Monday, February 27, 2012

MONDAY MUSINGS: Looking At The Past

Sorry this posted late, a glitch in the auto-publish feature. It was supposed to post at Midnight and I have been gone all day and just realized it hadn't.

A cup of tea and beauty to think by...

This past weekend I fed my love of history, archaeology, and people. I did quite a bit of comparisons between the peoples of the 1300-1500’s in the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. Amazing stuff. Attitudes toward each other and who was superior was astonishing in similarities. The Middle Eastern people looked at the Europeans and savages and uneducated in comparison with their advancements in hygiene and medical practices.

I’m also amused by Europeans view of the Americas as a vast wilderness largely uninhabited and what inhabitants they did encounter were considered savage barbarians. Heathens. Little more evolved than animals compared to the great advancements the Europeans felt they had.

Casqui Parkin Site (artist depiction)

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. North America was far from empty and it’s people far from savages. To give some context in population, England in the 1400’s was about 2 ½ million and topped over 3 million in the 1500’s. The population of Europe was more than 70 million during that time period.  Substantial numbers in what was seen as the ‘civilized world’. Now, let’s look at North America during the same time period—between 2 million and 18 million. Not exactly uninhabited and that’s just North America. If you add South America, the numbers jump to about 100 million.

Artist depiction of Moundville at it's peak about 800 years ago, and built on high terraces and mounds to keep them safe from flooding.

The idea of uneducated savages also comes into question when you look at the homes, cities, written languages, and military power (consider that the Native American armies in southeastern US was able to defeat the military might of Spain’s warriors under De Soto). 

Palenque Ruins
When you look at the political structures, and the religious and medical practices, the people of the Americas were anything but uneducated. Political systems were in place under kings, chieftains and sub-rulers, a body of those who set rules—in some clans/tribes were nations with the equivalent of parliament/congress. These people had their religious temples, educational centers, and their palaces; huge cites that would rival many cities in Europe. They performed surgeries unknown in most of Europe but the Middle East would have understood and applauded. At a time when waste products were being tossed out of the windows in London or Paris to the streets below, when bathing and cleanliness was almost unheard of (another reason Middle East look down on European society) people in the Americas had waste systems, bathing was the norm, drinking water was kept separate and clean. There were sophisticated food storage systems. To give you an idea of how urbane food storage was, in De Soto’s time, he raided an Apalachee town and carried away enough food to feed over 600 men and their horses for over 6 months.

Education was also in place, knowledge of mathematics, knowledge of the stars and their movements were commonplace in parts of the Americas.

I’m not discounting less highly developed tribes, warrior societies, or city-states in either place, but this idea that those native to the Americas were savages, that this continent was empty or up for grabs because of it, is laughable. 

Picture credits: Wikipedia, The Daily Kos, and Moundville Archaeological Museum 


Mason Canyon said...

Sia, you summed this up beautifully. The only thing I can think to add is Ahem!! Wonderful post.

Thoughts in Progress

welcome to my world of poetry said...

A most enjoyable post which covers land and different faiths.
Well done, a joy to read.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sad that Europeans came along and tried to take it all from them, isn't it?

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you, Mason. The subjects of history combined with anthropology/archaeology, is one of my favorite non-fiction reads. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Alex, it's the way of expansion and conquerors. The Americas had their own conquerors and warring factions living in country just as they did in other parts of the world. Nothing new there.

My contention is the view that the people living in the Americas were all uneducated mud daubers--or simple hunter gatherers. they weren't.

It's amusing to me that the Highlanders were 'God Fearing' but were just as much warriors as the men in the Americas. They also wore different clothing than the norm in the rest of Europe. There was a perception that they were barbarians too. :-)

Jo said...

Sia, Sia, of course they were savages, they weren't Christians. At that time anyone who wasn't, was obviously a barbarian. Religious beliefs of any kind were ignored if it wasn't their religion in the UK and Europe.

Also, don't forget when talking of populations, England is only a tiny little island. You could drop it into Hudson Bay and hardly cause a ripple.

Wondered where you had got to today.

~Sia McKye~ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
~Sia McKye~ said...

LOL! So very true, Jo. Might cause a ripple or two in the Hudson, lol! But I also contrasted North America of this time with the corresponding population of Europe. Of course, the Plague had killed off close to a third of the population, so it was a bit low, but still.

Yah, I've been on a bit of a whirlwind of tasks parts of last week and today. I'm ready to run away someplace I can kick back and relax.

Thanks for stopping by sweetie!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia .. love your thoughts here - each successive power didn't rate others did they. Then of course they didn't have anything to compare it with .. it probably wasn't until the development of the printing press that knowledge really spread. Then we had to wait for the brain to catch up and evaluate all it had stored up ...

I watched a tv programme - that I hoped I'd get to see again .. but it hasn't appeared - comes of living in the cave era as far as my tv is concerned! .. but there it was said that being a gladiator was a great honour and the pain you suffered as such was also commendable - and similar differences to attitude - wish I'd paid more attention - it was before I started blogging!

Cheers .. Hilary

Anonymous said...

I love history, so I was absorbed in this.

I deeply respect indigenous cultures. I find it sad about what happened in the past to those in the Americas and how they were perceived. They definitely were not savage.