Re: Amerindian navigators and Eurocentrism in scholarship

From jonathan@DSG.Stanford.EDU (Jonathan Stone)
Date 8 Sep 1997 08:24:14 GMT
Newsgroups sci.archaeology.mesoamerican, sci.archaeology, sci.anthropology,
Organization Stanford Distributed Systems Group
References <5uvasm$n7p$ > < >
Reply-To jonathan@DSG.Stanford.EDU
Sender jonathan@Cup.DSG.Stanford.EDU (Jonathan Stone)

In article <
>, (Bernard Ortiz de Montellano) writes:
> In article <5uvasm$n7p$

> Please note that no primary reference is given for this story. Or for
> anything else in this post. Instead of running around in all directions,
> Yuri. Please post the primary references that prove that *C. moneta* cowry
> shells came from the Maldive Islands to the New World. Keep in mind
> Lawrence's post on the existence of twin species in different locales and
> the diffuculty in distinguishing between them.

And note that proving that the claimed specimens are in fact
*C. Moneta* from the Maldives (and not some similar new-world species)
may be very difficult indeed.

Lawrence Feldman ( posted an interesting response
about identifying molluscs.  I think it's relevant here; since Paul
gans has been trimming the distribution to sci.archaeology only, and
Lawrence Feldman's article was posted to sci.archaeology.mesoamerican
only, and with a different Subject: line, I'm reposting the entire
article here.  (*without* permission, I hope that's okay.)

From: (Lawrenc846)
Newsgroups: sci.archaeology.mesoamerican
Subject: Archaeological Mollusks- further comments
Date: 1 Sep 1997 20:21:42 GMT
Lines: 49
Message-ID: <>
Organization: AOL
References: <5uevgt$mi7$>

 Identification and significance of archaeological shells is a topic I
spent two decades on (1960's/1980's), during which I looked at more
archaological shells from Mesoamerican, North Mexican and Central American
sites (much of which I did not publish) than most archaeologists will see
in a life time.  And I was very interested in identifying shells from
beyond the Ocean Sea in prehispanic sites.  I have a stack of publications
on identification of shells (a list of which can be provided upon request).
 And yes I've read Jackson's work, and others, on the cowrie, Xank shell
and others.  And I'm sorry to say, that I haven't seen any shells that came
into the Americas during prehispanic times from the other side of the Ocean.

That doesn't mean that shells were not significant for diffusion themes in
prehispanic America, they were very much so, but none of them came from the
old world.  Let me provide you with some background.

       Mollusks are real nice for diffusion purposes.  They live in
particular ecological niche and they inhabit faunal provinces.  This means
the presence of a particular shell in an inland archaeological site points
to a connection with a particular type of environment (e.g. rocky
headlands) in a particular stretch of coast (i.e. faunal province).  There
are problems, which I'll get into in a moment, but shells are real good in
documenting diffusion.  The main problems are: (1) a very few species that
are found in many faunal provinces so their presence means little, (2) a
much larger number of species have twin species in other faunal provinces
and can only be separated out on the basis of things (e.g. soft parts,
color) that may not be preserved archaeologically.

        A frequent problem of archaeologists, and some who never were
(like Jackson) is that certain species, or genera, CAN'T be used for
diffusion purposes because of the previously noted (2), what might be
called the twin species problem.  Now there are plenty of species that
don't have cognate species elsewhere so, as I said, shells can serve
diffusionist purposes. And they do, but I've never ever seen any that
support trans Pacific or trans Atlantic diffusion.

      Sorry to be negative, but that's what I've seen,  and like I've
said, I've seen more than most.

                Lawrence H. Feldman

PS  There are a number of standard references for different faunal
provinces.  Myra Keen for Tropical West America, the Abbott book for the
Caribbean are two examples.  Thanks to the interest of shell collectors,
there exists today a rather good literature on the natural distribution of
all the most commonly collected (and many other) marine species.  These are
the same species that were of interest in Prehispanic times.  The
literature is much more limited for freshwater and land mollusks but these
have less interest for cross ocean diffusion.

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