and even Oriental Asia have always been at the center of this world, often superior, always at least equal to the rest of the world and particularly Europe. If the conservative Confucian Mandarins had not taken over at the end of Admiral Zheng He’s life, China would have reached Australia and beyond South America at least fifty years before Christopher Columbus, since, despite the Confucian closing up of China in 1430 or so (Admiral Zheng He was not even dead yet), Chinese merchants were regularly plying as far as the Philippines every year.
Yet we do have to examine what the concept of Columbian Exchange covers. And the reality has to be stared at and examined with great scrutiny. What we have to keep in mind is that the term “exchange” was not in use at the time. The Europeans did not go to the Americas, that they thought were India, to exchange anything but just to get, to obtain, and not on commercial terms, the goods they wanted, and that was gold first, silver second, and then spices and other commodities. Their sole project was to conquer and they must have been overwhelmed with the numbers of people they met, though at once — meaning at most a couple of years — they must have seen, and understood that their arrival brought a vast decimation of the population that they literally died like flies, though it did not prevent them from killing all males they could, destroying anything and anyone they deemed heretical. They wanted to Christianize these people, to bring the Christian faith to these people but they thought they had to eradicate paganism first, and they considered this paganism as being barbaric and by essence heretical since Christianity was the only “truth” they could accept. The project definitely was not in any way an exchange, but a conquest to enable the extraction of gold, silver, and spices. They started cultivating and exploiting sugarcane at once to produce this sugar they could not produce in Europe and that had to import from Asia. That sugar they discovered during the Crusades in the Muslim Middle East, among the Muslims who had taken the Holy L and over, conquered it.
Yet five centuries later, from a purely western point of view, essentially dominated by American ideology, this concept of “Columbian Exchange” can be used and formalized. The book moreover maximizes the positive items and minimalizes the negative items, some being purely not even mentioned, at least not as part of the exchange.
What did Europe give the Americas? First of all, a set of diseases like smallpox, and other infantile diseases, plus hepatitis, but also malaria and yellow fever brought by the mosquitoes from the Mediterranean Sea and later from tropical areas in Africa. The point is that Indians in the Americas had a genetic heritage that made their immune system totally unable to cope with the diseases and confront them and build itself against them. In fact, their immune system seemed to get blocked in a defensive mode but unable to get anywhere close to such defenses. For them, these diseases were deadly from the very start and, though it is hard to know exactly, Charles C. Mann in his first book, 1491, gives the range of the estimations put forward by researchers and that goes from 50% to 95%. Such a range is in phase with the pandemic of the 14th and 15th century in Europe, the Black Death, bubonic plague, that also decimated the population within this range according to the cities and rural areas. But in some areas, some villages or communities were entirely destroyed with absolutely no survivors. We can more or less explain why Indians are genetically unable to build their immunity in front of these diseases because of a genetic deficiency. But the real question to be asked is why are the Indians of the Americas the only community in the world that has this particular genetic characteristic when we can compare with Africans being 93% immune to malaria for example, and infantile diseases having become rather harmless with children, and becoming dangerous only with adults. Europeans are not hereditarily immune to these diseases, but the attack on children enables these children to become immune and thus to be protected against these diseases till they die. The children’s immune system is able to build up the necessary antibodies to make the child immune later in life. That’s just what most Indians cannot do. We have to find out why there is such a genetic situation in the Americas. In our modern world, we do not think like that because vaccination has made it possible to build our immunity artificially. We can say, like Doctor Anthony Fauci did recently on PBS, that smallpox has been eradicated. It has been eradicated by vaccination, and if we stopped this systematic vaccination smallpox would probably make a come-back. Note the extermination of most, or at least many, male Indians by the Conquistadors led to a situation where Indian women married Europeans or Africans and their children then had a genetic immune system that is better prepared for this confrontation with diseases.
Yet going to America meant the Europeans put themselves on the receiving side as for a few diseases. Syphilis was one American disease that the Europeans brought back to Europe. Malaria and yellow fever became deadly for most Europeans because for them they were new diseases attached to some special species of mosquitoes and these mosquitoes are tropical or sub-tropical and they develop in marshy areas. The systematic deforestation Europeans practiced in subtropical or tropical wet areas, particularly along the coast or in estuaries and along river expanded the marshy areas and the mosquitoes brought by the Europeans on their ships could prosper. Being a Conquistador or a colonial European was dangerous since they got these diseases that are always impairing them, making them sick and unable to have normal activity, and they turn deadly for many.
The second domain where both sides gave to each other is plants and animals. American cultivars are numerous, and some actually saved humanity from famine here and there. The main plants are potatoes (a great variety of them from ocas to standard tubers, from high altitude potatoes to potatoes adapted to various climates, from tropical to temperate or continental and cold); avocado; cassava or manioc; chicle as chewing gum; chili peppers from bell peppers to hot chili peppers that will produce harissa in Tunisia and then the whole Maghreb and Arab world, and since then the whole world, with pili-pili or piri-piri in Black Africa; chocolate; common bean, though a lot of pulses existed in Europe and the world like peas, chickpeas, lentils, horse beans (or broad beans, or fava beans); cotton; henequen; maize (a great variety of subspecies, but a very limited choice has reached Europe; papaya; peanut; pineapple; rubber; squash; sunflowers; sweet potato; tobacco; tomato; vanilla. The Europeans brought sugarcane that they had borrowed from the Arabs who might have borrowed it from farther east in Asia; various European vegetables and fruits (like peach trees that became wild). The case of grapevines is special since in Europe grapevines were not genetically protected against phylloxera, whereas American grapevines are. At the present moment grapevines in Europe have been systematically hybridized at the end of the 19th century with the American species and vineyards are working today on American hybrids. The last epidemic was in California. A new type of phylloxera emerged during the 1980s in California Wine Country. It attacked ARx1 rootstocks which were previously thought to be immune to phylloxera. This caused a massive amount of replanting on newly developed rootstocks. As for animals, apart from mosquitoes, Europeans brought rats, horses, cows, sheep, and a few others. They brought back to Europe only one, namely, turkey. Note horses got wild and transformed the Americas when Indians captured the wild ones and broke them. We have also to keep in mind that the big migrating herds of buffaloes probably did not exist in Indian times because the Indians hunted them and had not deforested the whole central plains. The Indians as the predators kept their prey species down in number. It was the same thing with deer and other big mammals. Europeans brought such a fall in Indian presence that the whole ecological balance of the Americas was blown up. We can also imagine the damage rats represented for crops, particularly when stored for the winter.
Europeans brought Christianity and that meant a tremendous human and cultural cost we are just starting to compensate with research and archaeology. Christianity per se was not necessarily bad, and it could easily articulate itself onto Indian mythological patterns, but the inquisitional bigotry that came along with it was the worst part. Imagine these conquistadors, and most of them did not even know how to write and read, destroying all the books they found, and at times all artifacts, because of what was represented or written on them. How could they know it was heretical? Even those who knew how to read and write Spanish, Latin, and probably a few more languages, could not decipher Maya writing and they did not really try. So, they could not even know what was in the books they ordered to be burned. In the same way, some people say Europeans brought the concept of a centralized state to manage life and the people. In fact, the Americas were in the process of building big alliances that could have led to some centralized or at least unified vast entities like the Aztek empire, or the Inca empire. Europeans only destroyed these state organizations and replace them with a centralized colonial power entirely centered on the European kings and queens concerned: the king of Spain, queen or king of England, king of France, etc. Europeans imposed a colonial model and this model is still at work in Europe and the USA whose dominant political and cultural class is originally European and still have the European colonial ideology in their minds, and it blocks in many ways the political development of the continent, both Europe and the Americas.
Europeans did not really bring the market economy, or at least a nascent market economy. They actually perverted the very concept of the market. The labor market was in fact essentially a slave market that does not provide free workers negotiating their salaries. Slavery is perfectly adapted to plantation agriculture and some proto-industry working on agricultural products, but it blocks the development of the market economy in general and it runs into a severe if not antagonistic contradiction with capitalism. The various societies Europeans destroyed were all based on agriculture and herding, but the social structure could vary a lot. The dominant element is that they were feudal societies in which the ownership of the land is in the hands of a political or religious elite, and the people tilling this land and practicing various other crafts were in some state of serfdom. The case of the Peru empire is original since the state is providing everyone with the means they need to live: clothing, food, housing, etc. Some might call that communism. The book is not clear about the share of slaves you had in this Peruvian society. All activities seem though to be collective in these Indian societies. The situation in the Maya society or Aztek society is slightly clearer, but not much. Here too we have a feudal society with the work in the fields is organized collectively and the proportion of slaves seems to be rather reduced. But did Europeans introduce capitalism or even nascent capitalism? A serious discussion is necessary. Was Spain a capitalist country, even in the making? What about England or France? Of course not. They were still feudal societies, advanced feudal societies if you want but with the majority of the population still serfs, certainly, not capitalist societies, and what Europeans introduced was a violent type of colonial subservience — or death — for the natives, and greedy domination of the afore-mentioned natives, and slaves to work for the colonizers. We are dealing here with an extractive project that in no way states the equality of two or more partners. There is no demand and offer, there is only brutal appropriation. And if there is a turning date in the “political and social globalization” of the world, it is, in fact, double, April 9 and December 6, 1865, the end of the Civil War in the USA and the ratification of the 13th amendment abolishing slavery (four years after the abolition of serfdom in Russia). These two events occurred because internationally the USA could not go on cheating with the international market with their cheap cotton, nor with the international labor market with their slavery. The general movement of the world in the process of the building of an industrial market economy could not accept one major country in this field to use unfair labor competition to warp the value of their goods as compared to the same goods produced by European countries with a fully free labor market. The point is not to know if that free labor market was entirely free and if a labor market can ever be free, but a labor market without slaves and with trade-unions has little to do economically with a labor slave-market, even if at the same time, in the same period, colonialism was the way for Europeans to cheat with the international labor market and to get raw materials or semi-transformed raw materials, like cotton thread or even cotton fabric at a very competitive price.
In post-Columbian times, Europe was engaged in a vast colonial project in the whole world, and the only big chunk they could not really colonize was China who was penetrated by some foreign influence that encouraged the cultivation of opium; who was disturbed by European and American actions and predicators; who was only really colonized by Japan during WWII, and that was not exactly brilliant. Today’s globalization, the very concept of globalization states that all countries are supposed to be equal in a project that is essentially economic, commercial, and consequently social and political, and it is only if we integrate China as an equal partner among the few leading poles in this multipolar world that we can speak of globalization. The European global colonial project was to take control of the whole world, including China and Japan. The globalized project of today — that is running into the self-centered interests of the USA — is in the process of reversing this whole global colonial project. The global colonial project is based on greed. The globalized project of today is based on development and sharing. The attacks against it come from people and countries that are greedy, self-centered, and do not want to share anything because sharing means they are not the sole leaders. The USA has become the acme of this attitude. The Europeans are dangerously engaged in imitating their Mythical Big Brother, the lumberjack Paul Bunyan of Pennsylvania, but an upgraded one who wants to be the sole center of communication, innovation, domination, data collection, and data exploitation in the world. Just meditate on ICANN:
“The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN ) is an American multistakeholder group and nonprofit organization responsible for coordinating the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces and numerical spaces of the Internet, ensuring the network’s stable and secure operation. ICANN performs the actual technical maintenance work of the Central Internet Address pools and DNS root zone registries pursuant to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function contract. The contract regarding the IANA stewardship functions between ICANN and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the United States Department of Commerce ended on October 1, 2016, formally transitioning the functions to the global multistakeholder community.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICANN)
It was instated by Bill Clinton on September 30, 1998 (incorporated in California). As long as the USA keeps control of what is happening in the world, then they accept globalization. Otherwise, they do not, and they try by all means to harm those who pretend to be and have equal partners in a free market economy. This should lead to a multifaceted and deep discussion, but the general idea is that there is no one initial event that starts anything in this universe, not even a Big Bang. What is important is the process before, during, and after this envisaged event. Not what was before like in 1491, but the previous dynamics that produced the long process that may have brought the event concerned, and this event was only one element in the new situation that was going to generate the future. I am very critical of those who always want to put one starting date on the table for everything happening in the world. Even the election of any president is not a starting point. It is the result of a whole complex dynamic, and it amplifies, in one direction rather than others, this very complex dynamic. Trump is not a simple backlash against a black outgoing president. He is the result of the frustrations and dissatisfactions of the people who voted twice — yes two times — either for or against that outgoing president as well as the same frustrations and dissatisfactions of the same people in front of the general situation around them, international or not, but global for sure, the way they experience it, enjoy it, or resent it as global.
Charles C. Mann is interesting when he shows how the shift from the Indian milpa garden of multiple crops grown together as a method to fight against diseases or parasites, and the slash and char method to enrich the soil of fields with long-lasting charcoal, or even the raised fields with ditches between the sections for irrigation and drainage, the shift from all this to a vast field of regular rows of the same crop with deforestation all around, and how he shows how that shift brings up various diseases on the crops and attracts various parasites. And Charles C. Mann adds that these diseases and parasites were in a way transferred to Europe with the crops that were going to be used as seeds, hence with the potato tubers for example. Two diseases and one parasite develop in these conditions in Europe, and these are only examples. For potatoes, it is a blight that attacks the tubers themselves after the leaves, and potato-bugs that eat up the overground plant, both with drastic results. For grapevines it is phylloxera. In the last case, the first important solution was to use American hybrids. For the first case, plus the various fungi attacking grapevines, two mixtures were to be invented or devised by French agronomists. First for potato blight and potato bugs, Paris Green, a mixture of arsenic and copper, or arsenic and lead, or arsenic and calcium. Arsenic is a poison and it kills parasites. Lead and copper have a similar effect, but they also protect against some fungi. Calcium is rather general to protect plants against moss or once again fungi. For various fungi, particularly those on grapevines, but more generally on fruit trees and even vegetables, the Bordeaux Mixture was developed, which is copper sulfate, with copper that is a poison attacking biological and bacterial parasites and sulfate from sulfur that protects against fungi and other vegetal parasites of this type. We can understand that Paris Green is dangerous for human beings and more generally for animals because it contains arsenic which is an accumulative poison the human body cannot eliminate. It is lethal when the accumulated level reaches a certain point. On the other hand, the Bordeaux Mixture is less dangerous, though copper is poisonous, but the human body can deal with it. The normal range for copper levels in the blood is 70 to 140 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). And sulfur is known to be of low toxicity and poses very little if any risk to human and animal health. This case shows how important agricultural technology is. But the author does not know the agricultural technology and procedures that were introduced in Europe by the Benedictines in the 10th-11th centuries: systematic terracing of slopes on mountain flanks or hills; rotation of crops; fallow year every three or four years; introduction of cow, horse, and human manure; the invention of the horse collar to plow fields faster and deeper; the reintroduction of the old Celtic metal plowshare that had been abandoned by the Romans who used slaves to hoe the fields more than plow them; adaptation of crops to seasons and temperatures; management of water with terraces and ditches to collect water and hence enable drainage and irrigation. And those are only a few elements in this green revolution brought in Europe by the Benedictines. In the same way, they did deforest vast sections but never systematically, preferring bocage fields with hedgerows planted with some trees to cut the wind and to produce some fruit or nuts, and some sections of forest required by the aristocracy who practiced hunting. It is surprising that in the Americas, Europeans did exactly what they would not have done — if they had any experience in agriculture — in Europe, and these Benedictine methods lasted up to the 17th or 18th centuries, even longer in some countries, with here and there some revival today.
This leads Charles C. Mann to the idea that deforestation brought erosion and marshes, with mosquitos and malaria or yellow fever, and this led to importing African slaves who were vastly immune to these diseases. Then he asserts that this logic led to plantation agriculture which even increased deforestation, erosion, and marshes, hence malaria and yellow fever, hence more African slaves, and it is a vicious circle. What’s more, he says this plantation agriculture favors bacterial, biological, and insect parasites as well as diseases that spread from one plant to the next but only attack one species or two. If a field of several acres is planted with one crop when a disease or a parasite comes into the field, they will be able to take over not one or two plants (isolated among other plants that are not favored by the said disease or parasite), or even one or two rows of plants (separated by draining ditches, with other different plants on the other side), but the whole field. That’s how the potato blight and bugs caused complete famine in Ireland and other places: an enormous acreage of potato fields was destroyed.
I would like now to take the case of rubber, the famous Maya use of rubber to make the ball they used in their ballgame which was not football or handball, but hipball. Rubber is the sap of “hevea brasiliensis” that has to be collected like any other saps (the resin of pine trees, the chicle of sapodilla trees). Heveas like sapodilla trees grow in the jungle but as opposed to them they can be transplanted into plantations.
For Charles C. Mann the industrial revolution needed three things, the steam engine later the internal combustion engine, then oil, and finally rubber. This led this industrial revolution from coal-burning trains to oil-burning automobile vehicles, and from metal wheels on metal rails to rubber wheels on macadamized roads. His point is to prove the whole world is the result of this Columbian Exchange between American Indians and Europe. Of course, we know the steam engine burning coal was not American, and even, coal was not American, at least yet. Coal was first used for that steam engine in England and France and the trains with metal wheels on metal rails were invented in England and required nothing from the Americas and their Indians. The only thing this industrial revolution that came from the Americas was rubber, the sap of heveas, trees that could be grown in plantations. The result of the plantations in the Americas was catastrophic and that was bothering Europeans who wanted to settle there. So, they moved the plantations away to other places, other colonies where this tree could and still can prosper. And that is where some fundamental element escapes the author’s attention. He speaks of the attempt of the Chinese, right now to develop hevea plantations in Laos and he insists on what it brings to the Laotians living isolated and poor in the mountains. And he hints that the real profit goes to the Chinese, and the Laotians, despite their satisfaction, only get some side profit that brings televisions and cars to these villages. And he is wrong all along because he forgets to mention, which is a real miracle of obscurantism when speaking of rubber, hevea plantations, and cars. He does not mention Michelin one single time, Michelin and their hevea plantations in Indochina, in fact, Vietnam, opened in 1925. There is an allusion to these French people and their plantations in the film Apocalypse Now, the full version because that scene was doctored in the first commercial version. I took several classes of High School students to a private showing of the film in 1979. I am surprised that he did not work on this case that is old and long and it shows how colonialism can be used to exploit indigenous people in many countries, and here in Asia. But that would have shown the difference from the Chinese way. They, with others (French companies among others, under the environmental coordination of WWF, permanently represented during this project by Roland Eve) built the Xayaburi Dam, a run-of-river hydroelectric dam on the Lower Mekong River, approximately 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Sainyabuli (Xayaburi) town in northern Laos, whose commercial operation started in October 2019, and that dam had been being built for twelve years, meaning it was started before this book was published. And he could not have mentioned the other Laotian-Chinese project of the new railroad being built from Vientiane to China: The Vientiane–Boten railway is a 414 kilometers 1,435 mm standard gauge railway under construction in Laos, between the capital Vientiane and the small town of Boten on the border with China. In the north, the line will be connected to the Chinese rail system in Mohan, through the Yuxi–Mohan railway (started December 2016-inaugurated December 2021). The dam produces so much electricity that Laos exports some to Cambodia and Vietnam and the railroad is going to open Laos to China and thus open up the country to international commercial routes. “The over 400-km railway, with 198-km tunnels and 62-km bridges, will run from Boten border gate in northern Laos, bordering China, to Vientiane with an operating speed of 160 km per hour. (Global Times, “China-Laos railway completes both cross-Mekong River bridges’ beam installation,” Xinhua, Published: 2020/7/16 19:49:22, http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1194772.shtml). Opening up a given territory is fundamental, provided this territory has goods of value to export and the means to import other goods of value. Commerce is an exchange. Of course, in 2011 the author could not really know what was going to happen ten years later, but he should have explored the rubber case and the hevea plantation situation a little bit more and he could have spoken of Michelin hevea plantations, along with the Chinese case if he so wanted, and that might have been to the advantage of the Chinese who are not using traditional colonial methods but methods Charles C. Mann hints at without understanding where they come from and what they mean.
Charles C. Mann does not know why the management of this Chinese plantation is in the hands of the people themselves so that the raw material they are going to produce will be guaranteed a certain negotiated price according to the quality of it. It is a sort of cooperative that provides the cultivars, the equipment, and the proper counseling for the work itself, cultivation of the trees, and harvesting of the sap. Each worker or team has a certain number of trees to look after and the production of these trees will dictate his or their income. This cooperative functioning is the one we know very well in France with the wine cooperatives in Languedoc and the famous cooperative Limagrain, the first producer of cereals, particularly corn (maize) in France. Such cooperatives are wealthy, and their members are also wealthy because Limagrain for example stores the corn in silos and wait for the American corn to be sold. And corn producers in the USA must sell as fast as they can to be able to reimburse their loans with their banks and get new ones for the next year (buy the seeds, the fertilizer, the equipment, and of course, hire the people necessary to sow, take care of everything and harvest). In the French case, the farmers get their money as soon as the crop is delivered after the harvest and Limagrain delivers the seeds for the next year (to be deducted from the final income) to the farmers and provide them with all they need in their cooperative stores. Charles C. Mann also ignores that it is the same French cooperatives and the department in Renault for the hydraulic management of rivers and canals that were called in in the late 1970s and early 1980s to upgrade the draining and irrigation network or system in China under Deng Xiaoping. One of the people on the French side at the time was a deputy mayor of Tourcoing, Jacques Coru, who had been working for the afore-mentioned Renault department. I had regular contact with him at the time. When you know that Limagrain and Michelin are both from the same city in France, Clermont-Ferrand, you can understand there are connections among these cooperatives and the rubber giant, especially since a plantation needs precise and careful management of water. When you know these cooperatives were created and managed after WWII by people who were nicknamed the “Red Barons” because they were communists dealing with farmers and farmworkers vastly under the influence of French communists. If you add to this the fact that Zhou Enlai and Ho Chi Minh were factory workers at the Paris Renault plant in Boulogne-Billancourt in the early 1920s, you can see the network of connections that Charles C. Mann does not take into account. Heveas come from Amazonia and Maya country and rubber was discovered and managed by the Maya for their ball games but to center rubber on the USA is definitely cheating with history. Asia accounts for 93% of the world’s natural rubber production with Thailand being the largest producer followed by Indonesia and Vietnam. Other large rubber producers in the region include India, China [and we should add Laos, even if the company is Chinese] and Malaysia. (https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200427005431/en/South-East-Asia-Rubber-Markets-2019-2020-Featuring#:~:text=Asia%20accounts%20for%2093%25%20of,stood%20at%2013.804%20million%20tonnes.) and concerning the production of tires, as of 2019, Bridgestone (Japan) is the world’s largest tire manufacturer, followed by Michelin (France), Goodyear (United States), Continental (Germany), and Sumitomo (Japan). The rubber itself is produced in Asia and only the third tire company is American, the others are Japanese (#1 and #5), French (#2), and German (#4). By centering the chapter on rubber on the British disconnected inventor-tinkerer of vulcanization Charles Goodyear and the company Goodyear that has nothing to do with the aforementioned inventor-tinkerer, except borrowing his name, Charles C. Mann is not clear at all: tires today are vastly non-American (not from the USA and the Americas) and rubber per se is absolutely non-American (not from the USA and the Americas).
This leads to an essential element. The USA may have been in the leading position in the world for fifty years but today even if they are still number 1 in some fields, they are no longer leading the way in most fields globally. Globalization is, in fact, a reconstruction of what the world used to be before being globalized, and that means a multipolar world with Asia playing an essential and vital role, Europe hesitating in the challenge to take the lead in some fields, and Africa being the last comer along with South America and Mesoamerica who have to pull their stakes out and play their own assets without yielding to North America. The world is re-centering itself on the Indian Ocean, and the China Seas are going to be crucial in the coming decades. The USA seems to know that but for all the wrong reasons. We are reaching a point today where and when the USA in their frustration and nostalgia may be ready to do anything to impose their rules. The paranoid national schizophrenia all political forces in the USA are going through is frighteningly scary and the repetitive tautology is the only way to keep some distance, abide by the barrier gestures, and mask up our faces not to be contaminated by all the MAGA ideologies we can hear today chanting from the USA. My Asinine God Almighty!!!
And we are back at our starting point. The binary bipolar (and I am afraid this bipolarity is the very basis of the present crisis of this globalization we are speaking of, because it ignores the third level, the synthesis of the first two, transcending though in no way negating them, rather bringing them together. Here is a condensed sketch of the full representation I gave at the beginning.
This idea that a balanced personality needs to bring together and transcend the two diverging forces in any human beings, let’s say for one example the Death Instinct, Thanatos, and the Love Instinct, Libido, into a third synthetic dimension, that is, by the way, the basis of any empathy, what is generally called the Phallus which enables the synthetic personality to envisage its own future development, the transcending element in this synthesis. It was called the ego-ideal in Freud’s language (das Ichideal in German) and it is now after Jacques Lacan called the Phallus, and Jacques Lacan reminds us of the fact that even women have a phallus, even if they do not have a penis. In his Ph.D. in the late 1930s, Jacques Lacan defended the idea that we need to be innerly “schizophrenic or psychotic,” meaning having a double personality to be able to construct a balanced presence, behavior, and action in our modern society around us. We are not speaking of a split personality (generally in two antagonistic individualized egos reproducing the opposition between impulses embedded in our bodies and rules imposed by the authority in society, the opposition between love and hatred, libido and Thanatos, the mother and the father figures, without being able to reach any superior existence, hence not being able to empathize and forgive what life experience has brought to us.
Every single time we think in binary antagonistic couples of items, we are on the brink of falling into schizophrenia or psychosis if we cannot empathize and forgive, in one word transcend, this bipolarity of the vision we are developing. This is often unconscious and is called for example “implicit bias” within today’s debate on police reform in the USA. But we have the same implicit bias every time we think in bipolar terms, I mean dividing the world into two opposed and contradictory, even antagonistic items, elements, individuals, communities, etc. Implicit bias against Blacks will require a binary bipolar definition of the world and thus will include with the Blacks all non-Whites, but it will define this extended black set within the implicit bias of “colored” versus “white,” them versus us or us versus them, according to which side of this bias you stand on.
Charles C. Mann’s implicit bias is his vision of globalization entirely centered on the Americas and, in fact, the USA. In 2011 this position of the USA over the whole world, leading, dominating, controlling the whole world, was, in fact, containing the germinating (and that is not necessarily positive since it is both connected to growing and germs, or bacteria, or viruses, and we know the damage a virus can cause today in 2020) bipolar vision of “us” meaning the US, versus “them” meaning all the others, and to make things simpler this “them” became Iran, North Korea and then China by metonymic reduction, hence bipolarly centering “them” on one country, because “us” is necessarily one unified and homogenized entity, so that “them” has to be reduced to one entity, and people thinking like that will rotate the “them” reduced to one country from one country to another and eventually a third if necessary, forgetting or pushing aside the reduced “them” used before the latest one. This is a typical mindset centering on looking for and exposing scapegoats.
This bipolar vision or bipolarized vision can either be optimistic and globalization is bound to happen the way it is imagined, i.e. confirming the leading and dominant role of the US, or it can become negative because the unity of globalization has to be based on multipolarity and integrated differences as differences, which means the version of it in which the US is dominant is necessarily frustrated and that frustration becomes the leverage opportunistic politicians will encourage and use in people for them opportunistic politicians to capture power. So, in fact, neither the bipolar globalization of some, not the multipolar vision of others, and there might be several different multipolar visions, are bound to happen, though they are bound to emerge now and then and become contradictory, hoping they do not become antagonistic. If they do, if two of the multiple poles of this multipolar vision become antagonistic, we have a fair chance to be led to some kind of war. Charles C. Mann in 2011 was still an optimist and I am sure he must have great difficulty to maintain his optimism in the MAGA-BREXIT-POPULISM electoral and political condensation of some mashed mental implicit bias or biases into hostility, negativity, isolation, and rejection, in one word “retrograding,” meaning retrograding to what the world used to be before, meaning, during the Cold War. Things were so simple then when we engulfed ourselves in this bipolar caricature of reality, either on the western side or on the Soviet side. Of course, there were the non-aligned and China and Yugoslavia, but bipolarized minds can easily overlook all third or fourth poles in a vision that is nothing but two spinning tops on two oily surfaces slanting respectively one to the left and the other to the right (all meanings of these left and right words are intended), or two mantra prayer-mills endowed with eternal movement and each one respectively repeating the mind-numbing mantras-tantras, respectively turning one to the left and the other to the right (all meanings of these left and right words are intended), and these mantras-tantras are always on one side or the other one step away from some two kinds of bipolar antagonistic tantrums with the possibility to enter a real fight at any moment.
So, if you have the courage to read this book, the main text, the notes and eventually some extensions in the “works cited” bibliography, remain at a distance from this US-centered vision of globalization. Keep up with your (critical) barrier (mental) gestures. Keep your facial covering on to filter the vision carried by this book and to remain anonymous not to become the prey of this MAGA-BREXIT-ISIS implicit predator. Just imagine you are the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, of the Maya confronting the Death Lords in Xibalba, and do not forget these Death Lords are cheating, so be prepared top cheat just the same, and keep some trump cards up in your sleeves.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
CHARLES C. MANN — 1491, NEW REVELATIONS OF THE AMERICAS BEFORE COLUMBUS — 2005–2006–2011
That’s the book we had wanted to read for a very long time. It is absolutely needed in our attempt to understand what the Americas were before they became the Americas with Christopher Columbus sailing into them that he only thought were the West Indies, if not simply India per se. Our whole assessment of this New World before Columbus is based on what the conquistadors reported and what they wanted us to believe and it was altogether a big pack of many things that had nothing to do with what the Americas were before the arrival of the Europeans.
The Europeans brought along, meatal weapons and tools, horses and pigs, and several epidemics that were lethal, fatal, deadly for the Indians, as the author explains, because of the Indians’ particular genetic endowment concerning their immune system, their resistance, and reactivity to new germs. Not only had they never encountered smallpox, hepatitis A, and a few more, in their entire life on this earth and for many thousand years if not several ten thousand years, with apparently a genetic similarity with some native tribes from Siberia, but I will not take this as the answer to the mystery of this genetic handicap that became a deficiency, because the Indians did not react to a new germ by mobilizing their immune system and their natural defenses. They seemed to just close down all access, lock up all doors, and in a way just let themselves be taken away by the various diseases. They may even have developed some kind of fatalism in front of this apparently inescapable and unavoidable cataclysm.
From the very first contact on the first day, the germs were transmitted — though of course, no one knew about it — and the high level of Indian mobility at the time caused the germs to be transmitted over vast areas in a question of days and when the diseases came out after incubation, it was too late. Within a few weeks or months, the infested population was put to rest in proportions that we cannot even know, except that all signals and signs we can find on the ground ‘archaeological or cultural) indicate that the New World was densely populated before and that Indians lived in big urbanized units that were comparable to European cities as for their population. Estimations of fatalities vary between 50 and 90%. I would say they must have been very comparable to the Black Death in Europe in the 14th century: 50% of the population was eradicated by the plague, but over longer periods of time, over ten or twenty years. With Indians, we are speaking of the same level of casualties but in just a couple of months in each case.
The author insists all along on the tremendous social, demographic, economic, political, and cultural catastrophe, a disaster for the whole continent. We cannot think that at first, the Europeans knew about this collateral effect after their arrival. But only at first, because very fast they seemed to have taken measures to compensate the collateral genocide that was thus unwillingly committed, and the Spaniards started importing Black slaves from Spain at first because they had had Black slaves in Spain for a few decades before Christopher Columbus crossing the Atlantic Ocean. And then they started importing them directly from Africa. The triangular Transatlantic slave trade was started. Then they must have known they were spreading diseases that existed in Europe, even if in Europe they were either limited to children with no real danger or to a small proportion of adults.
The main argument here is that what at the time people told about the Americas and the Indians was nothing but the description of a devastated country, continent, devastated by a pandemic tsunami. The testimonies the Conquistadors could get from the survivors were the stories of people traumatized by the event trying, at times desperately, to survive under the forceful if not brutal military colonial domination imposed by Spain and Portugal. At best they must have been nostalgic. But if we want to be realistic they were hyper-traumatized by the turn of events that “proved,” if it needed to be proved, that all they believed in before, gods, mythologies, religions, social contract, education, you name it you have it, was all wrong since their gods, among other spiritual forces, were given the absolute lie. How could they go on believing in the Maize God or the Sun God or whatever other God or Goddess, when it was so obvious all these gods just let them die in utter suffering and helplessness? After such an event, Post Traumatic Colonial Stress Syndrome, if not PT-Genocidal-SS, has to be the result. Could you believe what such traumatized people would say about what it was before the “Fall”? The author calls this the Holmberg’s Mistake, the belief that what they saw when arriving was the reality of before. They saw a highly sophisticated society in absolute disruption, and thus they could not see the high sophistication that was the Indians’ reality before this pandemic tsunami. So, they believed the New World was wild, savage, totally uncivilized, ^primeval for the “romantic” thinkers like Montaigne or later Chateaubriand. They believed the disruption they saw was the natural state of this continent.
Yet the author launches himself into a reconstruction of the past from what we can have at our disposal: archaeological finds and excavations, artifacts from before the colonization, all sorts of artifacts and objects, stories, mythologies that the memory of the survivors could provide. And then you have to enter into this book with care and slow reading because every word brings up a debate, every page requires a critical approach, every chapter is a mine of various minerals, all mixed-up and intertwined, obsidian, jade, and turquoise, or even gold and silver. The first thing you must do is sort out all the details and information and try to see things in an historical, what I call, with a few others, phylogenic perspective. I do not believe in retrospective reconstruction, and here it is difficult to ban that retrospective approach that is generally considered as narrowing the reality in my field of research, i.e. linguistics. So, we have to make do with it and try to compensate for the shortcoming of it with a good phylogenic approach that has to descend from the past to the present and not ascend from the present to the past. We have to wonder about what is potentially contained in what we have collected about the past, knowing that history will always only realize the potentials contained in the real situation, though of course, an event like Christopher Columbus can disrupt such potentials and their phylogeny. Yet I believe the potentials survive the catastrophe and it can come back into the picture several centuries later.
But one more fundamental idea is to be set here. What is often called the Clovis First Theory, a speculative ideological construction I would at best call the Clovis First hypothesis, is debunked scientifically in this book, even if it is not completely eliminated or reduced to what it is, a minor hypothesis concerning the arrival of Homo Sapiens in the Americas. The Clovis First hypothesis states that all Native Americans arrived in the Americas as a whole from Siberia via Beringia after the peak of the Ice Age around 15,000 BC at the very most (some versions of this speculative approach do not go beyond 12,000 BC or even less). Clovis is in New Mexico, and some say it had a very short lifespan: “They first appeared in America around 9,200 B.C. and vanished 500 years later, around 8,700 B.C.” (HowStuffWorks.com) Note the magical words “appeared” and “vanished,” as if it were some kind of prestidigitation act, from some supernatural power I guess. The doors that are still closed or only partly open are complex. First, some Homo Sapiens arrived long before the peak of the Ice Age (19,000 BC). At least three hypotheses about Homo Sapiens arriving in the Americas have to be taken into account. From Siberia, or lower south including Japan, but by “boat”, hence arriving on the Canadian or Washington coast, south of the ice caps, and then going down the coast both by “boat” or on foot. And that would have happened before 19,000 BC. The second hypothesis we have to keep in mind concerns Monte Verde in Chile that is being excavated and they have reached the layer around 20–25,000 BC. And there would be a third layer that would go beyond 30,000 BC. This brings up the idea that another migrating route must have existed in the southern Pacific. Apparently, DNA contacts have been traced with the Polynesians in the Marquesas Islands and other islands east of New Zealand. It is not clear when and if it is only from Chile to these islands or from these islands to Chile. Homo Sapiens reached Australia around 45,000 BC and New Zealand soon after though all archaeological artifacts about this old migration have been locked up by the New Zealand government for an unspecified length of time. These Australian Aborigines also reached Madagascar since the original native language is not African but is connected to the Australian Aborigines’ language. So, they knew how to navigate long-distance on the Pacific Ocean, and we know it is tricky as all Polynesians who do it will tell you, agreeing as for that with the writer and sailor Joseph Conrad. There might also have been some connection with Africa, which would explain some Olmec carved giant heads that are typical of African face physiology, but also the migration of some plants from Africa to Latin America, among others tobacco.
But the book insists, though maybe not clearly enough, on the existence of a split between a northern culture that imported maize and tobacco, for example, from the south (the case of Cahokia is fascinating), and southern culture centered on Amazonia as the devising area of the famous milpa agriculture and the terra preta soil, and the integration of ground charcoal in the soil, implying a “slash-and-char” agriculture and rejecting the slash-and-burn agriculture to after the importation of metal axes and tools that only came with the Spaniards after Christophe Columbus. He insists too that this shift to steel tools enabled the rescue of Indian agriculture, though not in the best direction, by slash-and-burn because metal exes and tools enabled Indians to clear vast forest areas they could not clear before. He maybe should insist more on the fact that the food needs had tremendously decreased after the epidemics and that this slash-and-burn agriculture was more needed by the incoming colonizers who imported African slaves to do the work the Indians could not do since they were dying like flies, and I am sure they were nothing but parasites for the colonizers, human (if not beastlike) parasites, cultural parasites, religious parasites, in one word barbaric heretics. On these questions, this book is essential, even if it does not systematize this critical approach to devise a new way to develop these Americas by integrating Indians and Indian traditions. The recent (July 10, 2020) US Supreme Court decision on the five tribes in Arizona whose basic treaties with the Federal government were signed at the end of the 19th century, reasserting the full validity of these treaties is going the right way, even if there is a lot more work to do. And we remember the justice decision at the beginning of Obama’s first term in office granting reparation money to all Indian reservations. The re-emergence of Indian culture and Indian tribes is coming in the USA, just as much as in many South American and Mesoamerican countries (Mexico and the Maya train, Bolivia and their Indian president Evo Morales, and the struggles of Indians in Amazonia, particularly Brazil.
You have understood I guess I consider this book as a turning point in the historical approach of the original reality of the Americas and American Indians. A turning point that reaches a point of no return: the question is not whether it is true or not. The question is how can we go further and understand what is emerging in this New World torn apart by the hegemonic role of the USA for centuries, a hegemonic role that is bursting at the seams of its suit due to the over-bloated (mentally and corporally) and over-fed (obese and probably diabetic) reality. Now I have given a general assessment, it is high time to consider some details, some specific elements, and there is a lot of food for thought there. That is the next task of all readers.
In this second movement, I am going to consider some questions and points brought up by Charles C. Mann’s book, knowing that there is a second book — 1493 — I will cover later.
The first point is on page 20:
“In every imaginable scenario, they [Native Americans or Indians] left Eurasia before the first whisper of the Neolithic Revolution… It began in the Middle East about eleven thousand years ago, in the western half of the Fertile Crescent, which arcs between Iraq and Israel, reaching into southern Turkey along the way. Foraging societies there grouped into permanent villages and learned to cultivate and breed the area’s wild wheat and barley. In the next few millennia, the wheel and the metal tool sprang up in the same area. The Sumerians put these inventions together, added writing, and in the third millennium B.C. created the first great civilization. Every European and Asian culture since, no matter how disparate in appearance, stands in Sumer’s shadow. Native Americans, who left Asia long before agriculture, missed out on the bounty.” (My emphases)
In this quotation, you have all the standard and biased western-centered if not Europe-centered (it could be specified as “Eurasia”-centered) theorization, which should always have remained a hypothesis and today we know it is wrong. The concept of the Neolithic Revolution is a complete misnomer. We are speaking here about the emergence of agriculture and herding. It is a universal movement in the world after the Ice Age, three, four, or five thousand years after the peak of it (19,000 BC). It is in no way a punctual event but a long phylogenic process that occurred in at least half a dozen areas simultaneously, even if over a 5,000-year long period, at times in some areas slightly longer, and independently. Generally, it happened in areas where important rivers are flowing. The Tigris and the Euphrates in the Middle East, of course; but also the three rivers, the Yangtze (Jinsha), Lancang (Mekong) and Nujiang (Salween) rivers of Yunnan in Asia-China-South-East-Asia; the Indus and Ganga rivers in India-Pakistan-Bengal; the Nile in Egypt; the Amazon and other subsidiaries in Latin America; the Mississippi in Northern America; we could think of a few rivers in Black Africa, the Niger River or the Congo River for two; and strangely enough it was imported into Europe by the Indo-European migrations from the Middle East to the British Isles and Ireland, one along and around the Mediterranean Sea, and the other through the Caucasus and then into the vast European plains right through to Scandinavia and the British Isles and Ireland. Note these two migrations find a Turkic population that arrived in Europe around 45,000 BC and most of these people will shift to Indo-European languages, though in Finland and Lapland, in northern Russia, and in the Basque country, Turkic agglutinative languages survived these Indo-European migrations. Note Hungarian is the result of a later migration in historical time from Finland and Northern Russia of Turkic-speaking people.
When this is said we can see that his remark “All of Europe has 4 language families — Indo-European, Finno-Ugric, Basque and Turkic — with the great majority of Europeans speaking an Indo-European language,” (page 186) is badly informed since Finno-Ugric languages, Basque and Turkic languages (note he must mean Turkish) are all Turkic agglutinative languages, and it means little since within the Indo-European family he does not see the great groups of Slavic languages, Germanic languages (including Scandinavian languages and English), Celtic languages and Romance languages (that includes Romanian of course). He should have thought twice when he stated page 186, “the extraordinary variety and fragmentation of Indian languages,” and then “Joseph H. Greenberg[‘s]… three main linguistic families: Aleut…; Na Dené…; and Amerind…” (page 187). In fact, as for languages, the book is extremely deficient. The author does not seem to have expertise or knowledge about the various languages of the Americas, nor about the writing systems of Latin American and Mesoamerican Indians.
Still on this point, to state that the Fertile Crescent is the original point of the Neolithic agricultural Revolution is simply absurd. It is not even sure it happened there first in time in the world. We know so little about other areas, even India and China. Domesticating wild plants takes a tremendous amount of human observation, experimentation, and conceptualization; Corn is a typical example since we do not know today how this hybridization (between what and what?) was devised and performed. One thing is sure the corn we cultivate today is not a natural product because even if punctually a mutation could have produced something close to it, it could not have reproduced itself and thus would have been lost. What’s more, the extremely diverse species that corn is (page 223: “red, blue, yellow, orange, black, pink, purple, creamy white, multicolored… cob’s the size of a baby’s hand…two-foot-long cobs…”) must have required a lot of different hybridization to be produced in such a variety. So in fact Native Americans like all other human communities in the world that developed agriculture and herding did not miss any bounty from the Middle East because even in the Middle East they did the same thing as everywhere else: they devised and developed this agriculture and herding independently, by themselves. Herding is a typical case in the Americas, since after the Ice Age there existed no domesticable draught animals except the llama that could be used as a beast of burden and the roads in the Andes built by Native Americans were adapted to them since they cut up the steep slope into many steps that the llamas can easily climb whereas horses are just unable to do it.
Since we are on this point of beasts of burden and draught animals, the invention of the wheel, that did exist in Central America and Latin America, maybe in Northern America too, could not be used for carts of any sorts that cannot go up flights o stairs and that anyway cannot be drawn by any animal (note the case of Aleut Indians who can use sleighs drawn by dogs. Note too that Indians in the Great Plains of Northern America could not be easily migrating from one hunting field to another because they had no beast of burdens, no carts, and no draught animals. Horses will only be used on the Trail of Tears forced migration because horses had been running wild after the Spaniards first and then other European groups brought them into the Americas. This fundamental remark is only marginally alluded to by the author, though it has an essential impact on what life could be before the arrival of Europeans. He speaks of the Columbian Exchange. Horses are part of it. We will speak about it later.
The second remark that has to be done is about the agriculture Indians developed. In the book, some fundamental crops are absent or reduced to little. I used the Index of the book to see this extension or lack of extension since the index in a book gives a concentrated vision of the whole book’s content. Here are my results.
Beans: TWO mentions, one multiple-page mention
Cacao: ZERO mention
Cotton: FOUR mentions, two multiple-page mentions
Fish as fertilizer: TWO mentions, one multiple-page mention
Llama: ZERO mention [in the index, mind you, because he does mention this animal several times in the book.]
Maize: TWENTY-THREE mentions, 9 multiple-page mention
Manioc (cassava): ONE mention (ZERO mention)
Potatoes: ONE multiple-page mention
Salmon: ZERO mention
Spinach: ONE mention [Note it is a European invasive plant and we could overlook it]
Squashes: ONE multiple-page mention
Tobacco: THREE mentions.
This index is first of all not really representative because many items are not listed, or insufficiently listed. If you use this index to navigate in the book, you will not get a proper image of the matter contained in the book.
The most surprising under-listed crops are cacao (and today we know it is archaeologically proved to have been present in Bolivian Amazonia something like at least 5,000 Years ago, hence 3,000 years before it is archaeologically attested among the Mayas. This is essential. Culture does not move back in time but only forward in time, that means the Indians in Amazonia were a lot more precocious than the Indians in Mesoamerica and beyond the Indians in Northern America. We cannot deny in Northern America and Canada Indians arrived, one way or another, from Siberia, but we have to take into account that the demographic movement from South America to Mesoamerica, and eventually to South-west USA reveals a very old migration of Indians from the South to the North; The author gives the fact that in Latin America almost 100% Indians have type O blood, whereas in Northern America the percentage falls to 90%. (page 117) He uses this fact to speak of the homogeneity of Indian biochemistry, but in this case, we have to state the difference reveals some mixing situation in which two different populations meet and the difference implies the meeting of the two populations occurred in Northern America: two different Indian populations with two different biochemistries. It is obvious such a fact should lead to more DNA research to find out what the two populations are, but the pure one as for this criterion is the one from South America. This implies the demographic movement was from south to north; The author says that Amazonia was the main area where plants were domesticated and then that these domesticated plants moved North. Maize is in a way exceptional since it developed in Mesoamerica, as far as we know today. The whole book is very rich in how Amazonia was such a laboratory of domestication and genetic manipulation of plants. You have to add potatoes that are also so varied that you have species that can only grow in the mountain and at high altitudes, and others that can grow in plains and tropical climate. You also have a particular type, Oca (Oxalis tuberosa, formerly Oxalis crenata), that grow in a temperate climate and the tubers develop on the branches if these are covered up with soil. Colors are also very varied from red to black. This diversity shows how Indians were able to adapt their material and agronomical engineering to the particular circumstances available in different places, with different plants, climates, and soils. The author mentions it for Amazonia in Latin America and Cahokia in North America, but he does not systematize it with concrete examples of such genetic manipulations and how they were performed. Maybe there is nothing available in research, though I have seen a lot about cacao and maize. The only case he mentions a little is maize.
Two elements are mentioned and explored. The rich engineering used by Indians to make some areas agriculturally productive. The first one concerns various areas like the Andes, Maya country, and Mesoamerica, as well as some areas, though later, in North America. It has to do with managing water with irrigation and drainage (which implies retaining water). To do that Indians built long canals to bring water and manage it in the fields. It also implies terracing the slopes of mountains and building some enclosed and clearing flat fields in the plains. In Amazonia, they have a long flooding season and they have to adapt their villages and their fields to this fact. Villages are higher than the flooding limits and the fields are also, for some of them, higher. In the Andes and with the Maya or even generally in Mesoamerica extended to the South West USA, irrigation and saving water are essential to be able to confront some drought periods, connected or not to Nino phenomena.
The second element is the work on the soil. In Amazonia, it is evaluated that 10% of the forest is man-made as for its soil. Indians did not practice slash-and-burn agriculture but slash-and-char agriculture, integrating charcoal in the soil and various bacteria (we do not know how they did it). They also used fish as fertilizer in these fields. They also invented what is called the “milpa,” a small cleared field in the forest, under the canopy of tall trees all around. These fields were permanent and modern measurements show that this soil called “terra preta do Indio” contains sixty-four times more charcoal than the surrounding red earth, and a hundred times more bacteria, some completely specific to this soil. Charcoal retains its carbon in the soil for up to fifty thousand years, and it is easy to date the soil thanks to this carbon. What’s more, “plots with charcoal alone grew little, but those treated with a combination of charcoal and fertilizer yielded as much as 880 percent more than plots with fertilizer alone.” (page 357) It is easy then to understand that the use of fish as fertilizer was a very good initiative. What is surprising in this book is that when confronted with such engineering procedures the author does not try to explore how these Indians, coming from we do not know where, with heritage and know-how we do not know at all, managed to devise such complex processes and agronomical genetics. To treat the soil to make it rich, to irrigate and drain it properly, and at the same time to genetically modify species to produce new plants and crops, all that required a tremendous level of intelligence founded on observation, experimentation, speculation, etc., and of course, education and communication to transmit the knowledge to younger generations and apparently to outside communities, at times very far away, who had not been able to devise such procedures.
My experience in the field of languages tells me that languages are modified by such exchanges of knowledge, know-how, technology. The Turkic population (that accounts for 75% of European DNA) adopted the new agricultural techniques brought by the Indo-European population (who represents only 25 % of European DNA) and they adopted their languages. Contrary cases can be explained, and it is the case with Basque or Finnish and Lap languages. That means the concept of “glottochronology” (page 43) that measures the time when two languages separated from their common ancestor, is not the real interesting question here. What kind of linguistic exchanges went along with these agricultural and social exchanges and that might bring us up to an explanation why only Maya developed a fully or at least vastly phonetic, though syllabic and not alphabetical, written language, though many other languages in Mesoamerica developed some varied levels of iconographic and rebus-like writing procedures, at times with some side elements of phoneticism. The field and scope of such research are absolutely enormous and can only be approached if we get out of the “Clovis Theory” that implies all movements were from North to South against all the phenomena we are dealing with here that moved from south to north.
This book is not real research but, in fact, it brings together the research of many people, without pushing this mosaic to what it should be, a confrontation to get to some real crossover-questions. On one hand, the book states that Amazonia was a real nursery for the domestication of all sorts of plants, though tobacco and cacao are absent, and maize is stated to be a special case attached to Mesoamerica. But at the very same time the books states page 234: “[according to Matthew W. Stirling] the Olmec have been known for two Homeric epithets: they were ‘mysterious,’ and they were the ‘mother culture’ of Mesoamerica.” This is a quotation but nowhere the author asks the questions that should be burning his tongue. The Olmec are archaeologically attested in a certain period and a certain form as if it were a stable and lasting culture, and this culture is supposed to have given birth to all the others in Mesoamerica. But it did not appear just like that, out of a prestidigitator’s hat, fully developed and sustainable as well as durable for centuries. We can easily see how other cultures developed from this one. But where did this culture come from? Where did these Olmec come from? What cultural, linguistic, and social phylogeny produced them? Did they descend from Amazonia? And then the same questions come up. Where did this Amazonian culture come from? Where did these Amazonian Indians come from? What cultural, linguistic, and social phylogeny produced them? The book sounds like the author would not want to ask the question about the origin of anything, because of the impossibility to answer to the typically American — at least for some generations — origin question, the question about the origin of the world and the origin of God. If you ask the question about the origin of the world and answer it was created by God, then the question about the origin of God comes up. What was God created by? Buddha in Theravada Buddhism and the Dhammapada is reported as saying that such a question is absurd since it will apply again and again to any answer to an origin-question you may ask. But that’s where I will differ strongly. Homo Sapiens has an origin because he descended from a previous Hominin, Homo Erectus or Homo Ergaster, and we know what made him Homo Sapiens, a long-distance fast bipedal runner. Homo Sapiens is the result of a set of mutations selected by the environment in which he lived at the time and that phylogenetically guided Homo Sapiens towards long-distance fast bipedal running, the only way he could survive in the savanna. By referring to a mother culture, a term borrowed from Stirling, the author locks himself in a “who-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg” impossible dilemma.
And this frustrating experience can be met again and again.
For example, the three calendars of the Maya. The Haab secular 365-day solar calendar composed of 18 months of twenty days plus a nineteenth “group” of five days. Why 20 days, why 18 = 9 x 2 months, and why these extra five days? Then the Tzolk’in sacred 260-day calendar composed of thirteen “months” or “cycles” of twenty days. But why thirteen “months” of twenty days? What articulation does it find in nature? And this calendar is based on a rotation of thirteen months of twenty days, month after month, and each day is identified on this long series of 260 days by a cyclical number from one to thirteen that starts again as soon as this 13 is reached. This means that the 261st day will be the 1st day of the next Tzolk’in calendrical cycle, and it is the same day as the first day of the initial Tzolk’in calendrical cycle. If it was 1-Ajaw, the first day of all the successive tzolk’in calendrical cycles will always be 1-Ajaw. It is even more difficult to understand the natural dimension or rooting of the fact that if we consider the case when the first day of a tzolk’in calendrical cycle is also the first day of a Haab calendar, the various cyclicities of these calendars will bring the same first day of a tzolk’in calendar being the first day of a Haab calendar after 18,980 days, meaning after 52 years of 365 days and if you consider the absence of leap years in this tradition, you try to understand how many groups of four years there are in 52 years and you find 13 groups, hence this 52-year cycle is 13 days shorter than 52 standard solar years with leap years. All that is purely mathematical. If you consider these two calendars, Haab and Tzolk’in, you come to this recurrence of 13. But what is the meaning of this number? Why was it so pregnant for the Maya that they made it central in their capture of time? No answer and not even a hypothesis in this book. That’s frustrating.
And it is not finished because the Long Count calendar used to date events in historical time is fundamental for the Maya since it states the “ground-zero-day” of Maya history, noted for them as 126.96.36.199.0. and it is very exactly August 11, 3114 BCE, the completion of the previous Long Count calendar cycle and the beginning of the current (meaning current before its end on December 21, 2012, the one that started on August 11, 3114 BCE) Long Count calendar cycle reached 188.8.131.52.0 again, and its end, hence the beginning of the next Long Count calendar cycle which is the current one today, during the winter solstice, on 21 December 2012.
What in nature supports this choice for the beginning of our modern baktun? No answer about such fascinating but (without any explanation) arbitrary choices. We know they cannot be arbitrary. So, what happened on these August 11 and 12, 3114 BCE? And let me be clear about one thing here: to come to such an extremely sophisticated and complicated calendrical vision, the Mayas, and probably many others, had to be mathematically and astronomically very brilliant. You can note too that a full cycle of 13 baktuns are stated as being completed when this modern world starts. It is thus not a creation of the world, but we find 13 again and no explanation though if we want to look for the origin of time, we have to go back 13 baktun to reach 0.0.0.0.0 which will be the creation of the world, or the creation of humanity, or the creation of time. Keep in mind one full cycle from Baktun 184.108.40.206.0 to Baktun 220.127.116.11.0 is 13 x 20 x 20 x 18 x 20 = 1,872,000 days. We can get to the same result from the table provided here: 2,456,283–584,283 = 1,872,000. This means that one baktun is 144,000 days long since one cycle is 13 baktuns and we are back to the value and meaning of this 13.
In the same way, the vigesimal counting system of the Maya is not unique in the world and has been used a lot here and there, like the twenty shillings of the old British pound sterling. We can easily see how you can get to such a mathematical base by counting with your fingers and toes. But where is 13 coming from? We can easily consider the solar year is behind the Haab calendar and its 365 days. But it is only the 360-day calendar that is used, thus getting behind the solar cycle 5 days per year for three years and six days the fourth year and starting again for three years and one-fourth year. The very surprising element is the fact that the vigesimal system of the Maya is not entirely vigesimal since it is not 20 x 20 x 20 x 20 = 160,000. 18 in the second rank from the right (the Long Count is written from right to left as for logical hierarchical tiers, and in glyphic writing on stelae and carved inscriptions from bottom to top, most of the time, and it is even more complex if the inscription is in two columns as it should normally be) is a discrepancy imposed by the solar year but seen the Maya way, that is to say, 18 months of 20 days, a realistic calculation for dates. But what about plain counting, cacao beans for example used by the Maya as currency? I haven’t found the answer.
But the author is surprising too because he seems to ignore that the Maya had two words for “zero.”
First, the word and sign that means “nothing,” “empty” that we Westerners interpret as being zero, though to say the Maya invented it is tentative because the concept of “empty nothingness” is very old. The etymology of zero with this meaning is given as follows by the Online Etymological Dictionary that goes as far as Sanskrit, hence Indo-European and Indo-Aryan languages (India, Bengal, and Pakistan mostly) but does not go beyond to Chinese mathematics.
“figure which stands for naught in the Arabic notation,” also “the absence of all quantity considered as quantity,” circa 1600, from French “zéro” or directly from Italian “zero,” from Medieval Latin “zephirum,” from Arabic “sifr,” “cipher,” translation of Sanskrit “sunya-m,” “empty place, desert, naught.” [We should wonder if this concept was used in numeration or time measuring in Sanskrit, but if it exists in Sanskrit it probably appeared in the older Iranian language from which both Indo-European and Indo-Aryan languages diverged separately after the Ice Age, because Sanskrit is not the ancestor of Indo-European languages, only a cousin, but it is the ancestor of Indo-Aryan languages, and it has an older form known as Vedic Sanskrit. We do not know the route these people followed from Iran and the connection with the old “Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex” as it was called in Soviet times in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and the Harappan civilization in Pakistan]
late 14th century., “arithmetical symbol for zero,” from Old French “cifre,” “naught, zero,” Medieval Latin “cifra,” which, with Spanish and Italian “cifra,” ultimately is from Arabic “sifr,” “zero,” literally “empty, nothing,” from “safara,” “to be empty;” a loan-translation of Sanskrit “sunya-s,” “empty.” Klein says Modern French “chiffre” is from Italian cifra. The word came to Europe with Arabic numerals. From “zero,” it came to mean “any numeral” (early 15th century), then (first in French and Italian) “secret way of writing; coded message” (a sense first attested in English in the 1520s), because early codes often substituted numbers for letters. The meaning “the key to a cipher or secret writing” is by 1885, short for cipher key (by 1835).
Once again we meet here something the Maya seem to have devised all by themselves in their isolated position in the Americas, but simultaneously and at a period that is not specified the Arabs would have derived the concept of a digit or figure “0” (“zero) to translate in numerals the concept of “emptiness,” “void,” and “desertic” that existed in Sanskrit and probably in the older source language from Iran.
Let us go back to the two “zero” word in Maya (basic information from John Montgomery’s Maya Dictionary available online at http://www.famsi.org/mayawriting/dictionary/montgomery/index.html.
mi/MI (mi) (T173) 1> phonetic sign 2> > noun “nothing, zero”; negative marker. Note the ternary structure of this glyph. Such ternary structures reinforced by the two separations that build a quintuple structure, and we must think of the Quincunx. There seems to be a connection with blood sacrifice, with bloodletting, with human sacrifice even.
b’i/B’I (b’i) (T585) 1> phonetic sign 2>noun “road” <> (John Montgomery) The “quincunx” glyph. (Peter Mathews) b’i/B’IH (b’i/b’ih) (Christophe Helmke) 1> b’i (b’i) b’i ~ syllabogram 2> b’i (b’i[h] ) b’ih ~ n. “road”, “path”. <> Represents a human footprint on the surface of the road, a Mesoamerican convention for denoting roads. But note this version of it:
, and the “mi” glyph discussed here is only the left half of it, which makes this “mi” glyph a direct derivation from this representation of the Quincunx. But other glyphs can be used for this “mi” concept.
mi/MI (mi) (T217v) 1> phonetic sign 2> noun “nothing, zero”; negative marker.
mi/MI (mi) (T217v) 1> phonetic sign 2>noun “nothing, zero”; negative marker. These negative markers carry the symbol of “cut-off” commonly used in glyphs to mean just that about the hand or other body parts. Note the double bead in this symbol.
mi/MI (mi) (Tnn) > noun “nothing, zero”; negative marker <> (John Montgomery) Represents a human head with a hand over the lower jaw. This hand over lower jaw is the symbol of death and in fact of one particular form of human sacrifice: the ripping off of the lower jaw. That’s the end of speaking and eventually death. Michael D. Coe, in Reading the Maya Glyphs, gives the following glyphs for the same concept of nothingness and emptiness. This symbol means the completion of a vigesimal group that is promoted as one in the next higher tier, thus leaving nothing in the initial lower tier.
The third glyph is very common in the codices. Clearly note the standard numerical representation being bars for groups of five and dots for one has no direct representation of zero which is NOT a number in Maya, but the concept of completion of one hierarchical group triggering the passage of that group to the next higher rank as one. But this is vastly confirmed and amplified by the other “zero.”
Second the symbol for twenty which is the trigger of completion and thus of the passage to the next stage or level.
K’AL (k’al) (T683a) > noun “twenty;” cardinal number; the “moon” sign. Note the three concentric circles, the third one hashed. Note the three beads under these three circles on a hashed pocket that contains them. This heavy ternary structure has to be signifying. And to make sure this triggering value of twenty, let us consider this homonym glyph
K’AL (k’al) (T713a) 1> transitive verb “to bind, tie, wrap” 2> transitive verb “to close” 3> transitive verb “to set” 4> noun “completion” <> (John Montgomery) Represents the back of an extended human hand. And let us be clear about this hand which is also severed from the arm with the proper symbol on the back of it, but the hand is horizontal, and the fingers are slightly bent. A comparison with glyph T217v above shows that the negative value is not present here, at least the same way, hence the two beads in T217v inside the “cut-off” circle must carry this negative meaning. Here there is only one. But this leads us to an important remark about the Maya language. Glyphs are very often composite with either several glyphs merged together or concatenated, which is commonly explained in dictionaries, but also by the embedding of some abstract visual structure in glyphs, like the ternary structure I am speaking of here, concentric circles, beads, etc., or the “cut-off” sign, and many others, and this is not recognized or studied by all Mayanists.
This “k’al” is the basis of the word “k’atun” which is essential in the dating hierarchy: From left to right, from highest to lowest: “bak’tun”-“k’atun”-“tun”-“winal”-“k’in.” in arithmetic order: “k’in,” day — “winal”=20 days, month (in western conceptualization) — “tun”=18 “winal,” year (in western conceptualization) — “k’atun”=20 “tun,” no equivalent, though some suggest “score of years” (in western conceptualization, “a score of years” is not really used in modern English, except as survival of old vigesimal counting, though there are some active surviving vigesimal elements in some languages like French from France, but neither from Belgium nor Switzerland: “vingt,” “soixante-dix,” and subsequent numbers up to “quatre-vingt,” and “quatre-vingt-dix,” and up to “quatre-vingt-dix-neuf.”)
K’ATUN (k’atun) (T25.528.25:548) > noun period of twenty years of 360 days each; used in the Maya Long Count calendar; actual Classic Period name unknown <> (John Montgomery) Main sign represents the “TUN” sign (see below).
K’ATUN (k’atun) (T1034v) > noun period of twenty years of 360 days each; used in the Long Count; actual Classic Period name unknown <> (John Montgomery) Represents a bird. Note the two ternary elements: the three hashed patches on the skull and the three beads on the right side (ear?).
TUN (tun) (T548) > noun “year”; year of 360 days used in the Maya Long Count calendar and Distance Numbers <> (John Montgomery) Thought to represent a cylindrical wooden drum, or “tunkul,” in cross-section. Note “kul” is not specified in John Montgomery Maya Dictionary, nor the compound “tunkul.”
In fact, concerning this “zero,” Charles C. Mann makes the same mistake as Michael D. Coe. They consider 0 (zero) as a number and consider the twenty number from 0 to 19. This is a mistake even in western arithmetic, since the first ten-group is not from 0 to 9 but from 1 to 10. 0 is at best a digit and it is the triggering element in 10 that makes the decimal system jump from one lower level to the next, from the first ten (10) to the second level in this denary or decimal system that will be completed when reaching 20, and so on. It is the very “abacus” concept: when ten balls are reached on the lower level (that does not count more than ten balls, we push these ten balls back out and we add one ball on the next higher level. Or you can take it from the top to the bottom. Note the Maya write their Long Count dates from top to bottom in anti-hierarchical order.
That’s the invention of the Maya. It is not the Arabic zero that implies figures under zero, hence negative numbers, and it implies the decimal system that has ranks under the unit, meaning the unit itself can be divided into ten decimes, and each decime in ten centimes, and each centime in ten millimes, etc. The abacus can do that if there are two levels: an integer level and a decimal level, which is not clear on the first image above (Except if we take the lower blue-ball line as the first ten units of the abacus) but it can be clear on the second image above that clearly separates two levels. It is clear that the word “mi” is a concept that the Romans, for example, did not have in their numbering system, though they had the decimal triggering value of what stood for TEN for them: “X” but also for “D” (fifty), “C” (hundred) and “M” (thousand). So, we can say that “k’al” corresponds to the Roman “XX” (twenty). But, indeed, the Romans did not have a digit corresponding to “zero,” hence to Maya “mi.” Note the suggestion of “zephirum” I have given before, imported from Arabic, is not that simple because Latin had the concept of “nothing,” “emptiness” with the word “nihil” given as meaning “nil, nothing” by the Collins Dictionary. And this Latin root is pregnant in most Indo-European languages.
You see how frustrated you can get when you are confronted, even in books by celebrated experts, with such mistakes, or rather most of the time with such wording that is then understood wrongly in modern western conceptualization. The concept, word, and glyph “mi” is a tremendous step forward in human civilization, though it will be blocked in its potential spreading to the world for at least five centuries if not six, though in other parts of the world they came to the same concept from different points of origin, but we have to say it is not equivalent to the “al gebra” concept of the Arabs that René Descartes will recuperate in the 17th century to develop mathematical algebra. Some Mayanists easily forget the Maya were not living in the twenty-first century and had not gone through a full university cycle of graduate studies. They were great in their own ways, in some ways vastly over the people around them, but they could not be comparable to us, to our science, to our knowledge. They have to be respected and celebrated in what they were in their time, and not what we may dream they could be in our time.
It is the same frustration I find in this book when the author says they did not have the wheel, though they had it, but only as some kind of toy for kids, as the author himself says page 253. The author forgets a fundamental concept: any civilization can only solve problems that are actually present in front of them. The wheel implies roads and draught animals. The Incas had staircases up the mountain, devised to solve the problem of human beings climbing up steep slopes. Any way what animal could manage to draw a cart up such steep slopes if they were simple continuous road surfaces? None at all. Llamas can climb these stairs just as well as they could continuous road surfaces, like mountain goats, but no draught animals would be able to pull anything up such slopes, not to mention stairs. All over the world, they have devised roads that are winding up and down steep slopes for obvious reasons; That was not necessary for Andean civilizations. The Mayas on their side did not even have llamas. So only human beings could pull carts or push wheelbarrows. Try doing that on a slope that is more than 10%. It is well known many civilizations, and first of all Asian civilizations used baskets attached on each side of a human shoulder yoke to transport heavy loads, not anything looking like a wheelbarrow. When a civilization is confronted with a problem, it may at best experiment several solutions and chooses the one that is easier for them, though most of the time there is a logical phylogenetic solution that comes from what they already know or do. The shoulder yoke is a lot more basic than the wheel, because, as Marshall McLuhan would say, it is a plain extension of two buckets in the two hands, thus balanced to transport heavy loads in the hands at the end of the arms as easily as possible. The wheel is a lot more complex because it is not a direct metaphorical extension of the physical body.
For any long-distance transportation, the Maya used rivers and actually most Indians did in the Americas and they had developed canoes and kayaks that had little to be ashamed of when compared to the various boats and barks of Europe that were made of wood, heavy, clunky, and difficult to navigate. We always look at these older civilizations as if they were contemporary to us, and as if they were supposed to have developed the same things as we have. They did not because in their situations it was phylogenetically obvious that other solutions were handy and easy, and no comparative here because they were handy and easy in absolute terms for the Maya and other Native Americans. Human beings, humanity as a whole, at any time in their long history have always chosen the easier way to do something, to do anything, just one step more complex or different than what they were already doing.
We are thus coming to some concluding remarks.
The first one is that the opposition of Betty Meggers who is advocating a vision which is nothing but a green version of Holmberg’s Mistake, considering that the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans was a primeval absolutely wild and even savage, infinitely sparsely populated society more or less oscillating between on one side the “good pure savage” that people like Jean Jacques Rousseau will eventually celebrate, and on the other side cannibalism and the practice of the most barbaric violence and torturing in some kind of thanatotic cult of blood-shedding, heart-extracting, eviscerating, etc. Charles C. Mann compares some evaluation of how many people were publicly sacrificed in the Americas, in a revisited evaluation of the population as heavy and dense, and how many people were in the same way publicly executed along with all sorts of torturing (like the wheel, quartering, etc.) without speaking of the torturing taking place within questioning in some underground chambers dedicated to that type of human activity in Europe. Europe seems to be a lot more intensely productive in such numbers if everything is taken into account like burning witches, hanging-eviscerating-quartering-beheading so much loved in the Middle Ages, crucifying in Roman times, throwing to crocodiles in Egyptian pharaonic times, the famous wheel, garroting, impaling, and the list would never end.
This means Indian societies were at best feudal societies, at times pre-feudal societies and to speak of the absolute social satisfying of everyone’s needs in the Inca Empire as if it were some kind of communistic socialism is typically a conservative if not reactionary white-supremacist American vision of twentieth- and twenty-first-century “communism and socialism,” which means an absolute caricature. The Incas were not communists. At best we could speak of paternalistic social organization which is common today in some areas in this world and was common in the past. Think of kibbutzim, and the “African village” of Mandela’s saying, “It takes a village to educate a child.”
The second remark is that Indians were living in a very urbanized and collective environment, with urban concentrations and connections and exchanges among these urbanized communities. The book considers the Inka, the Maya, Amazonian Indians, and Cahokia in Northern America. A tremendous more could be said. The elements the author considers show that this Indian civilization moved north from Latin America in its expansion, which questions our a-priori belief (and that is really nothing but faith) that the only migration was from Siberia, via Beringia and Alaska and then south, and some still believe, down to the very southern tip of Latin America. Culturally it is false and the domesticated plants, that were domesticated in the Andes and Amazonia, as far as we know today, moved north and had to be acclimated to the various climatic and soil conditions there.
The third conclusion is about the Columbian exchange. Many plants and practices, like tobacco and smoking, were exported to Europe. In the same way, a lot of plants and animals were imported into the Americas from Europe: horses, rats, pigs, invasive endives, spinach, mint, artichokes, wild peaches, clover, bluegrass, etc. If you add to this the catastrophic consequences of the epidemics (including, by the way, the exportation of syphilis to Europe) in the Americas, the environmental and ecological balance of the continent was destroyed. The Indians had put under control species like passenger pigeons, buffalos, deer, elks, etc., plus plants and “wild forest.” The result of the epidemic tsunami was what is called “ecological release.” But the author makes a standard western mistake and tries to reduce the whole problem to a dualism he gets from ancient Greece,
“The ancient Greeks saw existence as a contest between nomos (rationality / order / artifice) and physis (irrationality / chaos / nature). In environmental terms, Thoreau, who saw the landscape as imbued with an essential wildness that could be heedlessly destroyed, embodies physis. Physis says, Let Nature be our guide; step out of the way of the environment, and it will know how to keep itself healthy. Nomos is the postmodern philosopher who argues that the entire landscape is constructed — that it has no essential, innate qualities, but is simply a reflection of chance and human action. Nomos says that no one ecological state is inherently preferable to any other, but that all of them are a product of human choices (even the ones with no people since we will have made the choice not to go there). (page 373–374)
I do believe that dualism kills, and in this case, it ends up on a rhetorical mention of post-modernism without understanding what post-modernism is. Certainly not the reduction of reality to two conflicting and antagonistic entities. That is Karl Marx’s mistake who reduced social contradictions to one between two entities, and he reached, naturally, the conclusion one of the two must dominate. So if the bourgeoisie (the owners of the means of production) dominate today, then tomorrow in socialism and communism this bourgeoisie must be eliminated and the working class must become dominant, which implies the means of production have to be owned by either the workers themselves, or the state, or the working-class party. We got out of this binary dualism in 1945 after 50 million deaths in five years, 10 million a year. Post-modernism is the answer to this barbarity and the dualism that emerged with the Cold War, a dualism that is basic in the American culture where everything has to be reduced to two factions, actions, orientations, possibilities, good and evil, black and white, and when black is not covering everyone on this side of things, then you invent the dualism of colored and white, and not three ever (only the Christian God is a Trinity). For postmodernism, there is NOT ONE TRUTH. There are only points of view. These points of view are multiple from realistic observation. And if we want to get to some wisdom, that some call nirvana, you have to bring together all these points of view and try to articulate them together, knowing you cannot eliminate any one of them.
That’s what we are supposed to know. Then when you have put all the facts and ideas we can find on our subject on the dissecting table, and Charles C. Mann is far from the exhaustion of all the potential knowledge on the subject, and anyone will always be far from such exhaustion, we have to take into account various dynamics that dictate human action, and particularly human needs as a good third element with physis and nomos: physical needs that have to be satisfied, social needs that have to be pacified, cultural needs that have to be nurtured and developed, mental needs that have to open us, our minds, onto the unknown, inside and outside our individual entities, our collective identities, our global identity in the universe. That means the “discovery of America was inescapable, unavoidable, could not be prevented. It was to happen one way or another and things being what they were, there would have been some “humanistic exchange,” a “frontal confrontation of differences,” and “total ecological release.” We can always say COVID-19 is nothing but a bit of flu, or a Chinese virus, or some Kung flu, or whatever you may find attractive in your own rhetoric, but no matter how the virus came out, from where and from what animal, as soon as it was out it was bound to gallop around the world. And we are in the situation of the Indians: no treatment, no vaccine, no immunity, and yet we are speaking of a total death rate for the total contaminated population that is only a few percentile points. But even one percent compared to one million infected people represent 10,000 deaths. We are far beyond one million, even though the fatality rate is more than one percent. In fact, as of the figures available on July 13, 2020 (see chart below: 572214 divided by 12430764 multiplied by 100 equals 4.60%) we have a 4.6% fatality rate which means 46,000 deaths per million of infected people. Look at the disruption this 4.6% fatality rate creates (particularly when it reaches 8 or 9% in some countries) and imagine the disruption caused in Indian societies that were confronted with fatality rates between 50 and 75% (and some even suggest 95%). That means between 500,000 and 750,000 deaths per million of contaminated people and the contamination was massive since no Indians were immune and could naturally develop any immunity.
You can imagine the impact of such figures on the ecological balance that existed before the arrival of the Europeans. I understand this realistic approach may shock some people. But it happened six centuries ago, and it could not be avoided, it could not be even foreseen. And we sure cannot repair the damage, though we can look for compensations that have to be wide-reaching and consensual. But can consensus exist after such a drastic event? Can Post Traumatic Genocide Stress Syndrome be alleviated, not to mention healed?
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
IVAN VAN SERTIMA — THEY CAME BEFORE COLUMBUS
THE AFRICAN PRESENCE IN ANCIENT AMERICA — 1976
The book is old in the field it is considering. The last twenty years have completely transformed our vision of what happened in the world after the end of the Ice Age, or even after the small icy episode between 10,800 and 9,600 BC. The concept of the Neolithic Revolution invented in the 1920s by the extreme Marxist V. Gordon Childe is today completely outdated and considered more and more as a perversion of history. Even the concept of prehistory based on the only consideration of the existence of writing systems is falling apart because that concept would mean Africa started having a history when in the 19th century, if not 20th-century European colonists started writing African languages that were absolutely and only oral despite thirteen centuries of Arab and Moslem influence.
BLACK AFRICA’S HISTORY
This book was salvational in many ways at the time of its publication. It asserted the historical participation of Black Africa as far back as the birth of the Egyptian civilization. It insists on the leading role it played in some periods and it tries to find out in what periods there existed contact between Black Africa and the Americas. We cannot of course reproach the author with what he could not know in 1976. He could not know Gobekli Tepe, the surrounding settlements, the Natufian villages, etc., all going back to 12,000 years BC which is more than 6,000 or 7,000 years before the Egyptian civilization and 9,000 before the invention of the first known writing system in the Middle East, the Sumerian writing system too often identified as the Akkadian cuneiform writing system because the scribes were Akkadian speaking a Semitic language though the language was Sumerian, a synthetic-analytical language, probably post-agglutinative. Something like 100,000 years part in linguistic phylogeny.
The book is thus essential. The author insists on and explores the role Semitic Egyptians, Semitic Phoenicians, Black Nubians (he does not specify their languages), Black West Sudanese (he does speak of their languages and quotes essentially Bambara, Malinke, and Peul). Most of the languages spoken by these Black populations were of the synthetic-analytical type known as Bantu languages, though Peul is slightly different. In that perspective, he insists on the Mali or Mandigo Empire founded in 1234 by Sundiata. He does not specify it was after the defeat of the Sosso animists who used to be enslaved in the previous Moslem society and had rebelled and conquered power over these Moslems. The creation of the Mali Empire is the final success of Islam in this region which will bring the famous Kurukan Fuga Charter in 1240 or just after, legalizing the existence of slavery (that could not concern Moslems) that was re-imposed onto the animists. This Charter was only rediscovered in 2004. But the author ignores completely the problem of slavery in Africa and particularly the slave trade from Black Africa to the Arab and Moslem world in those centuries. In other words, Black Africa provided slaves in exchange for Arab goods, like tobacco if the author is right.
The book reopens the history of Black Africa, but it does not consider some essential elements like slavery, slave-trade, and slave-markets, not to speak of Islam and the direct consequences it had on Black Africa.
BLACK AFRICA AND AMERICA BEFORE COLUMBUS
Van Sertima explores and gives all the evidence he can find about three contact periods.
The first one is between 800 and 700 BC, during the 25th dynasty of the Egyptian Pharaonic civilization. At that time the Blacks from Nubia had managed to reunify the two Upper and Lower Egypt and to get the Assyrians away for a time. They needed metals to develop their war power in front of the Assyrians. The Semitic Phoenicians mastered the metallurgy technology like the Assyrians (all of these speaking Indo-European languages at the time and conquering the Semitic peoples, like the Jews among others). But Egypt was metal-poor, and they asked the Phoenicians to use their sailing abilities to look for metal beyond the Mediterranean, going west. The soldiers provided by the Black Pharaohs were Blacks from Nubia.
Van Sertima asserts that the sudden development of the Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica was due to this contact established in Mexico. It would have been these Egyptians, Nubians, and Phoenicians who would have brought to America the technology to build step pyramids and many other things including some seeds. These merchants would have been behind the development of the cult of Quetzalcoatl, at least the black version of it, though the author does not explain why there was a mongoloid version up in Peru. He states that the Olmecs were developed at the time, but he does not specify in what fields and how except an allusion to agricultural development but with no precision whatsoever. The Olmecs were only on the receiving side. And the myth of the departure of Quetzalcoatl is typical: it is when these merchants finally left. Without saying so, the author implies that the Maya writing system using what he calls hieroglyphs, and some are supposed to be similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, is, in fact, inspired by the Egyptian writing system. The strange thing is that Phoenicians had managed to develop an alphabet from that of Semitic languages at the time by adding vowels to the Semitic consonants. We even could think that they may have been able to use the old Sumerian writing system that was invented for commerce and that was still used at the time. Why the old Egyptian writing system, and not the more advanced ones present on the Rosetta stone, for example, we do not know, I mean the author does not consider the question. As for seeing some similitude between the old Egyptian hieroglyphs and the Maya very pictorial representations, it seems to me slightly farfetched. The fact that the sun is represented by a circle in both systems is in no way a proof because the sun is round as everyone knows, even for small children who draw the sun. It is not even a “human” universal. It is a plain fact and if we used Can Sertima’s kind of reasoning the letter “O” would be a representation of the sun.
The most important thing is of course the discovery of the gigantic Negroid heads in Olmec country from La Venta onward. One at least of these Negroid heads is designed to be an altar, including with a special “speaking device” to make it some kind of prophesying divine voice or mouthpiece. He gives an interesting set of figures. In Tlatilco in a pre-classic Olmec cemetery, he says 13.5% of skeletons were pure Negroid whereas in the later classic period only 4.5% of them were still pure Negroid. The conclusion is correct: The Blacks who arrived, then, were males and they at once intermarried with local women. That means that in a few generation’s time the black minority became genetically integrated. DNA would be necessary to determine the proportion of Black genes in the total population, probably outreaching to everyone.
He more or less endorses that these Black Egyptians and their Phoenician sailors would have brought to America the ferment of their development with a massive organization of labor (I would prefer speaking of a division of labor and it would be necessary to clearly say the Olmecs were agriculturalists though the book does not say at what level. More about it later); a trade network; ceremonial centers and pyramids; colossal sculptures; relief carving; wall painting; orientation of structures (towards the sun, moon, and stars); gods and religious symbolism; obsession with Underworld; representation of foreign racial types; hieroglyphic writing and scribes; seals and rings; use of iron; and even some more, particularly mummification of the dead and burial procedures with food, slaves, animals, wives, etc.
The great problem here is, of course, the non-exploration of the level of civilization reached by the Olmecs before this contact, and the mistake that was absolutely common in 1976: the belief in the Neolithic agricultural revolution entirely proved false as I have said before and will discuss in more detail later
WESTERN AFRICAN CONTACT PERIODS
The other contact periods are twenty centuries later and come from the Mali Empire.
1310–1311 and the Mandigo Journey, when Abubakari II (1307–1311), the emperor of Mali, abdicates from his throne to go on a journey from which he will never come back. The journey was a sea voyage to the west starting of course from the west coast of Africa.
Then 1462–1492 and the Songhay traders from the same African west coast.
Despite the Olmec development asserted before these contacts with Muslim Mali would have been necessary to provide America with the cotton seeds needed to produce the American hybrids that appeared then. It would have brought bananas, a seedless fruit that can only be reproduced by transplanting the rootstocks after division, hence these traders would have brought banana rootstocks, preferably dried out after division and before transplantation. They would have brought what the author calls gourds which are of various types, including the bottle ones used as vessels for various liquids or activities, including music. It would have brought yams that can reproduce easily by cutting up one plant and planting the pieces. Finally, it could have brought tobacco that is attributed to the Arabs, at least when considering its propagation in Black Africa.
We wonder then what the Americans had to live on before. Even the beans are considered only in the light of one particular type that was imported from Africa to the Americas.
The point is that the mention of some purely American plants is short and partial. He speaks of pumpkins (but not of many other squashes), of maize (without explaining how it was genetically produced since it cannot reproduce itself naturally), and that’s all. We were expecting some mention of tomatoes, chili peppers, and other peppers in that line, potatoes in the form we know, or as Ocas known as Indian potatoes and coming from Peru, etc. In other words, the agricultural vision of America is so deficient that these Indians seem to be deeply primitive if not barbaric. They had agriculture. They did not wait for anyone to bring it. They had had their Neolithic agricultural evolution with the plants that were at their disposal, and there were many.
THE LINGUISTIC SHORTCOMING
It is not enough to say that two words look alike to conclude they are connected. Popular etymology is famous for that and we should all know that a Tower of London’s Beefeater is a man who eats beef and that’s why he is dressed mostly in red. Unluckily the real origin is the French word “buffetier” that simply means “butler” and here he was the man who was receiving food and drinks for the King.
He easily compares Arabic words and Bambara (or other West African languages) words and then Maya (and other Mesoamerican or northern American languages) words. He does not specify that Arabic is a Semitic language based on consonantal roots meaning that words are purely discursive and cannot in any way be cut up in syllables, as the author does. On the other hand, Bambara or Malinke are Bantu languages based on word semantic classes that can go through declensions or conjugations and yet do not seem to have developed syntactic cases or at least a full set of them. Yet these languages work a lot on concatenation that sets the specifier after the main “noun” if it is a noun. The examples he gives about Maya show that it is probably a synthetic analytical language too but having reached a more complex syntax since they build compounds with the specifier in front of the specified main “noun.”
In Malinke, the “werewolf” (the man who is an animal predator) is a nama-koro in which “nama” is a wise man, and “koro” is a “hyena” and thus this “werewolf” a “hyena wise man”. We note we have a simple concatenation in which the two elements could be connected by a BE copula if it existed in the 15th century, or by any spatial preposition that would express the connection from the main term first to the specifier second. Let me give an example in modern Lingala:
“mondele makasi” is the concatenation of “mondele that means “a European” and “makasi” which means “power” or “force.” We could have a BE copula, but it is not the most common way, or we could have a spatial preposition and say “mondele na makasi” and this construction is common. But the simple concatenation is the most common way. Translating would be misleading since it would produce: “Europeans are strong” or “Europeans have power.” The second is all the more pregnant because the use of the preposition “na” before the predicative element of the copula BE produces a relation equivalent to the copula HAVE. What is important here is the direction N1 à N2.
Now if we consider the Nahuatl word for “werewolf” we get “coyotli-naual” composed of “coyotli” for “coyote” and “naual” meaning “wise man” from the root “na-“ meaning “knowledge” or anything connected to knowledge and intelligence, including magic. By the way, the author declares this root absent in Nahuatl despite its presence in the name of the language, (the language of) those who know, those who have the knowledge. This is a small but revealing contradiction in the book. Pocahontas is from a tribe whose name means exactly the same thing: “Powhatan” and the similitude of “pow” with the English “power” does not imply at all any connection even though the meaning is the same. We can observe in “coyotli-naual” that the order of the elements produces a compound: N2 à N1, the specified main term second and preceded by the specifier. This is the standard composition order in Germanic languages for example. Languages that build their compounds in the other direction like French will generally use a prepositional element to connect the two items: “moulin-à-café” (coffee grinder), “livre-de-classe” (schoolbook), etc.
It is common when two languages are in contact that one borrows words from the other (we are not talking of the English case in which two languages were so much in contact that they creolized one another (Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French) to produce a third one. But when two languages of different levels of syntactic and morphological organizations borrow words there are special rules that would imply the passage from one language to the other. In oral languages for example the borrowed word would change completely its pronunciation and eventually its spelling and writing if the borrowing language is written. Otherwise, the syntax and morphology of the borrowing language are imposed onto the borrowed element. It is the case here if “coyotli-naual” is originally borrowed: shift from pure concatenation to composition.
DIRECT TRANSFER FROM EGYPTIAN CULTURE
But in fact, this neglect of the linguistic logic of such phenomena comes from a systematic translative procedure from Egypt, the Arab world, or Western Africa to America. Quetzalcoatl, who would deserve a lot more than this side remark is a typical case. The author reduces the association of the snake and the bird to Egyptian symbols, and to a mythological fight between an eagle, or a hawk, and a snake, the snake being Seth and the Falcon being Horus. But first, that’s late in Egyptian mythology, and second, I could not find anywhere a Seth identified as a snake. The Encyclopedia Britannica says: “Seth was represented as a composite figure, with a canine body, slanting eyes, square-tipped ears, tufted (in later representations, forked) tail, and a long, curved, pointed snout; various animals (including aardvark, antelope, ass, camel, fennec, greyhound, jackal, jerboa, long-snouted mouse, okapi, oryx, and pig) have been suggested as the basis for his form.” The fight between an eagle and a snake localized on the east coast of Mexico probably has no Egyptian root. I found one drastic serpent in Evolution of the Dragon, by G. Elliot Smith, , http://www.sacred-texts.com/lcr/eod/eod46.htm.
THE SERPENT AND THE LIONESS.
When the development of the story of the Destruction of Mankind necessitated the finding of a human sacrifice and drove the Great Mother to homicide, this side of her character was symbolized by identifying her with a man-slaying lion and the venomous uræus-serpent.
She had previously been represented by such beneficent food-providing and life-sustaining creatures as the cow, the sow, and the gazelle (antelope or deer): but when she developed into a malevolent creature and became the destroyer of mankind it was appropriate that she should assume the form of such man-destroyers as the lion and the cobra.
[…] The identification of the destroying-goddess with the moon, “the Eye of the Sun-god,” prepared the way for the rationalization of her character as a uræus-serpent spitting venom and the sun’s Eye spitting fire at the Sun-god’s enemies. Such was the goddess of Buto in Lower Egypt, whose uræus-symbol was worn on the king’s forehead and was misinterpreted by the Greeks as not merely a symbolic “eye,” but an actual median eye upon the king’s or the god’s forehead.
[…] But the uræus was not merely the goddess who destroyed the king’s enemies and the emblem of his kingship: in course of time, the Cobra became identified with the ruler himself and the dead king, who was the god Osiris. When this happened, the snake acquired the god’s reputation of being the controller of water.
But Seth cannot be seen as that serpent since Seth is the treacherous brother of Osiris.
In the same way, the calendar with twelve months is not at all the original calendar of the Middle East. The original one was lunar and had thirteen months, just the same way as the Zodiac was divided into thirteen signs and not twelve. The one that should be added is Ophiuchus, the Serpent Holder that was still present in Europe, for example, in the thirteenth century and beyond: it was present with the other twelve on the outside walls of the Abbey Church of Issoire in France built in the 12th century, for one example. Native Americans, particularly Mesoamericans and South Americans, Mayas, Aztecs, Olmecs, Incas, etc., who worshipped the sun naturally had a solar calendar with twelve months. The shift from the lunar calendar to the solar calendar in the Middle East and Egypt is relatively recent. The author does not seem to know this fact. It is also a shift from the dominant female element in the divine world to the dominant male world. This is codified in old Mesopotamian mythology on the Sumerian tablets or in the oldest Vedas: the victory of Ninurta over the treacherous Anzu and the victory of Indra over Vritra, of the male god over the female ancient mother-goddess, take some demented size. But all that has little to do with Quetzalcoatl that comes from a completely different tradition. Quetzalcoatl cannot be compared to the dragon of this Sumerian and Vedic traditions, nor with the defeat of the great mother.
Van Sertima has the tendency to simply compare the surface of things and to draw the final conclusion from some resemblance that can easily be questioned anyway. He started with words and he moved to representations of gods. We cannot see a man working in his fight to survive and develop. The world is totally mechanical, and we cannot know how this or that human phenomenon has been developed by man himself.
HOMO SAPIENS AND THE MIND
This linguistic shortcoming is so common that we could consider the author just followed the main trend in his days. Even still in 2011, the author Charles C. Mann writes in National Geographic a basic article on Gobekli Tepe and he falls in the trap. Many anthropologists and archaeologists fall in that trap because they have no linguistic training and they do not understand how the human mind works. Despite it all, and despite Sally McBrearty, Charles C. Mann questions the Neolithic Revolution and yet speaks as if it did exist and as if there was a time before and a time after, and as if that was a short fast systematic radical change that occurred only in the Levant and the Fertile Crescent to spread afterward to the rest of the world. This is so absurd that we wonder who was in 2011 the editor in chief of National Geographic to let such a ridiculous idea go through, especially with Gobekli Tepe and what Klaus Schmidt, the archaeologist responsible for this site, says: “ I think what we are learning is that civilization is a product of the human mind.” And Mann reduces that to religion of course, to the assertion that Gobekli Tepe is the oldest construction of the type, is the first human construction of the type, is the unique human construction of the type and of that age, hence is the center of the Neolithic transformation in the whole world.
There is no mind without a language. The mind is a construct based on the brain, the nervous system, and the sensorimotor system and that mind cannot construct itself without language. Human articulated language is a collateral side-effect of the respiratory, articulatory, and neural-neuronal mutations that enabled Homo Sapiens to be a fast long-distance bipedal runner (his only chance to survive).
The brain works in such a way that any item is identified as a pattern or set of patterns, then recognized as such and this process finds in the mind the tool it needs to name it. This implies a mental picture of the item and the first stage of a concept, of conceptualization.
Homo Sapiens could never have survived if he had not been able to develop that conceptualization. Consequently, man is able to observe the world and build a conceptualized model of it in his mind. That leads to science. Consequently, man is able to experiment and conceptualize the projects and the results of this experimentation. That leads to inventions, discoveries, development. Consequently, man is able to speculate on what he sees. That leads to art, philosophy, religion. The three go together. It is vain to pretend observation, experimentation, and speculation come in a certain logical or even hierarchical order. The three develop together in the mind.
There would have been no migrations within Africa and then out of Africa without this mind and these three levels of conceptualization. To migrate they had to know the sky, the stars, the moon, the sun, etc. To survive, and then migrate, they had to control fire, to invent hunting techniques and weapons, to invent fishing and to invent numerous tools.
When we come to agriculture after the Ice Age we do not understand that man had to go through a very long process of mental work to invent agriculture and that it probably started before the Ice Age, but it definitely became something basic after the Ice Age, that is to say when the ice was receding and melting, when water was liberated in the rivers and rising in the ocean, when the climate finally changed and that invention of agriculture happened in many places in the world: West Africa and the Niger river; the Middle East and the Levant and their two main Tigris and Euphrates rivers; India and the two main Ganges and Indus rivers; Yunnan and its three main Yangtze, Mekong and Salween rivers; Mexico and New Mexico and its many rivers, among others the Rio Grande, not to speak of the Mississippi or the Amazon River in the wider Americas. And there might have been other places where big rivers existed. Each zone developed its own agriculture based on some cereals or similar plants as for nutritional value like cassava (manioc), sweet potato, potatoes, etc.. What I am interested in here is Mexico and the basic plants they used in their agricultural transition. Some are simple like pumpkins and other squashes, tomatoes, beans, chili pepper, potatoes and ocas, grapefruit, avocadoes, etc. That Tobacco was in this batch or not does not matter.
But the only one I did not list here is the essential one because it is going to explain how this agriculture can develop mentally, meaning in the mind of the agriculturalists.
MAIZE AND THE INVENTION OF AGRICULTURE
Maize, from Arawak mahiz, is unique because it is the only cultivated cereal that cannot reproduce itself by itself. It needs corn shucking and then the grains have to be plucked by hand or with a machine but always by man. How did the Indians manage to produce this cereal that cannot reproduce naturally?
First, you must observe and come to the identification of seeds and the power of these seeds: to produce a new plant. You must observe germination and you must invent cultivation. You have to learn how to till the land before sowing, then you sow, then you water, then you weed, then you take care of the plants, etc. Homo Sapiens does not know anything about that. He has to observe and conceptualize these things and he has to experiment to find out that the cultivated result is better than the wild result, both product and output. And yet he has to observe pollination and understand the important value of it. Then by accident, he may have planted the seeds of different types of the same plant together and by accident produced the pollination of one by the other and many of these hybridizations may have produced the maize we know. What we don’t understand is that each step of this line of conduct takes generations and generations of human intelligence. It takes a lot of time, not one or two centuries but millennia.
The Mesoamerican Indians who produced this man-made cereal must have spent millennia to develop it little by little, year after year or should I say century after century. I do not refer to mutations here but to a practical way to experiment and to produce these mutations by the simple — and only — way they had at their disposal, hybridization, though they knew nothing of it. And they had to observe it, experiment on it and speculate about it to get to the plant we know today.
So, Van Sertima has it both right in the intention and false in the implementation. He misses the point. He wants to over-prove the role of Black Africans, but he forgets that over-proving proves nothing and that any human phenomenon is necessarily dialectical. There is no progress coming from something imposed onto you. You need to be ready to integrate and develop what is brought to you, hence you need to have reached a high level of development to be able to integrate anything productively. And at the same time, you cannot integrate something new from outside if you do not provide this outsider with something that is new for him. In fact, the process Van Sertima presents is more of a colonizing process than a real human collaborative process.
There are thousands of other elements that should be discussed but then I would be beyond reason. My conclusions here are going to be simple.
Gobekli Tepe has completely transformed our vision of the emergence of Homo Sapiens and modern humanity.
We cannot understand that emergence without taking into account what the human mind is. Development was first of all mental and that mental dimension could not exist without language. Hence, we have to consider everything in the light of mental processes and linguistic tools, limitations, and potentials.
If we keep in mind the observe-experiment-speculate line or direction as being a threefold and yet unified stance and vision, we may understand that there is no development possible without the three of them at the same time. Maybe not in every human but in every community.
We come here to the necessary division of labor that is indispensable for humanity to survive at first (children have to be taken care of for five years) and to develop afterward. Gobekli Tepe shows that without a division of labor, some being craftsmen with special skills, some being visionary people who are designing and managing the building of the structure, some being the providers of these, providers of water and food, providers of raw material like stone, providers of manpower when necessary, the project would never have existed and lasted nearly two thousand years.
This project needed a special economy to be viable: agriculture is contained in the project as a necessity not under that name but under the simple need to produce more per worker in order to take care of those who did not produce food and had to be fed.
This implies a power structure, and no one can say if it existed before or if it was invented during the construction. But please do not make Mann’s mistake. This is the first structure of the type we have found. There is no reason to think it is the only one in the world. Do we know what happened in Asia with the people of the second migration that produced on the basis of a second articulation language all the isolating languages of Asia? We hardly know the original civilization of Tibet before the Buddhists who were kicked out of India invaded it and colonized it. The civilization at stake is the Bon civilization and religion. What do we know about it except that they were a human blood-drinking civilization, like the Olmecs and a few others in America in those very distant times? The least we can say is that we know little about Tibet around 4,000 or 5,000 BC, not to speak of 10,000 BC, except that it must have been entirely covered with ice. And what about Yunnan? And what about Mongolia?
It is tempting to be vain enough to clamor we have found the original point of human emergence, the Garden of Eden of humanity. We are still living on old Sumerian, Zoroastrian, Biblical, Quranic, Hindu and even Buddhist illusions, though the Buddha always said that the origin point is not important, what is important is the point we are targeting with our mind, it is nibbana. Let’s target the balanced development of humanity and every member of it.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU