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August 31, 2006

1491
Posted by Teresa at 11:40 PM *

Charles C. Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. Basically, it reviews the current state of knowledge of pre-Columbian life in the Americas, and makes the argument that those vanished civilizations were far more advanced, populous, and aggressively technological than has generally been believed. As it says in the introduction to an interview with Mann (the body of which is unfortunately available only to subscribers):

For years the standard view of North America before Columbus’s arrival was as a vast, grassy expanse teeming with game and all but empty of people. Those who did live here were nomads who left few marks on the land. South America, too, or at least the Amazon rain forest, was thought of as almost an untouched Eden, now suffering from modern depredations. But a growing number of anthropologists and archaeologists now believe that this picture is almost completely false. According to this school of thought, the Western Hemisphere before Columbus’s arrival was well-populated and dotted with impressive cities and towns—one scholar estimated that it held ninety to 112 million people, more than lived in Europe at the time—and Indians had transformed vast swaths of landscape to meet their agricultural needs. They used fire to create the Midwestern prairie, perfect for herds of buffalo. They also cultivated at least part of the rain forest, living on crops of fruits and nuts. Charles C. Mann in “1491” surveys the contentious debate over what the Americas were like before Columbus arrived—a debate that has important ramifications for how we manage the “wilderness” we still have left, if indeed it really is wilderness, untouched by the hand of man.

I will admit that I’ve always thought there was something funny about the idea of two whole continents inhabited only by drifty, timeless Indian tribes that stayed small, and evidenced very little technological development from millennium to millennium. As far as I know, human populations will pretty infallibly outbreed their local resources, causing them to abandon the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and go over to settled agriculture, animal husbandry, and the invention of gods, beer, and labor-saving devices. So why was the Western Hemisphere full of bitty semi-nomadic tribes living on prime agricultural land?

Charles C. Mann addresses that question, and others I would never have thought to ask. Happily, an earlier version of 1491 was published as an article in The Atlantic Monthly, and is available online:

In May 30, 1539, Hernando de Soto landed his private army near Tampa Bay, in Florida. Soto, as he was called, was a novel figure: half warrior, half venture capitalist. He had grown very rich very young by becoming a market leader in the nascent trade for Indian slaves. The profits had helped to fund Pizarro’s seizure of the Incan empire, which had made Soto wealthier still. Looking quite literally for new worlds to conquer, he persuaded the Spanish Crown to let him loose in North America. He spent one fortune to make another. He came to Florida with 200 horses, 600 soldiers, and 300 pigs.

From today’s perspective, it is difficult to imagine the ethical system that would justify Soto’s actions. For four years his force, looking for gold, wandered through what is now Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas, wrecking almost everything it touched. The inhabitants often fought back vigorously, but they had never before encountered an army with horses and guns. Soto died of fever with his expedition in ruins; along the way his men had managed to rape, torture, enslave, and kill countless Indians. But the worst thing the Spaniards did, some researchers say, was entirely without malice�bring the pigs.

According to Charles Hudson, an anthropologist at the University of Georgia who spent fifteen years reconstructing the path of the expedition, Soto crossed the Mississippi a few miles downstream from the present site of Memphis. It was a nervous passage: the Spaniards were watched by several thousand Indian warriors. Utterly without fear, Soto brushed past the Indian force into what is now eastern Arkansas, through thickly settled land—“very well peopled with large towns,” one of his men later recalled, “two or three of which were to be seen from one town.” Eventually the Spaniards approached a cluster of small cities, each protected by earthen walls, sizeable moats, and deadeye archers. In his usual fashion, Soto brazenly marched in, stole food, and marched out.

After Soto left, no Europeans visited this part of the Mississippi Valley for more than a century. Early in 1682 whites appeared again, this time Frenchmen in canoes. One of them was R�n�-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. The French passed through the area where Soto had found cities cheek by jowl. It was deserted—La Salle didn’t see an Indian village for 200 miles. About fifty settlements existed in this strip of the Mississippi when Soto showed up, according to Anne Ramenofsky, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico. By La Salle’s time the number had shrunk to perhaps ten, some probably inhabited by recent immigrants. Soto “had a privileged glimpse” of an Indian world, Hudson says. “The window opened and slammed shut. When the French came in and the record opened up again, it was a transformed reality. A civilization crumbled. The question is, how did this happen?”

The question is even more complex than it may seem. Disaster of this magnitude suggests epidemic disease. In the view of Ramenofsky and Patricia Galloway, an anthropologist at the University of Texas, the source of the contagion was very likely not Soto’s army but its ambulatory meat locker: his 300 pigs. Soto’s force itself was too small to be an effective biological weapon. Sicknesses like measles and smallpox would have burned through his 600 soldiers long before they reached the Mississippi. But the same would not have held true for the pigs, which multiplied rapidly and were able to transmit their diseases to wildlife in the surrounding forest. When human beings and domesticated animals live close together, they trade microbes with abandon. Over time mutation spawns new diseases: avian influenza becomes human influenza, bovine rinderpest becomes measles. Unlike Europeans, Indians did not live in close quarters with animals—they domesticated only the dog, the llama, the alpaca, the guinea pig, and, here and there, the turkey and the Muscovy duck. In some ways this is not surprising: the New World had fewer animal candidates for taming than the Old. Moreover, few Indians carry the gene that permits adults to digest lactose, a form of sugar abundant in milk. Non-milk-drinkers, one imagines, would be less likely to work at domesticating milk-giving animals. But this is guesswork. The fact is that what scientists call zoonotic disease was little known in the Americas. Swine alone can disseminate anthrax, brucellosis, leptospirosis, taeniasis, trichinosis, and tuberculosis. Pigs breed exuberantly and can transmit diseases to deer and turkeys. Only a few of Soto’s pigs would have had to wander off to infect the forest.

Indeed, the calamity wrought by Soto apparently extended across the whole Southeast. The Coosa city-states, in western Georgia, and the Caddoan-speaking civilization, centered on the Texas-Arkansas border, disintegrated soon after Soto appeared. The Caddo had had a taste for monumental architecture: public plazas, ceremonial platforms, mausoleums. After Soto’s army left, notes Timothy K. Perttula, an archaeological consultant in Austin, Texas, the Caddo stopped building community centers and began digging community cemeteries. Between Soto’s and La Salle’s visits, Perttula believes, the Caddoan population fell from about 200,000 to about 8,500—a drop of nearly 96 percent. In the eighteenth century the tally shrank further, to 1,400. An equivalent loss today in the population of New York City would reduce it to 56,000—not enough to fill Yankee Stadium. “That’s one reason whites think of Indians as nomadic hunters,” says Russell Thornton, an anthropologist at the University of California at Los Angeles. “Everything else—all the heavily populated urbanized societies—was wiped out.”

The story of the settlement of the Americas isn’t one of pioneers finding themselves in an untouched Eden. They were resettling a post-holocaust landscape.

Read the article. Buy the book. Any one of its subsections is worth the price of admission. This is salted peanuts for the worldbuilding turn of mind.

Comments on 1491:
#1 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:17 AM:

As I seem to buy pretty much everything that I think I might ever want to read (and read a small fraction of it, just a couple books a month), I am looking at 1491 right here on top of one of the stacks of books. You make it sound even better than I thought, and if it weren't for the fact that I'm already reading three books (Artificial Things by Karen Joy Fowler, Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman, and The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull) I'd start it tonight.

I have no idea what's under it in the stack; let's see.
A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 by James Shapiro
Widdershins by Charles de Lint
Looking for Jake by China Mieville
Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen McHugh
To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman

I could happily read any or all of these. Any chances I will live forever?

#2 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:18 AM:

Two quick thoughts:

Jared Diamond deals with some of these issues in Guns, Germs, and Steel, and I wonder what a Diamondian take on those population figures would be. While there certainly were some pretty sophisticated pre-Columbian cultures in North America, I'd think that the lack of domesticatible large animals and food crops would make for constraints on population.

If "human populations will pretty infallibly outbreed their local resources, causing them to abandon the hunter-gatherer lifestyle"--what about the Australian aborigines?

#3 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:30 AM:

I read it last year, and it is probably tops on my list of change in worldview books. It stitched together a lot of things which I had inklings of. The bits and pieces of a voracious interest in the past; and my assumption that the people who lived here were people, and no less clever than those who got here late to the party.

Tom Koppel's "The Lost World" about the settling of the Americas is in the same vein... "Why didn't I think of that. So too is "The Blink of an Eye" by Walter Murch, about the Cambrian Explosion.

#4 ::: Andy Vance ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:30 AM:

They used fire to create the Midwestern prairie, perfect for herds of buffalo.

Hmmm. I vaguely recall some sort of kerfuffle on this point.

#5 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:41 AM:

Russel Leston (#2): I don't think it conflicts with , and the numbers given are in keeping with some of the estimates (lower than some, higher than others). I forget if Diamond made a claim for population or not.

As for the Australians, they were building some agricultural areas in the Murray Basin when the British came to set up shop.

#6 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:51 AM:

I read 1491 recently, and it is a good book.

I'd also recommend a book that the article mentions, Crosby's Ecological Imperialism. It's one of the earlier scholarly pieces on this -- predating Diamond, e.g., by more than a decade -- but is still extremely interesting. Even better, it's written with a wicked and bitter irony. One or two people I know who've read it found it offensive, but I think it's the sort of humor that disguises tears. Anyway, another great book on this general subject (ecological history with a Columbian Exchange focus).

#7 ::: mattH ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:54 AM:

Certainly better than 1421: The Year China Discovered America, even if many of it's points are in contention. The Amazon certainly was more populated than people think, and the initial complex Peruvian cultures developed without pottery, a rarity for the world.

#8 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:58 AM:


I will admit that I've always thought there was something funny about the idea of two whole continents inhabited only by drifty, timeless Indian tribes that stayed small, and evidenced very little technological development from millennium to millennium.

It's a convenient myth for people who want to justify the European conquest of the Americas; if the country was empty what does it matter?

#9 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:06 AM:

Howard Waldrop's Them Bones is pertinent here.

#10 ::: Bob Devney ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:15 AM:

Mann's book is indeed wondrous. Worth it alone for his descriptions of the myriad ruins of significantly sized cities they're hacking out of the Amazon underbrush as we speak.

Important to stress he's not arguing with established scholarship on his own, and quibbling with its conclusions. Instead he's revealing a vast amount of extremely recent research, archeological digs, rethinking of earlier estimates in light of new information, and so on -- bringing it all to a popular audience for the first time.

This is a good journalist with a great scoop, talking to the best new people in the field and reporting their fresh findings from the front lines of history.

Great summation you make, too: "The story of the settlement of the Americas isn't one of pioneers finding themselves in an untouched Eden. They were resettling a post-holocaust landscape."

Echoes a bit from I think James Loewn's terrific book of the mid-90s, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Text Got Wrong. Can't lay hands on my copy right now, but believe it said something like this about the settlers of Jamestown, Plymouth, and so on in relation to the great plagues which depopulated the East Coast shortly before they arrived:

They didn't woo a virgin wilderness. They found a recently bereaved widow, and raped her.

#11 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:18 AM:

I devoured that book in about two days a few weeks ago. It's fantastic reading -- chock full of interesting information, and engagingly written to boot. (And it made me want to run a live-action role-playing game of undead Incan politics, with deceased emperors trying to manipulate events through their mediums and panaqas. ^_^)

Regarding Diamond: 1491 makes a tasty counter-argument to the environmental determinism that drives much of Diamond's book. Mann addresses the fall of the Inca as one of his case studies, and in the list of causes he basically removes guns, removes steel, emphasizes the germs, and tosses in politics. The biggest flaw in Diamond's work is the tendency to disregard human agency (making people the puppets of their environments), and Mann does a good job of focusing on that very point.

The New World was never my focus as an archaeologist, but damn, this was a fun read.

#12 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:25 AM:

Marie Brennan (#11): My greatest complaint with Guns, Germs and Steel came from the introduction, where he said the tribesmen of New Guinea were smarter then Europeans, because they were more practised at memorising things.

It was a small bit of cultural blindness, and one which bothered me as soon as I read it. I wondered what, more subtle, bits of such thinking might be buried in ways/places where I couldn't see it.

#13 ::: Rich McAllister ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:29 AM:

A stfnal connection is that Robert Silverberg back in the '60s wrote a book on The Mound Builders, discussing the megastructures built by somebody in the Mississipi Valley. It's pretty obvious the builders had a large population, mass organization, and advanced technique. What's not clear is when they stopped; there is at least some reason to think they were still building when De Soto's plagues wiped them out. Apparently even after all these years Silverberg's book is considered valuable (it's still in print.)

#14 ::: Rich McAllister ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:46 AM:

Oh, and check out the Amazon listing for The Mound Builders, in particular the review by Peter Bros. It fired all my "this guy is a crank" neurons. Note that he thinks "twentieth century science" is a conspiracy to suppress the truth. Howerver, he's careful not to say anything particularly odd in the review itself. But he can't resist pointing off to Ancient American Magazine where we can see the cranks revolving at top speed:


In sharp contrast to majority academic opinion, its editorial position stands firmly on behalf of evidence for the arrival of overseas visitors to the Americas hundreds and even thousands of years before Columbus--- not only from Europe, but the Near East, Africa, Asia, and the Western Pacific. Each issue presents such otherwise neglected and even suppressed factual evidence demonstrating the lasting impact made on the Americas by Scandinavian Norsemen, Pharaonic Egyptians, Bronze Age Mediterraneans, Semitic Phoenicians, West Africans, Dynastic Chinese, seafaring Polynesians, and many other culture- bearers.

Follow the links to the current issue TOC to learn about the Gaelic connection in Kentucky!


I can't tell whether this is connected to any of the loonier Mormon "archaeology" or not, but I think not, since they don't mention Hebrews.

#15 ::: Andrew Pontious ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:47 AM:

I think the reason why Guns, Germs, and Steel regarded this progression as deterministic has to do with the following:

"...the New World had fewer animal candidates for taming than the Old...."

If I remember correctly, GG&S said this was because the humans who invaded the Americas killed all the large animals that could have been domesticated. The only place such animals could survive to be domesticated was where they evolved with humanity, in Africa. Every other continent where humans arrived on the scene later was at a massive disadvantage, comparatively.

#16 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:56 AM:

Andrew Pontious (#15) No, the issue with domestication isn't one of co-evolution, but of compatible traits.

Cattle, goats, horses, sheep and water buffalo are not native to Africa. The animals which are (cape buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, girrafe, elephant, kudu, eland, etc.) aren't very possessed of such traits.

They need to be social, hierarchal and willing to make people the alpha leader of the band, as well as breeding well in captivity.

Horses do this, Zebras (closely enough related to make a type of mule from) don't. They can't be domesticated, merely tamed.

The majority of domesticable animals come from the Fertile Crescent (water buffalo and dog being the two exceptions which spring immediately to mind). It happens, as well, that those regions also had easily domesticated grains.

#17 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:01 AM:

Rich McAllister: A stfnal connection is that Robert Silverberg back in the '60s wrote a book on The Mound Builders [..]

He mentioned in that book that there had been a popular genre of “mound builder fiction” in the 1800's; imaginative tales told of the vanished race. Apparently Joseph Smith had been a fan. I believe Silverberg made the claim in that book that an analysis of The Book of Mormon found substantial matches in phrasing with one of these books (the King James Bible was apparently another source).

#18 ::: Anaea ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:58 AM:

As far as I know, human populations will pretty infallibly outbreed their local resources, causing them to abandon the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and go over to settled agriculture, animal husbandry, and the invention of gods, beer, and labor-saving devices.

This isn't necessarily true and depends very heavily on environment. Take, for example, Siberian tribes who didn't do any kind of settling until the Soviets forced them to. In an environment like Siberia agriculture isn't a viable option, and out-breeding the local resources would necessitates removal to another location with resources. Siberian and Lapland tribes were known to follow hers of reindeer who couldn't be domesticated but were effectively dinner on four legs so long as you kept up with them.

Agriculture isn't always the most viable choice for a group fo humans. Even in the fertile crescent when agriculture caught on caloric intake increased significantly, but so did malnutrition. You just don't get all your protein and vitamins from wheat.

Large populations will always require some form of entrenched dependable food source in order to sustain itself, but the price for this is often very high. Laboring over a crop requires much more work than spending a few hours catching a deer while the women gather berries.

That doesn't even get into "hunter-gatherer" societies who actually do practice some form of agriculture, just not every year or in large quantities. There are rampant problems with that black and white breakdown too.

I read that article when it came out in the Atlantic Monthly. I'll have to check out the book.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 04:17 AM:

So the Siberians and the Australian aborigines didn't turn to agriculture; which I think proves only that they weren't inhabiting arable land. If their groups are staying the same size, either something is inhibiting their fertility, or the difficult conditions of their lives are giving them a high childhood mortality rate, or they're practicing infanticide.

#20 ::: Jim Millen ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 04:42 AM:

Bob Devney wrote:

They didn't woo a virgin wilderness. They found a recently bereaved widow, and raped her.

Ummm... Excessively emotive, much?

I'd certainly be the last to deny that in the colonisation of the Americas Europeans did things that are morally repugnant. Many times over, in fact. But to expect anyone of that age to have any concept of the diseases they carried is to twist morality a little too far.

I'm certain that many of the European colonists genuinely had few scruples about the native population being reduced. I'm equally certain that many had no idea that that is what had happened, and were only looking for some land on which to make a living.

There are plenty of things that the settlers can be accused of - the forcible religious conversions of the South Americas spring to mind - but to lump the whole lot of them in as "raping" something is to vastly simplify what happened.

#21 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 05:17 AM:

I don't have a copy of Guns, Germs and Steel to hand, but I remember Diamond suggesting death rates upwards of 90% for the native Americans from disease after the arrival of Europeans, with complete depopulation of whole swathes of land.

On a lighter note, here's an Irish 1492 themed beer ad.

#22 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 05:19 AM:

The chapter about black earth in the rainforest is worth the price of the book.

#23 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 05:21 AM:

Jim Millen (#20) One thing various readings point out is that, esp. at the beginning, the colonists were aware that the indigenous people were dying out. At least one of the early winters in Massachussetts was survived by raiding the storehouses of recently emptied native villages.

I'll grant that those who moved further west didn't know what the population there was like before they arrived, but the analogy still has some merit, as the locals weren't in much position to hold off the intruders.

One need not know a person is recently bereaved to end up taking advantage of their weakness.

#24 ::: Colleen Lindsay ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 06:37 AM:

Thanks, T!

Yet another great book on my list of "things to buy when I finally find gainful employment again..."

#25 ::: Jim Millen ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 06:43 AM:

Terry Karney:

One need not know a person is recently bereaved to end up taking advantage of their weakness.

Fair points, and I'm certainly not trying to apologise for what the settlers did. I just dislike analogies to such violent and emotive subjects as rape, since it polarises the debate too swiftly. Rape is a horrific crime and cannot be excused under any circumstances. The actions of the settlers could indeed be considered as wrong, but it's certainly not so black and white.

#26 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 07:47 AM:

My initial response to the post was "This is news?" But then I've been round the Incan settlements and the like.

And re: Diamond, GGS appears to be right - but anywhere I know about the subject, he messes up some of the details.

#27 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 08:03 AM:

TomB: The chapter about black earth was entirely new to me, and completely fascinating. I'd known about the soil problem if you log off rainforest. These people understood it, had (uniquely) come up with some kind of fix for it, and were bringing wide-scale arboriculture to the Amazon Basin. It's breathtaking.

#28 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 08:12 AM:

I'd argue that manifest destiny, the worldview of NA settlement through the time of American expansion, wasn't about an untouched Eden; it was about coming into a howling wilderness and taming it, carving out a new life for yourself with little more than the pack on your back and your moral strength and quick wits.

I sing in the choir at the church where Abigail Adams is buried, and we sing a hymn she wrote from time to time. It's nice, and historic, and pretty, but certain of the lyrics are appalling-- touching on manifest destiny, and moral worth as a criteria for colonization, and taking over what the savages aren't worthy of.

The Eden view came in retrospect, as well as the reverence for untouched Nature. During the age of American manifest destiny Nature was frightening, and to be put into a box if at all possible.

From the article: Moreover, few Indians carry the gene that permits adults to digest lactose, a form of sugar abundant in milk. Non-milk-drinkers, one imagines, would be less likely to work at domesticating milk-giving animals.

I suspect this may be muddling cause and effect. Native Americans aren't weird for not being able to digest lactose; the Europeans, who had cows and milk around to adapt to, are the weird ones for being able to digest it. Moreover, milk-bearing animals are generally tasty to eat, and some of them can carry or pull things. So it's not like milk is the only reason to domesticate them.

And then, too, not all animals are good candidates for domestication. Some animals adapt well to fences, while others don't. (I seem to recall deer as one of the "very hard to domesticate" group.) The argument I've heard advanced is that Native Americans didn't domesticate many animals because they didn't have many domesticatable animals available to them.

#29 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 08:54 AM:

Horses [are social, heirarchical, and willing to accept humans], Zebras (closely enough related to make a type of mule from) [aren't]. They can't be domesticated, merely tamed.

No offense or anything, but has anyone tried? I mean seriously tried, over the course of a number of generations, rather than catching some zebras, breeding them, and being discouraged when the offspring don't act domesticated. It took about 30 generations in foxes, for example.

It's just that I read GG&S. And while it was impressive at first, after a while I started noticing that, any time I actually knew anything about a topic, Diamond was either outright wrong or twisting his interpretations, which makes me wonder about the topics I'm not familiar with.

I think he's got more going with north-south vs east-west orientation than with the "lack" of domesticable animals in the Americas. Just for one example, a bison is huge and ornery and scared of people...but no more so than an aurochs.

#30 ::: Styx ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 09:07 AM:

The continuation of the hunter gatherer culture amongst Australian Aborigines was explained in Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel and Flannery's The Future Eaters. The Australian continent lost a significant proportion of its large animals in the period immediately after the arrival of the Aborigines (the proposed explanations for this are still the matter of controversy). Australia lacked the pool of animals and plants that could have formed the basis of a settled agricultural communities. Also, the soils are poor and the weather variable. The largest river basin Murray-Darling did have settlements and fixed structures along its banks but even here the river would from time to time run dry.

#31 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 09:17 AM:

1491 was a fantastic book: a quick and easy read but stuffed with information and references. However, remember that Mann is careful (in most places) to add caveats about the ideas he is describing: they are almost all controversial (some are beyond controversial, into "scream-fit inducing" in the proper quarters), and a lot more research is needed before they become established. But that's how science works.

The section on the Amazon was for me the most gosh-wow part. I had previously been exposed to the idea that North America had a much larger pre-Columbian population than most people believe, but never, never had read that the Amazon might have supported a civilization (except of course, in the stories about the "legends" of Amazon cities that motivated some of the Spanish explorers -- they don't look quite so silly after reading this book).

1492 would make a great reading assignment paired with The Years of Rice and Salt.

#32 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 09:22 AM:

WRT zebra domestication, there are some nifty Victorian pix here of zebras in harness, plus bonus ostrich, elk, and wapiti (or alternately, ostrich, moose, and elk).

#33 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 09:32 AM:

Russell Letson #2:

Indigenous American peoples cultivated maize, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, quinoa, bitter cassava (manioc), sweet cassava (yucca), and various kinds of beans. They domesticated a number of animals,including dogs, llamas, and alpacas, and obtained protein from hunting birds (such as wild turkeys), and larger animals such as bison, as well as by fishing.

Some of these activities required fairly complex technologies (bitter cassava, for example, is naturally poisonous).

#34 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 09:35 AM:

Count me as another reader who was a bit skeptical of Diamond's geographical "just-so stories" in Guns, Germs, and Steel. I was particularly taken aback by the claim that geography explains why China had a single ruling structure, while Europe had many distinct states. This has been true over the past thousand years or so --- but around 200 AD, both Europe and China had a single dominant ruling structure (Rome and the Han dynasty, respectively), and after that, both fell apart into patchworks of territories controlled by local warlords. China's had a unitary government more often since (if you don't count the Holy Roman Empire in Europe!), but not more often enough to make for a really convincing case that something beyond historical contingency ("yeah, it just happened like that") is needed to explain it.

As to his remarks on the mental skills of the people that modern Americans are likely to call "primitives", he's a bit more persuasive in Collapse when he points out that a key reason for the failure of the Norse colony in Greenland was the failure of the Norse to adopt the better-adapted and in many respects superior technology of the Inuit...

#35 ::: mattH ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 09:38 AM:

Hunter-gatherer groups often consiously kept their populations down. Most people are quite willing to accept that hunter-gatherers were quite knowledgable about their environments and that they exploited a wide range of foods. The flip side is that they likely had just as wide a range of knowledge about the dangerous plant and animals that they had access to in their environment, and that some suitable plants were used as abortifacients. Some have even been found in coprolites that would function quite well.

As for GG&S, and even Collapse for that matter, Francis(in #26) is dead on. He has an interesting, and perhaps even correct, thesis, but he often gets the details wrong in relation to specific cultures. Besides glossing over the relationship between Pizarro, disease, and politics and the collpse of the Inca, he gets the Anasazi wrong, arguing for Chaco canyon's collapse as entirely environmental, while it may certainly well have been political and trade oriented. He's pretty slopppy in his work with ancient cultures.

#36 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 09:43 AM:

He did specifically label the bit about China at the end of GG&S as speculative & something he's not so sure about. Which didn't keep me from rolling my eyes at it.

#37 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 09:51 AM:

I haven't read the book, but I will -- it sounds fascinating.

Question: Were there any potato famines in the post-Columbian Americas, like the one that struck Ireland in the 1800s? (The Great Potato Famine was caused primarily by a lack of genetic diversity: most of the Irish farmers grew the same kind of potato which wasn't resistent to the disease.)

Quote:
"Unlike Europeans, Indians did not live in close quarters with animals(...)"

There's stuff for a science-fiction story in that quote:
Alien visitors nearly wipe out mankind, not because they are many or well armed -- but because their filthy livestock/pets breed out of control and spread deadly plagues...

#38 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 10:03 AM:

I have a fantasy bookshelf of books I wish someone else would write, so I could find out without having to do all theat research. One of them is a "pre-Columbian cookbook" -- of the 'Old World'.
Italian cooking without tomatoes; curry and Szechuan cooking without chilis; peasant food without potatoes; etc.

* * *

I thought the story of the "Pilgrims" was pretty well documented. A bunch of losers who couldn't even get along with the Dutch (what a concept!) end up in Massachusetts instead of Virginia. But there are entire farming villiages available to move into, since a massive plague had just come through, and then out of the forest walks a guy who'd been a slave to the Spanish, learned English, gotten his freedom, made his way back home -- and found these ninnies he had to teach agriculture to!
You can't make stuff like that up.

#39 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 10:10 AM:

I have a fantasy bookshelf of books I wish someone else would write, so I could find out without having to do all theat research. One of them is a "pre-Columbian cookbook" -- of the 'Old World'.

Start here, and move on to web searches like "SCA period recipes". :)

#40 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 10:11 AM:

Were there any potato famines in the post-Columbian Americas, like the one that struck Ireland in the 1800s? (The Great Potato Famine was caused primarily by a lack of genetic diversity: most of the Irish farmers grew the same kind of potato which wasn't resistent to the disease.)

From what I've read, there was genetic diversity going on all over the place, in part due to the difficult geography of the Americas. Stuff that grows well in one area just isn't suited for some other, which may be only a few miles away as the crow flies. So probably not on the scale of the Irish famine, if at all.

#41 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 10:15 AM:

I haven't read 1492 yet. About Diamond, it looks obvious from his writing that he started with a catchy idea and then looked for data to support it. This is not exactly a criticism. If you're going to look at all of anthropology and all of archeology and all of economic geography and all of human ecology, you aren't going to get many of the details straight. Better to concentrate on the parts that make some kind of sense to you.

My point is more that while he writes as if there is overwhelming data supporting his conclusions, it's good to remember that what's going on is he has appealing ideas which are compatible with some of the data.

#42 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 10:21 AM:

Re: #15 and #16 -- Overkill is one of two major hypotheses for why the Americas lost most of their megafauna (big animals) after the arrival for humans, but it's under serious debate; the most-hunted species in North America was Bison bison, which survived quite happily, while others for which we have no evidence of hunting died off. Hunting may well have played a role, but climate change might be the true culprit. But either way you slice it, it's true that the New World was left with very, very few animal species suitable for domestication, compared with the Old World. (Fewer of those are from the Fertile Crescent than you might think, btw. I'm too lazy to drag out my list and map, but horses are probably from the Russian steppes.)

Re: #28 -- exactly. Lactase persistence arises because groups relied heavily on domesticated, milk-producing animals; it isn't the cause of that reliance.

#43 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 10:57 AM:

Neil in Chicago (#38): I don't think I would be unhappy to see that cookbook remain in Lucien's library, myself - there's enough boring food in the world without offering up assistance. Fusion is good!

But I see from Carrie S's response that mine may be a minority viewpoint.

#44 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 11:16 AM:

Debcha, all I'm going to say is that no cuisine that mixes beef, apples and that much pepper can be boring. :) Trust me, I've been to a lot of SCA events; the only ones at which the feasts were boring were the ones where the cooks decided they had to feed us modern food.

#45 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 11:57 AM:

I was reading 1491 last summer and was utterly fascinated by it.

A.R. Yngve #37: I believe the Inca empire had a great diversity of potato breeds that are even now sought out in isolated corners of the Andes. And I have never heard of a widespread famine there such as in Ireland. The empire was large enough and well-organized enough to have withstood local famines.

#46 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 12:22 PM:

From memory, the Irish Potato Famine hit potato stock that wasn't just non-diverse (all one species or cultivar) but was a monoculture in the absolute sense, clones (grown from eyes, I believe) making up the majority of the potato fields. Wiki just calls it the "lumper" variety, nothing about whether the crops were sexually or asexually propagated.

I may be wrong, but I remember it as a warning against such extreme monoculture agriculture.

#47 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 12:23 PM:

#38: I thought the story of the "Pilgrims" was pretty well documented. A bunch of losers who couldn't even get along with the Dutch (what a concept!) end up in Massachusetts instead of Virginia.

The story I remember hearing suggested that the Pilgrims were worried about their children becoming Dutch, which is why they went looking for someplace else (and Merrie England wasn't showing any immediate signs of becoming less sinful, so that was out).

#48 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 12:42 PM:

Carrie S said (#29):
No offense or anything, but has anyone tried? I mean seriously tried, over the course of a number of generations, rather than catching some zebras, breeding them, and being discouraged when the offspring don't act domesticated. It took about 30 generations in foxes, for example.

The point isn't whether, given sufficent time, leisure, scientific resources, etc., you can selectively breed a species into domesticity; it's whether you can do this relatively easily in a pre-modern society, and whether certain characteristics of the wild animal give you a head start and a fighting chance. The fox reference you cite was a 20th Century scientific experiment by full-time researchers, supported by an advanced, industrialized society. That's not how horses, cattle, pigs, etc. were actually domesticated.

#49 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 12:52 PM:

I should make it clear, btw, that Mann's book doesn't set out to debunk Diamond's, and a lot of Diamond's points continue to stand just fine (the lack of suitable animal domesticates, frex). Instead it adds to the picture, making the environmental conditions just one part of a complex situation.

#50 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:21 PM:

The point isn't whether, given sufficent time, leisure, scientific resources, etc., you can selectively breed a species into domesticity; it's whether you can do this relatively easily in a pre-modern society, and whether certain characteristics of the wild animal give you a head start and a fighting chance.

I guess I wasn't really clear, sorry.

My point was, the original wild horse was not an easy animal to domesticate, any more than a zebra is; an aurochs was no more easy to domesticate than a bison; a wolf is just as ornery as a fox; if we want to talk about animals in which domestication is going against the beast's basic nature, let's discuss cats.

The fox reference you cite was a 20th Century scientific experiment by full-time researchers, supported by an advanced, industrialized society.

Yes, and it still took 30+ generations to get a domesticated animal out of it--that was kind of my point. Heck, foxes are even canines. How long did it take with horses, dogs, cows? Not significantly longer than it'd take with bison, zebras or elk, I'd warrant, but longer than it took with the foxes.

As for "scientific experiment", the methods part was nothing a premodern society couldn't do, i.e. "keep the beasts confined and only allow the most friendly ones to breed". The science comes in in the record-keeping part.

#51 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:23 PM:

Carrie in #29 --

Buffalo are hopeless candidates for domestication. The bulls hit 4 years old and will go through your fence or die trying.

It's been tried repeatedly for the last hundred years or so, since buffalo are very tasty, and if you can manage the really insane -- cubic meter stone blocks, 12" pole palisades, etc. -- fencing that will mostly hold the cows and the young, it's possible to farm buffalo, but no one has managed to really domesticate them.

It's been seriously tried with zebra, too.

#52 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:24 PM:

Fun and controversial book about domesticating canines:

DOGS, by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger

They suggest that the "dogs are wolves bred for tameness" story is way too simple, given how touchy wolves are. They hypothesize that a branch of asian wolves met us half-way, by evolving into a somewhat less suspicious (and kind of dim) neolithic-village- dwelling commensural subspecies.

All sorts of good stuff about early working dogs, and how most dogs around the world still pretty much live like neolithic village mutts.

#53 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:25 PM:

#46: Potatoes are seldom or never sexually propagated in a field setting, so yes, the Irish susceptibility problem involved a single clone or very small number of, probably, related clones.

Thoughts on horse domestication: Przewalski's horse, which is extinct in the wild, is technically related to the domestic horse as a subspecies, although they're probably the same thing (afaik both male and female "hybrids" are fertile, just for one point). The P-horse is much closer to the zebra than to old Dobbin, conformationally and behaviorally.

I've been fascinated by the Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA findings in the domesticated horse. While Y chromosome (and thus genetic male line) diversity is easily picked up in other species, so far none (as in, none, not very little) has been detected in the horse. This contrasts with a substantial range of equine mitochondrial (and thus genetic female lines) variation.

One reading of this (I grant not the only possible one) is that domestication of the horse originated with one wild population which had trainable males. In this model not just the concept of domestication passed from one human population to another, but the actual physical breeding stock, or at least the sires, with females being recruited from local wild herds outside the origin of domestication.

Off topic, I suppose, although it would imply that not all species followed the same route to domestication.

#54 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:26 PM:

WRT Zebras. There are people who have tried. As said, absent a huge investment in time, equipment, and medical support, it doesn't look possible. Certainly what one gets, if it can be done, will be more like a domestic dog than a wolf.

They are aggressive, escape prone and not really worth the candle. Since there are cattle in some of the areas some zebra live (though not in the tse-tse zone) which were domesticated, it's not as if the locals were unaware of the idea.

As for Diamond, GS&S has a lot of speculations (and I am leery of unified theories) but he's a pretty well respected scientist (if the list of secondary citations of his papers are to be believed). I don't know how many of his flaws are the trials of compression; in trying to make things more accessible to the public, as compared to weakness in theory, or being wedded to conclusions.

#55 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:30 PM:

To measure how easy animals are to domesticate, you need a population of the undomesticated animal to compare. Where are you going to find a population of wild horses that isn't contaminated with domestic genes?

There's no particular reason to think that domestication started out intentional. If you herd wild animals and preferentially kill the ones that are hardest to herd, that will get you visible results in ten or twenty of the animals' generations, depending on how many animals get killed being herded versus never getting herded, and how much crossbreeding they do.

If people domesticate one animal by accident they might start trying for others, and they'll tend to succeed with the easiest ones first. But we don't know how hard it was to domesticate the first animals because we mostly don't have any of those animals left, we only have their domesticated descendents -- who look particularly easy to domesticate because they've already been bred for it.

#56 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:36 PM:

Graydon, #51: Twelve-inch pole palisades? It kinda doesn't look that way to me. Granted, one does hear about Interstate 79 being occasionally covered in buffalo; on the other hand, one hears that about cows, too.

#57 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:37 PM:

J Thomas, #55: Yes, thank you! That was a much better summing-up than what I said.

#58 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:41 PM:

Buffalo are hopeless candidates for domestication. The bulls hit 4 years old and will go through your fence or die trying.

Graydon, if you want to live with buffalo, and you don't want to move with them, then you'll look for the ones that least want to go through your fences.

Like, make a fence out of rawhide with feathers stuck in it, and put it up occasionally, and kill the first one that breaks it. Pick it up and tie it together for next time.

Maybe part of what worked for domesticating aurochs was killing the largest for trophies. Easier to take later steps when they'd trimmed down some. But they were kind of domesticated while they were still pretty big.


#59 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:54 PM:

About Germs, Guns and Steel, which I read after my younger child finished it for AP World History:
The anthropologist in me found it a fine occassion to indulge in an internal rant about the limitations of history as an intellectual discipline. The fact that the more one knows about any of Diamond's subjects ,the more likely one is to be able to refute him point by point is pretty good indication that he's on very thin ice indeed.

About potatoes, and the potato famine:

The best short explication of why the Inca Empire could depend on potatoes for a crop and the Irish were not is in Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire but the core reason was touched above: there was a complex mosaic of potato cultivars in the west coast of South America, and up into the Andes, adapted for different growing conditions or simply historic artefacts of local traditions and familial inheritance; in Ireland in the first half of the 19th century there was a single cultivar.

About mixed agriculture as an index of "civilization:"

Again, the anthropologist in me groans at this remnant of Victorian historical speculation. This is probably because I'm a Pacific Northwest Coast specialist, but really: there are other ways to reach the level of security and surplus that can lead to the development of complex cultural institutions. Just because small grain agriculture and the domestication of herd animals for food sources and traction beasts was what allowed the cultures of Eurasia to do it doesn't even mean it was a good idea in the long run, let alone the only way to go.

#60 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 01:59 PM:

Pacific Northwest Coast specialist

I can see where beasts for traction wouldn't do well in that area, and agriculture might be problematic. What did they do beside fishing/whaling, just out of curiosity?

#61 ::: dolloch ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:22 PM:

#52 Stefan - Granted this knowledge came from a comic book, but one suggestion is that dogs were lazy wolves following us for scraps, then got wise that we sucked at tracking an hunted stuff down themselves, letting us do the actual killing. Lazy part being my own cynical reading between the lines.

#62 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:31 PM:

re: #60 To clarify: Do you mean for food or in general?

The Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian have a fascinating culture. The best thing I can remember from learning about them in elementary school was that the Tlingit had a saying equivalent to "Only idiots starve" because so much food was readily available on the beach. Intertidal areas have a lot of food for the picking (says the girl who grew up in a family of commercial fishers).

I'm not an expert on PNW cultures, I'm dying to read the reply! And if you have a chance to check out the UBC Anthropology Museum in Vancouver, it is a great way to spend your time.

#63 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:44 PM:

I just knew those damned pigs were up to something.

#64 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:44 PM:

#61: The proto-pariah-dogs that the Coppingers' hypothesize is a sort of lazy wolf; a scrap- and - shit eating scavenger that was handy to have around (barked at intruders).

Specific breeding for tracking, herding, pulling and so on came later.

#65 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:45 PM:

Either, both...I'm not up on that area, being from CA. I know that the CA natives were good basket-makers and knew how to handle acorns, but we didn't learn much else about them in school. (The baskets can be spectacular, even in small sizes. At the Southwest Museum I saw one decorated with quail plumes to resemble a sea-urchin.)

#66 ::: Jonquil ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:45 PM:

> Like, make a fence out of rawhide with feathers stuck in it, and put it up occasionally, and kill the first one that breaks it. Pick it up and tie it together for next time.

What I understand Graydon to be saying (he's done the reading, I haven't) is that, after you have reached your fifth year of raising calves, you have no bulls left. For a selection scheme to work, there has to be a docile gene available to select for.

#67 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:47 PM:

Stefan Jones (#52) - The common picture I think we all have of the history of dog domestication goes like this:

Og the caveman and the rest of his tribe are sitting around the fire. Wolves are naturally scared of them, but are driven by hunger to come closer and closer. Og tosses the occasional bone (literally) to the wolves. Perhaps he adopts a pup or two. This goes on for thousands of years, and eventually you have domesticated dogs as a result.

But this image really makes no sense. Wolves are wild animals with sharp pointy teeth. All the wolves have to do is eat one or two babies and Og and his fellow tribesmen will think better of the whole adopting-wolves thing, and quite likely the whole letting-wolves-live thing.

More likely that dogs are descended from scavengers, who lived off the trash heaps surrounding primitive villages. Most of 'em would be fearful of people, and would run off or attack when approached by people. However, some would be more human-o-philic, so to speak -- they'd stick around when humans were nearby, and not attack. Those are the ancestors of the current population of dogs.

The source for the preceding is that ever-reliable reference work: Some Documentary I Saw On Teevee Sometime.

#68 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:50 PM:

As long as we're talking about the Potato Famine, don't forget the economic and political forces that had the Irish peasantry raising grain for export while depending upon potatoes for their subsistence crop. (If I'm recalling correctly, potato crops all over Europe failed in the 1848-49 time period, but other places didn't share all of the peculiarities that made Ireland's situation worse.)

#69 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:54 PM:

As some of the buffalo herdsmen here in Ohio say, "an electric fence that would knock a grown man ten feet is merely a gentle reminder to the Buffalo where the edge of the field is."

And once a bull gets wind of a female in heat, your only option to stop him is culling him. And then you have no bull.

Just as a reference, most domesticated cattle have the same problem, but a nose ring helps control the bull (still a struggle). This is why bulls are corraled separately and are upwind. A buffalo wouldn't care about the nose ring.

#70 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:56 PM:

Mitch:

That's the Coppingers's theory, in other words. I believe I saw Some Documentary, and they were on it!

#71 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:57 PM:

Stefan and others (#52 et seq.): The idea that the domestication of dogs began with them parasitically/symbiotically living with humans is pretty much the accepted story for cats - they hung out in our granaries and fields and ate mice, but it wasn't until a millennia or two later that they were actually bred by humans.

#72 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 02:59 PM:

Carrie S (#44): Debcha, all I'm going to say is that no cuisine that mixes beef, apples and that much pepper can be boring.:)

You're right. 'Boring' is not the word that comes to mind. :)

#73 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:00 PM:

Mitch, it was probably more along the lines of "Og kills wolf parents and takes wolf pups home. (probably several different litters) Wolves are highly sociable animals and imprint on Og and his wife as alphas. When wolf #2 tries to cow Og's kids, Og wacks wolf on nose reminding him of dominance. Wolf #2 abides by pack behavior and lets off." Eventually the wolves will breed as even in the wild, alphas aren't the only ones to mate, but alphas won't abide another pregnancy in the pack. An alpha wolf would drive off or kill the pregnant female (and consort). In the human pack, that wouldn't happen.

#74 ::: Peter S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:07 PM:

It's off-topic, but there was another fascinating "debunking" of one of Diamond's just-so stories in a recent American Scientist. According to the author: the real reason that the Easter Island was denuded of all its trees was not deforestation by the Polynesian settlers, but rats. The rats came over with the Polynesians, and found the nuts of the native species of palm trees very tasty. So no new trees grew to replace those that died or were cut down. He also says that there's no archaeological evidence for the huge population boom that was theorized in order to postulate enough people to cut down all the trees; the population was apparently fairly steady until the Europeans came (at which time there may have been a few stands of palm trees left).

#75 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:13 PM:

Debcha, #72: You don't have to like it, but since your main thrust was that "there's enough boring food in the world", I figured I'd refute the idea that cooking without tomatoes and chilis is boring. :)

Wish I could get the recipe for that meatball appetizer thing they did at the last event I went to. I guess I'll have to ask around and find out who cooked.

#76 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:19 PM:

To expand on #73, the reason "Og kills wolf parents and takes wolf pups home", rather than killing the pups too, is because the pups are cute. And if they're young enough, they're probably also quite friendly. You can kinda picture it: Og and Thud are standing there starting to skin the wolf when they hear whimpering from the nearby hole. They look in. There are the pups, their eyes just open. Thud says, "Awww, what a shame. They're so cute. It's too bad they eat meat, the kids'd love them." Og says, "Y'know, I've seen the grownup ones eat some pretty high carrion, I'll bet the pups could too. We can give it a try anyway." He reaches into the den; the pups aren't old enough to react with fear yet, and decide that anything warm and smelling of food is better than nothing, so they get even cuter.

The rest, as they say, is prehistory.

#77 ::: Writerious ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:20 PM:

To #60, I can see where beasts for traction wouldn't do well in that area, and agriculture might be problematic. What did they do beside fishing/whaling, just out of curiosity?

The land between the mountains and the coast was rich with all kinds of resources. Cedar trees were used in countless ways -- as lumber for building plank houses, for carving dugout canoes, a houseposts and all the various types of totem poles. The fibrous bark was shredded and twisted to make cord for fishing nets, bindings, and clothing. If I recall correctly, famous Chilkat blankets were woven with dog wool or mountain goat wool over a warp of cedar fibers. Nettles were also used for fiber. Cattails were woven into mats, and many other fibrous materials (spruce roots, beargrass, etc.) were used for baskets.

In the summer, families moved upriver, often taking planks from their houses to set up temporary houses, and spent the summer gathering food. Spring and summer were time for gathering native blackberries, huckleberries, and lots of other fresh foods. These were dried and carried home for storage. When the salmon ran upstream, the people would catch as much as they could for smoking and drying. Salmon formed their staple food. They'd use smelt rakes to gather up thousands of fish during the smelt run, and a kind of smelt called eulachon was processed for oil. There were vast trade routes (known to the white settlers later as the "grease trails") involving the trade of eulachon oil with people inland for items that the coastal people couldn't get, such as obsidian for projectile points.

The coastal people also hunted to some extent. Elk, deer, and bear were needed not only for meat, but for skins. The estuaries were full of ducks and other waterbirds that could be eaten, as well as all the different types of clams and other shellfish.

#78 ::: S. Dawson ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:23 PM:

More likely that dogs are descended from scavengers, who lived off the trash heaps surrounding primitive villages. Most of 'em would be fearful of people, and would run off or attack when approached by people. However, some would be more human-o-philic, so to speak -- they'd stick around when humans were nearby, and not attack. Those are the ancestors of the current population of dogs.

So what you're saying is that in a little while we should be seeing tame, affectionate, trainable squirrels?

Cool!

#79 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:24 PM:

From 60:

What did they do beside fishing/whaling, just out of curiosity?

(Snide PNW specialist voice)
Why should they have to do anything else?

(Real Ethnobotanist/ Pericontact Culture change specialist answer)
Well, given that the cultural zone extends from Monterey Bay to Yakutat, there's a whole lot of answers to this. Extremely sophisticated wood-working and basketry is a hallmark of the entire area, and textiles- woven from everything from twine and duck down to dog undercoat wool- were also common. Prairies were maintained by burning, and those areas were important sources of food, in the form of roots and bulbs of various sorts (most especially camas) as well as a wide variety of berries. There was a strong trade between the coast and the interior in dried foodstuffs and tanned leather (as Lewis and Clark found, drying skins isn't something one takes on lightly in the NW).

In the area of nonmaterial culture, the PNW was typified by elaborate theatrical performances, involving masks and set pieces, all of which formed (and in some cases still form) part the wealth of the household and clan.

For starters.


#80 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:24 PM:

Re domesticability of animals:
Given the existing domesticated animals, and historical/archaeological evidence for their domestication back several thousand years, you can say that it was possible to domesticate those species in a pre-modern setting. The question then is -- why those, and not others in the same area, especially if those other animals seem to have similar value or potential use?

I went back and looked at what Diamond was saying (his Chapter 9), and it's perhaps a bit broader than what we've been discussing; at least some of it is characteristics that are not significantly altered by pre-modern breeding. There's what you might call "domesticability," which includes things like disposition towards humans, tendency to panic, and social structure (the latter would be, I think, much more difficult to select for). But there's also ability to breed in captivity: he cites the example of cheetahs, which have been prized enough by nobility and kings to make it worth someone's while to breed them. All efforts to breed cheetahs in captivity failed, probably because they require a multi-day courtship ritual extending over large distances.

He's also more interested in generally "useful" domesticated animals -- that is, those that can provide lots of food and transport. This means the animals should be herbivores or omnivores, and they should grow rapidly. They should also not be so dangerous that you cannot get past the first generation without people getting killed, which rules out (omnivorous) bears, for example.

#81 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:33 PM:

I'm liking the "horses were domesticated by herding them and killing the ones that didn't herd well" hypothesis. Took a class at Berkeley on Central Asian Nomads from an ex-Soviet/Kazahk whose grandmother had been a shaman... She told us how they basically lived off herding three animals, the horse, the camel, and (I think) the goat. Horses were good for breaking through the crusty snow to get at hay in the winter, but that's pretty much all the food horses were for, besides eating... They weren't noble companions. They weren't even ridden, because it would make the meat tough.

I guess this explains why the woolly mammoth wasn't domesticated. It would've been very tough to herd them. Damn shame.

And the "dogs coming from scavenger wolves who decided to help out the human scrapleavers" hypothesis makes sense to me, too. It also implies that we may be on the way to domesticating pigeons, squirrels, and raccoons... If we gave a damn about what they had to offer... :)

#82 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 03:38 PM:

Not being an expert myself... trite and stereotypical as it sounds, if someone says PNW indigenous art, I immediately think Totem Poles.

Here's what I have in my bookmarks, I've been working on a x-cultural orientation curriculum/continuing education module for my job.

Eyak/Tlingit/Haida/Tsimshian (from Alaska Native Heritage Center)

Sealaska is the regional Native Corporation, and they have sponsored the Sealaska Heritage Institute.

If you have a chance to make it to/through DC before January, the Smithsonian has a PNW exhibit.

and the previously mentioned UBC Museum of Anthropology.

My MS project was on x-cultural communication in rural Alaska, specifically as it relates to ongoing science and engineering projects. I learned enough to know that I don't know enough!

#83 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 04:00 PM:
So what you're saying is that in a little while we should be seeing tame, affectionate, trainable squirrels?

I believe squirrels were kept as pets in colonial America. (Boston's Museum of Fine Arts has a picture of Copley's stepbrother with a pet squirrel --- it happens to be the painting that first brought him to the attention of artists in England). I'm not sure why they ever went out of style...

#84 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 04:11 PM:

JESR said (#59):
About mixed agriculture as an index of "civilization:"

Again, the anthropologist in me groans at this remnant of Victorian historical speculation. This is probably because I'm a Pacific Northwest Coast specialist, but really: there are other ways to reach the level of security and surplus that can lead to the development of complex cultural institutions. Just because small grain agriculture and the domestication of herd animals for food sources and traction beasts was what allowed the cultures of Eurasia to do it doesn't even mean it was a good idea in the long run, let alone the only way to go.

The issue, as I read Diamond, isn't whether "mixed agriculture + traction beasts" was a "good idea." It's why it arose where it did and developed (or didn't) as it did. It sounds like you're seeing (and objecting to) moral judgements that I don't think are there, at least not in Diamond's work.

Now, whether or not it was "the only way to go" is a more interesting question, in terms of understanding history.[*] And why different regions, or different cultures, went the particular ways they did, and why they didn't go the other (possible) ways, is also interesting.

What are some of those other ways, and where were they practised?

(The disadvantage of Pacific NW-style fishing, if that's what you're alluding to, in terms of historical influence is that it's nowhere near as portable as agriculture + domesticated animals, so it can't spread across whole continents the way the latter can.)

[*] That is, in the scientific sense of trying to explain how things happened, and why. Whether certain developments were "a good idea" or not is also very interesting, but it's a different mode of historical inquiry.

#85 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 04:14 PM:

"It also implies that we may be on the way to domesticating pigeons, squirrels, and raccoons... If we gave a damn about what they had to offer... :)"


I think it's Aldo Leopold who writes about the impossibility of not domesticating wild turkeys, if you camp in their territory in the south west. Unless it's Edward Abbey.

My current opinion, encouraged by a bunch of Shorthorn cows and an Angus bull standing under the elderly and towering apple trees and trying to bring down fruit by sheer force of voice (and demonstrating by that activity the efficacy of random reinforcement) is that however cattle were domesticated it was a bad idea. No matter how tasty they are.

#86 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 04:18 PM:

"It also implies that we may be on the way to domesticating pigeons, squirrels, and raccoons..."

Ah, but canines are well suited to the role, being highly social, socially adaptable, conform to hierarchies, and naturally do many things (herding, guarding, tracking) that humans find useful.

Raccoons are nasty loners. Squirrels can be tamed quite easily, but what do they have to offer?

As to WHY wolves weren't domesticated directly: The time in which pups can be imprinted is woefully short, and adult wolves are suspicious and touchy. They are wild animals which can be tamed but not domesticated. Early humans would have as much trouble dealing with them as a modern-day human foolish enough to adopt a wolf.

The proto-dog village scavenger, OTOH, would have pups right at the edge of the settlement. The pups would learn how to earn a living -- eating scraps -- in plain view, alongside their relatively laid-back and tolerant parents. It was from this start that breeding for friendliness, and eventually other traits, could begin.

FWIR, the Russian garbage-dump foxes that were bred for tameness were a particularly social fox species. The technique might not work on, say, red foxes.

#87 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 04:28 PM:

Data points:

A neighbor had a pet raccoon. He was (eventually) litter box trained, and didn't bite family members. When I visited, and "Pappoose" was out, I stood on chairs to keep away from him. He bit me on my foot once, on my back step, when he got out of the house.

My sister took care of a wolf, her landlord's semi-pet. A real good buddy, protective and mellow with friends, but a total coward among strangers. He had to live outside or in the basement, since despite being raised from a pup would never have any truck with housebreaking.

He was also highly protective of his mate, the landlord's rottweiller. (They had a few litters together.) He badly mauled a neighbor's lab who took his turn with the rotty, leading to his getting "snipped" and eventual exile to Idaho, where he escaped and most likely was shot or hit by a car.

Don't adopt wolf pups.

#88 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 04:31 PM:

debcha (#71) - The idea that the domestication of dogs began with them parasitically/symbiotically living with humans is pretty much the accepted story for cats - they hung out in our granaries and fields and ate mice

According to Desmond Morris, in the book Catwatching, a big breakthrough in cat-domestication was when people figured out that cats actually hunted better when they were well-fed. Intuitively, you'd think the opposite -- that a hungry cat would make a better hunter -- but cats have an instinct for hunting separate from the instinct for food.

#89 ::: Shannon ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 04:47 PM:

One of my main problems with Guns, Germs and Steel is that I found it nearly unreadable. I think it was one of two books in college that I was required to read that I just for the life of me couldn't get through. I thought what he had to say was interesting, but he kept repeating the same points over and over again. Also, I'm glad that someone besides me thought some of his examples sounded rather historically sketchy.

For anyone interested in the environmental impact of pre-colonial Native Americans, The Ecological Indian is actually quite a good book. Much of it is rather controversial for its standpoint that Native Americans weren't all warm-and-fuzzy-sustainable as some people make them out to be, but I found it fascinating and respectful towards those cultures.

#90 ::: rockycoloradan ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 04:53 PM:

Elaine and I were listening to Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong on 'books on tape' on the way back from Worldcon and Loewen covered the influence of the Indian plagues in making way for the early European settlers.

A very depressing thing to listen to on a long trip.

Jack

#91 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 05:00 PM:

IMHO, many urban squirrel populations in the U.S. are semi-domesticated already. They're tame enough that they'll go up to you and beg, and if you're not too threatening, some of them will even let you pet them. The major factors preventing them from being totally domesticated are a) the other domesticated animals we have (cats + dogs), and b) no one's seriously made the effort to isolate a breeding population (so they regularly interbreed with more wild squirrels).

Pigeons have been domesticated repeatedly in the past (remember the passenger pigeon? Probably not.)

As to raccoons, I didn't think they were nasty loners -- I tend to see family groups. However, they aren't a good candidate for (present) domestication, since there's been no selection pressure for tameness. Think. What do you do if you see a group of raccoons by your garbage can? You go out and make a nuisance of yourself. [Only do it if you see a group, because a loner might be rabid. Call Animal Control, or let it go about its business. IANAexpert.] So they've never been selected for tolerance or lack of fear towards humans.

#92 ::: Ian Myles Slater ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 05:07 PM:

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, in "The Tribe of the Tiger: Cats and Their Culture" (1994) gives an anthropologist's perspective on feline behavior; such things as the ability of lions to co-exist with pastoralists, if the human population is culturally stable, or new groups of humans don't change "the rules."

(She did a similar volume on canids.)

I don't recall if she mentioned the theory about the importance of people noticing that well-fed cats were better mousers. She gives a lot of examples of stalk-and-pounce as some sort of hard-wired behavior, a craving independent of hunger, and sometimes disconnected from actually hunting and killing.

#93 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 05:08 PM:

Charles Dodgson (#83): (Boston's Museum of Fine Arts has a picture of Copley's stepbrother with a pet squirrel --- it happens to be the painting that first brought him to the attention of artists in England).

Just a minor quibble - it's not a coincidence. Copley painted that portrait specifically to send to European artists, in order to find someone there to work/train with. The furry squirrel, the glass of water, and the highly-polished wood surface were all deliberately included in order to allow him to demonstrate his mastery.

If you're ever in the Boston area, it's worth checking out the painting at the MFA - it's absolutely stunning, and the online version doesn't come close to doing it justice.

#94 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 05:12 PM:

I don't recall if she mentioned the theory about the importance of people noticing that well-fed cats were better mousers. She gives a lot of examples of stalk-and-pounce as some sort of hard-wired behavior, a craving independent of hunger, and sometimes disconnected from actually hunting and killing.

That kind of makes sense: even if stalk-and-pounce is ultimately for the purpose of hunting food, if cats have an impulse to practice it on other occasions, then they'll probably be better at it when they're actually hunting.

#95 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 05:45 PM:

On Bison footnoting a few things and saving others some searches:

The Texas Bison Companys Web site answers some frequently-asked questions for people interested in bison. They recommend starting with bison calves:

Start small and start with calves! This is the best advice I got, and Im passing it on. I guarantee that you will have lessons to learn if you have never worked bison before, and adult bison will not be forgiving. With calves you can get in with them and they will get used to you. Maybe eat out of your hand. They will learn not to fear you and like you, and as they will end up the oldest in your herd, the others will learn from them. I would do this all over again. The more time you spend with them the better. However, there will be a time when you have too many animals to go in the pasture with them, or as they grow up they may start to challenge you. Specifically the bulls. And dont even think of approaching a cow and a calf!
Besides, if you buy an adult animal, it may have been a cull, and it couldve been due to a bad temperament: (I once bought an adult female bison and ended up with stitches because I had to dive through a barbed wire fence or risk being gored). As the herd grows and you become experienced, then you may take a risk on buying adult animals.

My herd once went through an open gate and roamed 3 miles. After I found them I shook the range cube bucket and my head female led the herd all the way home. Thats because she knew me since she was a calf, and since I started out with only 3 calves. I had spent a LOT of time with them in the pasture. Now they are teaching the rest of the herd. Expect that at some time your herd may get out. How would you get them back! I suggest adding a gate to every side of your perimeter fencing. Even if it is a fence line shared with your neighbor. It will make it a lot easier to get your bison back home.

Canadian sources say a lot about fencing at:

httpcolonwhackwhackwwwdotagrdotgovdotskdotcawhackdocswhacklivestockwhackbisonwhackproduction_informationwhackfmb398k.asp

Fencing for Bison
Fencing for bison ranching currently varies from upgraded cattle barbed wire fences to six-foot, high-tensile page wire. The wide variety of fence types being used is because, in Saskatchewan, there are no fencing requirements for bison set by regulations. However, no single fencing solution can be applied to all bison ranches. Success of fencing relies upon animal disposition, pasture management and sound fence construction. Animals that continue to be a problem, regardless of management practices, should be culled. Any type of fence can fail if inadequate food and water stress the bison. emphasis added. My observation is that a mature bison bison can walk through most fences and just leaning on the fence post and putting full weight on the fence will take down any fence economical for long runs. Electrical fencing is funny - I've seen full sibs where one animal honored a nothing fence and one animal ignored too much current to use.

Myself I'd like a footnote for #42 the most-hunted species in North America was Bison bison for the ages before the horse - I simply don't believe the great American desert was ever climax forested and by least hypothesis I find natural causes - lightning - sufficient for the ecosystem found. I suspect it was plains for a long time to account for evolutionary adaptations including some of the grasses with tough seeds.

Certainly people do forget the move to horses moved many woodland tribes west and the lack of direct contact between settlers and everybody from the mound builders to the cliff dwellers means the people dropped out of the narrative histories of the English speaking people in North America -

On the relative ease of the hunter gatherer lifestyle - consider Tom Brown starting naked in the New Jersey Pine Barrens compared to an agricultural lifestyle without a steel plow starting naked in North Dakota.

#96 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 06:04 PM:

debcha: medieval food (without chilis and tomatoes) is not only full of variety and flavour, outside areas like the SCA, most of it is either forgotten or altered so much by the passage of time that it now comes to us not as something old and dull and traditional, but as something unusual and new. They use things we don't think to try together, and as often as not, they work, and the result is the kind of "I never would have envisioned that!" you get in fusion restaurants or some haut cuisine.

These were people who were not only highly creative, but had to be so while following rigorous seasonal limitations. If anything, it meant they ahd to be more creative.

(also, of course, the recipes that lasted are popular ones, those for high special occasions, and ones mostly done by the wealthy, who, though still trapped by seasonal availability, had more available and less concern with cost. As with many old things, the good ones or the popular ones survive, the crud is long lost.)

#97 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 06:30 PM:

Oh, thank goodness I'm not the only one who can't get through Jared Diamond without wanting to toss the book at the wall (for more than one reason). I want to like him, I really do. But.

I'll definitely have to check out 1491.

For the record, Diamond isn't where I learned the theories about not all animals being domesticatable; I learned that from Professor Lambert-Karlovsky in a class a few years back, and IIRC he presented several different sources regarding that piece of information.

Random note: it's tempting to talk about the plants and animals domesticated in the Americas, as if it's one set of critters that everyone had access to -- but that wasn't actually the case. The Americas are huge, and organisms' habitable ranges are usually limited. So the Mi'cmaq up in Maritime Canada didn't have llamas, and the Toltecs didn't have buffalo....

In conclusion, anyone who thinks squirrels haven't been domesticated clearly hasn't been to Cambridge, where the squirrels are fat, sassy, and frankly creep me out.

#98 ::: lalouve ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 06:40 PM:

And there's some medieval food which survived for obvious reasons. I have a 14th c recipe of peeling and coring apples, cutting them in sliced, battering and deep-frying them...apple donut, anyone? I suddenly realised why they're shaped the way they are.

#99 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 06:57 PM:

Jeffery Smith,

Almost 100 post later, I wanted to thank you for alerting me to Widdershins by Charles de Lint. I hadn't realized it was out yet.

#100 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 07:13 PM:

"Any type of fence can fail"

Nothing needs added beyond that; it's as true of cattle as of bison, and to the list of stimuli for breachiness please add curiosity and pure cussedness.

Sorry. It's been one of those weeks here.

#101 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 08:19 PM:

On the subject of domesticable animals, I am wondering about mongooses. They are said to be very easy to tame, were domesticated in Ancient Egypt, and are kept as pets in India to keep the house free of snakes and other vermin. (This is, of course, famous from the Kipling story). I haven't, from a cursory look on the web, been able to find out much more about mongoose domestication practices, so I'm not sure whether they're bred in captivity and, if so, whether tame ones have physical or behavioural differences from the wild type.

Anyway, what I'm wondering is: with two vermin-killing species filling a similar niche, why did the Ancient Egyptians value cats so much more highly, and why didn't mongooses catch on in Europe the way that cats, another Egyptian import, did? Why isn't there a Mongoose Fanciers Society and a multi-million dollar industry in mongoose food and accessories? Why doesn't our picture of domestic bliss include a mongoose curled in front of the fire?

(Disclaimer: I am actually very fond of cats, and am not necessarily putting this forward as a preferable scenario. I have never met a mongoose, so I cannot comment on their personal qualities).

#102 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 08:35 PM:

#101 Jenny, here's a mongoose in my back yard. He or one or more of the same species hangs out under our house occasionally, then heads for the hedge. The neighbor has a pigeoncote, but I've never heard him grumble about losing the birds or their eggs.

Remembering Rikki-tikki-tavi, I get nervous about our 13-year-old Pointer going out in the yard when the mongoose is about. So far, no ructions, but...

#103 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 08:38 PM:

Oh, and as to personal qualities of mongoose, one of the cuter things I have ever seen was one of these guys lying on his back on our brick walkway, holding an avocado on his belly with his head partially inside it. (The avocado tree overhangs the hedge mentioned in #102.)

He looked like he'd seen the classic otter picture and was doing his best to emulate it.

#104 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 08:52 PM:

Linkmeister - Lucky you! Where do you live? Having a mongoose in the back yard sounds like a a sign of good fortune.(Provided it leaves your dog alone, of course...)

They do seem to be appealing little animals: a bit like an otter, more like a large, stripy ferret that's trying for a spiky hairdo!

#105 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 08:58 PM:

Catching up on this thread. P J Evans (60), you can't have known what you were walking into when you asked that question. It was an amazingly resource-rich area, which freed up the locals to develop complex cultures and gorgeous art. F.i., the Kwakiutl are the holders of the North American championship title for gratuitously elaborate grammar.

Odd datum: a number of the Pacific Northwest tribes are closely related to the Navajo and Apache. You can see it in their art motifs as well as hear it in their languages: Dene, Dineh.

#106 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 09:14 PM:

Teresa, I knew some of that, but not all. I didn't know what, if any, agriculture they would have in that area. It isn't exactly in my area, in any sense of 'area'. Totem poles, the canoes, the fishing, yes. I'm not at all surprised about using cedar fiber, but didn't know they grew that far north; I've met incense cedar bark, which can be beaten into fiber, so it's used, sometimes, for keeping down dust on roads in the areas where it grows (the fiber isn't bad for walking on either.)

I love this place: it's educational. And 1491 is now on my list to read.

#107 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 09:43 PM:

#104 -- Jenny, this is suburban Honolulu. It's a highly built-up hillside which seems not to bother the wildlife much. We also have plovers during their annual migration.

The mongoose just appeared in our yard last year for the first time. We don't know why. My first experience with them was working construction as a laborer about 35 years ago here; I took the plywood lid off a 55-gallon rubbish drum and one took off outta there like the proverbial bat out of hell. He scared me nearly to death.

Mongoose in Hawai'i are an example of failed bio-control of another species. They were brought in in hopes of keeping the rat population down. What nobody realized was that one was (mostly) diurnal while the other was (mostly) nocturnal.

#108 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 10:02 PM:

Graydon, there's a bison farm about 15 miles from here. I've driven by and haven't seen unusual fences, although they may be more to the interior of the property.

#109 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 10:42 PM:

#107 Linkmeister - Strange no-one realised that would be a problem.

Anyway, there's a good answer to my first question about why mongooses didn't have such a shining career guarding grain stores, compared to the nocturnal, diurnal, who-cares-so-long-as-I-have-a-comfy-place-to-sleep-for-twenty-hours-out-of-the-twenty-four domestic pussycat.

(Amazing place, Making Light - any idle query that crosses your mind gets an informative answer in minutes. Very good way to pick up a better-rounded education...)

#110 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 11:13 PM:

curry and Szechuan cooking without chilis

Our hostess may know how accurate this is; I've been told by antique cooks that "hot peppers" developed separately in Asia, such that curries and Szechuan-style food existed long before the known or strongly-suspected contacts with the Americas. Wikipedia says that the Szechuan pepper is unrelated to chili peppers (Zanthoxylum vs Capsicum).

dogs as domesticated wolves: all of the discussion here has assumed that primitive man started with something like a modern wolf. Why is this necessary? Specification can be either a turn-off from or a splitting of a stem; how certain can we be that the ancestor of both modern species was not something less bold (cf hyenas, perhaps)? Species interact with each other in complex ways; the modern wolf may be a better competitor to modern man than its ancestor would be, and be so at least partly because of competitive evolution (not AFAIK a term of art, just descriptive). That wolves can't be raised as pets even starting early suggests that any cubs Og picked up were different from today's lupines.

I wonder about the observation that bison bulls rapidly become unmanageable; how well can a species with no capacity for docility herd, or otherwise survive competition (which in nature tends to involve lots of posturing and little combat). Consider Niven's Kzinti (although I hesitate to reference Niven on any biological question), which lost ~99% of its population due to attacking without judgment. Do 4-year-old male bison become mavericks? Not a survival strategy, I expect; the ones that could get along with the herd would sire more calves. But I'm not surprised at the quote saying not to go near a cow with calf; on a trip to Alaska we were told that the most dangerous bear was an unaccompanied cub, because that probably means the mother is (a) behind you where you can't see her and (b) not interested in having anything between her and her cub.

It's possible that herding is a major qualification for domesticability, not just for extreme cases like great cats but even for intermediates, e.g. bears (similarly solitary, although the modern experiment with foxes shows that this isn't a hard line).

In conclusion, anyone who thinks squirrels haven't been domesticated clearly hasn't been to Cambridge, where the squirrels are fat, sassy, and frankly creep me out.

There's a difference between domestication and commensalism -- as practiced around Boston by squirrels, raccoons, and now even deer among others. (The geese don't really count; the common story is that they descended from live decoys released after the practice was banned.) Squirrels are good at this; we visited Loring Park in Minneapolis after reading War for the Oaks and complained afterwards to the author, who said "Yes, the squirrels there all wear black leather jackets" (although the geese were at least as bad -- so many people feed them that they practically try to pick your pockets).

#111 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 11:21 PM:

Clark (#95) -- I'm not quite following you; are you disputing the pre-horse hunting of bison? Certainly horses made it easier, but Clovis peoples hunted bison plenty. (Tasty, tasty bison.) Predation evidence for mammoth is scanty, btw, for those who are curious; predation evidence for other species that went extinct (like the short-faced bear and the creature I invariably think of as the Dire Sloth) is nonexistent. But if that isn't what you were trying to say, then please consider this paragraph random information. :-)

#97: C.C.L.K. was one of the readers for my senior thesis -- an experience I didn't ask for and wouldn't care to repeat, since he's pretty hard-core processualist and my thesis was the fuzzy side of post-processualism. You're wrong about the squirrels, though. They're not domesticated. They're POSSESSED.

#112 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 11:32 PM:

Jenny: Anyway, what I'm wondering is: with two vermin-killing species filling a similar niche, why did the Ancient Egyptians value cats so much more highly, and why didn't mongooses catch on in Europe the way that cats, another Egyptian import, did?

Don't know the answer, but recall reading at one time cats were the exotic import from Egpyt, in ancient Rome. The common mouser was a house viper.

Why did they fall out of favor? Mentioned this notion to a friend with cats, who acted out (with a yowl and a swipe of a hand) getting out of bed and stepping on the cat's tail, and the punishing claw to the ankle as a result (implying that getting bit by a poisonous snake was probably worse).

#113 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2006, 11:49 PM:

That sounds like the classic case of the cure being worse than the disease! Why not a house grass snake - don't they eat mice?
Of course, your basic mongoose could happily take care of the viper problem.... maybe eat a few mice that were out of bed at the wrong time, too...

#114 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 12:01 AM:

Also from what I remember about snakes they don't need as much energy as warm-blooded mammals and digest their prey pretty slowly, so it probably only needs a couple of mice per week maximum. That means for effective mousing you'd need a whole *colony* of vipers... eurgh... Let me interest you in this trading proposition I have concerning Egyptian luxury goods (living)...

#115 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 02:12 AM:

Malthus (#91): re the passenger pigeon. They weren't domesticated, just harvested. 1491IIRC postulates, from other sources, that the prevalence of them (clouds darkening the skies) was a side effect of the population/landscape management changes of the post-colombian catastrophe.

Mongoose: Mongoose are a funny animal. They are famous as snake killers, but they are so-so at it. We keep snakes, and over the years (from long before we started to keep and breed them) I've read a lot about them (fascination from childhood, the first snakes I ever handled were some ball pythons brought, with some brouhahah, to the '75 WesterCon). Cobras, the prey of the indian mongoose, are slow. They are heavy bodied, and slow striking. This allows for just interesting habits as the girls who, "kiss" them. The snake is held at it's furthest striking distance (about 1//3rd body length) and allowed to strike. The girl (who has been trained a long time) see the strike start, and moves, just enough, to avoid being struck.

There's a fer de lance which likes to hang out in sugar cane fields, so some bright Englishman got the idea to bring in mongoose to deal with them. The fer de lance is one of the fastest striking of snakes. There are no mongoose on Haiti. There were some fat fer de lance.

For the same reason mongoose try to avoid large constrictors.

Jenny (#111): Snakes only need to eat about once a week, but can get by on as little as once a month. A larger snake will want more mice/rats than a smaller one, but the basic rule of thumb is one rodent of, roughly, the diameter of the snake, per week. That will keep them healty, happy, and growing.

Problem eaters, like ball/royal pythons ( Pythus regis) can decide to go months, even so long as a year and half, between meals. The longest I have personally had to deal with was about 6 months for a python, and about 12 weeks for a Western Hognose (Heterodon nasicus). The latter has small males (12-18 inches) who, substantially, reduce food intake once they hit adult size.

But one of them with an appetite would play holy hell with a nest of pinky/fuzzy mice. A female (18-24 inches, average, with a heavier body) would be even more troublesome to the local rodents, as the eat like blazes, year round.

#116 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 02:13 AM:

Oops. that was Jenny at #115

#117 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 04:51 AM:

The pigeons found in cities were imports from across oceans, they;'re not native to the Americas. Theyr'e the same species used for all of squab to eat, racing pigeons to bet on for speed, and courier pigeons (can't remember the term I want).
======

The varieties of plants from the Americas tbat are uses for food is astonishing--tomatoes, pototos, squash, some varieties of peas (beach peas arre edible, for example)--tomatilloes, the specied mentioned above, amaranth, "sunchoke" or "Jerusalem artichoke," maize, various types of oif beans, strawberries sold in supermarkets, cranberries, "wild rice," cattail, prickly pear cactus,...

Before they went extinct giant sloths were in the process of being domesticated.

I was surprised to find out that the domestic white duck's descended from mallards!

Moose are left-over Pleistocene megafauna.

As for pigs, maybe that was a big part of the reasons my ancestors were so anti-pig.

#118 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 05:30 AM:

Coming late to this thread, I'm a bit concerned by the implications of the narrative that says "our 'wilderness' isn't really wilderness, it's been influenced by human activity for centuries", even if that's true. Because there are certain people who will continue the narrative to say "since this isn't really natural wilderness, it's OK for us to put just a tad more human activity into it - let's build some roads, drill for oil, cut down the trees, open the place up for business." And politicians and public officials, who get campaign contributions and other backhanders from those same people, will support them.

#119 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 07:25 AM:

CHip, the reason people think dogs are domesticated wolves is that they are still the same species: they are interfertile.

#120 ::: Janet Kegg ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 07:52 AM:

What a marvelous thread!

I read 1491 a couple of months ago. I agree that it's an excellent, well-written book.

I came away from it with a sense of loss, as well as one of enlightenment. What if...the pre-Columbian civilizations had survived and thrived after contact with Europeans.

#121 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 08:19 AM:

Chip (#110):
I wonder about the observation that bison bulls rapidly become unmanageable; how well can a species with no capacity for docility herd, or otherwise survive competition (which in nature tends to involve lots of posturing and little combat). Consider Niven's Kzinti (although I hesitate to reference Niven on any biological question), which lost ~99% of its population due to attacking without judgment. Do 4-year-old male bison become mavericks? Not a survival strategy, I expect; the ones that could get along with the herd would sire more calves. But I'm not surprised at the quote saying not to go near a cow with calf; on a trip to Alaska we were told that the most dangerous bear was an unaccompanied cub, because that probably means the mother is (a) behind you where you can't see her and (b) not interested in having anything between her and her cub.

Concerning the Kzinti: remember that the 99% loss is when they encounter technologically adept humans, who were absolutely not part of the environment they evolved in. "Scream and leap" presumably worked well for them back on Kzin, before they moved out into space.

As for herding, docility, and domesticability: Diamond argues that some herding species are very territorial (you can't pen together different herds from territorial species); that in some nominally non-territorial herding species the males become territorial in mating season (apparently true of most deer and antelope species); and that many herd species don't have dominance hierarchies, which prevents humans from usurping the leadership role.

This doesn't mean that you can't necessarily tame individual animals, but it means that domesticating them into large, easily controlled herds for human use is difficult.

#122 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 09:54 AM:

John (#118) -- Mann acknowledges that very point (in his discussion of the Amazon), and you're right; it is a potential problem. It shouldn't be, since "this landscape was managed by people" is not the same thing as "this landscape's ruined already; let's trash it some more," but the way our environmental debate has been framed (around the notion and valorization of pristine wilderness) does mean that the opposition might try to capitalize on the change in view.

#123 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 10:18 AM:

Chip (#110) --

Bison bulls are pretty good at sorting out a dominance hierarchy with each other; the problem is that, unlike domestic cattle, they don't think the human is in the hierarchy, they think the human is a potential predator in serious need of a fatal stomping.

That's the critical thing about domestication -- will the critter accept the human as part of the hierarchy?

#124 ::: Paula Kate ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 12:57 PM:

Squirrels were certainly kept as pets in the 16th century, as this painting by Holbein attests.

#125 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 01:26 PM:

Re #118, John Standing:

There's a whole lot wrong with the artificial division between wilderness and human-influenced natural environments. On one end, laws based on the model have allowed the destruction of important habitat close to cities, where its needed for flood protection and the maintenance of clean air and water even beyond its role in preserving plant and animal species. On the other, it gives anti-conservation governments an easy out when rocky mountaintops or uninhabitable islands of very low economic value are brought under official "protection."

I could go on; my own ox is being gored by the current manager of the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge is enthusiastic about converting all the farmland in the lower Nisqually / McCallister Creek valley to wildlife preserve status, and the presence of a stable ag community of a few families who've been there since the 1890s is officially insignificant. I hate being insignificant.

#126 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 01:49 PM:

It's... I swear I used to be able to keep its / it's straight, before I read fan fiction.

I keep forgetting to say a couple of things about the distinctions between bison and cattle, behaviorally and, I think, perceptually, and the matter of bison bulls over the age of four.

Last first: it is not uncommon for plain old Bos bulls to get fractious and dangerous as they age; ask anyone in the cattle business and they'll have a story about a hand-raised show bull who turned and killed or crippled its handler. We pasture breed (as opposed to using AI) and almost always sell bulls at four or five, at least partly to avoid the additional care needed to handle them.

Cows vs Bison in herds: I'm in the area of pure speculation, here, but it's possible that the forest-edge species which was domesticated into dairy/traction breeds had not been subjected to the kind of hunting pressure which the open-plains bison has; the buffalo jump sites I know of are all within the distribution of Bison bison and the larger species which proceeded it. Threatened cattle scatter into the woods and hide (or run to the barn). Threatened bison charge; the whole point of Clovis spears was to make that as painful as possible and to get the animal turned and running away from the hunters, as well as delivering a killing shot between the ribs of a downed animal. (At least if my memories of Lithic Technology class are correct)

One thing which makes cattle herdable is that they incorrectly assume that humans have a second set of legs and a cow-shaped body behind them; they react, in other words, as if a moderately sized human has the mass of a big cow. I don't know if that's a matter of how their eyes work or how their brain works, but I see it in operation every time we herd the cattle in for vaccinations or weaning. I haven't been around bison enough to make statements about them, but what I hear leads me to believe that they have a more-precise estimation of human mass.

#127 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 02:37 PM:

Another cool book that deals with herding animals is Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation. She's the person who designs humane slaughterhouses (or maybe "humane" slaughterhouses) -- she's also autistic, and argues that animals tend to think like an autistic person would. I don't know enough to comment about this, but I loved one of the points she made about domesticating animals. Apparently animals that are domesticated lose about 10% of their brain because they no longer have to worry about things that are taken care of for them -- looking for food, guarding against predators. The dog, for example, has 10% less brain mass than the wolf. But the fascinating thing was that about the same time the dog was domesticated, people also lost about 10%, because dogs were taking care of things like smell and hunting cues. In other words, while we were domesticating dogs, they were also domesticating us. (As I say, I don't know enough to say how true this is, but I always thought the dogs weren't quite as passive in this whole thing as we're led to believe.)

#128 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 02:55 PM:

One thing I've noticed, over the years, is how many people have bizarre ideas about how animals behave.

Isn't a part of domestication a change in human behaviour? We learn how the animals expect us to behave.

We joke about the differences between cats and dogs, but look at how we behave around them.

#129 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 03:29 PM:

JESR 126,

Re its vs it's: even Teresa gets it wrong. (I suspect that was just to make the rest of us feel better for our various flubs, actually.)

#130 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 07:10 PM:

Lisa (#127) -- I'm not aware of any reduction in human brain size around the time of dog domestication (generally accepted as ~15kya, though that number could change). Neandertal brains were larger, but even if dogs were domesticated early enough for that to have happened around the time the Neandertals went extinct, there would be no likely connection between the two.

As for the difference between dog and wolf, well, are we talking chihauhua or Great Dane? <g> I can't remember off the top of my head, but I think domesticated species may, as a general rule, have smaller heads than their wild counterparts. And certainly we've bred particular lapdog types to be little, cute, and dumber than a sack of nails.

#131 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 09:29 PM:

#111 - Marie Brennan - no dispute about some level of pre-horse hunting of bison - the evidence is there for both flint weapons and jumps as noted above in this thread

- I suppose clovis and folsom points were used pretty much coast to coast and north to south - too useful to do without and too easily traded to be confined. IIRC the first point to be called Folsom was in a bison skull in Folsom; the flint tools we used to find on the farm in plains buffalo country (Pottawotamie mostly) were common arrow heads - shades of George Bird Grinnell When Buffalo Ran (now available from Gutenberg).

My question was for the superlative most hunted - I'm not disputing it but it wouldn't have been my first guess so I'd like a source before I file it away to bring forth Oscar Wilde style.

IIRC some bison subspecies or named varieties were hunted to extinction or at least bison disappeared from much of their range - see e.g. #126 it's possible that the forest-edge species which was domesticated into dairy/traction breeds had not been subjected to the kind of hunting pressure which the open-plains bison has I haven't checked references but I do recall eastern woods bison with some survival in Canada.

I think we assume the general pattern we see today but more of the same was the historical pattern . Time was the elk was a plains species too until forced off its preferred range into what was left (and cattle are pushed into using for summer range what today's elk need for winter range after the elk have retreated as far and climbed as high as they can)

- I would have guessed that without horses bison would have been less hunted than whitetail (whitetail have a fantastic range from Key deer to Coues to Columbian Blacktail country - whitetail descendents?..... and well into northern Canada) - though it may be getting into semantics in defining most hunted - hunter hours, seasonal hunter time devoted, or volume of slaughter, or duration of hunting pressure in centuries or what have you. There's a logical case for rabbit as well - don't even need a point to hunt rabbits just a stick.

That's really my question
- how is most hunted defined in the original post and how footnoted for the fact?

#132 ::: MWT ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 10:28 PM:

Horses and camels both originally evolved from the Americas, then moved across to Asia and Europe via the land bridge. For some reason they were domesticated there, but not in the Americas, where they apparently died off around the same time that humans arrived (via the land bridge going in the opposite direction).

Why? :)

#133 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 11:02 PM:

Camels and horses versus others. Not sure why horses went away, the camelids also were in South America, likely cut off and unable to migrate and became llamas, alpacas, vicuas and guanacos, all much smaller and adaptable.

For the rest, most wildlife in the northern hemisphere is curiously trans-hemispheric: Elk are like red deer, moose (here) are called elk where they appear in northern Europe, bison / wisent, and almost all the major mammals we recognize are found in Europe/Asia as well as North America. Europe and Asia has a wider variety of deer and antelope than we do. Other exceptions; we never got tigers or leopards, though we did have relatives of the African lions. Saber-tooth cats are a whole 'nother family, not sure which line of current cats it fits into. Bears are pretty much all over.

I've always though this very curious, but haven't had time or energy to research it.

Birds are another matter, they can spread all around because they can fly, but for the most part tend to migrate norh/south (probably because they have some sense of the earth's magnetism). Did you know the white cattle egrets now found in the southern United States (apparently now as far north as Iowa) came over during a hurricane in approximately 1930, arrived in South America and rapidly establishing its presence in the hemisphere because all it wants is bugs disturbed by large herbivores. They are the only old world bird to have successfully made the trip by themselves (starlings, the two species of bibbed sparrow that are actually weaver finches and a handful of other foreign birds were brought over and released).

#134 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 11:04 PM:

[Horses] apparently died off around the same time that humans arrived (via the land bridge going in the opposite direction).
Why? :)

Oh, right. Blame the French.

#135 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 11:05 PM:

To connect the richness of PNW culture with another Making Light concern: they had (still have) IP law. Some artworks are under controlled access, and some under controlled reproduction.

#136 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2006, 11:06 PM:

Clark (#131) -- I'm on a trip right now, so I'm not in a position to answer you properly, but assuming I recalled the information correctly, it came from an exhaustive article written by a pair of archaeologists who undertook the task of examining the evidence for predation from Every. Pleistocene. Site. in North America. (Which is scantier than you might think, but still a big task.) If I'm wrong about them being the most frequently hunted, then I'm not far off, since I recall them specifically discussing it in contrast with mammoth predation (by way of debunking the "Clovis mammoth hunters killed off all the megafauna" argument). And there were plenty of other hunted species that survived, too.

Woot! I'm too lazy to delete the above, but I just discovered the syllabus is available to me through the magic of the Internets. The article in question was "Clovis Hunting and Large Mammal Extinction: A Critical Review of the Evidence," by Donald K. Grayson and David J. Meltzer, Journal of World Prehistory 16(4). I can't access the article online, I'm afraid, so I can't double-check my point, but if you want to read up on all the relevant evidence, knock yourself out. They go through every one of the Pleistocene extinctions, species by species, and compare it with species that didn't go extinct.

#137 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 01:21 AM:

From the abstract:
.....In the past, this has led many to assume that Clovis subsistence adaptations were organized around large, now-extinct mammals........Here, we review all sites known to us that have been suggested to provide evidence for the association of Clovis-age archaeological material with the remains of now-extinct Pleistocene mammals. Of the 76 sites reviewed, only 14 provide strong evidence that Clovis-aged people hunted such [now-extinct Pleistocene] mammals Of these sites, 12 contain the remains of mammoth, while two contain the remains of mastodon. Although the prime focus of the analysis we present is on Clovis-age archaeological associations with now-extinct mammals, we conclude that there is no evidence provided by the North American archaeological record to support the argument that people played a significant role in causing Pleistocene extinctions here.

So around 9500 b.c.e. hunter success was apparently, likely enough, much higher for Bison than for Elephantidae or Proboscidea - megafauna indeed; if most-hunted be limited to megafauna in that sense then for many centuries only the bison was around to be hunted - it seems logical that success was associated with effort - people aren't like some of the reintroduced sort-of- wild turkeys who will starve to death in the midst of plenty if the birds exhaust their accustomed food. Likely enough "[c]lovis subsistence adaptations were organized around" what they could succeed at. I don't doubt the Bison was under more hunting pressure than the "35 genera of primarily large mammals" "now extinct." Given a written record we might find that like say Rhino horn in another time and place there was more actual hunting for a harder to take prey but that's a stretch.

Number of species suitable for domestication raises the question of what the animal is good for once domesticated. Obs SF - Pournelle's Spaceship for the King/King David's Spaceship - absent a horse collar the animal barely earns its feed. No draft animals, the wheel stays a toy - unless some real genius/time traveller jumps to the wheelbarrow (points for an SF reference there). I've heard the camelids once found in North America and surviving in South America can't be worked with a horse collar and so have been superseded today by horses, mules and donkeys. Folks I know who've tried raising camelids report them nicely domesticated

#138 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 01:26 AM:

I don't see any way to discuss ancient domestication without a whole lot of speculation, so I don't mind speculating myself.

One way to begin domestication of a herd animal is to hunt it. Show yourself, the animals herd together for protection, you find a way to cut one animal out of the herd and kill it. The animals that are easiest to cut out of the herd get killed the most. Over generations they herd tighter and more reliably, and to some extent you can, well, herd them. And take it from there.

People point out how much harder bison are to keep than bos, but bos have gotten easier to keep in historical time. And traditionally when there were problems people just dealt with the problems.

Like, in The Hound of Ulster, at one point the adolescent Cuchulain is having a tantrum, he's real real upset about something and he's raging around ready to kill somebody, and the king makes all the ladies of the court undress and go out to parade in front of Cuchulain. The boy is so embarrassed he quits being angry, because he's being treated like a raging bull.

The central part of the story revolves around a couple of bulls who do pretty much whatever they want across 2/3 of ireland. But they're special bulls who perhaps are possessed by or reincarnations of or somehow related to a couple of dueling wizards, so they might not fully reflect the relationship between the irish of that time with prize bulls.

It's been awhile since I read that story, if somebody wants to correct me I won't be offended.

#139 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 02:39 AM:

FWIW several of Dr. Grayson's publications including the article cited and some other collaborations with Dr. Meltzer are available no charge as faculty pubs from U.Dub. access off Dr. Grayson's homepage at:
http colon whackwhack faculty dot washington dot edu whack grayson whack - spaces for ease of readig only not present in the actual address.

Springer offers the article cited above for $30 from its Journal as well.

Some of the back and forth gets into heated discussions including global warming.

#140 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 06:38 AM:

Part of the problem with explaining the extincion of American megafauna through climate change (the other favored mechanism) is you have to explain why there were no similar major extinctions -- of large animals only -- during any of the previous glacial-interglacial transitions, of which there were several (at least five) in the last million years.

It's also suspicious that the major megafauna extinction in Australia (including the marsupial lion, if I remember correctly) did not occcur in the same 12,000-10,000 y.a. time-frame, but earlier: around 50,000 y.a., which is about when humans arrived in Australia.

It's possible that you don't need people actually hunting every species: eliminating one species could have knock-on effects in the local ecology. As a very small-scale example, there have been some fascinating articles recently about the effects of re-introducing wolves to Yellowstone, which sheds some light on what happened when wolves were eliminated from the region in the 1920s. (The implication: after the wolves were killed off, coytoes thrived, but foxes and other smaller predators suffered; grizzly bears may have declined because there were fewer freshly-killed large elk carcases to scavenge; new aspen, cottonwood, and willow trees stopped appearing because more numerous and less skittish elk happily ate all the new growth; etc. Article in Scientific American here.)

On the other hand, it wouldn't surprise me if it was some combination of climate change and the arrival of humans: severe climate change stressing populations and in some cases driving down their numbers... and then the Clovis hunters show up.

#141 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 09:44 AM:

Peter -- the impression I've gotten from the archaeologists around me is that most blame climate change, with humans being the straw that broke the camel's back (and the mammoth's, and the short-faced bear's, and the dire sloth's, and all the rest), instead of putting the primary blame on hunting. Those who still argue for overkill do as you suggest, and postulate mammoth as a "keystone species" whose disappearance did in all the rest, too. The difficulty there is still the paucity of evidence for mammoth-hunting (there's even one suggestion, iirc, based on the clustering of the evidence, that there was only ever one Clovis group that did it). Additionally, there were megafaunal extinctions in the Old World around the same time, and nobody ever tries to blame those on hunting.

#142 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 10:02 AM:

Also, the overkill hypothesis is weakened if the Clovis people weren't the first to arrive in the New World -- which is by no means proven, and the evidence for it is still scattered and in question, but the amount of scattered-and-in-question evidence continues to grow, while the ice-free-corridor model continues to look less and less pat.

#143 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 01:35 PM:

clew, in #135, says

"To connect the richness of PNW culture with another Making Light concern: they had (still have) IP law. Some artworks are under controlled access, and some under controlled reproduction."

True, as far as it goes, but these possessions were not viewed differently than the possession of houses, or resource lands; songs and stories and the props which go with them were treated as physical property, subject to the same forms of inheritance and transfer, and capable of destruction.

The PNW view of property rights makes ours look moderate; there was nothing in the landscape which did not belong to some specific group or person. The extent to which people would go to demonstrate ownership rights is best demonstrated by a story I read as a child, where a Whaling Chief was drowned being towed by a harpooned whale, and his body washed up on a beach near his home, but the property of another clan. The body lay on the beach and rotted and was eaten by ravens, just because the other clan leader felt like making a point about his abilities to control his own lands.

It says something that one of the popular classics in the field is by Helen Cordere.


#144 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 02:18 PM:

Marie (#130) -- There's a hypothesis going around that dogs were domesticated much earlier than that, around 100,000 to 150,000 years ago. And again, I am not a dog expert (except to the extent that I have one) (dog, not expert), so I can't say how true this is.

#145 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 02:32 PM:

Clark E. Myers: (131) absent a horse collar the animal barely earns it's feed

If that were the case, they'd not have been kept.

For a number of cultures they earned their keep without needing to be used to plow. They could (and did) haul things using trace harness (the same used to haul carts and stagecoaches).

They provided food, from grass, as well as milk and the like. They were either more available than cattle, or had some other advantage.

They, unlike cattle, can be ridden, which leads to military uses (which is why they were seen as noble beasts, so that in English they were [while we still had formalisms in speech, of the sie/du vous/tu etc. structures] was adressed with you rather than thee) and other ways of earning their keep.

As a support (though perhaps it borders on tautology) since they were kept.

J Thomas: (138) To get the effect you are postulating, from nothing but hunting, one has to assume that people are a large scale effect on the entire population. Mary Doria Russel does some of this in The Sparrow, but given that lions ought to have been making the various herding animals of the veldt more tractable to domestication, and that seems to not be the case.

Mary Brennan (142) I don't know if the people prior to Clovis were in the interior, able to make the effect which led to the cascading destruction of the ecology of the megafauna.

#146 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 02:33 PM:

"Fighting With Property" by Helen Cordere.

If I was on my home posting board, this is where I'd use an eyeroll smiley.

#147 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 02:52 PM:

Clark --

Horses as a primary means of traction for cultivation is way, way, way late in Europe -- High Medieval at the earliest, generally Renaissance, possibly nineteenth century -- and didn't happen at all in a lot of other places. (Combination of horse collars, three field system (=better winter feed), and large draft breeds is what made this initially possible.) But "the cavalry revolution" happened at least three times -- once with the initial Indo-European "conquer all before them" expansion, once with the Fertile Crescent initial city builder culture rise and chariot armies, and the third time with the couched lance, from about 1000 CE to about 1350 CE.

Pack horses, draft horses for cart/wagon traction, and non-military riding horses for speed of travel all were much more important than agricultural uses. This probably has a lot to do with why horses are associated with wealth in the cultures that kept them, but the walks-much-faster-than-a-cow average speed is a huge advantage in terms of communication times.

#148 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 03:08 PM:

Lisa -- but even if that's true, there's no reason to connect it to changes in human cranial capacity. I haven't heard any suggestions that dogs were domesticated in the same area that anatomically modern humans evolved, with their 10% smaller brains, and certainly those humans didn't evolve out of the bigger-brained Neanderthals. (Whether or not there was any cross-pollination between the two groups later is a different question, and pretty debatable.) There would need to be compelling evidence for, not just the earlier domestication of dogs, but for their domestication in that region of Africa, before you could draw any kind of parallel between the two changes in cranial capacity.

#149 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 03:28 PM:

Marie @ 148 -- I think you've convinced me -- unfortunately, because it was such a fine theory. I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that while dogs were certainly changed by their domestication, so were people. There's another theory* that people may have learned important things from dogs, like how to better hunt in packs.

* Don't you just hate unfootnoted citations? Can't remember where I read this, though.

#150 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 03:44 PM:

Graydon (#147) --
My impression was that the Fertile Crescent horse-drawn chariot armies were probably a direct consequence of Indo-European chariot incursions or invasions into the northern parts of the Fertile Crescent (e.g., the Hittites and Mitanni, both of whom show up in S.M. Stirling's [Nantucket-]Back-to-the-Bronze-Age trilogy).

So if there was a "cavalry revolution" in the Fertile Crescent, it was more just in the adoption of horse-drawn chariots by the city-based cultures from the Indo-European nomads. Or are you thinking of something different?

#151 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 03:54 PM:

Re domestication of dogs: I gather that there's good genetic evidence that dogs are descended from wolves, and conflicting evidence of when this occured. The Wikipedia article on dogs references a study suggesting domestication in E. Asia only 15,000 years ago (also noting that New World dogs are clearly descended from Old World dogs, not from New World wolves), and another study suggesting divergence of dogs from wolves roughly 100,000 years ago.

#152 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 05:48 PM:

Don't you suppose I know that?

The context was beasts of burden in the Americas and the interesting fact that tens of thousands even hundreds of thousands of camelids as beasts of burden were used by the water empires and such of South America without using the wheel. Those cultures were rich and powerful and populous and like all water empires doomed by time and salt yet the camelid cultures did not move north with their pack animals and conquer as they went. Interesting to wonder why and easy if perhaps wrong to conclude 4 legged luxury goods don't make it.

The "barely earns its feed comment" is in its full context as it appears in the text cited a reference to the fact that the increase in production attributed to agricultural use of a horse, in more primitive society, goes in large part to maintain the horse.
(in an early society absent much more and additional mechanization; remember the McCormick reaper by reducing the necessary human labor count eliminated the toughest job at harvest the women's task of feeding the whole crew!) - Look at all the suburban backyards grazed to bare dirt by horses and consider the pressures to keep moving to new grazing (and so giving up settled agriculture) in tribal societies built around horses.

Horses have many drawbacks and require horse handlers (Little Joe the wrangler his days with the remuda they are done.... ) and horse holders in military use. When I was young some said Kansas had the highest proportion of 5 gaited horses of any political subdivision in North America because all the cavalry types retired close to the flag pole and kept working with horses but few kept horses working - my father worked a 12 horse hitch but it was a depression era stunt - the only real use for horses these days is low impact logging. (recreation and companion horses aside - horses have proven to be good therapy for some people some times). Lots of people raising camelids these days and I'not sure why - but the range is pretty wide by practical experience.

I'd date some of the horseback cavalry revolution a little earlier the Dehgan influence on the Eastern Empire (any of the Belisarius knockoffs including using giant dogs) and any of the Arthurian knights as Cataphracts. See also stirrups.

Frank Herbert's The God Makers does an interesting puzzle story to talk about mobile forces using chariots without horses.

My point is that horses are luxury goods - notice the language - equestrian class, chevalier, gay caballero, man on a white horse. The introduction of horses in North America pretty well altered a lot of agricultural societies (killed the society but not the people) who grew corn and jumped bison once or a few times a year.

Again the camelid using cultures didn't move north conquering as they went so apparently the camelid wasn't that useful, or perhaps that mobile and why was that?

#153 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 06:35 PM:

My understanding is that the point of the chariot was that it allowed the horses of the time to move an armoured man about the battlefield, while the tactics echoed the tactics of hunting/herding.

You break up the herd, isolate your prey, and kill it. Or rope it and brand it, or whatever. And the horse-archer supplanted the chariot, as horses got better.

Incidentally, shock cavalry don't depend on stirrups. Both chariots and Roman cavalry saddles have been built and tested.

Side-thought here: the Sarmatian connection as an inspiration for the Arthur legend at least has some historical evidence. But what if the cavalry had been horse-archers? We talk about the idea of the Rohirrim being Anglo-Saxons who went East, but what would Eomer have done at Stamford Bridge or Hastings?

(And consider the march to Stamford Bridge and back as one of the historical seeds for the Ride of the Rohirrim.)

(Am I slow, or is that all echoed in LotR? Saruman's army an analogue of Harald Hardrada, the Witch-King as William the Bastard, And the Rohirrim fighting a two-front war.)

#154 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 07:00 PM:

Clark E. Meyers at #152,

I rather think the presence of a long stretch of camelid inhospitable ground between the Andean empier and the next environment appropriate to their complex economic system, as well as the presence of other highly complex and well adapted societies within the inhospitable zone is sufficient bar to Incan expansion.

The figures I was given about the acreage necessary to maintain a heavy horse team was the equivalent of an acre in oats and five acres in hay/winter pasture per horse; my maternal grandfather was partners in a wheat binder and mule team in Eastern Washington before the Columbia Basin project, and my paternal grandfather ran freight wagons and road-building teams on this side of the mountain, and that kind of horse traction economy info is kicking around in unsorted boxes of family papers.

#155 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 07:19 PM:

It suddenly occurs to me that, stuck somewhere ectopically in the tubes of the Aleksandr Internetsky, there must be a page/blog/wossname called Clovis Talking Points.

But damned if I'm gonna Google on it.

#156 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 09:57 PM:

Carrie S (#75) and Lenora (#115): Apologies for the belated acknowledgment - I was out of town - but I consider myself suitably chastised for dismissing out of hand the world's cuisines prior to the influx of food from the New World, and I promise to make amends by searching out some medieval recipes and trying something that looks interesting.

#157 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 10:56 PM:

There is a famous SCA story that some folks preparing a feast acquired a boar's head, and used an Authentick Middlyagey Receipt Therefor.

After long and elaborate preparation (what's time to a pig's head?) they completed the item, and then tasted it.

And lo, it did taste as though it were the Spam of far Vinland.

By all means, make amends, but amend with caution.

#158 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 11:36 PM:

Lisa Goldstein @ 149: I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that while dogs were certainly changed by their domestication, so were people.

Larry Gonick, The Cartoon History of the Universe (Vols 1-7), pg. 87:

Not so long ago, human skulls were about twice as thick as they are now, enabling our forebears to withstand blows which would do in you or me.
In general, scientists find, when wild animals are tamed and bred for docility, their bone structure becomes more refined — so early humans were like wild animals.
When people began settling down and domesticating animals, they also domesticated themselves.

I feel so highbrow quoting a comic, but his would be the best to be quoting (I kept the emphasis of the original lettering). The passage was from a three panel “footnote” to a section describing animal domestication. He doesn't have citations in the writing, but at the back of the book he lists 27 books referenced for that particular chapter.

#159 ::: Carl Caputo ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2006, 11:42 PM:

In #3 Terry Karney mentions a book by Walter Murch, but Murch is an Academy Award-winning editor in the movies, and the book is about editing movies. I can't figure out what was supposed to be referenced there, and it's now driving me crazy. Maybe Walter Alvarez? Please, Terry, help me!

#160 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 01:09 AM:

#159, Carl, I suspect it's supposed to be the one by Andrew Parker, if it's about the Cambrian Explosion. Though a book on film editing would be very interesting!

#161 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 02:01 AM:

Carl Caputo: (159) Oops, that's what I get for googling, because the reference works are in semi-storage (we've moved, and to a transient evirons).

It's a different book of that name. Andrew Parker Perseus Publishing, 2003 ISBN 0-7382-0607-5

Sorry.

#162 ::: Carl Caputo ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 03:16 AM:

Thanks for keeping up the tradition of timely answers at Making Light!

#163 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 07:34 AM:

Rob -- sorry, but that quote gives me hives. Hominid bone structure wandered back and forth between gracile and robust over a period of a couple million years, and took on its current configuration many, many tens of thousands of years before we ever started domesticating plants and animals (with the one outside possibility of dogs). Many enormous changes happened when we took up agriculture and pastoralism (among them increases in infectious disease, social inequality, malnutrition, and interpersonal violence), but if he thinks that's one of them, I don't know what book he was reading.

I'm actually not as big a fan of that book as I wanted to be. In every place where I knew the subject matter, I found myself wincing at cute, cartoony comments that were not really all that accurate.

#164 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 12:15 PM:

Re: Hominid bone structure:

One of the first things I learned in Grover Krantz' Human Osteology course was that it was impossible to generalize from archaeological material about the robustness of living populations, as thicker and more highly calcified bones are, by that very reason, more likely to enter the fossile/archaeological context.

#165 ::: Paul Dietz ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 01:20 PM:

I found the black earth story very interesting, if troubling. If you engineer the soils and open up the rain forests to sustained high yield agriculture, they will become natural places to put energy plantations (12 month growing seasons, lots of rain and sun).

#166 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 04:05 PM:

#143 ::: JESR ::: -- "The PNW view of property rights makes ours look moderate; there was nothing in the landscape which did not belong to some specific group or person."

Yup, the PNW cultures seem to have taken everything to an Extreme (cf. the Potlatch with the Plains "Give-Away"). But in the Plains cultures (many more of them, involving many more people) there seems to have been more of a distinction between individual Intellectual/Artistic/Spiritual Property and Communal Property. Even today, in Oklahoma, a few ribbonwork & applique designs belong to specific families, as do certain Honoring Songs. And both there and in the Northern Plains, new Powwow Songs are recognized as "belonging" (& hence not sung without permission) to the individuals who made them -- for a season or two, after which they're usually considered Community Property (AKA "up for grabs"), though there's a tendency to expect that Songs will be performed unchanged, and that, e.g., ordinary ribbonwork will be imitated with slight changes, if only in the colors used. (Of course, if someone walks up to a Head Singer and says "That song you just did -- I made it", the Singer will reach into his pocket and hand over some money, as a gesture of appreciation.) Mostly, these things are done by skilled people who know what they're doing & are conscientious about it, so there's not much occasion for social sanctions. And the concept of Property can be mutable. As one head of the Ponca Hethushka (Warrior-Dance) Society put it [approximately, and with some emendations from me] "We gave [in exchange for appropriate gifts of thanks] the right to [also] have a Hethuska Society to the Kiowa [I think it was, or maybe Osage or?]. If they want to allow women to participate in their Society Dances, [in addition to the Wolf/Scalp Dance and Give-Away/Honoring Songs] they can; it [-- that branch of it --] is theirs now and they can do anything they want to with it *sigh*".

#167 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 06:41 PM:

Rob Rusick @ 158 -- I'm glad to see this theory shows up in other places -- I was beginning to think I'd made it up. I wonder if it's so popular because it says something people would like to believe about the strong bond between dogs and humans. Too bad there's all that pesky evidence about brain mass and bone density. (Though I'm glad to hear actual facts about this -- I don't like spreading misinformation. Like the person at Worldcon who informed me that James Tiptree had helped found the CIA.)

#168 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 08:44 PM:

#117 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: -- "As for pigs, maybe that was a big part of the reasons my ancestors were so anti-pig. "

Maybe, though I'm more partial to "They're filthy scavengers, kept by people who live in villages & worship weird Gods, whereas we're nomadic herders who worship The One & True Creator, so we shouldn't have anything to do with them."

#169 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 08:56 PM:

#60 ::: P J Evans ::: -- "Pacific Northwest Coast [Indians] -- What did they do beside fishing/whaling, just out of curiosity?"

Fishing was all they really needed to do -- the Sea was incredibly bountiful (& this extended down to at least Mexico, though Chumash culture wasn't nearly as spectacular) -- giving them ample spare time to engage in (not always merely-ritual) warfare, and to develop elaborate systems of Religion, Social Status Hierarchies, and Art. They also did a significant amount of land-animal hunting (within the limits of some totemic taboos) and vegetal-food gathering, plus considerable trading with the Plateau/Plains tribes to the East. Smoke-dried salmon Tastes Good. The amount of pre-historical trading in the Americas is often under-recognized. Dated sites in New England have, I understand, yielded distinctive cobalt-glass beads beads deposited c. ten years after they were introduced by the Russians in Alaska, and early-contact reports of the Lakota Siouxian people have them using lots of decorative shells from the PNW and the Gulf of Mexico.

#170 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 09:58 PM:

#65 ::: P J Evans ::: -- "I know that the CA natives were good basket-makers and knew how to handle acorns, but we didn't learn much else about them in school. "

Yup. I think that's generally covered and "all taken care of" in about the fifth grade, with the superficiality you'd expect. (I came to California a few years later than that, and got nothing about CA Indians, except for a whiff in Cultural Anthro. at UC Berkeley.)

Last time I looked, a decade or so ago, the cutting edge was that the pre-Spanish/European-disease population in California was probably much larger than had been assumed, their technology level was relatively high, and that their diet included the greatest diversity of foods of any primitive (or most civilized) cultures known to anthropologists. They ate _everything_ edible, up to things that required more work to harvest & process than they returned in calories -- and including a few beyond that point that were particularly tasty. Some apparently planted acorns from especially-admirable trees, bit they don't seem to have developed much more than that in the way of agriculture, being able to survive reasonably well by moving around to areas of seasonal food-supplies. Their finest material-object creations seem to have been the marvelously-fine baskets you mentioned, mostly done by women, who made a lot of them as about the only source of family income for several generations after the White conquest. There's speculation (with some basis but little solid evidence) that men did skillful work with feathers & wood, but that these were mostly religious ritual objects that would have been burned when the maker/owner died, or in the ceremony held a year after that.

#171 ::: Tim May ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 11:37 PM:

Thanks for posting this, Teresa. 1491 has been on my list of books to read for some months, and the comments thread has been fascinating.

(For whom it may concern, the UK edition has the relatively uninspired title Ancient Americans: Rewriting the History of the New World. I suppose they didn't think enough people would recognise the date here, though it looks (on Amazon) like they're going back to 1491 for the paperback.)

JESR - I'm interested in the Northwest Coast. Are there any popular or semipopular books on the area that you would recommend?

#172 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 11:37 PM:

#105 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: -- "Odd datum: a number of the Pacific Northwest tribes are closely related to the Navajo and Apache. You can see it in their art motifs as well as hear it in their languages: Dene, Dineh."

Yup, probably because the Apache & Navajo moved down through the PNW, from Alaska, not long before the Spanish invasion of the U.S. SouthWest. Navajo Chantway Singers, knowing much of the older language forms, are said to be able to communicate reasonably well with members of the related Alaskan tribes (two branches of Dene, IIRC).

Mind you, "Pacific Northwest Tribes" (which we're apparently talking about here) is a much larger group than "Pacific Northwest Coast Tribes". The latter tend to have a lot of strong similarities, the former includes, I suppose, the Plateau Culture, which is pretty much that of the Northern Plains, mostly minus bison. My mind doesn't seem to be adjusting well to this purely geographical, rather than cultural, orientation.

For another, even more remarkable, connection with the PNW(C) tribes, check out the art and totemic-animal religious dances of the Ainu, in Japan -- they're obviously just a farther-west branch of that culture (though I don't have the faintest idea about linguistic connections).


#173 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 11:41 PM:

#110 ::: CHip ::: -- "I wonder about the observation that bison bulls rapidly become unmanageable; how well can a species with no capacity for docility herd, or otherwise survive competition (which in nature tends to involve lots of posturing and little combat). [...] the ones that could get along with the herd would sire more calves. "

Sounds reasonable, but with at least some Herd Animals, as I understand it, the males just kinda hang around, in one or more groups, mostly on the fringes, tolerated as long as they don't cause too much trouble, while the females (sometimes co-operatively, sometimes strongly dominated by the Alpha one) run things. The males interact significantly only during the brief season when the females are in heat, and the females may, from choice or fear, tend to be covered by the most violent, aggressive, and unsociable males. (With some species, the males maintain a harem for a while, and defend the newborn young -- presumably theirs -- but generally soon lose interest and wander away -- often in the direction of a different herd, which helps reduce in-breeding.)

#174 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 11:42 PM:

I seem to recall hearing that nobody knows quite what to do with the Ainu language. I mean, people have theories as to where it came from and what it's related to, but none of them look any more plausible than the others, so it might as well have been imported by aliens for all linguists can tell.

But that might be an old story; there could be more recent research that would make me a liar.

#175 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2006, 11:50 PM:

#40 ::: Carrie S. ::: -- [re potatoes] "there was genetic diversity going on all over the place, in part due to the difficult geography of the Americas. "

Yup, and I haven't encountered (which, admittedly, doesn't mean much) any references to large-scale plant disease or blight in South American Potato-growing regions. Part of the problem in Ireland (& parts of Europe) was not just the same strain, but the fact that practically every farmer was growing (some) potatoes, so wind or a few bugs could easily carry disease from one field to the next.

I'm sure there are actual (if not entirely dependable) numbers of the known native potato cultivars (& estimates of the unknown ones), available somewhere on the internet (which I see no reason to write as a plural). I've tasted about ten different Peruvian cultivars (mostly purple or black, two yellow, one white) -- which must be only a tiny fraction of the total -- and have grown four of these myself (with barely-marginal success, because potatoes like & practically demand a much cooler summer than California lowlands get, and I'm a bit far south for really long summer days).

Oh, and under the reasons for diversity, don't neglect "this is the variety I grew up eating, and I like it". (Many Asian people are that way about rice, too -- and with good reason.) All the Peruvian cultivars I've tried tasted different from one-another, and deliciously more like vegetables than the common American SuperMarket generic lumps of starch.


#176 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2006, 12:01 AM:

My first semester in college, far too many years ago, I heard that the anthropology and archaeology courses at the local JC were not to be missed. The instructor, Charlie Ostrander, was one of the great characters of my educational career. He had been just about everywhere, and had established a good reputation for salvage archaeology in our area. (He had taught on Samoa, and he informed us of the local take on Margaret Mead more than a decade before Freeman's book.)

I guess I had the common image of California Indians, primitive with good baskets. They did not compare in my esteem with the more charismatic Plains tribes, or for that matter the Osage in my own ancestry. Excavating sites about to be submerged by a new lake did not change that opinion much -- the Miwok weren't much for the kind of objects that endure well in the acid soil we get here in Central California. We found some shallow middens, an occasional fragmentary burial, and sometimes bedrock mortars. The one thing that did surprise me was finding some chips of smoky obsidian in one midden -- there are no outcrops of anything like that anywhere nearby. Charlie informed me that not only did Miwok bands migrate between the Valley floor and the Sierra, but there appeared to be an extensive trade network. The best guess we had about the flakes was that they came from the Mojave, hundreds of miles away.

He also pointed out in class that while the Miwok did not engage in agriculture as such, they did intentionally set fires in places like Yosemite Valley to restrict the spread of conifer seedlings, and preserve the open meadows and oak trees they preferred. (The lack of such fires has resulted in the dissappearance of much of the open space on the floor of Yosemite Valley.)

Over Christimas vacation I got to work a re-survey team with Charlie in Anza-Borregos Desert State Park east of San Diego. Sombody had surveyed this area back in the 50's, and we were reviewing that information for the state, and filling in some of the blanks. I spent days hiking ridges looking for old agave pits. I somehow got the idea that there were only a few isolated bands of Desert Coahuilla knocking around our area back when. When I asked Charlie about that, he sat down on a rock with some of our charts and reports, and penciled out some figures based on house rings and calorie load. I was astonished to hear that thousands had lived in the area we were looking over at one time. He told me to never confuse stage of technology with intelligence, that the residents of that area were just as smart, with just as much knowledge as I had, but concentrated on their environment. With their experience, they simply saw a different landscape than I did -- where I saw desolation, they saw a supermarket.

California natives knew about a lot more than acorns and baskets.

#177 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2006, 12:14 AM:

My mind dredged up (yesterday - the synapses are slow sometimes) the UC Press title Early Uses of California Plants.

#178 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2006, 12:46 AM:

Tim May,

I'm racking my brain for titles; at this point I'm running on scholarly papers, personal communications, and (the biggest part of my information) Environmental Impact Statements: the sad fate of a specialist who's fallen out of academe.

Nobody I know has written anything recently. Which doesn't say there's not anything recent, just that not anything written by people whose names I recognise and can recommend from a place of confidence.

#179 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2006, 04:37 AM:

One hiking trip I was on, between Kings Canyon N.P. and Yosemite, we crossed an obscure pass, not on the divide, but on a good route between the Mammoth / Mono area and the San Joaquin drainage. There was nice sheltered spot to camp at the top, with a sweeping view, very pretty. It was littered with obsidian chips. We figured the traders would load up on obsidian at some place like Mono Craters or Bodie, and work the stone wherever they stopped for the night.

#180 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2006, 10:24 AM:

#76 ::: Carrie S. ::: -- "To expand on #73, the reason "Og kills wolf parents and takes wolf pups home", rather than killing the pups too, is because the pups are cute. [...]"

If they're young enough to impress & be trained not be frightened or ferocious, Mrs. Og will probably need to have (or be) a source of milk to keep them alive for a while. If she doesn't want the bother and fuss... they'll make a pretty good stew. After all, "cute" doesn't go far when you're hungry, and accustomed to killing animals every few days.

It's not as if Og is likely to kill wolves very often, either. They're speedy, wily, sharp of tooth & claw, and don't have much or (when older) really tasty meat. (Og probably doesn't think in terms of eliminating competition, especially if there's enough open country around that there'll always be more wolves coming in.)

Your scenario does seem to be a good way to explain the domestication of canines, but I have a hard time thinking it started with wolves -- more likely something smaller that's more of a scavenger. AFAIK, early Whites in N. America didn't describe any Indians' dogs as resembling wolves, except for Huskies and Malamutes, and almost none of the Traditional/Reservation Indians I know make pets of dogs to the extent of allowing them into the house.

OTOH, dogs were trained to pull sleds, in the far north (I think before the advent of Whites), and to pull travois in the Plains, before the horse was introduced, though I'm not sure how common either of these practices may have been. Mostly, I think, dogs helped keep the flies down by eating garbage, warned of people & other animals approaching, and sometimes served as an emergency food-supply (one of the Crow Winter Counts, I think, depicts "the winter when hunting was so bad we had to eat some of the dogs" -- which, unlike their Lakota neighbors/enemies, they didn't consider a respectable thing to do). If I recall correctly, the Navajo and Apache traditionally don't eat dog (or bear) meat, or fish, either, on the grounds that these creatures might have eaten a human corpse, so it would be close to cannibalism. I think I'll go now and fix myself ...ummm.... a peanut-butter sandwich. At least the peanut is native to prehistoric South America.

#181 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2006, 10:51 AM:

#180: It's not as if Og is likely to kill wolves very often, either. They're speedy, wily, sharp of tooth & claw, and don't have much or (when older) really tasty meat. (Og probably doesn't think in terms of eliminating competition, especially if there's enough open country around that there'll always be more wolves coming in.)

Might kill them for pelts, though, especially if having wolf fur or teeth in your clothes is a way of proving what a big dick you are^H^H^H have.

And it's not as if we can seriously argue that wolves and dogs are the same species. They're interfertile, as are coyotes. But there's no reason that some subspecies couldn't have taken to hanging out nearer human settlements on its own--"Og takes the cubs home" even becomes more likely that way; Og has just decided that he'd like to have the carrion-cleaners closer to his house.

early Whites in N. America didn't describe any Indians' dogs as resembling wolves

Seen an Irish Setter or Jack Russell Terrier lately? Cosmetic changes don't take long to happen.

#182 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2006, 08:01 PM:

Tangential, but interesting: the BBC has a story on the intermittent history of human settlement of Britain. Apparently different human species have crossed the Channel to a Britain empty of humans at least eight times. The first was 700,000 years ago. Seven times, they died out because of climate change; the continuous settlement of Britain is much shorter than that of Australia, and probably shorter than that of the Americas.

#183 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2006, 09:47 PM:

This news (see #182) about the settlement/desettlement/resettlement of the British Isles brings up a point I keep not hearing in Climate Change discussions. There's a group who say "the earth's climate has changed many times, and to more extreme ones than now predicted". Well, yes. So what.

Those changes caused all kinds of disruption in the living systems of the world at those times. Ones that happened in the life of various humanoid species probably caused a lot of difficulty to them, and may have accelerated some of their extinction. None of them happened with ~6,000,000,000 humans in a complex globally interdependent civilisation around. (See some good points in March Wired News; the last few pars in Week 1, frex.)

It's likely what that society does will have some influence on its physical environment, so changing what we've been doing may very well help to slow down what appears to be happening. In any case, making preparations for the likely disruptive impacts is a very good idea. It's even better if the kind of things that would help that are also going to help with other problems, such as needing to use natural hydrocarbons for more worthwhile necessities than simply burning them as their supply dwindles.

[EEK! What happened to "(see all by)"? Someone recently pointed out how useful this was for trollspotting. And why is the 'byline' now on two lines?]

#184 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2006, 09:58 PM:

Hm. Now "(view all by)" is back, and the identifying material of the post is back on one compact line again.

Move on. Nothing to see here.

#185 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2006, 11:20 PM:

#91 ::: Malthus ::: --"Pigeons have been domesticated repeatedly in the past "

Yup, for some flavor of "domesticated". I'd say that animals require a certain (though certainly not high) level of intelligence in order to be domesticated, and that sheep are close to, or slightly below, the minimum. Pigeons are at least an order of magnitude more stupid than sheep, and only marginally brighter than "domesticated" composting earthworms. Yes, even the (Racing) Homing Pigeons that some people I've known raised -- those birds are too stupid to realize that there are almost certainly equally-good sources of food much closer than their 100-mile-away Home Loft.

I dunno, though, about actual domestication -- it's really more like harvesting. You build a suitable, simple cote (the Hittites did fine with small towers built of mud bricks), supply a little food to entice some pigeons/doves to take up residence, control predators, and in a year or two you can just slip in between dusk and dawn and pick up eggs, squabs, or mature birds more-or-less at will, as long as you leave enough to maintain an adequate sustaining population. And if your neighbor grows grain and you don't, it's a source of food that you don't actually (or technically) steal (which is something the British minor nobility thought of, as a kind of off-the-books tax, and the villains complained about). Trying to sell the pigeon-droppings, as fertilizer, to your neighboring grain-farmers is optional, but perhaps not especially wise.

The theory that Aztec & other Central and South American pre-Columbian farming practices kept the Passenger Pigeon population low doesn't seem plausible, to me, but I'd be willing to bet that there were other, non-migratory, dove/pigeon species that could be grown & harvested about as easily as our Indo-European one -- if it hadn't, in fact, established itself here that early.


#186 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2006, 12:44 AM:

"Domestication" means more than taming, exploiting, or even slightly modifying. I'm not educated enough on the subject to talk about the scale of change necessary for us to call an animal a domesticate, but it involves fairly substantial morphological and behavioral modification of the original species. I don't know if pigeons would count, regardless of their exploitation (a value-neutral word, btw, if anybody's bothered by it; just means we're making use of them).

#187 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2006, 12:54 AM:

Re #186

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of highly specialized Rock Pigeon varieties, some of which cannot exist outside of captivity (Rollers, for instance, and some of the feather-footed sorts that can barely fly). In my understanding, the existance of old, human selected breedlines is a necessary and sufficient condition of domestication.

#188 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2006, 10:11 AM:

JESR -- could be; like I said, domestication isn't my field of specialty (and neither are pigeons). I just wanted to clarify the term a bit, since it's the focal point of much of this thread.

#189 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2006, 10:43 AM:

it's not as if we can seriously argue that wolves and dogs are the same species.

I think I read or heard somewhere that someone had gone through all the dog breeds DNA and found that every single one of them were evolved from wolves.

#190 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2006, 10:57 AM:

I think I read or heard somewhere that someone had gone through all the dog breeds DNA and found that every single one of them were evolved from wolves.

I read this and was nodding, and then I realized that what I'd said, that Greg was responding to, was open to misinterpretation.

When I said "not as if we can seriously argue that", I meant "one can't seriously dispute that" dogs and wolves are the same species. It made perfect sense when I typed it, I swear! I meant it to read in a similar way to saying "I can't argue that" when agreeing with someone, and it came out sounding like precisely the opposite. *sigh*

#191 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2006, 11:03 AM:

It's understandable, "argue" and "dispute" are related terms... just not in that particular sentence.

;)

#192 ::: Sara G ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2006, 12:20 PM:

I think the main reason you don't see more squirrels and raccoons as pets is because it's illegal if they're native to your area. Native squirrels are illegal in most states in the US, anyway. Apparently they can be litter trained and such, but they'd require a lot of supervision to keep them from getting into absolutely everything. I wouldn't have the patience for it.

#193 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2006, 01:09 PM:

If you google around, you can find sites by people who own and breed "Song Dogs."

Reading between the lines, these are a romantic's idea of the dogs that Native Americans roamed the plains with.

They're part coyote. Just a fraction, but enough to have a raffish "sharp" look to them.

I've only met one, a performing doggy. She seemed very enthusiastic and clever.

I seriously doubt they're much like actual Precolumbian village dogs, who were probably typical pariah mutts. (I'm not talking sled dogs mind you.)

#194 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2006, 01:56 PM:

There is a downside to squirrels in the house...

http://www.horsequest.com/journal/health/william.htm

Warning, this laugh inducing to the point of keyboard destruction.

#195 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2006, 10:39 PM:

JESR #187! I've been trying to identify a dove-type bird that landed on my porch railing near the bird-feeder yesterday. It had the shape & movement of the mourning doves who frequent the feeder, but it's more than twice as big. It had orange bill & feet, dark eyes, dusky head, white or near-white wings & body with two dark bars on the wings. Any ideas? I saw it today up on top of the roof of one of the other condo buildings.

#196 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2006, 10:57 PM:

I got a picture of the dove today.

#197 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2006, 12:38 AM:

I got a picture of the dove today.

It looks a lot like pigeons I see around here (Western NY). However, IANAO (O = Ornithologist).

I originally typed “orthinologist”, which didn't look right, so I checked on Google. I found this joke:

“I'm an orthinologist.”

“You mean an ornithologist?”

“No, an orthinologist. I'm a word botcher.”


#198 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2006, 01:37 AM:

It's a city pigeon or rock dove or whatever they call them where you live. In my house we call them tree rats and hates them (Jim was horrified one day when he drove toward two birds apparently courting, he slowed waaaay down and one decided to bolt--into the grille of the car. He said it was a great 'poof' of feathers, but the dead bird dropped off into the street.

If they decide to roost on your roof, they can do a BIG number 2 on your windows/side of house/car.

Columba livia

http://www.birdguides.com/html/vidlib/species/Columba_livia.htm

And if they hit a window, they are so dusty/dirty that you can almost see the surprised expression on their birdy faces as they go "WTF==WHAM!" into the unexpected glass. You can even mark the attitude that they hit the glass in, because it's like a fingerprint (they're birds with a dusty plumage... they make a kind of dandruff).

#199 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2006, 01:56 AM:

Paula @198 - I once 'sploded one of those things with a rent-a-car on NJ 17, frantically driving towards Newark to catch an early morning flight on the day after Christmas. When I stopped for gas in Paramus, the gas station guy (no self-serve in Jersey) hosed the thing out of the grille while doing the one-less-pigeon happy dance.

#200 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2006, 04:57 AM:

#59 JESR: What would you say are the limitations of history as an intellectual discipline, especially compared to anthropology? As an engineer who took some history courses, I'm ignorant but interested...

#201 ::: Jon Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2006, 10:36 AM:

Gordon Grice's The Red Hourglass has a couple of interesting chapters on the domestication of wolves and pigs (and lots of other fascinating stuff too.)

#202 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2006, 11:59 AM:

Marilee (#195): I envy you living someplace where mourning doves are common and pigeons are unknown. Where I live, pigeons and seagulls (and squirrels) are ubiquitous and every other type of wildlife is an occasion for interest (I remember how excited I was when I saw a night heron on the Charles River, and I stood at my office window for ten minutes watching a doe and fawn at the periphery of the parking lot).

#203 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2006, 08:57 PM:

Paula, it's definitely that Rock Dove. Thanks!

debcha, I'm in NoVA and the city pigeons here are smaller, darker, and have spots, or maybe are brindled. I only get squirrels, mourning doves, and house finches at the feeder usually. When I first moved here and the other buildings weren't built, I once got a red-shouldered hawk on the railing. I see gulls flying occasionally, as well as ravens, but they don't come to the feeder.

The rock dove edged its way to the feeder and ate today. The mourning doves stayed, but the house finches left.

#204 ::: Bob Oldendorf with "1491" news ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 11:24 PM:

I stopped at my local library and discovered that
Charles C. Mann is out on a national book tour in October. (Click through to see "author events".)

NOT on his publisher's list of dates, but of possible interest to a couple people who read here: he'll be giving a talk at the Main branch of the Albany (NY) Public Library, on Oct. 11th, 7:30 p.m.

#205 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 11:41 PM:

Jacob asks at 200 (and I missed, sorry, been a long month):
What would you say are the limitations of history as an intellectual discipline, especially compared to anthropology?

In general, the biggest limitation is the limitations of the historic record- it's written by the winners, as the saying goes, but it's also largely defined by the written word. That keeps it in a shallow time-depth and narrow geographic focus compared to the full depth and breadth of human experience. Pre- and non-literate societies are ignored or viewed as imperfect examples of human life. Today I'm in the mood to say that history is inherantly classist, as well, although if I were not being oppositional I'd admit that anthropology can be as much so, concentrating on the temples and palaces and grand burial chambers and forgetting that the real continuity of Mayan life and language, for example, is in the farming village.

#206 ::: stephanie little wolf ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 03:20 PM:

Actually European exploreres often made the mistake of comparing indian dogs to wolves, and dog-wolf hybrids exist in the archeological recore and are indeed fertile. The DNA record also suggests that there were occasional breedings between indian dogs and wolves. Even today people mistake my sled dogs for wolves. i guess they wear similiar coats and most people don't get the differences. [plains indian dogs as are most indian dogs completelye extinctwitht eh exception of Eskimo dogs and some southamerican hairless varieties.
Stephanie Little Wolf

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