Il “selvaggio ecologista” non era né selvaggio né ecologista

Per capire meglio cosa furono le civiltà precolombiane la cosa migliore è volare in Bolivia nella regione del Beni.

Qui si incontreranno parecchi studiosi, specie antropologi, poiché nella foresta vivono ancora tribù “incontaminate” prive di contatti con il mondo esterno. Ma alcuni ricercatori non sono qui per loro, cercano altro. Cosa cerchino lo spiega meravigliosamente Charles C. Mann nel libro “1491 New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus”…

… Clark Erickson and William Balée, the archaeologists, sat up front. Erickson, based at the University of Pennsylvania, worked in concert with a Bolivian archaeologist, who that day was elsewhere, freeing up a seat in the plane for me. Balée, of Tulane, is actually an anthropologist, but as scientists have come to appreciate the ways in which past and present inform each other, the distinction between anthropologists and archaeologists has blurred…

Indagano, insomma, le vestigia di una civiltà popolosa e tecnologicamente molto avanzata

… The forests were bridged by raised berms, as straight as a rifle shot and up to three miles long. It is Erickson’s belief that this entire landscape—thirty thousand square miles or more of forest islands and mounds linked by causeways—was constructed by a technologically advanced, populous society more than a thousand years ago….

Ebbene, parlare in questi termini delle civiltà precolombiane significa compiere uno dei più interessanti revisionismi storici

… Erickson and Balée belong to a cohort of scholars that in recent years has radically challenged conventional notions of what the Western Hemisphere was like before Columbus…

L’ortodossia ci tramanda invece la presenza di  piccoli gruppi con uno scarso impatto sull’ambiente…

… When I went to high school, in the 1970s, I was taught that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait about thirteen thousand years ago, that they lived for the most part in small, isolated groups, and that they had so little impact on their environment…

La tesi revisionista ribalta la visuale: i nativi erano qui da molto tempo, erano numerosi e avevano trasformato completamente il loro ambiente

… One way to summarize the views of people like Erickson and Balée would be to say that they regard this picture of Indian life as wrong in almost every aspect. Indians were here far longer than previously thought, these researchers believe, and in much greater numbers. And they were so successful at imposing their will on the landscape that in 1492 Columbus set foot in a hemisphere thoroughly marked by humankind…

La reazione alle nuove tesi fu dapprima irrisoria

… To begin with, some researchers—many but not all from an older generation—deride the new theories as fantasies arising from an almost willful misinterpretation of data and a perverse kind of political correctness. “I have seen no evidence that large numbers of people ever lived in the Beni,” Betty J. Meggers, of the Smithsonian Institution, told me…

C’è chi si preoccupava del portato politico di tutta questa faccenda: popolazioni molto più numerose imponevano di rivedere al rialzo le perdite conseguenti all’invasione europea…

… And some have charged that the claims advance the political agenda of those who seek to discredit European culture, because the high numbers seem to inflate the scale of native loss…

D’altro canto, crollava il mito del “selvaggio ecologista” che vive in armonia con l’ambiente naturale…

… Disputes also arise because the new theories have implications for today’s ecological battles. Much of the environmental movement is animated, consciously or not, by what geographer William Denevan calls “the pristine myth”—the belief that the Americas in 1491 were an almost untouched, even Edenic land, “untrammeled by man,” in the words of the Wilderness Act of 1964, a U.S. law that is one of the founding documents of the global environmental movement…

Esempio: l’uso del fuoco per disboscare era impiegato massicciamente…

… Much of the savanna is natural, the result of seasonal flooding. But the Indians maintained and expanded the grasslands by regularly setting huge areas on fire. Over the centuries the burning created an intricate ecosystem of fire-adapted plant species dependent on indigenous pyrophilia…

I cosiddetti “geoglifici” osservati nel Beni costituivano una grandiosa trasformazione del territorio…

… In the late 1990s, when I first visited the Beni, few knew that the wholesale clearing in Acre was exposing large earthworks—geometric figures that Alceu Ranzi, a researcher at the Federal University of Acre, has dubbed “geoglyphs.” Today more than two hundred have been identified; many are as much as 500 feet from one side to the other. Created by digging precise circles, squares, and rectangles into the Amazonian clay, the geoglyphs are as striking to see from the air as the raised fields and causeways Erickson and Balée showed me in the Beni…

L’Amazzonia fu completamente rimodellata dalle popolazioni indigene…

… Erickson, who has found similar earthworks in the Beni, believes that before Columbus an 800- or 1000-mile swath of western Amazonia was occupied by a previously unknown mix of cultures that radically reshaped the landscape around them…

Ancora oggi le popolazioni locali guardano con diffidenza ai progetti dei “conservazionisti”: se si istituisce un parco come potremo continuare a bruciare il bosco?…

… Meanwhile, conservationists argue for keeping this unpopulous region as close to nature as possible. Local Indian groups regard this latter proposal with suspicion. If the Beni becomes a reserve for the “natural,” they ask, what international organization would let them continue setting the plains afire? Could any outside group endorse large-scale burning in Amazonia?…

L’attivista, d’altronde, si oppone con malcelata testardaggine a consegnare la terra ai locali. Dove la cosa è successa, incendi, discariche e depositi di scorie nucleari si sono moltiplicati…

… Instead, Indians propose placing control of the land into their hands. Activists, in turn, regard that idea without enthusiasm—some indigenous groups in the U.S. Southwest have promoted the use of their reservations as repositories for nuclear waste…

È sorprendente scoprire che molte colline dell’Amazzonia non erano altro che depositi di rifiuti a latere di grandi città. Noi ne sappiamo qualcosa…

… Monte Testaccio, the hill of broken pots southeast of Rome, was a garbage dump for the entire imperial city…

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Gran parte degli studi sulle civiltà precedenti è stata sviata da un’ipotesi che tutti hanno accettato ma che non ha retto alle verifiche successive. Si parla oggi dell’ “errore di Holmberg“. Chi era costui? Visse a lungo tra gli Sirionò…

… Although the Sirionó are but one of a score of Native American groups in the Beni, they are the best known. Between 1940 and 1942 a young doctoral student named Allan R. Holmberg lived among them. He published his account of their lives, Nomads of the Longbow, in 1950…

Definì quella popolazione “incolta ed arretrata“…

… The Sirionó, Holmberg reported, were “among the most culturally backward peoples of the world.” Living in constant want and hunger, he said, they had no clothes, no domestic animals, no musical instruments (not even rattles and drums), no art or design (except necklaces of animal teeth), and almost no religion (the Sirionó “conception of the universe” was “almost completely uncrystallized”)…

Ne dedusse che prima di Colombo, gli abitanti di quelle terre, erano qualcosa di molto simile ai loro pronipoti. Ci vollero decenni per rettificare questa indebita inferenza.

I Siorionò erano stati ridotti così da tifo e influenza

… Just as Holmberg believed, the Sirionó were among the most culturally impoverished people on earth. But this was not because they were unchanged holdovers from humankind’s ancient past but because smallpox and influenza laid waste to their villages in the 1920s. Before the epidemics at least three thousand Sirionó, and probably many more, lived in eastern Bolivia. By Holmberg’s time fewer than 150 remained—a loss of more than 95 percent in less than a generation…

… e anche dai matrimoni tra parenti

… A genetic bottleneck occurs when a population becomes so small that individuals are forced to mate with relatives, which can produce deleterious hereditary effects…

… e anche dagli abusi dei bianchi

… the group was fighting the white cattle ranchers who were taking over the region. The Bolivian military aided the incursion by hunting down the Sirionó and throwing them into what were, in effect, prison camps. Those released from confinement were forced into servitude on the ranches. The wandering people Holmberg traveled with in the forest had been hiding from their abusers. At some risk to himself, Holmberg tried to help them, but he never fully grasped that the people he saw as remnants from the Paleolithic Age were actually the persecuted survivors of a recently shattered culture…

Un’analogia che la dice lunga…

… It was as if he had come across refugees from a Nazi concentration camp, and concluded that they belonged to a culture that had always been barefoot and starving…

Se incappassimo in persone sfuggite da Dachau e rifugiata per anni nei boschi concluderemmo forse che vengono da una civiltà arretrata?

Basta volare sulla ragione del Beni per notare che il panorama è del tutto artificiale

… Convincing a local pilot to push his usual route westward, Denevan examined the Beni from above. He observed exactly what I saw four decades later: isolated hillocks of forest; long raised berms; canals; raised agricultural fields; circular, moat-like ditches; and odd, zigzagging ridges….

Il panorama è “umanizzato” anche se oggi di uomini non c’è l’ombra.

Evidentemente, una civiltà avanzata in grado di sviluppare una potenza d’intervento notevole aveva completamente rimodellato l’assetto naturale del territorio…

… Beginning as much as three thousand years ago, this long-ago society—Erickson believes it was probably founded by the ancestors of an Arawak-speaking people now called the Mojo and the Bauré—created one of the largest, strangest, and most ecologically rich artificial environments on the planet… A thousand years ago their society was at its height. Their villages and towns were spacious, formal, and guarded by moats and palisades…

Tutto è antropomorfizzato

… Erickson regards the landscape of the Beni as one of humankind’s greatest works of art, a masterpiece that until recently was almost completely unknown, a masterpiece in a place with a name that few people outside Bolivia would recognize…

Ma il Beni è un’eccezione? No, anche se l’ “errore di Holmberg” ci indurrebbe a pensarlo…

… The Beni was no anomaly. For almost five centuries, Holmberg’s Mistake—the supposition that Native Americans lived in an eternal, unhistoried state—held sway in scholarly work, and from there fanned out to high school textbooks, Hollywood movies, newspaper articles, environmental campaigns, romantic adventure books, and silk-screened T-shirts…

L’errore di Holmberg ha contagiato una buona parte dell’antropologia che si occupava delle Americhe e spiega il perché i coloni giudicavano gli indigeni alla stregua di congeniti barbari viziosi.

Ma l’immagine speculare del “buon selvaggio” è altrettanto errata e forse le origini dell’equivoco sono le stesse. Ma facciamo qualche nome sui responsabili di questa clamorosa cantonata…

… The Noble Savage dates back as far as the first full-blown ethnography of American indigenous peoples, Bartolomé de Las Casas’s Apologética Historia Sumaria, written mainly in the 1530s… To his way of thinking, Indians were natural creatures who dwelt, gentle as cows, in the “terrestrial paradise.”… Pietro Martire d’Anghiera, shared these views. Indians, he wrote (I quote the English translation from 1556), “lyve in that goulden world of whiche owlde writers speake so much,” existing “simplye and innocentlye without inforcement of lawes.”…

Oggi è l’ecologismo più ingenuo a prolungare l’illusione

… In our day, beliefs about Indians’ inherent simplicity and innocence refer mainly to their putative lack of impact on the environment… This notion dates back at least to Henry David Thoreau, who spent much time seeking “Indian wisdom,” an indigenous way of thought that supposedly did not encompass measuring or categorizing, which he viewed as the evils that allowed human beings to change Nature… For almost a decade the image of the crying Indian appeared around the world….

E ora qualche nome della visione opposta, quella legata al primitivismo congenito di queste popolazioni…

… Emblematic was the U.S. historian George Bancroft, dean of his profession, who argued in 1834 that before Europeans arrived North America was “an unproductive waste … Its only inhabitants were a few scattered tribes of feeble barbarians, destitute of commerce and of political connection.”… Writing in 1934, Alfred L. Kroeber, one of the founders of American anthropology, theorized that the Indians in eastern North America could not develop—could have no history—because their lives consisted of “warfare that was insane, unending, continuously attritional.”… Kroeber conceded that Indians took time out from fighting to grow crops, but insisted that agriculture “was not basic to life in the East; it was an auxiliary, in a sense a luxury.”… Four decades later, Samuel Eliot Morison, twice a Pulitzer Prize winner, closed his two-volume European Discovery of America with the succinct claim that Indians had created no lasting monuments or institutions…

Imprigionati nella loro natura selvaggia, questi pagani conducevano una vita breve e violenta. “Pigri, infantili e crudeli”, ecco come venivano definiti.

Inevitabile che nascesse un sentimento di superiorità verso di loro…

… It is always easy for those living in the present to feel superior to those who lived in the past. Alfred W. Crosby, a University of Texas historian, noted that many of the researchers who embraced Holmberg’s Mistake lived in an era when the driving force of events seemed to be great leaders of European descent and when white societies appeared to be overwhelming nonwhite societies everywhere….

Anche perchè la mentalità innatista era preminente: le società umane non cambiano. Ma alcuni eventi storici del periodo post-bellico scossero questa certezza…

…  But the Second World War taught the West that non-Westerners—the Japanese, in this instance—were capable of swift societal change…

A dire il vero anche il revisionismo in atto ha subito critiche

… To be sure, some researchers have vigorously attacked the new findings as wild exaggerations. (“We have simply replaced the old myth [of untouched wilderness] with a new one,” scoffed geographer Thomas Vale, “the myth of the humanized landscape.”) But after several decades of discovery and debate, a new picture of the Americas and their original inhabitants is emerging…

Ma un fatto è certo: non parliamo di nomadi bensì di gente che ha costruito e abitato le città più grandi e opulente del loro tempo. Non dipendevano affatto dalla caccia, l’agricoltura era conosciuta e praticata su vasta scala.

Conclusione provvisoria

… Americas were immeasurably busier, more diverse, and more populous than researchers had previously imagined. And older, too…

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Occupiamoci ora delle origini: come è stato occupato il continente americano? Partiamo dall’ ortodossia

… For much of the last century archaeologists believed that Indians came to the Americas through the Bering Strait about thirteen thousand years ago at the tail end of the last Ice Age… In theory, paleo-Indians, as they are called, simply walked across the fifty-five miles that now separate the continents. C. Vance Haynes, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona, put the crowning touches on the scheme in 1964, when he noted evidence that at just the right time—that is, about thirteen thousand years… two great glacial sheets in northwest Canada parted, leaving a comparatively warm, ice-free corridor between them…

È la storia del Cile ricostruita da scavi meticolosi ad aver messo in crisi la  vulgata…

… In 1997 the theory abruptly came unglued. Some of its most ardent partisans, Haynes among them, publicly conceded that an archaeological dig in southern Chile had turned up compelling evidence of human habitation more than twelve thousand years ago. And because these people lived seven thousand miles south of the Bering Strait, a distance that presumably would have taken a long time to traverse, they almost certainly arrived before the ice-free corridor opened up. (In any case, new research had cast doubt on the existence of that corridor.)…

La tempistica non torna. Cominciano a fioccare ipotesi alternative

… some archaeologists suggested that the first Americans must have arrived twenty thousand years ago, when the ice pack was smaller. Or even earlier than that—the Chilean site had suggestive evidence of artifacts more than thirty thousand years old. Or perhaps the first Indians traveled by boat, and didn’t need the land bridge. Or maybe they arrived via Australia, passing the South Pole. “We’re in a state of turmoil,” the consulting archaeologist Stuart Fiedel told me…

Un consenso fatica ad emergere…

… No consensus has emerged, but a growing number of researchers believe that the New World was occupied by a single small group that crossed the Bering Strait, got stuck on the Alaska side, and trickled to the rest of the Americas…

Molti sembrano ritrovarsi nell’ipotesi di una colonizzazione del continente per ondate successive. Almeno cinque…

… some scientists have theorized that the Americas may have been hit with as many as five waves of settlement before Columbus…

Le popolazioni incontrate da Colombo erano solo le ultimi arrivati.

Gli attivisti vicini alle popolazioni indigene si opposero in modo veemente all’ipotesi delle ondate…

… Indian activists dislike this line of reasoning. “I can’t tell you how many white people have told me that ‘science’ shows that Indians were just a bunch of interlopers,” Vine Deloria Jr., a political scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said to me in a conversation before his death in 2005. Deloria was the author of many books, including Red Earth, White Lies, a critique of mainstream archaeology. The book’s general tenor is signaled by its index; under “science,” the entries include “corruption and fraud and,” “Indian explanations ignored by,” “lack of proof for theories of,” “myth of objectivity of,” and “racism of….

L’ipotesi delle “ondate” implica – o comunque rende probabile – l’eliminazione delle civiltà precedenti da parte di quelle successive, cosicché fa pendere in modo più o meno velato l’accusa di genocidio anche sugli indios, finora presentati solo nei panni delle vittime. Gli attivisti temono che “i bianchi” si lavino la coscienza…

… “If we’re only thieves who stole our land from someone else,” Deloria said, “then they can say, ‘Well, we’re just the same. We’re all immigrants here, aren’t we?’ ”…

Una preoccupazione comprensibile anche se moralmente infondata: un male non lava l’altro…

… The moral logic of the we’re-all-immigrants argument that Deloria cites is difficult to parse; it seems to be claiming that two wrongs make a right. Moreover, there’s no evidence that the first “wrong” was a wrong—nothing is known about the contacts among the various waves…

La migrazione verso il continente americano avvenne comunque prima della rivoluzione neolitica, ovvero prima della scoperta dell’agricoltura…

… In every imaginable scenario, they left Eurasia before the first whisper of the Neolithic Revolution. The Neolithic Revolution is the invention of farming, an event whose significance can hardly be overstated…

Ricordiamo brevemente questo fenomeno, forse il più importante della nostra storia…

… It began in the Middle East about eleven thousand years ago, in the western half of the Fertile Crescent, which arcs between southern Iraq and Israel, reaching into southern Turkey along the way. Foraging societies there grouped into permanent villages and learned to cultivate and breed the area’s wild wheat and barley. In the next few millennia the wheel and the metal tool sprang up in the same … Sumerians put these inventions together, added writing, and in the third millennium B.C. created the first great civilization. Every European and Asian culture since, no matter how disparate in appearance, stands in Sumer’s shadow…

Ebbene, tutto questo gli americani lo hanno fatto tutto da soli

… Native Americans, who left Asia long before agriculture, missed out on the bounty. “They had to do everything on their own,” Crosby said to me…

Possiamo allora dire che la civiltà umana ha conosciuto almeno due neolitici

… Researchers have long known that a second, independent Neolithic Revolution occurred in Mesoamerica. The exact timing is uncertain—archaeologists keep pushing back the date—but it is now thought to have occurred about ten thousand years ago, not long after the Middle East’s Neolithic Revolution….

La diffusione delle culture è stata dapprima più lenta nel nuovo continente, forse perché meno popoloso…

…  The two American Neolithics spread more slowly than their counterpart in Eurasia, possibly because Indians in many places had not had the time to build up the requisite population density, and possibly because of the extraordinary nature of the most prominent Indian crop, maize…

L’agricoltura americana, a base di mais, forniva diete più bilanciate

… No one eats teosinte, because it produces too little grain to be worth harvesting. In creating modern maize from this unpromising plant, Indians performed a feat so improbable that archaeologists and biologists argued for decades over how it was achieved. Coupled with squash, beans, and avocados, maize provided Mesoamerica with a balanced diet, one arguably more nutritious than its Middle Eastern or Asian equivalent…

In seguito, gli americani recuperarono presto lo svantaggio iniziale…

… About seven thousand years elapsed between the dawn of the Middle Eastern Neolithic and the establishment of Sumer. Indians navigated the same path in somewhat less time (the data are too sketchy to be more precise)…

Gran parte del merito è da attribuire agli Olmec…

…  Pride of place must go to the Olmec, the first technologically complex culture in the hemisphere. Appearing in the narrow “waist” of Mexico about 1800 B.C., they lived in cities and towns centered on temple mounds…

Stiamo parlando di una civiltà estremamente avanzata per l’epoca… che inventò lo zero….

…  The Olmec were but the first of many societies that arose in Mesoamerica in this epoch. Most had religions that focused on human sacrifice, dark by contemporary standards, but their economic and scientific accomplishments were bright. They invented a dozen different systems of writing, established widespread trade networks, tracked the orbits of the planets, created a 365-day calendar (more accurate than its contemporaries in Europe), and recorded their histories in accordion-folded “books” of fig tree bark paper… Arguably their greatest intellectual feat was the invention of zero. In his classic account Number: The Language of Science, the mathematician Tobias Dantzig called the discovery of zero “one of the greatest single accomplishments of the human race,” a “turning point” in mathematics, science, and technology. The first whisper of zero in the Middle East occurred about 600 B.C…. Mathematicians in India first used zero in its contemporary sense—a number, not a placeholder—sometime in the first few centuries A.D…

Quanto detto per gli Olmec può ripetersi per i Maya. Domanda: erano più avanzati degli occidentali? Qualcuno ne dubita facendo notare che non conoscevano la ruota. Calma, la conoscevano eccome, solo che non la usavano…

… Does this mean that the Maya were then more advanced than their counterparts in, say, Europe? Social scientists flinch at this question, and with good reason. The Olmec, Maya, and other Mesoamerican societies were world pioneers in mathematics and astronomy—but they did not use the wheel. Amazingly, they had invented the wheel but did not employ it for any purpose other than children’s toys…

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Per comprendere a fondo la portata del revisionismo sulle civiltà precolombiane la cosa migliore è di immaginarsi un viaggio in aereo sulla regine del Beni e dintorni  mille anni prima di Cristo. Cosa vediamo dal finestrino?…

… imagine, for a moment, an impossible journey: taking off in a plane from eastern Bolivia as I did, but doing so in 1000 A.D. and flying a surveillance mission over the rest of the Western Hemisphere. What would be visible from the windows? Fifty years ago, most historians would have given a simple answer to this question: two continents of wilderness, populated by scattered bands whose ways of life had changed little since the Ice Age… Today our understanding is different in almost every perspective. Picture the millennial plane flying west, from the lowlands of the Beni to the heights of the Andes. On the ground beneath as the journey begins are the causeways and canals one sees today, except that they are now in good repair and full of people… But recent archaeological investigations have revealed that at this time the Andes housed two mountain states, each much larger than previously appreciated… Less a centralized state than a clutch of municipalities under the common religio-cultural sway of the center, Tiwanaku took advantage of the extreme ecological differences among the Pacific coast, the rugged mountains, and the altiplano (the high plains) to create a dense web of exchange: fish from the sea; llamas from the altiplano; fruits, vegetables, and grains from the fields around the lake… University of Chicago archaeologist Alan L. Kolata excavated at Tiwanaku during the 1980s and early 1990s. He has written that by 1000 A.D. the city had a population of as much as 115,000… North and west of Tiwanaku, in what is now southern Peru, was the rival state of Wari, which then ran for almost a thousand miles along the spine of the Andes… Housing perhaps seventy thousand souls, Wari was a dense, alley-packed craze of walled-off temples, hidden courtyards, royal tombs, and apartments up to six stories tall…

Almeno due stati andini, prosperi, popolosi e tecnologicamente avanzati. Come tramontarono queste civiltà? Qualcuno pensa a fenomeni climatici come un mega Nino, c’ è da dubitarne…

… Europe was racked by a “little ice age” of extreme cold between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries, yet historians rarely attribute the rise and fall of European states in that period to climate change. Fierce winters helped drive the Vikings from Greenland and led to bad harvests that exacerbated social tensions in continental Europe, but few would claim that the little ice age caused the Reformation. Similarly, the mega-Niños were but one of many stresses on Andean civilizations at the time, stresses that in their totality neither Wari nor Tiwanaku had the political resources to survive. Soon after 1000 A.D. Tiwanaku split into flinders that would not be united for another four centuries, when the Inka swept them up. Wari also fell…

Anche la civiltà Maya ci appare oggi più vasta e complessa di quel che si credeva…

… Maya ruins were well known forty years ago, to be sure, but among them, too, many new things have been discovered. Consider Calakmul, the ruin that Peter Menzel and I visited in the early 1980s. Almost wholly unexcavated since its discovery, the Calakmul we came to lay swathed in dry, scrubby vegetation that crawled like a swarm of thorns up its two huge pyramids… By the early 1990s Folan’s team had learned that this long-ignored place covered as much as twenty-five square miles and had thousands of buildings and dozens of reservoirs and canals. It was the biggest-ever Maya polity…

Devastanti guerre fratricide devastarono i Maya…

… In 1994 they identified the city-state’s ancient name: Kaan, the Kingdom of the Snake. Six years later they discovered that Kaan was the focus of a devastating war that convulsed the Maya city-state for more than a century. And Kaan is just one of the score of Maya settlements that in the last few decades have been investigated for the first time… the Maya realm was home to one of the world’s most intellectually sophisticated cultures…. About a century before our imaginary surveillance tour, though, the Maya heartland entered a kind of Dark Ages…

Ma anche la siccità di cui fu portatore il mega Nino contribuì al collasso…

… Some natural scientists attribute this collapse, close in time to that of Wari and Tiwanaku, to a massive drought. The Maya, packed by the millions into land poorly suited to intensive farming, were dangerously close to surpassing the capacity of their ecosystems… The drought, possibly caused by a mega-Niño, pushed the society, already so close to the edge, over the cliff…

Ma gli accademici sono scettici sul ruolo della siccità, proposto più che altro da chi è alla ricerca di una sintonia con le paure ecologiche della contemporaneità. L’ipotesi più accreditata anche in questo caso resta la guerra, una guerra totale…

… at the hills of what are now the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. Here are the quarrelsome city-states of the Ñudzahui (Mixtec), finally overwhelming the Zapotec, their ancient rivals based in the valley city of Monte Albán. Further north, expanding their empire in a hot-brained hurry, are the Toltec, sweeping in every direction from the mile-high basin that today houses Mexico City. As is often the case, the Toltec’s rapid military success led to political strife. A Shakespearian struggle at the top, complete with accusations of drunkenness and incest, forced out the long-ruling king, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, in (probably) 987 A.D. He fled with boatloads of loyalists to the Yucatán Peninsula, promising to return. By the time of our plane trip, Quetzalcoatl had apparently conquered the Maya city of Chichén Itzá and was rebuilding it in his own Toltec image. (Prominent archaeologists disagree with each other about these events, but the murals and embossed plates at Chichén Itzá that depict a Toltec army bloodily destroying a Maya force are hard to dismiss.)…

E a nord? Gli indiani che tutti conosciamo dai film western?…

… Portrayed in countless U.S. history books and Hollywood westerns, the Indians of the Great Plains are the most familiar to non-scholars. Demographically speaking, they lived in the hinterlands, remote and thinly settled; their lives were as far from Wari or Toltec lords as the nomads of Siberia were from the grandees of Beijing…

Erano la periferia dell’impero, un po’ come i mongoli o la Siberia erano la periferia del grande e prosperoso impero cinese. Il fulcro stava nell’America centrale, l’ Amazzonia, per esempio, era un territorio densamente popolato…

…  According to the Finnish archaeologists who first brought the Acre earthworks to attention, “it is obvious” that “relatively high population densities” were “quite common everywhere in the Amazonian lowlands.”…

La dinamica nella scoperta delle civiltà estinte e lontane si ripete: dapprima le si identifica con quel che vediamo, e noi vediamo solo dei rozzi ruderi. Poi, si comincia a ricostruire lentamente finché ci si ritrova di fronte alla loro reale grandezza…

…  As children of their own societies, these early historians naturally emphasized the culture they knew best, the culture their readership most wanted to hear about. But over time they added the stories of other places in the world: chapters about China, India, Persia, Japan, and other places. Researchers tipped their hats to non-Western accomplishments in the sciences and arts…

Possibile riepilogo: civiltà prosperose e tecnologicamente avanzate sorsero nel nuovo mondo. Guerre devastanti e forse anche fenomeni climatici le fecero cadere, a finirle furono le malattie e il giogo imposto dagli europei. L’annientamento fu tale che solo a gran fatica e di recente gli studiosi hanno saputo ricostruirne la grandezza…

… One way to sum up the new scholarship is to say that it has begun, at last, to fill in one of the biggest blanks in history: the Western Hemisphere before 1492. It was, in the current view, a thriving, stunningly diverse place, a tumult of languages, trade, and culture, a region where tens of millions of people loved and hated and worshipped as people do everywhere. Much of this world vanished after Columbus, swept away by disease and subjugation. So thorough was the erasure that within a few generations neither conqueror nor conquered knew that this world had existed…

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