I watched a documentary recently that just couldn’t seem to get their facts correct. It was supposed to be about the ancient people in America prior to the arrival of Columbus. Probably the most annoying aspect was their focus on Europe for almost half of the documentary. To me, if it is about the native people of America prior to the arrival of Columbus, there should only be passing mentions of Europe. That aside, they stuck with the old ‘hero Columbus’ idea and played down a lot of the American cultures. They only gave a passing nod to the existence of the Mound Builders for example.
One of the few they paid any real credit to were the Ancient Pueblo people. Just to make sure they added insult to the matter, they used the insulting term “Anaasází” which is the Navajo word for Ancestors of our enemies. Sure, referring to them by the manner in which they built isn’t exactly flattering, but it is at least honestly descriptive. At least on this count they could be theoretically justified. After all, the term came to be commonly used by archeologists some time ago. I think it has less to do with accuracy on that count and more to do with a lack of respect really.
Ignoring the documentary, I think there is a lot that can be taken away from this long gone race of people. Domestic animals in the standard sense were largely unheard of in the Americas aside from a few oddities like llamas and turkey. The use of metallurgy was severely limited so that iron tools weren’t even a thought. Yet they managed to build amazing architecture and tremendously large cities unlike anything else in the world. They had a thriving culture with complex art and the systems to feed vast communities.
They also show us that not all native tribes were able to live in harmony with nature. Both in the legends of modern pueblo people and in the physical evidence, they pushed too hard on the limits of nature to keep the massive cities going and in the end it was their undoing. They had to migrate away rapidly and begin anew in other areas. What seems to be the case is that they were pushing the maximum limits of their resources at the same time as a natural shift was moving water and trees further out of reach. Eventually the whole system collapsed and had to be abandoned.
I don’t expect television to be perfect, but I would at least like them to do more than passing research. I would like them to show respect instead of constantly making European comparisons as if that is the end-all of civilization. Where Europe shaped the land to suit a handful of domestic species at the cost of everything else, most American civilizations were content to mold the land around them so that diversity offered far more to work with. Only in recent times have we begun to understand how much this ‘untamed’ land had been fully tamed.
Species of plants were maintained through intentional planting and controlled burnings. The distributions of plants, weren’t and in some places still aren’t, the ones you expect to find in nature. The Amazon is a massive food forest. The Great Plains were altered initially to create a favorable condition for the Bison. In the absence of Mammoths, some plants were carefully tended by humans to ensure they did not fade away as they are now doing. Other areas had species of tree that were kept in check and which are now overwhelming all other trees in the area to create huge monocultures.
So I ranted today. Why? Because what else can I do? I spread the word to those who will listen and I offer up my thoughts to those who care. Maybe you get it and maybe you think I am just being odd. Whatever the case, I at least got it off my chest. I watch it play out daily. The old 3 days to chaos concept. I mostly just wonder where people expect to move to when they finish stripping the world. Are we really so doomed to repeat the mistakes of history? Probably since our history lessons don’t bother to cover the important facts or get them wrong entirely.