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PostDeloria's "Red Earth, White Lies" and the Origin of the Native Americans (Richard Hancock, USA, 01/22/17 8:00 am)
I have just read Vine Deloria, Jr.'s book, Red Earth, White Lies, published in 1995 by Scribner.
Deloria believes that archeologists have given facts about Native American history that are in contrast with American Indians' accounts of their cultural past. He feels that American Indian culture is much older than that described by archeologists and geologists. I am not an archeologist, so I really can't comment on his opinions, except to say that I doubt that all the population of the Western Hemisphere passed across the Bering Sea. The sea was low during Ice Ages so that there existed a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska, over which the ancestors of the American Indian were supposed to have crossed. I think that some American Indians did pass over this bridge, but that others crossed the Pacific in canoes or rafts. Thor Heyerdahl sailed the Kontiki across the Pacific in order to prove that this could be done.
The Olmec civilization of the southern Mexican state of Tabasco is believed to be the oldest civilization in Mexico. Nancy and I visited these ruins in 1992. We were amazed by the colossal carved heads, as much as 9 feet high and weighing 40 tons. These faces did not have any marks of other Indian civilizations. The book, The Course of Mexican History, by Michael Meyer and William Sherman, published by the Oxford University Press in 1983, states that they have "strikingly Negroid" facial features. We noticed this also, but only to the extent that they were totally different from any other Mexican Indian facial structures that we had witnessed in visiting other major ruins in Mexico. Shortly after this trip, we viewed a TV program on Hawaii featuring the time of the American occupation of these islands. We felt that the facial features of the Olmec were strikingly similar to those of early native Hawaiians shown. We felt that the founders of the Olmec civilization may well have come from Hawaii or beyond, sailing directly across the Pacific Ocean.
Nancy and I have also visited many ruins in Central and South America, including Cuzco and Machu Picchu in Peru. It is hard to believe that these civilizations were all formed by small numbers of people who crossed the Bering Straits land bridge from Siberia.
JE comments: What a coincidence--I'm presently reading the autobiography of noted Mayanist Michael D. Coe (born 1929), Final Report: An Archaeologist Excavates His Past (2006). Coe's illustrious career included work on the Olmecs. He also had a fascinating and privileged childhood that intersected with many notable figures from history. It's a very readable book.
Meyer and Sherman's "strikingly Negroid" may not be the most tactful way to describe the Olmec heads, but they do exhibit African features. Allow me to re-run this photo from 2014 and Mexico City's National Anthropology Museum. I found it by Googling Eipper Olmec. I'm the guy on the right.
Olmecs, for the Anatomically Correct; from Gary Moore
(John Eipper, USA
01/23/17 6:12 PM)
Gary Moore writes:
I like Richard Hancock's theory (January 22) that Mexico's giant Olmec statuary heads, supposedly far predating newcomers like the Mayas and Aztecs, may have features that are not exactly "Negroid," as often said, but Polynesian. I had never considered that possibility, though like everyone else I was struck by the overtones in the statues. And hey, if those frail dugout catamarans could clear the distance to Easter Island, getting blown a little farther wouldn't be such a stretch--leaving us only to wonder why the heads are on the Caribbean side of Mexico, and not the Pacific side. The photo of an Olmec head considerately supplied with Richard's post by John Eipper (and capturing noted Mexicanist explorer J. E. Adrian Prescott posed nobly beside the find) helps drive home Richard's thesis.
Word-plays aside, the photo stunningly captures the deeper mystery of the statues: not the ethnicity clues but the reason we can see them, in the startling anatomical verisimilitude in the face modeling, combined with a subtle, creative sensitivity toward human emotion that European art was still groping toward in the Renaissance (sort of the opposite of Christian Orthodox art ideals that find deep empathy in iconic stereotyping, and unlike Mayan symbol-mania). The Olmec heads, like the still much older cave paintings of anatomically exquisite beasts in Europe, look "modern." Does this explain Trump? Have we really not gone anywhere at all?
JE's photo provides a detailed roadmap both to why the "Negroid" quote is so often applied to the Olmec statues, and why it finally sits uneasily: This is somewhat a White Man's Burden reductionist view of cliche African features: By Jove, everted lips, broad nose: Pigeonholed!--though the overall face, so incontrovertibly presented by the sensitive modeling, goes in another, unknown direction. Some people have seen the heads and have said--even much more unpersuasively--that the features look Chinese, in keeping with one of the great fad books of recent historical speculation, announcing that the Chinese mega-fleets up to the Ming Dynasty got not only to Africa (which seems proven) but maybe all the way to Olmec land.
Which then segues finally into Richard's opener, saying he has been reading Vine Deloria's other great fad book, from the wonderfully squint-eyed Dotcom 1990s, the one saying confidently that Native American oral history proves all the archaeology to be wrong--though it would surely seem that any kind of oral history, even after a single generation of rumors and revisions, grows so filled with What-You-Did-In-The-War-Daddy that only to the unfathomably sentimental would it say anything about real history at all.
So avast, ye Olmec fantasists!
J E Adrian Prescott comments: Another coincidence: just today I taught my students the word verosimilitud/verisimilitude. It's WAIS Effect time again! "The appearance of being true or real"--almost true, but not quite. In 2017-speak, we'd call it "alternative facts."
(I'm flattered by my new moniker, Gary! But I only pose with the heads. I don't dig 'em up.)
PS: Gary: Tell us more about 1421: The Year China Discovered America. One thing's for sure, if you go to Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, et al: they are colonizing it now.