.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Webmaster's Blog - Native American Resources

A place to put resources of a more ephemeral nature, such as events, recommended new websites, new books, etc.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Scientists Find Earliest Sign of Cultivated Crops in Americas

Scientists exploring the western slopes of the Andes in northern Peru have found seeds of domesticated squash from almost 10,000 years ago, about twice the age of previously discovered cultivated crops in the region.

The find in Peru and recent research in Mexico, anthropologists say, are evidence that farming developed in parts of the Americas nearly as early as it did in the Middle East, which has been considered the birthplace of the earliest agriculture.

Digging under house floors and grinding stones and in stone-lined storage bins, the archaeologist Tom D. Dillehey of Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, uncovered the squash seeds at several places in the Ñanchoc Valley, near the Pacific coast about 400 miles north of Lima. The excavations also yielded peanut hulls and cotton fibers — about 8,500 and 6,000 years old, respectively.

The new, more precise dating of the plant remains, some of which were collected two decades ago, are reported by Dr. Dillehey and colleagues in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

Their research also turned up traces of other domesticated plants, including a grain, manioc and some unidentified fruits, and stone hoes, furrowed garden plots and small-scale irrigation canals from approximately the same period.

The researchers concluded that these beginnings in plant domestication “served as catalysts for rapid social changes that eventually contributed to the development of intensified agriculture, institutionalized political power and towns in both the Andean highlands and on the coast between 5,000 and 4,000 years ago.”

The evidence at Ñanchoc, Dr. Dillehey’s team wrote, indicated that “agriculture played a more important and earlier role in the development of Andean civilization than previously understood.”

In an accompanying article on early agriculture, Eve Emshwiller, an ethnobotanist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was quoted as saying the reports of early dates for plant domestication in the New World were remarkable because the activity appeared to have occurred not long after humans first colonized the Americas, which is now thought to be at least 13,000 years ago.

The article also noted that 10,000-year-old cultivated squash seeds have recently been reported in Mexico, along with evidence of domesticated maize there by 9,000 years ago. Scholars now think that plants were domesticated independently in at least 10 “centers of origin;” those centers, in addition to the Middle East, Mexico and Peru, include places in Africa, southern India, China and New Guinea.

In the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, an arc from modern-day Israel through Syria and southeastern Turkey to Iraq, wheat and barley were domesticated at least 10,000 years ago, and rye may have been domesticated 13,000 years ago. Experts in ancient agriculture suspect that the transition from foraging to cultivation started much earlier than that, and was not as abrupt a transformation as the archaeological record would seem to indicate.

Dr. Dillehey has devoted several decades to research on ancient cultures in South America. His most notable previous achievement was the discovery of a campsite of hunger-gatherers at Monte Verde, in Chile, which dates to about 13,000 years ago. Most archaeologists recognize this as the earliest well-documented human occupation site uncovered so far in the New World.

Other explorations in recent years have yielded increasing evidence of settlements and organized political societies that flourished in the coastal valleys of northern Peru, possibly as early as 5,000 years ago. Until now, the record of earlier farming in the region had been sparse.

Initial radiocarbon dating of the plant remains from Ñanchoc was based on wood charcoal buried at the sites, but the results varied widely and were considered unreliable. More recent radiocarbon dating, with a technique called accelerator mass spectrometry, relied on measurements from undisturbed buried charcoal and an analysis of the actual plant remains.

The distribution of building structures, canals and furrowed fields, Dr. Dillehey said, indicated that the Andean culture was moving beyond cultivation limited to individual households toward an organized agricultural society.

Botanists studying the squash, peanut and cotton remains determined that the specific strains did not grow naturally in the Ñanchoc area. The peanut, in particular, was thought to be better suited to cultivation in tropical forests and savannas elsewhere in South America. The wild ancestor of squash has yet to be identified, though lowlands in Colombia are thought to be a likely source.

So if the new research shows that the “horticultural economies in parts of the Andes took root by about 10,000 years ago,” Dr. Dillehey’s team said, it remains to be seen when and where the domestication of squash, peanuts and cotton took place.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

How British, Cherokees Saw Each Other

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The British and Cherokee nations, each finding the other strange and curious, sought peace when they sent delegates to each other in 1762. A new exhibit details both sides, through the eyes of the other.

''Emissaries of Peace: The 1762 Cherokee and British Delegations,'' opened Wednesday at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and will remain on display until Nov. 25.

British diarist Henry Timberlake spent three months living with the Cherokees in North Carolina and Tennessee, recording his impressions.

And three Cherokee leaders traveled to London to view British society and meet with King George III.

Longtime trading partners and allies during the French and Indian War, the British and Cherokees had briefly battled one another, and both sides wanted to settle matters and get back to trading. The British also sought Cherokee assistance as a counterbalance to French influence.

Swords, a musket and pottery illustrate lifestyles of the time. British and Indian clothing, beads and baskets, a pocket watch and spectacles reveal two cultures, together and apart.

There were differences:

Timberlake's diary records surprise that the Cherokee ''allow their women full liberty, without fear of punishment.''

Cherokee leader Attakullakulla asks, since ''white men as well as red were born of women (is it) not the custom of the white people also'' to admit their women into the council?

Timberlake records that Cherokee government is a mix of aristocracy and democracy with leaders chosen by merit.

Cherokee Ostenaco notes that the king ''commands over all next to the Man Above, and nobody is his equal.''

There was also courtesy in common:

Timberlake reports he was received in a ''very kind manner'' by the ''hospitable tho' savage people.''

Likewise, Ostenaco notes that ''the head warrior of the canoe who brought us over the wide water used us very well.''

The exhibit was prepared by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in North Carolina and was supported by National Endowment for the Humanities.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Inca - Machu Picchu - Peru - Ancient Civilizations - Yale University - National Geographic Society

The stones at Machu Picchu seem almost alive. They may be alive, if you credit the religious beliefs of the ruler Pachacuti Yupanqui, whose subjects in the early 15th century constructed the granite Inca complex, high above a curling river and nestled among jagged green peaks. To honor the spirits that take form as mountains, the Inca stoneworkers carved rock outcrops to replicate their shapes. Doorways and windows of sublimely precise masonry frame exquisite views. But this extraordinary marriage of setting and architecture only partly explains the fame of Machu Picchu today. Just as important is the romantic history, both of the people who built it in this remote place and of the explorer who brought it to the attention of the world. The Inca succumbed to Spanish conquest in the 16th century; and the explorer Hiram Bingham III, whose long life lasted almost as many years as the Inca empire, died in 1956. Like the stones of Machu Picchu, however, the voices of the Inca ruler and the American explorer continue to resonate.

Imposingly tall and strong-minded, Bingham was the grandson of a famous missionary who took Christianity to the Hawaiian islanders. In his efforts to locate lost places of legend, the younger Bingham proved to be as resourceful. Bolstered by the fortune of his wife, who was a Tiffany heiress, and a faculty position at Yale University, where he taught South American history, Bingham traveled to Peru in 1911 in hopes of finding Vilcabamba, the redoubt in the Andean highlands where the last Inca resistance forces retreated from the Spanish conquerors. Instead he stumbled upon Machu Picchu. With the joint support of Yale and the National Geographic Society, Bingham returned twice to conduct archeological digs in Peru. In 1912, he and his team excavated Machu Picchu and shipped nearly 5,000 artifacts back to Yale. Two years later, he staged a final expedition to explore sites near Machu Picchu in the Sacred Valley.

If you have visited Machu Picchu, you will probably find Bingham’s excavated artifacts at the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven to be a bit of a letdown. Mostly, the pieces are bones, in varying stages of decomposition, or pots, many of them in fragments. Unsurpassed as stonemasons, engineers and architects, the Incas thought more prosaically when it came to ceramics. Leaving aside unfair comparisons to the jaw-dropping Machu Picchu site itself, the pottery of the Inca, even when intact, lacks the drama and artistry of the ceramics of earlier civilizations of Peru like the Moche and Nazca. Everyone agrees that the Machu Picchu artifacts at Yale are modest in appearance. That has not prevented, however, a bare-knuckled disagreement from developing over their rightful ownership. Peru says the Bingham objects were sent to Yale on loan and their return is long overdue. Yale demurs.

In many ways, the dispute between Yale and Peru is unlike the headline-making investigations that have impelled the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to repatriate ancient artifacts to their countries of origin. It does not revolve around criminal allegations of surreptitious tomb-raiding and black-market antiquities deals. But if the circumstances are unique, the background sentiments are not. Other countries as well as Peru are demanding the recovery of cultural treasures removed by more powerful nations many years ago. The Greeks want the Parthenon marbles returned to Athens from the British Museum; the Egyptians want the same museum to surrender the Rosetta Stone and, on top of that, seek to spirit away the bust of Nefertiti from the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. Where might it all end? One clue comes in a sweeping request from China. As a way of combating plunder of the present as well as the past, the Chinese government has asked the United States to ban the import of all Chinese art objects made before 1911. The State Department has been reviewing the Chinese request for more than two years.

The movement for the repatriation of “cultural patrimony” by nations whose ancient past is typically more glorious than their recent history provides the framework for the dispute between Peru and Yale. To the scholars and administrators of Yale, the bones, ceramics and metalwork are best conserved at the university, where ongoing research is gleaning new knowledge of the civilization at Machu Picchu under the Inca. Outside Yale, most everyone I talked to wants the collection to go back to Peru, but many of them are far from disinterested arbiters. In the end, if the case winds up in the United States courts, its disposition may be determined by narrowly legalistic interpretations of specific Peruvian laws and proclamations. Yet the passions that ignite it are part of a broad global phenomenon. “My opinion reflects the opinion of most Peruvians,” Hilda Vidal, a curator at the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Peru in Lima, told me. “In general, anything that is patrimony of the cultures of the world, whether in museums in Asia or Europe or the United States, came to be there during the times when our governments were weak and the laws were weak, or during the Roman conquest or our conquest by the Spanish. Now that the world is more civilized, these countries should reflect on this issue. It saddens us Peruvians to go to museums abroad and see a Paracas textile. I am hopeful that in the future all the cultural patrimony of the world will return to its country of origin.” Behind her words, I could imagine a gigantic sucking whoosh, as the display cases in the British Museum, the Smithsonian, the Louvre and the other great universal museums of the world were cleansed of their contents, leaving behind the clattering of a few Wedgwood bowls and Savres teacups.

Richard Burger’s office at Yale is dowdily decorated with modern Peruvian handicrafts, sculptures and fabrics. Although Burger, a professor of anthropology, has devoted his professional career to Peruvian archaeology, everything he excavates remains in Peru, as required by law. With his wife, Lucy Salazar, a native of Lima whom he met while she was studying archaeology at San Marcos University there, Burger organized an exhibition, “Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas,” which, in 2003 and 2004, toured the United States and displayed many of the objects that Bingham sent back to Yale.

When Burger and Salazar came to Yale in 1981, most of the Inca artifacts were in storage. “We didn’t know if the collection would support an exhibition,” Burger told me. “It was scattered in different rooms of the Peabody. There had been fires and floods. Some of it desperately needed conservation work — it was deteriorating because it wasn’t climate-controlled.” Their notion was to create an exhibition in cooperation with the government of Peru, a prospect that the Peruvian tourist authority greeted with enthusiasm but no financing. Since Yale would provide only seed money, they had to come up with financing — slightly more than $1 million — to conserve the objects and bankroll the exhibition.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Family Behind Foxwoods Loses Hold in Tribe

MASHANTUCKET PEQUOT INDIAN RESERVATION, Conn. — Things are different now for the Hayward family, who took this tiny tribal nation on a dizzying odyssey two decades ago from virtual dust to startling wealth and power.

With Haywards at the helm, the Pequots built one of the most profitable casinos in the world here, a teal and lavender fortress known as Foxwoods that looms like Xanadu above the rustic woods.

Within a few years, the tribe traded in a life of pig farming and maple sugaring for one of lavish homes, expensive cars and private school educations.

But 15 years after Foxwoods opened, the family that brought the Pequots back from the brink, that repopulated an almost empty reservation and rebuilt its economic soul, says the tribe has cast it aside in recent years.

Richard A. Hayward, a former pipefitter who led the tribe for 23 years, has rarely been seen on the reservation since being deposed as the Pequot leader several years ago.

The rest of the 70-member Hayward clan say they, too, have been shunned by the Pequot family that now controls the tribal government.

After years of infighting, the Haywards say they have been demoted, fired, pushed out of jobs. Several say it has gotten so bad that they are thinking of moving away from land they fought to reclaim.

“We gave them everything on a platter,” said Theresa H. Bell, 55, a Hayward who resigned in September from running the Pequot museum, a Hayward dream financed by casino profits. “And they just slapped us in the face.”

Other members of the 800-person tribe see it differently.

They say the Haywards withdrew from tribal affairs after their leader, Mr. Hayward, fell from power several years ago. They say it was the Haywards who had wielded power unfairly.

John L. Holder, who helped rebuild the tribe and is now executive assistant to the tribal chairman, said Mr. Hayward became rude and undemocratic as chairman.

“He ridiculed people to the point of tears," Mr. Holder said.

Despite the internal tribal feuding, Foxwoods remains a major economic force in Connecticut, with 10,000 employees and annual revenues of more than $1 billion. Its success has served as a model, a tonic, for impoverished tribes across the country who followed the Pequots’ lead, embraced gambling and made their own fortunes.

But the Haywards say that that success is increasingly threatened by the dissension and by the inability of their successors, the Sebastian family, to adapt to a crowded gambling market.

They point to a slip in revenues from slot machines, the workhorses of megacasinos like Foxwoods. Slot revenues fell last year after more than a decade of skyrocketing growth, in part because of competition from Mohegan Sun, a rival Indian casino five miles west.

Current tribal leaders described the Pequots’ finances as sound and said any disagreements were routine. “We are no different than other large families in terms of diverse opinions,” the tribal chairman, Michael J. Thomas, wrote in an e-mail message. He added, “There is no pattern of any disagreement that runs along family or ethnic lines.”

Mr. Holder said that while the Haywards had some legitimate concerns, many stemmed from bitterness and misunderstanding. “The tribe is not doomed,” he said.

The Haywards, however, are undeniably disillusioned. One Hayward sister walks the reservation in a sweatshirt advertising Foxwoods’ gambling rival, the Mohegan Sun. Five of Mr. Hayward’s eight siblings spoke out about their disagreements this spring with a reporter, rare moments of openness for a private people who seldom speak to the press.

The Haywards described the tribe as deeply troubled. They say they worry, for example, that too many young Pequots, their own children included, are increasingly idle and drawn to drugs because they are given lots of money at an early age.

“It’s going to break up,” Loretta Libby, 76, who has spent most of her life on the reservation, said of her tribe. “We are breaking up.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Native Soices symposium

The Native Voices Symposium at the University of Arizona begins tomorrow, June 14. The keynote speech, given by Leslie Marmon Silko, will be available via a live stream through this website (Link on title) beginning at 7PM MST. The symposium program can be downloaded also. If you are in the vicinity, be sure to come by for the public sessions.