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Friday, September 19, 2014

5000 B.C.: Knowledge comes to the Americas

Today we think of Americans as the innovators of the modern world.  The people who wrote the documents to protect the natural rights of mankind from government invasion were Americans.  The people who discovered electricity and learned how to put it to good use were Americans.  In the ancient world, however, it wasn't this way: America lagged behind.

Perhaps this was because it took longer for knowledge to make it to that part of the populated world. Or, as noted by William Brandon in his book "The Rise and Fall of North American Indians, "perhaps it was because Americans were content to live amid nature, and had no need nor desire to modernize the way they lived. Perhaps they simply lived in peace with their spirits and gods, and had no need to create great civilizations and empires.  He wrote:  (1, page 14-15)
There have even been hints that these people of the Archaic waited so long for new ideas (such as pottery and agriculture) and the resultant elaboration of their basic culture simply because they were content in their timeless nirvana and not at all eager to change.  Heretical reflections threaten to follow, that change -- we call progress -- might not always be a result of "forward" social movement but possibly of something going wrong in the social animal. (1, page 21)
As noted earlier in our history, environmental changes may have occurred that forced people to migrate to the lands around the Tigris, Euphrates, and Nile rivers. When these rivers flooded, the land would be fertilized, and this would provide food for both animals and people.  By being forced to such a small area, the people started working together to better manage the land, and this resulted in the first agricultural revolution, and ultimately the first civilizations.  Such environmental changes may not have occurred in America, thus Native Americans had no incentive to band together until much later.

The specialists believe that there may have been land bridges connecting the Old World with the New World, with the main one being a land bridge between North America and Asia, what is now Alaska in the United States and Siberia in Russia.  This land bridge is often referred to as Beringia.  They believe that between 35,000 and 10,000 (some speculate as far back as 50,000) years ago most of the water was frozen, and this made it so there was a land bridge between Alaska and Siberia, said Brandon.  (1, pages 14-15)

According to, Beringia was a stretch of land that was about 55 miles between Siberia and Alaska.  It is now mostly covered by the Chukchi and Bering Seas, although there were times that the ocean levels were so low that plants, animals and people were allowed to cross.  Even if the land wasn't exposed, the water was at times low enough to allow people to cross via boat along the coastlines.  Along with people, animals, and even plants, would have been able to cross the land bridge. (2)

Joy Hakim, in her series, "A History of US," says that prior to the end of the ice age about 10,000 B.C. the stretch of land between Alaska and Siberia would have been about 1000 miles wide, and may even have been covered with grasslands, forests, and even lakes.  (3, page 14-15)

Also of interest is that "similarities between peoples of coastal Siberia and coastal Alaska show that the Bering Strait did not prevent contact between their cultures. Similar languages, shared spiritual practices, hunting tool and traditional dwelling similarities, distinctive fish cleaning methods, and meat preservation by fermentation are but a few examples ethnologist cite." (2)  

Although at some point these migrations stopped, perhaps due to natural events that cause people to change their way of living, thus causing people to forget.  As a result, the people of the New World were completely isolated from the Old world for thousands of years before the Spanish Conquistadors discovered the New World for the Old World. (You can see a neat time-lapse map of Beringia at

The people were hunters and gatherers, and they migrated to where the food was, wrote Hakim.  In Beringia there would have been "lots to eat.  For every day dining, the hunters and the fisherfolk lived on small game and small fish  but they had the skills to kill mammoths and whales, and when they could, the did. The mammoths and giant sloths and camels were plant eaters, and only moderately dangerous.  It was the meat-eating animals -- saber-toothed cats, the maned lions, and the huge bears -- who must have licked their lips after munching on humans.  That was the way of the hunting world.".  (3, page 15)

She continued:
 "Journeying by sea may have been safer than by land.  And these people were very good sailors.  In boats covered with animal skins, they could explore and settle the coastline.  Gradually, we think, the land rovers and the seagoers took a big step -- onto the new continent... Alaska, where the hunters went, seemed like a fine place. There were seals, bison with big curved horns, birds called ptarmigans, and other good things to hunt and eat.  Glaciers covered large parts of North America, but much of Alaska and Siberia was free of ice... More hunters came with their families.  At first there was plenty of food, but after a few years (maybe a few thousand years) the land seemed crowded.  There was no longer enough game for everyone to hunt." (3, page 15)
So they were forced, by nature, to travel further south.  Perhaps, as Hakim notes, they watched as the birds and other animals traveled south.  "They watched the animals and found there were ways around and through the thick glaciers.  They made there way to where Canada now lies, and the United States."

Hakim continued:
"It was worth the trip.  They found grasses and nuts and berries to eat.  They found a hunter's wonderland: there were antelope, musk, ox, bighorn sheep, lions, deer, moose, fox, otter, beaver, sabertoothed tigers, and bison.  Some of the animals had come from Asia too, by walking over the earth bridge, or by swimming in the sea... In America, animals had grown big -- bigger than any animals you have ever seen. Some beavers were as large as bears; and birds -- great vulture-like teratorns -- had wings that reached 15 feet from tip to tip.  Lions were huge; moose antlers measured eight feet across... they also kill and eat birds, fish, foxes, and turtles." (3, page 16-17)
Some of these natives, perhaps traveling in tribes or families of 20 or 25 people, would have settled where they found food and comfort, while others continued to follow the animals south, making their way all the way to South America where there was warmer weather and deserts and even rain forests (where lots of herbal remedies lie).

Some specialists believe it was the tribes that settled in South America who were the first to discover the ability to plant seeds and grow crops, such as maize, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, lima beans and squash. Perhaps this might have first taken place around what is now Peru, where the first American civilization (the Oltec) formed.  (1, page 20, 24)

Perhaps it was this that caused people from various tribes to work together to form the various cultures and civilizations that ultimately developed in America.

Brandon explains that "they practiced a form of agriculture known to primitive peoples all over the world since agriculture began, hacking down and burning trees and brush, planting a cornfield in the rough clearing, and slashing out a new such clearing a few seasons later. (Anthropologists call such a cornfield a milpa, a name taken from Nahualt, the language of the Aztec.)  In all the days of their greatness this technology was never improved.  There is some indication here and there of more intensive gardening on mounds or raised beds (chinampas), but the milpa remained the standard." (1, page 32-33)

Brandon further explains that:
Slash and burn farming, by its nature, operates against the growth of cities -- the clearings are scattered, in contrast to the closely populated communities fostered by such group undertakings as irrigation.
He uses the Maya as an example, as even while they created a South American civilization that lasted for several thousand years, "Very few of the Maya ceremonial centers appear to have been truly urban.  House mounds studied by archeologists are typically dispersed, with no clear pattern of urban density; thus the Maya, in the days of their greatness, rarely built real cities, at least not in our sense of the word." (1, page 33)

Various authors, including Brandon, noted that the specialists believe that the American agricultural revolution started in South America, possibly in Peru, and spread to North America, around 5,000 B.C.  As explained by Brandon, some of these experts believe this may be why so few civilizations in America developed, and those that did were relatively small, and why empires never developed.

Similarly, this may explain why so many people continued to live as tribes until they were forced by modern forces to change their ways.

So a second theory as to why change was slow to occur in the Americas was due to the lack of pastoralism, a branch of agriculture that involves cultivating and raising livestock, and herding it to where the food and water is.  Brandon explains:
The greatest difference in New World and Old World agriculture, and a difference entailing enormous consequences, was pastoralism, fundamental to the Old World way of life, entirely absent in the New World except for some herding of llamas and related small camelids in the high Andes... This -- pastoralism -- may have been a major factor, maybe the major factor, in the establishment of private property at the mudsill underpinning of Old World social structure, already basic law in 1800 B.C. when its legal specifics were carved on the stone tablet bearing the Code of Hammurabi.  It does seem reasonable that private property may have come into being with the keping of flocks, as the profit and loss problems between Jacom and Laban in Genesis 30:30-43 as to just who were to own which of the straked and unstraked cattle might seme to bear witness." (1, page 24)
A third theory, as noted above, was that Native Americans were simply content with their way of life, and were never forced by nature to change.  Isolated from the Old World, they had no reason to change -- until Columbus discovered America in 1492, and the Spanish Invasion of the 17th century, and later yet, the quest by North Americans for new lands to develop.

While the agricultural revolution was occurring in the New World around 5,000 B.C., the poeple of Mesopotamia and Egypt were learning how to work together to fend off the forces of nature.  By this meshing of the minds, there was a revolution of discoveries and inventions (such as the potters wheel, materials for building, and equipment for planting crops) to make life easier.  This never happened in the Americas: Americans never invented the wheel, and never had a bronze age, nor an iron age.

In essence, the prototypical stone age ended in Europe and Mosopotamia around 3,600 B.C. although it would be until 1600 B.C. that it ended in China.  In America, the stone age would not end until the Spanish invasion of about 1700 A.D.  In other words, the Americans were able to form a society basically with primitive tools and equipment.

As noted by Sheri Bell-Rehwoldt in her 2006 book, "Amazing Maya Inventions:"
This doesn't mean they (early Americans) existed when there were cavemen during the Paleolithic period; it means they did not have metal tools to help them with their daily tasks.  Their tools were made of wood, stone, and bone.  So, instead of iron-tipped arrows, chisels, knives, axes, and hammers, their wooden tools had blades made of obsidian and flint." (1, page 8)
They were not introduced to the iron age until the Spanish Conquistador stormed through Mesoamerica with their horses and iron weapons.  Noting that civilization spawned at different times in different parts of the world, and regardless of whether they were in the stone age or not, this brings up an interesting question:  why does the development of civilization happen?

1.  Spontaneous Civilization:  One of the original ideas was that civilization is a result of the blending of the human mind; that once the various human tribes and families of an area come together, it's only a matter of time until they learn that together they can tame nature.  Subsequent meshing of the minds will result in a series of inventions that makes life better for everyone.  Civilization spontaneously spawned in Mesopotamia, then Egypt, India, China, and later in America, and this occurred completely independent and regardless of any other civilization or previous knowledge.

2.  Shared Civilization:  Elliot Smith, professor of anatomy at the University of London in the early 20th century, postulated that knowledge spreads around the world at its own pace; that as mankind migrates, so too does knowledge.

Harold Maxwell and Sydney Selwyn explain this in their 1947 book "A history of medicine:"
According to Elliot Smith's view of the migrations of primitive civilizations, culture with distinct characteristics migrated into the Mediterranean basin between the third and the first millennium B.C. Then it pushed on toward India, about the 10th century B.C., by the Phoenician navigators, whence it extended to Malaysia and Polynesia. It eventually reached the shores of America, taking on various modifications from the countries through which it passed. (2, page 80)
I don't doubt that civilization could spawn on its own, although I have a tendency to support Smith's theory, mainly due to a cruise I went on with my wife in 2002 to Mexico.  Our ship stopped at Cozumel, and from there my wife and I went on a side excursion to see the ancient Mayan ruins. Our guide pointed to an engraving of a cross above one of the structures.  Was it a mere coincidence the ancient Mayans would have a cross over a doorway?   Or is this evidence Elliot Smith was right, and Christians migrated all the way to America with the good news, and probably long before Christopher Columbus discovered the land for the old world.

I believe that either in a quest to find food, or in a quest to find people to trade with, or prehap, simply to share the good news, some individuals migrated to America and shared their knowledge with Native Americans.  It is perhaps by this means that knowledge and civilization made its way to America. As I look at a picture of a Spanish Conquistador and a Mayan warrior in battle, I can't help but see similarities: both with shield in one hand, weapon in the other arched and ready to pounce.

There are other similarities to support this theory, and I could go on ad infinitum. One example is the snake or serpent that appears as the universal symbol of medicine, and the fact that many of the myths, legends, and gods were shared from one society to another, such as the god Hermes in Greece is generally thought to be the same god as Thoth in Egypt. (see post: "5000 B.C.476 A.D.: The universal symbol of medicine" to be published 12/18/14)

Ironic or not, there were even myths describing how some deity created the world, how a great flood (a deluge) destroyed all of mankind, and of a virgin birth.  As noted by Plinio Prioreschi in his 1989 history of medicine:
According to the Mayas, the Earth was the back of a great reptile floating in a pond, and the world was ruled by several gods.  The most important was Itamnd (the Maya Jupiter) who was the god of fire  He was the son of Hunab, the creator of the world, and was often represented in serpent form.  Another ophidian deity was Kukulcan, the Feathered Serpent, recognizable in classical Mayan reliefs.  Another god, who often held a kind of scepter, is known only as God K, a deity with a strange branching nose who may have represented some deified king.  Among the animals, the serpent occupied an important symbolic place.  In the Popol Vuh, there is the story of a virgin conceiving through suppernatural intervention, a legend that, as we have seen, existed also in Chinese tradition.  The Mayas believed that there had been several worlds before the present one and that each one had been destroyed by a deluge. They believed that history was cyclical, and that, in fact, the universe itself was governed by great recurrent ages within which smaller cycles took place.
Is it mere coincidence that these stories, however altered to meet the requirements of local tribes, evolved amid the various societies of the globe, or is it simply a coincidental occurrence?

Although, I suppose it is possible that human beings are the same wherever they are put on this planet, and given the opportunity, they would create similar weapons, tools, arts, etc. They would at some point learn to farm, and this would result in more time.  More time would mean people had time to specialize, and some would tend to the land, some build houses and monuments, some create pottery, some become artists, some study the stars, some become priests and physicians.

Plus, at some point, in order for all the above to work, there would become necessary for a language to develop, and some sort of system for writing.  Of course then there would exist a need for something to write on.  Then a system of astrology, astronomy, science and math would develop.  These are the basic components of any civilization, whether it grows from the ash heap of earth, or is the result of migrating wisdom.

  1. Brandon, William, "The Rise and Fall of North Amerian Indians from Prehistory through Geronimo," 2003, Lanham, New York, Toronto, Oxford, Taylor Trade Publishing
  2. "Bering Land Bridge National Preserve,",, accessed 5/20/14
  3. Hakim, Joy, "A History of US: Book One: The First Americans," 2005, New York, Oxford University Press
  4. Bell-Rehwoldt, Sheri, "Amazing Maya Inventions," 2006, Chicago, Nomad Press
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