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A fascinating new look at America before Columbus
The Charlotte Observer ^ | Aug. 14, 2005 | CHARLES MATTHEWS

Posted on 08/17/2005 11:43:12 AM PDT by Between the Lines

1491: New Revelations Of The Americas Before Columbus

By Charles C. Mann. Knopf. 480 pages. $30.

Charles C. Mann's engagingly written, utterly absorbing "1491" tells us what scientists have recently learned about the American civilizations that vanished with the arrival of Columbus. Most of what we were taught about them may be wrong.

For example, I thought of North America before Columbus as sparsely settled by people who had little impact on their environment: a place with great herds of buffalo like the ones that rumble through movies like "Dances With Wolves," where migrating flocks of passenger pigeons darkened the skies for days, and where there were vast stands of ancient trees -- Longfellow's "forest primeval." An Edenic land of unimaginable abundance -- until the white settlers slaughtered the buffalo, hunted the passenger pigeon to extinction and felled the forests.

But what we think of as environmental abundance may have been the product of environmental catastrophe, the loss of a key element in the pre-Columbian ecosystem: human beings. When the Europeans arrived, they brought diseases that radically reduced the Indian population. With fewer people hunting for food and clearing the land, animal and plant life ran riot.

Mann tells us that some scientists think the buffalo and passenger pigeon populations didn't explode until after Europeans arrived. Even the "primeval" forest may have been a latecomer.

The Indians, we now know, used fire to clear the wilderness and make it easier to hunt game. Because the European settlers "did not burn the land with the same skill and frequency as its previous occupants, the forests grew thicker," Mann writes. "The product of demographic calamity, the newly created wilderness was indeed beautiful. But it was built on Indian graves and every bit as much a ruin as the temples of the Maya."

We don't know how many people died from the diseases the Europeans brought; one very controversial estimate puts the death rate as high as 95 percent. Mann points to evidence that in coastal New England, an epidemic -- "probably of viral hepatitis" -- that began in 1616 killed perhaps 90 percent of the population; a smallpox epidemic in 1633 eliminated from a third to a half of the survivors.

Whatever its true extent, the calamity that befell the pre-Columbian Americans makes reconstructing the world they lived in so hard that controversy dogs almost every assertion about it.

How long, for example, have humans inhabited the Americas? Did they arrive about 12,000 years ago, as scientific consensus once held? Or did they come as early as 30,000 years ago, as some archaeologists and scientists now think?

"Given that the Ice Age made Europe north of the Loire Valley uninhabitable until some eighteen thousand years ago," Mann comments, this would mean that "people were thriving from Alaska to Chile while much of northern Europe was still empty of mankind and its works."

What was the population of the Americas just before the arrival of Columbus' ships? Could these continents have held, as some assert, as many as 112 million people? If so, Mann observes, "when Columbus sailed more people lived in the Americas than in Europe."

In some respects, this lost world put the culture that Europeans prided themselves on to shame.

The Olmec and the Maya, Mann writes, "were world pioneers in mathematics and astronomy" -- the Olmec had a more accurate 365-day calendar than their European contemporaries, and the Maya invented the zero at least 12 centuries before it appeared in Europe.

Before disease ravaged the Indians, the Europeans were astonished at how handsome and healthy the people they encountered were. One reason was diet, the result of the agricultural wizardry of the Americans: "One writer has estimated that Indians developed three-fifths of the crops now in cultivation, most of them in Mesoamerica," Mann writes.

And the development of maize, for which no wild ancestor has ever been found, has been called by geneticist Nina Federoff "arguably man's first, and perhaps his greatest, feat of genetic engineering."


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: godsgravesglyphs; precolumbian
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1 posted on 08/17/2005 11:43:13 AM PDT by Between the Lines
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To: Between the Lines

There are many stories of "white man" human bones found to be over 10,000 years old found here. Wonder how all that fits in the mix.


2 posted on 08/17/2005 11:45:09 AM PDT by edcoil (Reality doesn't say much - doesn't need too)
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To: Between the Lines

There was an article in the Atlantic Monthly (I think) about 3 years ago about the same sort of ideas. It seems that there is evidence that not only were there plenty of people here, but that they dramatically effected the environment. This whole "pristine wilderness" and "noble savage" living "in accordance with nature" idea is just bunk.


3 posted on 08/17/2005 11:47:50 AM PDT by vladimir998 (Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. St. Jerome)
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To: Between the Lines
The Indians, we now know, used fire to clear the wilderness and make it easier to hunt game.

This part, at least, is not even remotely new knowledge. I seem to recall a passage from the diary of some early explorer (I think it was Lewis or Clark), wherein he more than once casually remarked on Indians "lighting the prairie on fire" as a kind of signal.

4 posted on 08/17/2005 11:49:40 AM PDT by r9etb
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Comment #5 Removed by Moderator

To: Between the Lines
Yes. The Pre-Colombian American Indians were scientific geniuses. That's why they never invented the wheel.

Oh, and all the human sacrifice that went on? The Europeans were just too dumb to grasp that sophisticated surgical procedures were actually being practiced.

Yep. America was literally heaven on Earth before those nasty Euros arrived (sarcasm off).

6 posted on 08/17/2005 11:52:17 AM PDT by Martin Tell (Red States [should act like they] Rule)
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To: edcoil

Pre-Olmec for sure. Probably came through the NorthWest passage and got into a tangle with Asians on a summer trip over from Korea.


7 posted on 08/17/2005 11:52:29 AM PDT by Sundog (Cheers)
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To: kalee

Save for Nov.


8 posted on 08/17/2005 11:53:58 AM PDT by kalee
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To: Between the Lines
We don't know how many people died from the diseases the Europeans brought; one very controversial estimate puts the death rate as high as 95 percent. Mann points to evidence that in coastal New England, an epidemic -- "probably of viral hepatitis" -- that began in 1616 killed perhaps 90 percent of the population; a smallpox epidemic in 1633 eliminated from a third to a half of the survivors.

An old family story (from the 1840s) told of my G-g-g-g-grandparents traveling through an a large Indian village in California. All of the inhabitants had died of measles, and the village was full of feasting bears. (Yuck.) It would be very difficult to underestimate the effect on Indians of "white man diseases," especially pox diseases. The Chinooks (my ancestors) were reduced by disease from a population of tens of thousands at the time of Lewis and Clark, to a few hundred in the 1850s.

9 posted on 08/17/2005 11:55:04 AM PDT by r9etb
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To: Between the Lines

bump


10 posted on 08/17/2005 11:56:22 AM PDT by TexanToTheCore (Rock the pews, Baby)
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To: texas_mrs

bump


11 posted on 08/17/2005 11:57:30 AM PDT by texas_mrs
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To: Between the Lines
'The Olmec and the Maya, Mann writes, "were world pioneers in mathematics and astronomy" -- the Olmec had a more accurate 365-day calendar than their European contemporaries'

Hmmmm? I was taught the Greeks were the pioneers.... ooops, the Mideast Muslims claim it ... ooops, the Chinese ... ooops, Africans ... hell, I'm confused due to every civilization claims credit. So which one is it?

12 posted on 08/17/2005 11:57:50 AM PDT by moonman
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To: Between the Lines
Mostly leftie revisionist claptrap.
13 posted on 08/17/2005 11:58:27 AM PDT by colorado tanker (The People Have Spoken)
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To: Between the Lines

All I need to know about the old west I learned in "Little Big Man." Especially the part about US Army soildiers eating Indian women and children. /sarcasm


14 posted on 08/17/2005 11:59:26 AM PDT by pabianice
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To: Between the Lines
Or did they come as early as 30,000 years ago, as some archaeologists and scientists now think?

They arrived before the Earth was even formed. They were clever.

15 posted on 08/17/2005 12:00:02 PM PDT by ThomasNast
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Comment #16 Removed by Moderator

To: edcoil

One intersting theory is the "Prince Madoc" legend.

Supposedly Madoc left Wales(?) in 1170, and made 2 trips to the new world, and never returned from the second one. The theory is that his people bred in with the Indians, and brought diseases with them that crept from tribe to tribe and started the killing way back then.

Some say that what was left of the Welshmen became the Mandan Tribe in the dakotas - noted by Lewis and Clark and early explorers and trappers for their blue eyes, fair complexions, and some having blonde hair.

Lots of interesting reading on Madoc out there, check out www.madoc1170.com/ for starters.


17 posted on 08/17/2005 12:00:33 PM PDT by GaltMeister (“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”)
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To: Between the Lines
But what we think of as environmental abundance may have been the product of environmental catastrophe, the loss of a key element in the pre-Columbian ecosystem: human beings. When the Europeans arrived, they brought diseases that radically reduced the Indian population. With fewer people hunting for food and clearing the land, animal and plant life ran riot.

Mann tells us that some scientists think the buffalo and passenger pigeon populations didn't explode until after Europeans arrived. Even the "primeval" forest may have been a latecomer.

That's an interesting twist.

18 posted on 08/17/2005 12:01:44 PM PDT by shekkian
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To: Between the Lines
They're gone
We're still here
Neener Neener Neener
19 posted on 08/17/2005 12:03:21 PM PDT by meowmeow (Meow! Meow!)
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To: bobbdobbs

"30,000 years, 112 million people? If so, they were underachievers of historic proportions."

I tend to agree. That would be 112 million skeletons, too.
We barely find any and when we do its hailed as a major event.


20 posted on 08/17/2005 12:05:57 PM PDT by Adder (Can we bring back stoning again? Please?)
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Comment #21 Removed by Moderator

To: r9etb
The Chinooks (my ancestors) were reduced by disease from a population of tens of thousands at the time of Lewis and Clark, to a few hundred in the 1850s.

Interesting. I'm watching a multi-volume documentary about Lewis and Clark. I did not notice anything about diseases, except it was noted that several of Lewis and Clark's men got VD from friendly Indian (Mandoc) women.

22 posted on 08/17/2005 12:10:08 PM PDT by Martin Tell (Red States [should act like they] Rule)
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To: bobbdobbs
The thing about diseases is that even Europeans didn't have cures. The diseases would regularly wipe out large numbers of Europeans. But it didn't wipe them out completely.

They didn't have cures, but they did have far better immunity/much lower sensitivity to pox diseases. The difference was apparently due to the fact that Europeans raised livestock, whereas the Indians did not.

23 posted on 08/17/2005 12:13:42 PM PDT by r9etb
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To: bobbdobbs

> Particularly in North America, no cities, no agriculture, no animal or plant domestication.

That's incorrect. There is evidence of some considerable sophistication in the realm of agriculture and city building with such groups as the Mound Builders (Cahokia, Illinois) and the Anasazi (southwest). But these guys seem to have been wiped out before 1492, either by war, famine or disease.


24 posted on 08/17/2005 12:14:07 PM PDT by orionblamblam ("You're the poster boy for what ID would turn out if it were taught in our schools." VadeRetro)
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To: Between the Lines

I presume the author will demonstrate the scientific evidence, methods, for his conclusions.

This book review reads more like a politically correct hypothesis.

Other sources inform the largest population of north America's earlier immigrants (Indians) was in southern California. Why? Easy living.

Also, when Europeans arrived at the Socal coast (San Pedro bay) the Indians' campfires kept the LA basin in constant smoky haze, later named smog.

I therefore propose that the EPA fine the Indians, confiscating their Gambling Profits, to compensate later immigrants.

Finally, history reveals Indians killed other Indians, mostly tribe against tribe. This is contrary to the popular mythology of the gentle corn farming Indians.


25 posted on 08/17/2005 12:14:45 PM PDT by truth_seeker
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To: vladimir998
Maybe off topic but...
I have always read history and military history. It is a recurring argument among historians about population sizes or/and subsequent sizes of armies before accurate records began to be kept.

I always wonder, for example, at the purported size of armies in 10's of thousands, when I read about battles or campaigns which took place so far back that accounts are problematic. Written records, when available, about this stuff seem to vary widely on even the same event or campaign. Understanding old accounts, even 'eyewitness' accounts of the various respective size of armies in conflict or the numbers of casualties is always a matter of guesswork. I'd really love to know what global populations were as far back as can be correctly calculated and what the dispersal of populations actually has been over time. It's really hard to believe something like '40 thousand' casualties in a battle that took place BC or even after that up to modern times. I wouldn't think that populations where so large that armies could field, let alone, lose that number.
26 posted on 08/17/2005 12:15:54 PM PDT by SMARTY ("Stay together, pay the soldiers and forget everything else." Lucius Septimus Severus)
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Comment #27 Removed by Moderator

To: colorado tanker
Mostly leftie revisionist claptrap.

Wrong. The left HATES this stuff. It destroys their abilty to cast Wsern Civilization as the "bad guy". Believe me, the folks trying to debunk the new research on pre-Columbian conditions in the Americas are universally leftist.

28 posted on 08/17/2005 12:16:49 PM PDT by John Valentine
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To: Between the Lines

The American Indian, or "Native American" were a stone age people when discovered by the Europeans. They had not domesticated animals, they had no written language and they had not even invented the wheel.

However, their lack of technology did not prevent them warring among themselves, practicing genocide (Iroquois, Mahegan), slavery (Choctaws, Chickasaws) and cannibalism (Navajo, Anasazi).

If the white man is responsible for "wiping out" the various extinct tribes, who made the Mound Builders extinct, since they vanished long before any white man set foot in the Americas (officially)? Who wiped out the Anazasi, the Fremont, and on and on and on?

Answer: Other Indians wiped those tribes out.

It also did not stop most native Americans tribes to side with the British during the American Revolution.

I wonder, will the Iroquois and Anasazi descendants pay the Erie and Pueblo descendants for their "guilt" from their ancestors actions? Will they pay for the massacre of "rebel" settlements during the War of Independence? Will they give up the wheel once they get their reparations?

Let's look at the history from a broader scope:

1675 - 1676 -- King Philip's War -- a larger percentage of the American population was lost in this war than in any other American war. The indians burned down whole villages and slaughter the inhabitants, but they lost the war.

1750's -- French-Indian War -- Indians sided with the French against the British. They committed atrocities and they lost the war.

1770's -- American Revolution -- Indians sided with the Britsh. They lost the war.

1812 -- The Indians again sided with the British. And again they lost.


29 posted on 08/17/2005 12:18:46 PM PDT by 2banana (My common ground with terrorists - They want to die for Islam, and we want to kill them.)
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To: Jerry K.
It's a twist in logic - how could the Native Americans have died off BEFORE the Europeans arived...

You have to realize that a century or more passed between first contact, when the diseases arrived, and the mass migrations when the Americas were settled.

That's why there were such striking differences in the descriptions written by the first exploerers and the those written by the much later settlers.

Also, once the diseases were introduced they spread through indian populations like wildfire. Most indians that died had never heard of these strangers from Europe. Entire populations were wiped from the face of the Earth, including some very interesting ones in the pantanal area of South America. This region has not recovered its population to this day.

30 posted on 08/17/2005 12:22:07 PM PDT by John Valentine
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To: Adder
I tend to agree. That would be 112 million skeletons, too. We barely find any and when we do its hailed as a major event.

I'm not sure that's meaningful. We generally find skeletons in graves. The descriptions of how diseases traveled through Indian tribes are mostly of the "rapid spread, quick death, and dead people lying unburied" variety. Bodies lying in the open, exposed to animals and weather, would tend to completely disappear within a hundred years.

31 posted on 08/17/2005 12:23:16 PM PDT by r9etb
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To: John Valentine

Huh? You think the propaganda that North America was thickly populated to the tune of 100,000,000 people, with a widespread, prosperous agriculture, 95% of which was wiped out in a holocaust of diseases brought by the white man, whose devastation returned most of the continent to wilderness is a conservative theory??? If so, Ward Churchill is a Republican.


32 posted on 08/17/2005 12:24:19 PM PDT by colorado tanker (The People Have Spoken)
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To: GaltMeister

Correct me but if I remember correctly the sailors that went back to Europe took a lot of Indian sexual diseases with them then did not exist in europe before.


33 posted on 08/17/2005 12:24:22 PM PDT by edcoil (Reality doesn't say much - doesn't need too)
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To: colorado tanker; blam

Check this out.


34 posted on 08/17/2005 12:24:47 PM PDT by cibco (Xin Loi... Saddam)
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To: r9etb

Another aspect is that the European immunity had been built up over many centuries. The degree of "ravaging" by epidemics goes down (the microbes won't proliferate if they kill their hosts before they can multiply), and the resistance of the population increases with time (those with immunity survive and pass on the immunity to their descendants).

The Europeans had come to terms with these diseases over many centuries so that the diseases had lost their virulence for Europeans. The Indians lacked this immunity and quickly succumbed.

McNeil's Plagues and Peoples is rather old (published in the 1970s) but is recommended for a more lucid explication.


35 posted on 08/17/2005 12:27:47 PM PDT by bagman
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To: cibco

A book Ward Churchill would love.


36 posted on 08/17/2005 12:29:25 PM PDT by colorado tanker (The People Have Spoken)
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To: r9etb

The main reason that the Indians died off after contact is that the population of North America had far less genetic variability than the populations of Europe. A disease which in Europe might be serious, but without the potential to be universally lethal, could, and did, decimate the vulnerable populations of the Americas.

This contact and its result was in fact inevitable and would have occurred whenever contact was made, and as we moved into the modern age, contact WOULD be made.


37 posted on 08/17/2005 12:29:37 PM PDT by John Valentine
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To: Jerry K.
It's a twist in logic - how could the Native Americans have died off BEFORE the Europeans arrived, to the extent that the forests and herds expanded afterwards when the Europeans arrived?

Early explorers could (and probably did) spread disease, long before large-scale European settlement. We could hypothesize, also, that diseases were brought and spread by Viking explorers in the 11th or 12th Century.

There was an interesting thread on this topic a couple of years ago. Some of the early explorers commented on a much more widespread and sophisticated civilization than was subsequently found by the European settlers.

38 posted on 08/17/2005 12:29:37 PM PDT by r9etb
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To: Between the Lines
Don't tell any of this to Geronimo...


39 posted on 08/17/2005 12:29:43 PM PDT by Fitzcarraldo
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To: colorado tanker

I really don't understand why you're approaching this thread with such venom.


40 posted on 08/17/2005 12:31:55 PM PDT by r9etb
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To: colorado tanker
A book Ward Churchill would love.

You got that wrong. The left hates the new view of precolumbian populations that erases the remantic view of the Indian as noble savage. This new research should be welcomed by conservatives. It is no way friendly to the thinking of Ward Churchill and his ilk.

41 posted on 08/17/2005 12:32:50 PM PDT by John Valentine
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To: Between the Lines
Of course, a comeback of sorts is being attempted...


42 posted on 08/17/2005 12:32:52 PM PDT by Fitzcarraldo
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To: edcoil
Correct me but if I remember correctly the sailors that went back to Europe took a lot of Indian sexual diseases with them then did not exist in europe before.

I'm not sure of that angle, but it wouldn't suprise me in the least. Perhaps the Europeans had more resistance than the Indian's, who were unable to fight even basic european diseases that people had built up a resistance to over the centuries. IOW, something that would sicken a european for a week or two would kill them in days.

43 posted on 08/17/2005 12:33:02 PM PDT by GaltMeister (“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”)
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To: 2banana
cannibalism (Navajo ?

First I have ever heard of the Navajo practicing cannibalism. It doesn't fit with their taboos about dead bodies.

44 posted on 08/17/2005 12:34:13 PM PDT by razorback-bert
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To: 2banana

"However, their lack of technology did not prevent them warring among themselves, practicing genocide (Iroquois, Mahegan), slavery (Choctaws, Chickasaws) and cannibalism (Navajo, Anasazi)."

Keep in mind the indians killed and ate all the horses in the country as well. Horses were not found here until brought back by the Spanish.


45 posted on 08/17/2005 12:34:41 PM PDT by edcoil (Reality doesn't say much - doesn't need too)
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To: colorado tanker

Sorry, but you need to do some serious reading. There have been many previous threads on this subject right here on FR. Your thinking is twisted.


46 posted on 08/17/2005 12:34:46 PM PDT by John Valentine
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To: bobbdobbs

"The "success" of disease and famine in wiping out the majority natives is probably because there weren't that many of them, rather than large numbers being wiped out."

It was European population densities that led to the dark ages. The upside of the dark ages is that Europeans became more resilient to disease.

Native Americans (poor naming since they were not native any more than the Europeans, they just arrived sooner) had such a low population density that disease could not thrive, and therefore, immunities could not be developed as broadly.

PS: Where did the Aztec's go? Disease? Did a white man visit them?


47 posted on 08/17/2005 12:35:50 PM PDT by Paloma_55
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To: Between the Lines
The Olmec and the Maya, Mann writes, "were world pioneers in mathematics and astronomy" -- the Olmec had a more accurate 365-day calendar than their European contemporaries, and the Maya invented the zero at least 12 centuries before it appeared in Europe.

That's because undocumented aliens from another solar system infiltrated Olmec and Maya society and taught them complex mathematics.

48 posted on 08/17/2005 12:35:50 PM PDT by Labyrinthos
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To: Martin Tell
Yes. The Pre-Colombian American Indians were scientific geniuses. That's why they never invented the wheel.

Well, they did invent the loin cloth....

49 posted on 08/17/2005 12:36:57 PM PDT by Always Right
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To: Between the Lines

I would think that 30,00 years ago is probably correct and I suspect they arrived by boat, not over the land link between siberia and Alaska. Siberians probably new about it for many generations before that, but the first large migration probably was about that time.

The lack of Indian artifacts over large areas of the US is striking and I think it points to a North
American population of about 7 to 12 million. The figure of 112 million could not possibly be close as agricultural yields were perhaps 1/30th of today's yield.

I suspect that Vikings were here, as the distance from Greenland, about 200 miles is nothing to a sailor with a good boat.

And we do know the ancestor of corn, it is a grass that grows in Mexico. We know where it grows and there is lots of it.


50 posted on 08/17/2005 12:37:45 PM PDT by TexanToTheCore (Rock the pews, Baby)
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