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Old January 6th, 2012, 09:50 AM   #1

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How aware were pre-Columbian Natives of the wider world?


My title question is essentially self-explanatory. Were the Native peoples of North, Central, and South America largely oblivious to cultures and tribes outside of their immediate sphere of influence, or were there contacts between groups spanning great geographical distance?

For instance - were the Mayans familiar with the North American continent, or would they have had any contact with tribes living there? Were the tribes of North America aware of the empires that existed to their south, and if so do we know how they perceived one another?

I've read claims that Aztec merchants may have ranged as far north as the North American midwest, and that raiding parties from the Tlingits of southern Alaska and western Canada ranged as far south as southern California.

There are of course obvious limitations - most of the cultures in question lacked the wheel, and all of them lacked horses, meaning one could only travel as far as he would let his feet take him. And with the European destruction of so much of the material culture, the writings and records of many Mesoamerican peoples, its likely our understanding of just what the Aztecs and Mayans themselves understood will always be incomplete.
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Old January 6th, 2012, 10:12 AM   #2

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah View Post
My title question is essentially self-explanatory. Were the Native peoples of North, Central, and South America largely oblivious to cultures and tribes outside of their immediate sphere of influence, or were there contacts between groups spanning great geographical distance?

For instance - were the Mayans familiar with the North American continent, or would they have had any contact with tribes living there? Were the tribes of North America aware of the empires that existed to their south, and if so do we know how they perceived one another?

I've read claims that Aztec merchants may have ranged as far north as the North American midwest, and that raiding parties from the Tlingits of southern Alaska and western Canada ranged as far south as southern California.

There are of course obvious limitations - most of the cultures in question lacked the wheel, and all of them lacked horses, meaning one could only travel as far as he would let his feet take him. And with the European destruction of so much of the material culture, the writings and records of many Mesoamerican peoples, its likely our understanding of just what the Aztecs and Mayans themselves understood will always be incomplete.
Not sure on the degree of contact between Mesoamerica and North America but I know that there were extended trade networks between Mesoamerica and South America. The evidence is that metallurgy and the art of smelting metals like gold and pouring them into molds spread from South America into Mesoamerica. I don't believe that there is any evidence that smelting technology ever spread to North America.

As far as how much any individual society would know about the wider world, I am not sure on that. South American natives had fairly wide trade links (there is some evidence they interacted with Polynesians), but I'm not sure if they would have known anything about the cultures of other people further down the trade links.
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Old January 6th, 2012, 10:25 AM   #3

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Cheers Salah, for pointing this out. This is an avenue I have never explored. The distribution of staple foods like corn, potatoes, yams, tomatoes may give us some clues. Shared mythologies and technology may give us other clues.

Off the top of my head . . .

The Mayans lacked the bow and arrow.

There was a southern (north american) tribe that venerated the sun with a practise of self mutilation.

That's it for now.

Good thread Salah!
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Old January 6th, 2012, 11:46 AM   #4

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I've read claims that Aztec merchants may have ranged as far north as the North American midwest
Goods were traded far and wide but there would be no profit to a trader travelling that far especially back & forth across the northern deserts.


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and that raiding parties from the Tlingits of southern Alaska and western Canada ranged as far south as southern California.

The Haida did just that-were infamous in fact.
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Old January 6th, 2012, 12:34 PM   #5

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love to have a whole section on this one --- we know so little about this and myths and legends don't count -- for the most part - native americans did not write down or have a written language, hence, the incredible problems in figuring out who knew what and when and where will be a never ending "discussion" -- we just figured out Chaco Canyon in the last 10 years and also, the huge impact of the droughts of the medieval times and earlier -- and then the extermination by the europeans -- then i also lived and used to know native americans in the 4 corners who would rather that no research be done ---- i.e. ---- leave it alone and walk away -- but that was a long time ago --

great topic -- it will so different then old world research --- --
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Old January 6th, 2012, 01:09 PM   #6

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Does anyone know of any serious studies on the spread of the sweet potato?

The sweet potato (i.e. the yam), is a native plant of the Americas but Polynesians were cultivating the plant by the time of the European discovery of the Pacific. Obviously this suggests some type of trade link between Native Americans and Polynesians prior to the arrival of Columbus. I have read about speculation that the trade occurred via South America to Easter Island but I don't know anything more than that.

Any suggestions on further information would be appreciated.
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Old January 6th, 2012, 01:15 PM   #7

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i have this book -- i love it --- they miss very little and they provide sources and their research

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/World-Trade-Biological-Exchanges-Before/dp/0595524419/ref=sr_1_fkmr2_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325888067&sr =1-2-fkmr2"]Amazon.com: World Trade and Biological Exchanges Before 1492 (9780595524419): John L. Sorenson: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51zUCmzUXxL.@@AMEPARAM@@51zUCmzUXxL[/ame]
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Old January 6th, 2012, 07:40 PM   #8

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Does anyone know of any serious studies on the spread of the sweet potato?
AFAICT the subject has been conveniently ignored by contemporary science.
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Old January 6th, 2012, 07:55 PM   #9

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I am not sure if this suggests that Natives were traveling across the Atlantic to Europe, or if others where traveling to the Americas, from Europe. Or if it is just a co-incidence.

Hall of Ancients

Click the image to open in full size.

Quote:
The centerpiece of this room is a massive petroglyph donated to Reinhardt University. This ancient and mysterious carved rock was found years ago on the Cline property in the Hickory Log area of Cherokee County.

It is very interesting that the designs on this bolder are identical to those found on boulders along the Atlantic Coast of Ireland that date from the Early Bronze Age. The Irish petroglyphs were carved by non-Celts at least 1,500 to 500 years before the use of a unique form of Celtic writing. Irish reasearchers are not certain of the original meaning of the concentric circles, but many of the pertrglyphs seem associated with graves.
Also, I don't know how true this is, but I just went looking for Jade artifacts, which are supposedly reasonably common in the Americas, and this person claims,

Quote:
"The irony of this story is, to date, no native or natural sources of jade have been traced to Costa Rica, suggesting a trade route between Northern Meso america as an imported source of raw material"
http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blo...8754/tpod.html

So while it isn't exactly trade across the Pacific, or the Atlantic, it is potentially trade across the Pre-Columbian continents.


This is what the National Geographic claims...

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/n...caribbean.html

Quote:
A discovery of ancient jade could shake up old notions of the New World before Columbus. Scientists say they have traced 1,500-year-old axe blades found in the eastern Caribbean to ancient jade mines in Central America 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) away, New York's American Museum of Natural History announced late last month.

Last edited by MrKap; January 6th, 2012 at 08:14 PM.
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Old January 7th, 2012, 01:26 AM   #10

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geographical maps ...


unfortunately the European conquers destroyed the archives of the civilizations they met in the American continent and it was because of local complaints regarding Spanish maps that some of the ancient original ones had put on paper again.

This for example is a local map of Tepetlaoztoc
Click the image to open in full size.

Anyway, just the geographical conceptions and methods of the populations of Siberia and Northern America show some interesting aspects:

It seems that nomad populations [just because they traveled] developed some "techs" to represent the territory.

The material on which it is prepared most of the maps is the primitive stone or wood. Bone and skin are rare. Painting on rocks is all over the world. Many of these paintings on rocks contain, in addition to animals, hunting scenes, and sometimes even patterns that have been interpreted by some as geographical charts. In the caves of Schafthausen, the tablets were found made ​​of bone with a network of lines, but it could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it is their own maps.
Maps engraved on the bark of trees, mainly birch bark are very common in Siberia, among the Eskimos and Indians of North America. They are easily transportable and this contributed to their spread. It was noted that some Indian tribes had a special talent for maps. Many Indians, although they were unable to read, could easily identify the names of rivers, valleys, mountains of European maps of their lands. A Jesuit missionary, JF: Lafiteau, reported that he observed a large amount of these maps.

The ancient Mexican cultures inherited from the Aztecs and Maya Toltec predecessors, were well developed when the Spanish arrived. The maps were so simple that they could also be used by foreigners. In 1520, to Emperor Charles V describing a conversation he had with Moctezuma, Hernan Cortes stated that, having requested Montezuma to find information on the possibility of ports of refuge for his ships, the king Montezuma sent him in a very short time a map of the coast painted on cloth.
These maps were painted on material extracted from the agave fibers. Others were on the bark of fig and others of treated hides. Later, in 1526, the envoys of Tabasco Cortés Xicalango drew up a map of the entire region, "with which I decided that I could easily move to much of it." In fact, extended as far as Panama and guided him in his difficult journey to Honduras.
Almost all the maps were lost due to the destructive fury of the Spanish priests. Only two relics of pre-Columbian maps have been preserved, with some maps prepared by natives in the following period.

In any case, from what explorers have found in America, the general impression is that local populations had a limited knowledge of the territory, I would say functional. Probably the extension of the Inca domain required something more wide, at least about South America [and btw, note that Incas and the previous civilizations of the area were able to realize vessels as big as the ones of Columbus. So also the navigation in the Ocean cannot be excluded].

But at the end we haven't got official archives from that past to tell us something sure.

The similarities in the methods between Siberian and Northern American tribes can suggest something.
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