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An incorrect argument
on September 1, 2005
Often when developing a certain argument, some authors become so enamored by the argument that they get carried away by the beauty of their argument to the exclusion of the facts. Such is the case here.
The fact is, what we have found out about the human occupation of the Western Hemisphere, both in the archaeological record for the extended period prior to Euro-American settlement (pre-1492), and in the early historic archaeological and ethnographic record since that time (post-1492), actually clearly illustrates exactly what it documents: Indians, regardless of their local manifestations were, at first, big game hunters, then hunter-gatherers, and only very late in the record (and in many places not at all), practicing horticulturalists or agriculturalists. And, in a handful of places, in the entire Western Hemisphere, from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle, this agricultural life way was superceded by early state-level societies (i.e., the Maya, Inca, Aztec and their immediate predecessors in their areas of occurrence.).
Each of these life ways are paralleled, without exception, by a specific level of sociopolitical complexity and a concomitant population density. And each brought with it a certain impact to and relationship with the prevailing environment. There are no exceptions to this - worldwide.
In all their manifestations in the Western Hemisphere prior to A.D 1492, we are dealing essentially with stone age peoples. The fact is, as a member of one of these stone age societies, there is only so much you can do to the environment with a stone axe. Moreover, all societies with stone axes are limited in size both by their technology (stone tool technology, you know) and economy (subsistence agriculture, at its most developed). So, there are just so many people to alter the environment. And, added to this, and probably most important, the people of these societies, people who carry around stone axes, only want to, and only have a need to, do so much to the environment.
The fact is that which is overwhelmingly documented not only by the archaeological, historic, and ethnographic record, but also by the ecological record, illustrates precisely what occurred in the Western Hemisphere - That is, with the exception of the immediate areas occupied by the early state level societies, Indians did not significantly alter the ecosystems of the Western Hemisphere; Euro-American societies did - and are still doing so.
One example makes this point: Every plant and animal species ever recovered in all of the tens of thousands of prehistoric Holocene archaeological sites (from 8,000 B.C. to A.D. 1492) that have been excavated in the entire Western Hemisphere to date have also been recovered from excavated early historic (post A.D. 1492) archaeological sites. However, it is also in the archaeological sites of this period (post A.D. 1492) that plant and animal species recorded prior to A.D. 1492 start to disappear from the archaeological record. The reason for the disappearance, extirpation and extinction of these species is heavily documented for this period in the ethnographic and historic record. The perpetrators of these alterations were not Indians.
The entire prehistoric and historic record, in all the disciplines that yield this record, illustrates that Euro-American societies, with their fundamentally different land use patterns, huge numbers and totally different world view from that of the Indians, altered, and in many cases removed, the ecosystems of the Western Hemisphere.
Yet, the author, ignores this entire record and comes to the opposite conclusion - that the Indians significantly altered the ecosystems of the Western Hemisphere. Really?