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1491 (Second Edition)

New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

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Best Seller
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$19.00 US
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On sale Oct 10, 2006 | 576 Pages | 978-1-4000-3205-1
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.

In the last twenty years, archeologists and anthropologists equipped with a battery of new scientific techniques have made far-reaching discoveries that have completely changed their understanding of what the Americas were like before Columbus's arrival. Most of us learned in school that Indians crossed the Bering Strait 12,000 years ago, that they were few in number, and that they lived so lightly on the land that much of the Americas was essentially a wilderness. Most researchers now believe that every one of these statements is wrong. Indians were here far longer than previously believed, they lived in vastly greater numbers than had been thought, and they transformed the American landscape thoroughly. Not only has this fascinating new knowledge vastly altered our understanding of our history, it has enormous implications for today's environmental disputes. Charles Mann illuminates all of these issues and reports on how these discoveries were made in this enthralling journey of scientific exploration.

Mann begins by showing how, beginning in the 1970s, researchers came to realize that the Indian population in 1491 must have been ten or twenty times higher than previously thought—there were more people in the Americas in 1491, the scientists came to believe, than in Europe; the Amazon delta may have been inhabited by more people in 1491 than it is now; cities including the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán were bigger than any city in Europe. And when European diseases swept through these societies, killing more than 90 percent of the people, it was the greatest demographic disaster in human history.

Mann shows how scientists learned that these much bigger societies were far more advanced than had been thought, and much older, as well. The Indian development of modern corn from a weed that looks nothing like it is still the most complex and far-reaching piece of genetic engineering ever performed. Indians clearly were traveling a different but equally sophisticated path as Europeans.

In 1491, Mann presents a riveting, compelling, eye-opening work of science.

“A superbly written and very important book: by far the most comprehensive synthesis I’ve ever seen of the growing body of evidence that our most deep-rooted ideas about the peopling of the Western hemisphere and the kinds of societies that had developed there by the time of European contact are fundamentally wrong. Charles C. Mann is one of those rare writers who can make scholarly concepts exciting and accessible without trivializing them. In 1491 he has integrated the latest research in many different areas with his own insights and experiences to produce a fascinating and addictively readable tour through the ‘New World’ before its ‘discovery.’ His book is, above all, a wonderful, unsentimental act of restitution—challenging centuries of cultural contempt and willful blindness to show just how vigorous, various, densely populated and profoundly human the pre-Columbian Americas really were.” —James Wilson, author of The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America

“We all know the first Americans wrote, built cities, and erected monuments, but they also changed the landscape. Well-informed in the ways of Aztec, Inca, Maya, Amazonian and Mound Builder, Mann engagingly reviews the social, environmental, and even the genetic conditions that set up the conquest that would follow the clash between two worlds—a clash not only among cultures but among ecosystems as well.” —Anthony Aveni, author of Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico and Empires of Time, Russell B. Colgate Professor of Astronomy and Anthropology, Colgate University

“If you accept that there were tens of millions of people in the Americas in 1492, the common belief among the experts today, then you cannot reject what Charles Mann has to say. We all have been taught what the human species gained by the European invasion of the Americas. Now we have to consider what we, all of us, lost.” —Alfred W. Crosby, author of Ecological Imperialism and The Columbian Exchange, Professor Emeritus of Geography, American Studies and History, University of Texas

“This is a volume of unparrelleled historical and hemispheric sweep. Through a lively and comprehensive review, Mann brings together the most recent research from many fields to truly show us the New World in 1491—not a world of simple savages but rather one of thriving cities, states and empires, trade networks extending throughout the hemisphere, and landscapes everywhere shaped by native management. The civilizations of the Americas rivaled or exceeded those of Europe. This is the first volume that reveals the scope of the cultural loss created by the ‘great dying.’ A brilliant synthesis and sobering meditation on one of the planet's great tragedies.” —Susanna Hecht, author of The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers, and Defenders of the Amazon, Professor of Urban Planning, Associate Director, School of Public Policy and Social Research, University of California at Los Angeles

“In his comprehensive new book, 1491, Charles Mann offers a comprehensive overview and an urgently needed update on the main archaeological and historical issues in the Americas before European arrival. From the Bering Strait to the Strait of Magellan, he brings forth the main academic controversies and presents them not merely as scholarly squabbles but as the issues that help shape the way we live in the modern world. In a lively and well written book, Charles Mann helps us to see the Americas in a new historical light.” —Jack Weatherford, author of Indian Givers and Genghis Khan and the Modern World, Professor of Anthropology, Macalester University

“Charles Mann takes us into a complex, fascinating and unknown world, that of the Indians who lived in this hemisphere before Columbus. He gently demolishes entrenched myths, with impressive scholarship, and with an elegance of style which makes his book a pleasure to read as well as a marvelous education.” —Howard Zinn

“In the tradition of Jared Diamond and John McPhee, a transforming new vision of pre-Columbian America.” —Richard Rhodes

“Every American knows it was a vast new world that Columbus found in 1492, and most imagine it was a thinly peopled paradise of plants, animals and hunter-gatherers waiting for civilization. The reality, Charles C. Mann tells us in his startling new book about the world before Columbus, is very different—two continents teeming with languages, cultures and mighty cities as big, as rich and even more populous than the capitals of Europe. But one thing the New World lacked—resistance to the diseases of the old. 1491 is lively and readable, filled with excitements and sorrows–a major contribution to our understanding of the achievements and the fate of the people we call Indians.” —Tom Powers

“When does American history begin? The old answer used to be 1492, with the European arrival in the Americas. That answer is no longer politically or historically correct. For the last thirty years or so historians, geographers and archaeologists have built up an arsenal of evidence about the residents of North America after the ice receded and before the Europeans arrived. Mann has mastered that scholarship and written the most elegant synthesis of the way we were before the European invasion.” —Joseph J. Ellis, author of His Excellency: George Washington

“Charles Mann has achieved the near impossible: distilling and reconciling the disparate ideas and findings of generations of scholars concerning the greatest collision of cultures ever, that of the Columbian Encounter. Written in a skillful, thoroughly enjoyable style that will please both the lay public and professional, this volume will immediately become a classic and the authoritative source on life in the Western Hemisphere before and immediately after 1491.” —Williams I. Woods, director of Environmental Studies, University of Kansas

1491 is an eye-opening book that requires us to rethink virtually every assumption we have had about the Western Hemisphere before the arrival of Europeans. Charles Mann makes it clear that the notion of an ‘empty wilderness’ could not be further from the truth. 1491 will change the way we think about wilderness and the ways humans have shaped the environment.” —Jan Dizard, Charles Hamilton Houston Professor of American Culture, Amherst College

“Engagingly written and utterly absorbing . . . part detective story, part epic and part tragedy.”—The Miami Herald

“Provocative . . . a Jared Diamond-like volley that challenges prevailing thinking about global development. Mann has chronicled an important shift in our vision of world development, one our young children could end up studying in their text books when they reach junior high.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Marvelous . . . a revelation . . . our concept of pure wilderness untouched by grubby human hands must now be jettisoned.”—The New York Sun

“Monumental. . . . Mann slips in so many fresh, new interpretations of American history that it all adds up to a deeply subversive work.”—Salon

“Concise and brilliantly entertaining . . . reminiscent of John McPhee’s eloquence with scientific detail.”— The Los Angeles Times

“The bad news is that everything you were taught about the peopling and people of the Americas before Columbus is probably wrong. The good news is that the real story is bigger, grander and more fascinating than you ever imagined. Charles Mann, a meticulous researcher and captivating writer, has produced the most enthralling book I’ve ever read on the first Americans.” —Tim Cahill, author of Lost in My Own Backyard, Hold the Enlightenment and Jaguars Ripped My Flesh
© Michael Lionstar
Charles C. Mann, a correspondent for The AtlanticScience, and Wired, has also written for FortuneThe New York TimesSmithsonianTechnology ReviewVanity Fair, and The Washington Post, as well as for the TV network HBO and the series Law & Order. A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he is the recipient of writing awards from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation. His book 1491 won the National Academies Communication Award for the best book of the year. View titles by Charles C. Mann
List of Maps
Preface

INTRODUCTION / Holmberg’s Mistake

1. A View from Above

PART ONE / Numbers from Nowhere?

2. Why Billington Survived
3. In the Land of Four Quarters
4. Frequently Asked Questions

PART TWO / Very Old Bones

5. Pleistocene Wars
6. Cotton (or Anchovies) and Maize (Tales of Two Civilizations, Part I)
7. Writing, Wheels, and Bucket Brigades (Tales of Two Civilizations, Part II)

PART THREE / Landscape with Figures

8. Made in America
9. Amazonia
10. The Artificial Wilderness
11. The Great Law of Peace

Appendixes
A. Loaded Words
B. Talking Knots
C. The Syphilis Exception
D. Calendar Math

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Why Billington Survived

THE FRIENDLY INDIAN

On March 22, 1621, an official Native American delegation walked through what is now southern New England to negotiate with a group of foreigners who had taken over a recently deserted Indian settlement. At the head of the party was an uneasy triumvirate: Massasoit, the sachem (political-military leader) of the Wampanoag confederation, a loose coalition of several dozen villages that controlled most of what is now southeastern Massachusetts; Samoset, sachem of an allied group to the north; and Tisquantum, a distrusted captive, whom Massasoit had reluctantly brought along as an interpreter.

Massasoit was an adroit politician, but the dilemma he faced would have tested Machiavelli. About five years before, most of his subjects had fallen before a terrible calamity. Whole villages had been depopulated—indeed, the foreigners ahead now occupied one of the empty sites. It was all he could do to hold together the remnants of his people. Adding to his problems, the disaster had not touched the Wampanoag’s longtime enemies, the Narragansett alliance to the west. Soon, Massasoit feared, they would take advantage of the Wampanoag’s weakness and overrun them.

Desperate threats require desperate countermeasures. In a gamble, Massasoit intended to abandon, even reverse, a long-standing policy. Europeans had been visiting New England for at least a century. Shorter than the natives, oddly dressed, and often unbearably dirty, the pallid foreigners had peculiar blue eyes that peeped out of the masks of bristly, animal-like hair that encased their faces. They were irritatingly garrulous, prone to fits of chicanery, and often surprisingly incompetent at what seemed to Indians like basic tasks. But they also made useful and beautiful goods—copper kettles, glittering colored glass, and steel knives and hatchets—unlike anything else in New England. Moreover, they would exchange these valuable items for cheap furs of the sort used by Indians as blankets. It was like happening upon a dingy kiosk that would swap fancy electronic goods for customers’ used socks—almost anyone would be willing to overlook the shopkeeper’s peculiarities.

Over time, the Wampanoag, like other native societies in coastal New England, had learned how to manage the European presence. They encouraged the exchange of goods, but would only allow their visitors to stay ashore for brief, carefully controlled excursions. Those who overstayed their welcome were forcefully reminded of the limited duration of Indian hospitality. At the same time, the Wampanoag fended off Indians from the interior, preventing them from trading directly with the foreigners. In this way the shoreline groups put themselves in the position of classic middlemen, overseeing both European access to Indian products and Indian access to European products. Now Massasoit was visiting a group of British with the intent of changing the rules. He would permit the newcomers to stay for an unlimited time—provided that they formally allied with the Wampanoag against the Narragansett.

Tisquantum, the interpreter, had shown up alone at Massasoit’s home a year and a half before. He spoke fluent English, because he had lived for several years in Britain. But Massasoit didn’t trust him. He seems to have been in Massasoit’s eyes a man without anchor, out for himself. In a conflict, Tisquantum might even side with the foreigners. Massasoit had kept Tisquantum in a kind of captivity since his arrival, monitoring his actions closely. And he refused to use him to negotiate with the colonists until he had another, independent means of communication with them.

That March Samoset—the third member of the triumvirate—appeared, having hitched a ride from his home in Maine on an English ship that was plying the coast. Not known is whether his arrival was due to chance or if Massasoit had asked him to come down because he had picked up a few English phrases by trading with the British. In any case, Massasoit first had sent Samoset, rather than Tisquantum, to the foreigners.

Samoset had walked unaccompanied and unarmed into the circle of rude huts in which the British were living on March 17, 1621. The colonists saw a robust, erect-postured man wearing only a loincloth; his straight black hair was shaved in front but flowed down his shoulders behind. To their further amazement, this almost naked man greeted them in broken but understandable English. He left the next morning with a few presents. A day later he came back, accompanied by five “tall proper men”—the phrase is the colonist Edward Winslow’s—with three-inch black stripes painted down the middle of their faces. The two sides talked inconclusively, each warily checking out the other, for a few hours. Five days later, on the 22nd, Samoset showed up again at the foreigners’ ramshackle base, this time with Tisquantum. Meanwhile Massasoit and the rest of the Indian company waited out of sight.

Samoset and Tisquantum spoke with the colonists for about an hour. Perhaps they then gave a signal. Or perhaps Massasoit was simply following a schedule. In any case, he and the rest of the Indian party appeared without warning at the crest of a hill on the south bank of the creek that ran through Patuxet. Alarmed by Massasoit’s sudden entrance, the settlers withdrew to the hill on the opposite bank, where they had emplaced their few cannons behind a half-finished stockade. A standoff ensued.

Finally Winslow exhibited the decisiveness that later led to his selection as colony governor. Wearing a full suit of armor and carrying a sword, he waded through the stream and offered himself as a hostage. Tisquantum, who walked with him, served as interpreter. Massasoit’s brother took charge of Winslow and then Massasoit crossed the water himself followed by Tisquantum and twenty of Massasoit’s men, all ostentatiously unarmed. The colonists took the sachem to an unfinished house and gave him some cushions to recline on. Both sides shared some of the foreigners’ homemade moonshine, then settled down to talk, Tisquantum translating.

To the colonists, Massasoit could be distinguished from his subjects more by manner than by dress or ornament. He wore the same deerskin shawls and leggings and like his fellows had covered his face with bug-repelling oil and reddish-purple dye. Around his neck hung a pouch of tobacco, a long knife, and a thick chain of the prized white shell beads called wampum. In appearance, Winslow wrote afterward, he was “a very lusty man, in his best years, an able body, grave of countenance, and spare of speech.” The Europeans, who had barely survived the previous winter, were in much worse shape. Half of the original colony now lay underground beneath wooden markers painted with death’s heads; most of the survivors were malnourished.

Their meeting was a critical moment in American history. The foreigners called their colony Plymouth; they themselves were the famous Pilgrims.* As schoolchildren learn, at that meeting the Pilgrims obtained the services of Tisquantum, usually known as “Squanto.” In the 1970s, when I attended high school, a popular history text was America: Its People and Values, by Leonard C. Wood, Ralph H. Gabriel, and Edward L. Biller. Nestled among colorful illustrations of colonial life was a succinct explanation of Tisquantum’s role:

A friendly Indian named Squanto helped the colonists. He showed them how to plant corn and how to live on the edge of the wilderness. A soldier, Captain Miles Standish, taught the Pilgrims how to defend themselves against unfriendly Indians.

My teacher explained that maize was unfamiliar to the Pilgrims and that Tisquantum had demonstrated the proper maize-planting technique—sticking the seed in little heaps of dirt, accompanied by beans and squash that would later twine themselves up the tall stalks. And he told the Pilgrims to fertilize the soil by burying fish alongside the maize seeds, a traditional native technique for producing a bountiful harvest. Following this advice, my teacher said, the colonists grew so much maize that it became the centerpiece of the first Thanksgiving. In our slipshod fashion, we students took notes.

The story in America: Its People and Values isn’t wrong, so far as it goes. But the impression it gives is entirely misleading.

Tisquantum was critical to the colony’s survival, contemporary scholars agree. He moved to Plymouth after the meeting and spent the rest of his life there. Just as my teacher said, Tisquantum told the colonists to bury several small fish in each maize hill, a procedure followed by European settlers for the next two centuries. Squanto’s teachings, Winslow concluded, led to “a good increase of Indian corn”—the difference between success and starvation.

Winslow didn’t know that fish fertilizer may not have been an age-old Indian custom, but a recent invention—if it was an Indian practice at all. So little evidence has emerged of Indians fertilizing with fish that some archaeologists believe that Tisquantum actually picked up the idea from European farmers. The notion is not as ridiculous as it may seem. Tisquantum had learned English because British sailors had kidnapped him seven years before. To return to the Americas, he in effect had to escape twice—once from Spain, where his captors initially sold him into slavery, and once from England, to which he was smuggled from Spain, and where he served as a kind of living conversation piece at a rich man’s house. In his travels, Tisquantum stayed in places where Europeans used fish as fertilizer, a practice on the Continent since medieval times.

Skipping over the complex course of Tisquantum’s life is understandable in a textbook with limited space. But the omission is symptomatic of the complete failure to consider Indian motives, or even that Indians might have motives. The alliance Massasoit negotiated with Plymouth was successful from the Wampanoag perspective, for it helped to hold off the Narragansett. But it was a disaster from the point of view of New England Indian society as a whole, for the alliance ensured the survival of Plymouth colony, which spearheaded the great wave of British immigration to New England. All of this was absent not only from my high school textbooks, but from the academic accounts they were based on.

This variant of Holmberg’s Mistake dates back to the Pilgrims themselves, who ascribed the lack of effective native resistance to the will of God. “Divine providence,” the colonist Daniel Gookin wrote, favored “the quiet and peaceable settlement of the English.” Later writers tended to attribute European success not to European deities but to European technology. In a contest where only one side had rifles and cannons, historians said, the other side’s motives were irrelevant. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Indians of the Northeast were thought of as rapidly fading background details in the saga of the rise of the United States—“marginal people who were losers in the end,” as James Axtell of the College of William and Mary dryly put it in an interview. Vietnam War–era denunciations of the Pilgrims as imperialist or racist simply replicated the error in a new form. Whether the cause was the Pilgrim God, Pilgrim guns, or Pilgrim greed, native losses were foreordained; Indians could not have stopped colonization, in this view, and they hardly tried.

Beginning in the 1970s, Axtell, Neal Salisbury, Francis Jennings, and other historians grew dissatisfied with this view. “Indians were seen as trivial, ineffectual patsies,” Salisbury, a historian at Smith College, told me. “But that assumption—a whole continent of patsies—simply didn’t make sense.” These researchers tried to peer through the colonial records to the Indian lives beneath. Their work fed a tsunami of inquiry into the interactions between natives and newcomers in the era when they faced each other as relative equals. “No other field in American history has grown as fast,” marveled Joyce Chaplin, a Harvard historian, in 2003.

The fall of Indian societies had everything to do with the natives themselves, researchers argue, rather than being religiously or technologically determined. (Here the claim is not that indigenous cultures should be blamed for their own demise but that they helped to determine their own fates.) “When you look at the historical record, it’s clear that Indians were trying to control their own destinies,” Salisbury said. “And often enough they succeeded”—only to learn, as all peoples do, that the consequences were not what they expected.

This chapter and the next will explore how two different Indian societies, the Wampanoag and the Inka, reacted to the incursions from across the sea. It may seem odd that a book about Indian life before contact should devote space to the period after contact, but there are reasons for it. First, colonial descriptions of Native Americans are among the few glimpses we have of Indians whose lives were not shaped by the presence of Europe. The accounts of the initial encounters between Indians and Europeans are windows into the past, even if the glass is smeared and distorted by the chroniclers’ prejudices and misapprehensions.

Second, although the stories of early contact—the Wampanoag with the British, the Inka with the Spanish—are as dissimilar as their protagonists, many archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians have recently come to believe that they have deep commonalities. And the tales of other Indians’ encounters with the strangers were alike in the same way. From these shared features, researchers have constructed what might be thought of as a master narrative of the meeting of Europe and America. Although it remains surprisingly little known outside specialist circles, this master narrative illuminates the origins of every nation in the Americas today. More than that, the effort to understand events after Columbus shed unexpected light on critical aspects of life before Columbus. Indeed, the master narrative led to such surprising conclusions about Native American societies before the arrival of Europeans that it stirred up an intellectual firestorm.

COMING OF AGE IN THE DAWNLAND

Consider Tisquantum, the “friendly Indian” of the textbook. More than likely Tisquantum was not the name he was given at birth. In that part of the Northeast, tisquantum referred to rage, especially the rage of manitou, the world-suffusing spiritual power at the heart of coastal Indians’ religious beliefs. When Tisquantum approached the Pilgrims and identified himself by that sobriquet, it was as if he had stuck out his hand and said, Hello, I’m the Wrath of God. No one would lightly adopt such a name in contemporary Western society. Neither would anyone in seventeenth-century indigenous society. Tisquantum was trying to project something.

Tisquantum was not an Indian. True, he belonged to that category of people whose ancestors had inhabited the Western Hemisphere for thousands of years. And it is true that I refer to him as an Indian, because the label is useful shorthand; so would his descendants, and for much the same reason. But “Indian” was not a category that Tisquantum himself would have recognized, any more than the inhabitants of the same area today would call themselves “Western Hemisphereans.” Still less would Tisquantum have claimed to belong to “Norumbega,” the label by which most Europeans then referred to New England. (“New England” was coined only in 1616.) As Tisquantum’s later history made clear, he regarded himself first and foremost as a citizen of Patuxet, a shoreline settlement halfway between what is now Boston and the beginning of Cape Cod.

Patuxet was one of the dozen or so settlements in what is now eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island that comprised the Wampanoag confederation. In turn, the Wampanoag were part of a tripartite alliance with two other confederations: the Nauset, which comprised some thirty groups on Cape Cod; and the Massachusett, several dozen villages clustered around Massachusetts Bay. All of these people spoke variants of Massachusett, a member of the Algonquian language family, the biggest in eastern North America at the time. (Massachusett was the name both of a language and of one of the groups that spoke it.) In Massachusett, the name for the New England shore was the Dawnland, the place where the sun rose. The inhabitants of the Dawnland were the People of the First Light.

“A journalistic masterpiece.”
—The New York Review of Books

“Marvelous.... A sweeping portrait of human life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus.... A remarkably engaging writer.”
—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Fascinating.... A landmark of a book that drops ingrained images of colonial American into the dustbin, one after the other.”
—The Boston Globe

“A ripping, man-on-the-ground tour of a world most of us barely intuit.... An exhilarating shift in perspective.... 1491 erases our myth of a wilderness Eden. It replaces that fallacy with evidence of a different genesis, exciting and closer to true.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Mann tells a powerful, provocative and important story.... 1491 vividly compels us to re-examine how we teach the ancient history of the Americas and how we live with the environmental consequences of colonization.”
—The Washington Post Book World

“Engagingly written and utterly absorbing.... Part detective story, part epic and part tragedy.”
—The Miami Herald

“Provocative.... A Jared Diamond-like volley that challenges prevailing thinking about global development. Mann has chronicled an important shift in our vision of world development, one out young children could end up studying in their text books when they reach junior high.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Marvelous.... A revelation.... Our concept of pure wilderness untouched by grubby human hands must now be jettisoned.”
—The New York Sun

“Monumental.... Mann slips in so many fresh, new interpretations of American history that it all adds up to a deeply subversive work.”
—Salon

“Concise and brilliantly entertaining.... Reminiscent of John McPhee's eloquence with scientific detail.”
—Los Angeles Times

About

In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, Charles C. Mann radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.

In the last twenty years, archeologists and anthropologists equipped with a battery of new scientific techniques have made far-reaching discoveries that have completely changed their understanding of what the Americas were like before Columbus's arrival. Most of us learned in school that Indians crossed the Bering Strait 12,000 years ago, that they were few in number, and that they lived so lightly on the land that much of the Americas was essentially a wilderness. Most researchers now believe that every one of these statements is wrong. Indians were here far longer than previously believed, they lived in vastly greater numbers than had been thought, and they transformed the American landscape thoroughly. Not only has this fascinating new knowledge vastly altered our understanding of our history, it has enormous implications for today's environmental disputes. Charles Mann illuminates all of these issues and reports on how these discoveries were made in this enthralling journey of scientific exploration.

Mann begins by showing how, beginning in the 1970s, researchers came to realize that the Indian population in 1491 must have been ten or twenty times higher than previously thought—there were more people in the Americas in 1491, the scientists came to believe, than in Europe; the Amazon delta may have been inhabited by more people in 1491 than it is now; cities including the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán were bigger than any city in Europe. And when European diseases swept through these societies, killing more than 90 percent of the people, it was the greatest demographic disaster in human history.

Mann shows how scientists learned that these much bigger societies were far more advanced than had been thought, and much older, as well. The Indian development of modern corn from a weed that looks nothing like it is still the most complex and far-reaching piece of genetic engineering ever performed. Indians clearly were traveling a different but equally sophisticated path as Europeans.

In 1491, Mann presents a riveting, compelling, eye-opening work of science.

“A superbly written and very important book: by far the most comprehensive synthesis I’ve ever seen of the growing body of evidence that our most deep-rooted ideas about the peopling of the Western hemisphere and the kinds of societies that had developed there by the time of European contact are fundamentally wrong. Charles C. Mann is one of those rare writers who can make scholarly concepts exciting and accessible without trivializing them. In 1491 he has integrated the latest research in many different areas with his own insights and experiences to produce a fascinating and addictively readable tour through the ‘New World’ before its ‘discovery.’ His book is, above all, a wonderful, unsentimental act of restitution—challenging centuries of cultural contempt and willful blindness to show just how vigorous, various, densely populated and profoundly human the pre-Columbian Americas really were.” —James Wilson, author of The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America

“We all know the first Americans wrote, built cities, and erected monuments, but they also changed the landscape. Well-informed in the ways of Aztec, Inca, Maya, Amazonian and Mound Builder, Mann engagingly reviews the social, environmental, and even the genetic conditions that set up the conquest that would follow the clash between two worlds—a clash not only among cultures but among ecosystems as well.” —Anthony Aveni, author of Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico and Empires of Time, Russell B. Colgate Professor of Astronomy and Anthropology, Colgate University

“If you accept that there were tens of millions of people in the Americas in 1492, the common belief among the experts today, then you cannot reject what Charles Mann has to say. We all have been taught what the human species gained by the European invasion of the Americas. Now we have to consider what we, all of us, lost.” —Alfred W. Crosby, author of Ecological Imperialism and The Columbian Exchange, Professor Emeritus of Geography, American Studies and History, University of Texas

“This is a volume of unparrelleled historical and hemispheric sweep. Through a lively and comprehensive review, Mann brings together the most recent research from many fields to truly show us the New World in 1491—not a world of simple savages but rather one of thriving cities, states and empires, trade networks extending throughout the hemisphere, and landscapes everywhere shaped by native management. The civilizations of the Americas rivaled or exceeded those of Europe. This is the first volume that reveals the scope of the cultural loss created by the ‘great dying.’ A brilliant synthesis and sobering meditation on one of the planet's great tragedies.” —Susanna Hecht, author of The Fate of the Forest: Developers, Destroyers, and Defenders of the Amazon, Professor of Urban Planning, Associate Director, School of Public Policy and Social Research, University of California at Los Angeles

“In his comprehensive new book, 1491, Charles Mann offers a comprehensive overview and an urgently needed update on the main archaeological and historical issues in the Americas before European arrival. From the Bering Strait to the Strait of Magellan, he brings forth the main academic controversies and presents them not merely as scholarly squabbles but as the issues that help shape the way we live in the modern world. In a lively and well written book, Charles Mann helps us to see the Americas in a new historical light.” —Jack Weatherford, author of Indian Givers and Genghis Khan and the Modern World, Professor of Anthropology, Macalester University

“Charles Mann takes us into a complex, fascinating and unknown world, that of the Indians who lived in this hemisphere before Columbus. He gently demolishes entrenched myths, with impressive scholarship, and with an elegance of style which makes his book a pleasure to read as well as a marvelous education.” —Howard Zinn

“In the tradition of Jared Diamond and John McPhee, a transforming new vision of pre-Columbian America.” —Richard Rhodes

“Every American knows it was a vast new world that Columbus found in 1492, and most imagine it was a thinly peopled paradise of plants, animals and hunter-gatherers waiting for civilization. The reality, Charles C. Mann tells us in his startling new book about the world before Columbus, is very different—two continents teeming with languages, cultures and mighty cities as big, as rich and even more populous than the capitals of Europe. But one thing the New World lacked—resistance to the diseases of the old. 1491 is lively and readable, filled with excitements and sorrows–a major contribution to our understanding of the achievements and the fate of the people we call Indians.” —Tom Powers

“When does American history begin? The old answer used to be 1492, with the European arrival in the Americas. That answer is no longer politically or historically correct. For the last thirty years or so historians, geographers and archaeologists have built up an arsenal of evidence about the residents of North America after the ice receded and before the Europeans arrived. Mann has mastered that scholarship and written the most elegant synthesis of the way we were before the European invasion.” —Joseph J. Ellis, author of His Excellency: George Washington

“Charles Mann has achieved the near impossible: distilling and reconciling the disparate ideas and findings of generations of scholars concerning the greatest collision of cultures ever, that of the Columbian Encounter. Written in a skillful, thoroughly enjoyable style that will please both the lay public and professional, this volume will immediately become a classic and the authoritative source on life in the Western Hemisphere before and immediately after 1491.” —Williams I. Woods, director of Environmental Studies, University of Kansas

1491 is an eye-opening book that requires us to rethink virtually every assumption we have had about the Western Hemisphere before the arrival of Europeans. Charles Mann makes it clear that the notion of an ‘empty wilderness’ could not be further from the truth. 1491 will change the way we think about wilderness and the ways humans have shaped the environment.” —Jan Dizard, Charles Hamilton Houston Professor of American Culture, Amherst College

“Engagingly written and utterly absorbing . . . part detective story, part epic and part tragedy.”—The Miami Herald

“Provocative . . . a Jared Diamond-like volley that challenges prevailing thinking about global development. Mann has chronicled an important shift in our vision of world development, one our young children could end up studying in their text books when they reach junior high.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Marvelous . . . a revelation . . . our concept of pure wilderness untouched by grubby human hands must now be jettisoned.”—The New York Sun

“Monumental. . . . Mann slips in so many fresh, new interpretations of American history that it all adds up to a deeply subversive work.”—Salon

“Concise and brilliantly entertaining . . . reminiscent of John McPhee’s eloquence with scientific detail.”— The Los Angeles Times

“The bad news is that everything you were taught about the peopling and people of the Americas before Columbus is probably wrong. The good news is that the real story is bigger, grander and more fascinating than you ever imagined. Charles Mann, a meticulous researcher and captivating writer, has produced the most enthralling book I’ve ever read on the first Americans.” —Tim Cahill, author of Lost in My Own Backyard, Hold the Enlightenment and Jaguars Ripped My Flesh

Author

© Michael Lionstar
Charles C. Mann, a correspondent for The AtlanticScience, and Wired, has also written for FortuneThe New York TimesSmithsonianTechnology ReviewVanity Fair, and The Washington Post, as well as for the TV network HBO and the series Law & Order. A three-time National Magazine Award finalist, he is the recipient of writing awards from the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Physics, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Lannan Foundation. His book 1491 won the National Academies Communication Award for the best book of the year. View titles by Charles C. Mann

Table of Contents

List of Maps
Preface

INTRODUCTION / Holmberg’s Mistake

1. A View from Above

PART ONE / Numbers from Nowhere?

2. Why Billington Survived
3. In the Land of Four Quarters
4. Frequently Asked Questions

PART TWO / Very Old Bones

5. Pleistocene Wars
6. Cotton (or Anchovies) and Maize (Tales of Two Civilizations, Part I)
7. Writing, Wheels, and Bucket Brigades (Tales of Two Civilizations, Part II)

PART THREE / Landscape with Figures

8. Made in America
9. Amazonia
10. The Artificial Wilderness
11. The Great Law of Peace

Appendixes
A. Loaded Words
B. Talking Knots
C. The Syphilis Exception
D. Calendar Math

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Excerpt

Why Billington Survived

THE FRIENDLY INDIAN

On March 22, 1621, an official Native American delegation walked through what is now southern New England to negotiate with a group of foreigners who had taken over a recently deserted Indian settlement. At the head of the party was an uneasy triumvirate: Massasoit, the sachem (political-military leader) of the Wampanoag confederation, a loose coalition of several dozen villages that controlled most of what is now southeastern Massachusetts; Samoset, sachem of an allied group to the north; and Tisquantum, a distrusted captive, whom Massasoit had reluctantly brought along as an interpreter.

Massasoit was an adroit politician, but the dilemma he faced would have tested Machiavelli. About five years before, most of his subjects had fallen before a terrible calamity. Whole villages had been depopulated—indeed, the foreigners ahead now occupied one of the empty sites. It was all he could do to hold together the remnants of his people. Adding to his problems, the disaster had not touched the Wampanoag’s longtime enemies, the Narragansett alliance to the west. Soon, Massasoit feared, they would take advantage of the Wampanoag’s weakness and overrun them.

Desperate threats require desperate countermeasures. In a gamble, Massasoit intended to abandon, even reverse, a long-standing policy. Europeans had been visiting New England for at least a century. Shorter than the natives, oddly dressed, and often unbearably dirty, the pallid foreigners had peculiar blue eyes that peeped out of the masks of bristly, animal-like hair that encased their faces. They were irritatingly garrulous, prone to fits of chicanery, and often surprisingly incompetent at what seemed to Indians like basic tasks. But they also made useful and beautiful goods—copper kettles, glittering colored glass, and steel knives and hatchets—unlike anything else in New England. Moreover, they would exchange these valuable items for cheap furs of the sort used by Indians as blankets. It was like happening upon a dingy kiosk that would swap fancy electronic goods for customers’ used socks—almost anyone would be willing to overlook the shopkeeper’s peculiarities.

Over time, the Wampanoag, like other native societies in coastal New England, had learned how to manage the European presence. They encouraged the exchange of goods, but would only allow their visitors to stay ashore for brief, carefully controlled excursions. Those who overstayed their welcome were forcefully reminded of the limited duration of Indian hospitality. At the same time, the Wampanoag fended off Indians from the interior, preventing them from trading directly with the foreigners. In this way the shoreline groups put themselves in the position of classic middlemen, overseeing both European access to Indian products and Indian access to European products. Now Massasoit was visiting a group of British with the intent of changing the rules. He would permit the newcomers to stay for an unlimited time—provided that they formally allied with the Wampanoag against the Narragansett.

Tisquantum, the interpreter, had shown up alone at Massasoit’s home a year and a half before. He spoke fluent English, because he had lived for several years in Britain. But Massasoit didn’t trust him. He seems to have been in Massasoit’s eyes a man without anchor, out for himself. In a conflict, Tisquantum might even side with the foreigners. Massasoit had kept Tisquantum in a kind of captivity since his arrival, monitoring his actions closely. And he refused to use him to negotiate with the colonists until he had another, independent means of communication with them.

That March Samoset—the third member of the triumvirate—appeared, having hitched a ride from his home in Maine on an English ship that was plying the coast. Not known is whether his arrival was due to chance or if Massasoit had asked him to come down because he had picked up a few English phrases by trading with the British. In any case, Massasoit first had sent Samoset, rather than Tisquantum, to the foreigners.

Samoset had walked unaccompanied and unarmed into the circle of rude huts in which the British were living on March 17, 1621. The colonists saw a robust, erect-postured man wearing only a loincloth; his straight black hair was shaved in front but flowed down his shoulders behind. To their further amazement, this almost naked man greeted them in broken but understandable English. He left the next morning with a few presents. A day later he came back, accompanied by five “tall proper men”—the phrase is the colonist Edward Winslow’s—with three-inch black stripes painted down the middle of their faces. The two sides talked inconclusively, each warily checking out the other, for a few hours. Five days later, on the 22nd, Samoset showed up again at the foreigners’ ramshackle base, this time with Tisquantum. Meanwhile Massasoit and the rest of the Indian company waited out of sight.

Samoset and Tisquantum spoke with the colonists for about an hour. Perhaps they then gave a signal. Or perhaps Massasoit was simply following a schedule. In any case, he and the rest of the Indian party appeared without warning at the crest of a hill on the south bank of the creek that ran through Patuxet. Alarmed by Massasoit’s sudden entrance, the settlers withdrew to the hill on the opposite bank, where they had emplaced their few cannons behind a half-finished stockade. A standoff ensued.

Finally Winslow exhibited the decisiveness that later led to his selection as colony governor. Wearing a full suit of armor and carrying a sword, he waded through the stream and offered himself as a hostage. Tisquantum, who walked with him, served as interpreter. Massasoit’s brother took charge of Winslow and then Massasoit crossed the water himself followed by Tisquantum and twenty of Massasoit’s men, all ostentatiously unarmed. The colonists took the sachem to an unfinished house and gave him some cushions to recline on. Both sides shared some of the foreigners’ homemade moonshine, then settled down to talk, Tisquantum translating.

To the colonists, Massasoit could be distinguished from his subjects more by manner than by dress or ornament. He wore the same deerskin shawls and leggings and like his fellows had covered his face with bug-repelling oil and reddish-purple dye. Around his neck hung a pouch of tobacco, a long knife, and a thick chain of the prized white shell beads called wampum. In appearance, Winslow wrote afterward, he was “a very lusty man, in his best years, an able body, grave of countenance, and spare of speech.” The Europeans, who had barely survived the previous winter, were in much worse shape. Half of the original colony now lay underground beneath wooden markers painted with death’s heads; most of the survivors were malnourished.

Their meeting was a critical moment in American history. The foreigners called their colony Plymouth; they themselves were the famous Pilgrims.* As schoolchildren learn, at that meeting the Pilgrims obtained the services of Tisquantum, usually known as “Squanto.” In the 1970s, when I attended high school, a popular history text was America: Its People and Values, by Leonard C. Wood, Ralph H. Gabriel, and Edward L. Biller. Nestled among colorful illustrations of colonial life was a succinct explanation of Tisquantum’s role:

A friendly Indian named Squanto helped the colonists. He showed them how to plant corn and how to live on the edge of the wilderness. A soldier, Captain Miles Standish, taught the Pilgrims how to defend themselves against unfriendly Indians.

My teacher explained that maize was unfamiliar to the Pilgrims and that Tisquantum had demonstrated the proper maize-planting technique—sticking the seed in little heaps of dirt, accompanied by beans and squash that would later twine themselves up the tall stalks. And he told the Pilgrims to fertilize the soil by burying fish alongside the maize seeds, a traditional native technique for producing a bountiful harvest. Following this advice, my teacher said, the colonists grew so much maize that it became the centerpiece of the first Thanksgiving. In our slipshod fashion, we students took notes.

The story in America: Its People and Values isn’t wrong, so far as it goes. But the impression it gives is entirely misleading.

Tisquantum was critical to the colony’s survival, contemporary scholars agree. He moved to Plymouth after the meeting and spent the rest of his life there. Just as my teacher said, Tisquantum told the colonists to bury several small fish in each maize hill, a procedure followed by European settlers for the next two centuries. Squanto’s teachings, Winslow concluded, led to “a good increase of Indian corn”—the difference between success and starvation.

Winslow didn’t know that fish fertilizer may not have been an age-old Indian custom, but a recent invention—if it was an Indian practice at all. So little evidence has emerged of Indians fertilizing with fish that some archaeologists believe that Tisquantum actually picked up the idea from European farmers. The notion is not as ridiculous as it may seem. Tisquantum had learned English because British sailors had kidnapped him seven years before. To return to the Americas, he in effect had to escape twice—once from Spain, where his captors initially sold him into slavery, and once from England, to which he was smuggled from Spain, and where he served as a kind of living conversation piece at a rich man’s house. In his travels, Tisquantum stayed in places where Europeans used fish as fertilizer, a practice on the Continent since medieval times.

Skipping over the complex course of Tisquantum’s life is understandable in a textbook with limited space. But the omission is symptomatic of the complete failure to consider Indian motives, or even that Indians might have motives. The alliance Massasoit negotiated with Plymouth was successful from the Wampanoag perspective, for it helped to hold off the Narragansett. But it was a disaster from the point of view of New England Indian society as a whole, for the alliance ensured the survival of Plymouth colony, which spearheaded the great wave of British immigration to New England. All of this was absent not only from my high school textbooks, but from the academic accounts they were based on.

This variant of Holmberg’s Mistake dates back to the Pilgrims themselves, who ascribed the lack of effective native resistance to the will of God. “Divine providence,” the colonist Daniel Gookin wrote, favored “the quiet and peaceable settlement of the English.” Later writers tended to attribute European success not to European deities but to European technology. In a contest where only one side had rifles and cannons, historians said, the other side’s motives were irrelevant. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Indians of the Northeast were thought of as rapidly fading background details in the saga of the rise of the United States—“marginal people who were losers in the end,” as James Axtell of the College of William and Mary dryly put it in an interview. Vietnam War–era denunciations of the Pilgrims as imperialist or racist simply replicated the error in a new form. Whether the cause was the Pilgrim God, Pilgrim guns, or Pilgrim greed, native losses were foreordained; Indians could not have stopped colonization, in this view, and they hardly tried.

Beginning in the 1970s, Axtell, Neal Salisbury, Francis Jennings, and other historians grew dissatisfied with this view. “Indians were seen as trivial, ineffectual patsies,” Salisbury, a historian at Smith College, told me. “But that assumption—a whole continent of patsies—simply didn’t make sense.” These researchers tried to peer through the colonial records to the Indian lives beneath. Their work fed a tsunami of inquiry into the interactions between natives and newcomers in the era when they faced each other as relative equals. “No other field in American history has grown as fast,” marveled Joyce Chaplin, a Harvard historian, in 2003.

The fall of Indian societies had everything to do with the natives themselves, researchers argue, rather than being religiously or technologically determined. (Here the claim is not that indigenous cultures should be blamed for their own demise but that they helped to determine their own fates.) “When you look at the historical record, it’s clear that Indians were trying to control their own destinies,” Salisbury said. “And often enough they succeeded”—only to learn, as all peoples do, that the consequences were not what they expected.

This chapter and the next will explore how two different Indian societies, the Wampanoag and the Inka, reacted to the incursions from across the sea. It may seem odd that a book about Indian life before contact should devote space to the period after contact, but there are reasons for it. First, colonial descriptions of Native Americans are among the few glimpses we have of Indians whose lives were not shaped by the presence of Europe. The accounts of the initial encounters between Indians and Europeans are windows into the past, even if the glass is smeared and distorted by the chroniclers’ prejudices and misapprehensions.

Second, although the stories of early contact—the Wampanoag with the British, the Inka with the Spanish—are as dissimilar as their protagonists, many archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians have recently come to believe that they have deep commonalities. And the tales of other Indians’ encounters with the strangers were alike in the same way. From these shared features, researchers have constructed what might be thought of as a master narrative of the meeting of Europe and America. Although it remains surprisingly little known outside specialist circles, this master narrative illuminates the origins of every nation in the Americas today. More than that, the effort to understand events after Columbus shed unexpected light on critical aspects of life before Columbus. Indeed, the master narrative led to such surprising conclusions about Native American societies before the arrival of Europeans that it stirred up an intellectual firestorm.

COMING OF AGE IN THE DAWNLAND

Consider Tisquantum, the “friendly Indian” of the textbook. More than likely Tisquantum was not the name he was given at birth. In that part of the Northeast, tisquantum referred to rage, especially the rage of manitou, the world-suffusing spiritual power at the heart of coastal Indians’ religious beliefs. When Tisquantum approached the Pilgrims and identified himself by that sobriquet, it was as if he had stuck out his hand and said, Hello, I’m the Wrath of God. No one would lightly adopt such a name in contemporary Western society. Neither would anyone in seventeenth-century indigenous society. Tisquantum was trying to project something.

Tisquantum was not an Indian. True, he belonged to that category of people whose ancestors had inhabited the Western Hemisphere for thousands of years. And it is true that I refer to him as an Indian, because the label is useful shorthand; so would his descendants, and for much the same reason. But “Indian” was not a category that Tisquantum himself would have recognized, any more than the inhabitants of the same area today would call themselves “Western Hemisphereans.” Still less would Tisquantum have claimed to belong to “Norumbega,” the label by which most Europeans then referred to New England. (“New England” was coined only in 1616.) As Tisquantum’s later history made clear, he regarded himself first and foremost as a citizen of Patuxet, a shoreline settlement halfway between what is now Boston and the beginning of Cape Cod.

Patuxet was one of the dozen or so settlements in what is now eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island that comprised the Wampanoag confederation. In turn, the Wampanoag were part of a tripartite alliance with two other confederations: the Nauset, which comprised some thirty groups on Cape Cod; and the Massachusett, several dozen villages clustered around Massachusetts Bay. All of these people spoke variants of Massachusett, a member of the Algonquian language family, the biggest in eastern North America at the time. (Massachusett was the name both of a language and of one of the groups that spoke it.) In Massachusett, the name for the New England shore was the Dawnland, the place where the sun rose. The inhabitants of the Dawnland were the People of the First Light.

Praise

“A journalistic masterpiece.”
—The New York Review of Books

“Marvelous.... A sweeping portrait of human life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus.... A remarkably engaging writer.”
—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Fascinating.... A landmark of a book that drops ingrained images of colonial American into the dustbin, one after the other.”
—The Boston Globe

“A ripping, man-on-the-ground tour of a world most of us barely intuit.... An exhilarating shift in perspective.... 1491 erases our myth of a wilderness Eden. It replaces that fallacy with evidence of a different genesis, exciting and closer to true.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Mann tells a powerful, provocative and important story.... 1491 vividly compels us to re-examine how we teach the ancient history of the Americas and how we live with the environmental consequences of colonization.”
—The Washington Post Book World

“Engagingly written and utterly absorbing.... Part detective story, part epic and part tragedy.”
—The Miami Herald

“Provocative.... A Jared Diamond-like volley that challenges prevailing thinking about global development. Mann has chronicled an important shift in our vision of world development, one out young children could end up studying in their text books when they reach junior high.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Marvelous.... A revelation.... Our concept of pure wilderness untouched by grubby human hands must now be jettisoned.”
—The New York Sun

“Monumental.... Mann slips in so many fresh, new interpretations of American history that it all adds up to a deeply subversive work.”
—Salon

“Concise and brilliantly entertaining.... Reminiscent of John McPhee's eloquence with scientific detail.”
—Los Angeles Times

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