Re: Amerindian navigators and Eurocentrism in scholarship

From (Ron Hopkins-Lutz)
Date Sun, 14 Sep 1997 03:34:07 GMT
Newsgroups sci.archaeology.mesoamerican, sci.archaeology, sci.anthropology,
Organization MegsInet, Inc. - Midwestern Internet Services
References <5uvasm$n7p$ > <5v2kfb$gde$ > < > <5v90tb$b83$ >

I've been follwing this thread for sometime now, and so I've decided to throw 
in my own semi-informed opinon. (This last is so that those who seem to sink 
to name calling have a good start for calling me a name.)

1. There is no doubt that both historically and currently there have been 
arhaeologists and anthropologist who have indulged in "Eurocentrism". Whether 
it applies here is one of those multiple point of view arguments I am unable 
to resolve in my mind. I'm really more concerned with what the preponderance 
of good evidence says about the actuality of any voyages. So resolution of 
these issues is for those who have a lot more brain power and a differnt set 
of priorities than I do.

2. Certainly it appears established that at least at the time of the 
Conquistadores some cultures on the Pacific coast of South America had the 
physical capability to make sojurns into the South Pacific via large sea 
rafts. At least if they wished, they could. Heyerdahl proved that, and 
provided a heck of a great adventure tale beside.

3. It is not clear to me whether they had the navigational ability to do so. 
By that I do not mean the required astronomical knowledge, but the required 
_applied_ navigational knowledge. I am not asserting they did not, merely 
I have seen no substantial evidence they did. Naviagting out of sight of land 
for coastal trading is easy off the coast of South America. If you get lost, 
you just head east and you hit land. However even Heuerdahl depended on 
ephemerus, sextant, and chronometer to hit a dot in the Pacifc, called an 

4. If they had the ability to do this navigation, there still remains the 
evidence they actually did. While I have seen some mention of shells in Adena 
mounds mentioned, the Adena people were part of a trading network that also 
had contact with the Northwest Pacific coast of North America as well as 
Southern North America. We know that there was a trading network up the North 
Pacific and Central Pacific coast of Asia to North America. I have not seen 
any assertion of evidence that the shells mentioned did not come through this 
established Northern trading network instead. In other words if there is any 
evidence that such shells travelled that network, or even if there isn't, if 
there is no evidence that shows they came through a proposed southern network 
rather than an existing network, then they are not really evidence of that 
southern network, only that they got there somehow. This is particularly 
significant if other items from the same area of pacific waters have already 
been shown to come via the existing northern route. Is there such evdence of 
South Pacific good coming through the northern network?

5. Some thought may need to be given here as to why they would have made the 
voyages. Look at this way, the Spanish and Portuguese voyages of discovery 
were motivated by the economic motive of the spice trade, then dominated by 
the Venetians and other Italian cities. The voyages were tremendous risk, 
physically and economically, so they were justified by the potentially great 
profits to those who succeeded. (Look here at the domination of the silk 
by the Portuguese with Japan.) This question as to why is important. The 
return route home to the Americas through more northern eastbound currents 
from the westbound Humboldt does not make accidental voyages and returns very 
easy since hitting land is not a given when going west as it is when going 

6. As a matter of speculation, some consideration of point five above makes 
more likely that the Polynesians would have established any network to the 
Americas to start with. We know the Polynesians were established long 
navigators and sailors in the Pacific. Which then would be more likely:

a) that Polynesians followed or were carried East on the more northerly 
current and hit a target 9,000 miles long, blocking the entire East;

b) or South Americans going West and hitting dots of land and then finding 
your way back?

The first seems more likely but either could have happened. (Of course who 
discovered who is a silly thing to worry about.) Even if they never followed 
it West, the South American sailors would know of the westerly Humboldt 
current if only to avoid being carried away by it, and could convey that 
knowledge to Polynesian sailors. This does not mean that the South Americans 
would not immediately jump on the knowedge that there was land to the West to 
trade with and a way home to the North. It is just more _likely_ the South 
Americans would be discovered by the Polynesians rather than vice versa. This 
speculation in no way changes whether such a Southern trading network 

I see no reason to beleive such a southerly network couldn't have existed, 
just little evidence it did. Whether it did also reflects in no way on the 
South Amercans as sailors. Frankly anyone who goes out into the Pacific on a 
balsa raft, even _in_ sight of land, is a hell of a sailor as far as I'm 
concerned. I'd never do it, even though I know I'd probably live to tell the 
tale before I set sail.

Ron Hopkins-Lutz =
If anything I have said offends you, I'm glad because it means you actually 
read this, which is not a given. KILLFILES RULE!

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