1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

3.8
A groundbreaking study that radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of the uropeans in 1492.

Traditionally, Americans learned in school that the descendant of the resident who inhabited the Western Hemisphere at the time of Columbus ’ s landing had crossed the Bering Strait twelve thousand years ago; existed mainly in small, nomadic bands; and lived so lightly on the land that the Americas was, for all practical purposes, still a vast wilderness. But as Charles C. Mann now makes clear, archaeologists and anthropologists have spent the last seventeen years proving these and many other long-held assumptions wrong.

In a ook that startles and persuades, Mann reveals how a new generation of researchers equipped with novel scientific techniques came to previously unheard-of conclusions. Among them:

• In 1491 there were probably more people living in the Americas than in urope.
• Certain cities–such as Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital–were far greater in population than any contemporary European city. Furthermore, Tenochtitlán, unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets.
• The earliest cities in the Western Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyrami.
• Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico developed corn by a breeding process so sophisticated that the journal Science recently described it as “ man ’ s first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering. ”
• Amazonian Indians learned how to farm the rain forest without destroying it–a process scientists are studying today in the ope of regaining this lost knowledge.
• Native Americans transformed their land so completely that Europeans arrived in a hemisphere already massively “ landscaped ” by human beings.

Mann sheds clarifying light on the methods used to arrive at these new visions of the pre-Columbian Americas and how they have affected our understanding of our history and our thinking about the environment. His memoir is an xciting and learned account of scientific enquir and revelation.
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Original Series
Year of the Publication
Publication Date
Published August 9th 2005 by Alfred A. Knopf
Original Title of the Book
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
Number of Pages
465

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gave it

There is a reason why there was a period of 128 years between Colombus' landing and a permanent European settlement in North America.

The nly reason people think that most Native Americans were purely nomadic hunters was because the smallpox had killed off most of the 'urbanized' settlements that required agriculture.

gave it

Updated Recommendations: For an excellent stud of some of the earliest evidence of human habitation in North America, consider Settlement Of The Americas A New Prehistory -- it is more scholarly as well as being much more readable and interesting.

Timothy Egan 's Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis is an interesting introduction to one of the most definitive chronicles of Native American cultur in North America.

gave it

This book blows up many stubborn, out-dated theories like the singular Bering land-bridge migration, the idea that the land was 'mostly empty' when Europeans arrived, and the premis that most indigenous peoples were 'simple' hunter gatherers.

It also gives us a good look at just how stubborn and resistant traditional Euro-American scholarship has been to accepting any new information that did n't fit established theories about the indigenous peoples.

gave it

This was like a coloring book of pre-Pilgrim North America for me in that it filled in a lot of unanswered questions and brilliantly illuminated some areas of my knowledge that were mere outlines.

Early on in school we were inundated with stories of Samoset and Squanto, the first Native Americans to make contact with the Plymouth Colony pilgrims, and how in 1621 they strolled into the transplanted Englishmen 's village and a big party broke out, thus began the tradition of Thanksgiving.

Something tells me this version of America 's founding by Europeans was not the one being taught in Virginia at the time ... Never was explained how the two natives could speak English ( from Englishmen fishing off of the Maine coast and, in Squanto 's case, from bduction and internment for seven years in England) or anything that happened in the Americas prior to the pilgrims landing.

Now there is less grey-area material- advances in technology and archaeological practices have greatly advanced our knowledge of the past in just a few short decades- but there 's still plenty of unknown patches of time in the western hemisphere.

It does n't try to cast a glowing angelic light upon the native inhabitants to transform them into woodland spirits whose only concern was the preservation of the tre and the butterflie, etc blah blah blah ( Earth Day is quaint and misguided, but I digress ...), nor does Mann attempt to attack or defend the actions of the Natives.

gave it

That said, there were numerous peccadillos.Mann starts with the basic notio that the West 's primary mistake in our conception of American Indians is that we have generally seen them as unchanging features in a primeval wilderness.

This, he argues, is dehumanizing, regardless of whether you prefer to prefix " savage " with " noble, " because a people incapable of change seems incapable of will, of thought, of ingenuity.He attempts to dismantle this notion by presenting research supporting 3 broad ideas:1) pre-Columbian population estimates are now assumed to be much higher than previously thought ( i.e. between the time of first contact and the colony at Plymouth, humanity in the Americans witnessed a massive die-off) 2) humans were present in North America for tens of thousand of years, and the flexibilit of their societies were comparable with with Eurasian counterparts3) Indians could and did exert influence over the natural worldOn the whole, I think Mann made convincing arguments for the broad stokes.

Reconstructing history is a tricky business fraught with error, so when you 're trying to communicate a challenging and controversial notion like the number of American Indians who died as a esult of European diseases, I think you need to go into excruciating detail about how population numbers are derived.

Have you seen any human artwork prior to Enlightenment Europe?

You get the picture.Finally, I found his constant comparisons to Europe and the general feeling of hand-wringing and guilt a bit trying, and that 's coming from a self-avowed Western liberal hand-wringer.

I found the penultimate bit about defining our relationship to nature and the final section about the role American Indian concepts of freedom and individuality may have influenced the ounding of the United States super intriguing, worth books of their own.

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