woensdag 19 januari 2011

The exact data

So, in our "comparing of the continents"... what are the (undisputed) exact dates (we have so far) of the earliest:

1) humans (homo sapiens)

2) cultivation of plants and/or domestication of animals/ sedentism
3) towns and cities/ "chiefdoms", "city-states", "states", "kingdoms", "empires", etc
4) pottery/ceramics

5) metals
6) other technological inventions (like writing, wheel, etc)

The traditional picture
It "all" begins in the Middle East... Except for the first humans (East Africa) & the first ceramics (East Asia). Close followers are Egypt (somehow often not seen as Africa...), Southern Asia (India/Pakistan), Mediterranean Europe (particularly Greece and Turkey, the latter often seen as part of Europe in contrary to today), China (perhaps too often seen as one culture area), rest of Europe (focus too often at the western part and often including North Africa). The rest of the world, particularly Africa ("Dark Africa"... how suspicious...), the Americas ("those without wheels, iron and domesticated animals"), and good old Terra Nullius, Australia ("what did they do at all?") are seen as way behind and only "waiting" for the "more advanced" (new word that replaced the old "civilized" almost completely) "others" (new word for "Europeans") to arrive on their shores.

Alternative pictures (Eurocentric, Afrocentric, Sinocentric, etc)
True civilization started in Europe, Africa, China or other places (the three mentioned are most heard of) and spread from there over the world. Be it in ancient or more recent times. No serious scholar believes this anymore but especially with the "wonderful and never ending wonders of the internet", they still attract a lot of people. Afrocentric scholars mostly live in the US and there most famous claims are the "Black African Olmecs" who brought and installed their African civilization to the Americas many years before Columbus and Europeans did. And, the "Black African" Pharaos in Egypt who were, according to them, "made white" by Eurocentric scholars. As Greece is seen as the first European civilization, it is also said that they all inherited it from Black Africans, particularly the black Egyptians. Another idea is that Africans started civilization in China and all these stories can be found here: http://realhistoryww.com/index.htm.
Some Sinocentric people however not only not accept the Afrocentric view, they make their own theories! Like that modern humans evolved from the Beijing Man for example (and not in East Africa as most scholars believe), that, again, the Mexican Olmec were Chinese, that it was not Columbus that "discovered" America, but the Chinese Zheng He (in 1421). An example of this can be found on this page: http://www.chinesediscoveramerica.com/.
Eurocentric history is of course the most famous and, sad enough, the most common. This can be easily explained though with in the ;light of 19th century colonization. As Europe started to dominate the world, it became logical to think as Europeans being superior to other peoples. Social Darwinism tried to prove it scientifically, and the first "modern" historians tried (and succeeded) in creating a world history that was dominated by Europeans. Although since the 1960s en 1970s a lot of Eurocentric myths were demolished, they still are (although better hidden) very common, mostly in popular science. A result of popular science is of course wikipedia and here, a list of famous "popular science people" is given http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_science.

The problem with the traditional, popular science, and the Euro/African/Sinocentric picture of world history is not necessarily that it's subject is too big or too complicated. The main problem, most often encountered, is that "the data are outdated" and that a lot of its work isn't based on the work of the specialists in the different fields, but on the contrary, based on other traditional/popular/"-centric" works written earlier.

A very nice example is the subject of the conquest of the Americas. If you look at the story presented by most wikipedia pages or by people like Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel, 1997), pretty much the same picture arises:  that of a few Spanish conquistadors who, under the lead of one strong/intelligent man (his name can be Cortes or Pizarro, De Soto, Columbus or Balboa) conquered a whole empire with millions of people (its name can be Aztec or Inca, Maya or, less known, Muisca). The ever lasting question than arises how this was possible and the answer given to that question again is more or less the same: due to the uniqueness of the Europeans compared to the rest of the world (be it because of steel weapons, guns/canons, horses, alphabetic writing, Christian faith, European entrepreneurship/capitalism/renaissance/enlightment/reason, geographical axes, or something else). But then, have a look at the sources Diamond and wikipedia use and you'll find the reason why their story of the conquest is basically the same: because their main source is the same book. A book that was written... more than 150 years ago by a famous man who did a lot of research but did so of course a very long time ago, in a time period we call Romantic Era: William Prescott. Prescott's book is so influential that it's not only still used to this day (at universities for example), but that it's even still in print. Why?
Specialists in the field for more than 20 years now, although they recognize the great importance of the book and the author's work, have rejected most of Prescott's 19th century romantic story. The traditional reasons given for the conquest are of no use since the initial assumption appears to be completely wrong: the empires weren't at all conquered by a small group of Spaniards and the conquests weren't led by a single strategic mastermind or "Big man". The actual story is much more complicated than Prescott (and consequently Diamond/wikipedia) thought it was. For this new view on history, please read Domination without Dominance by Gonzalo Lamana (2008) on the Inca empire, Indian Conquistadors (2007) by Oudijk & Matthew on Mesoamerica, and, a good introduction to the subject: 7 Myths of the Spanish Conquest  (2003) by Restall.

The checking list: newest data from around the world
Although comparing like this isn't very popular among scholars and specialists (because of various reasons), it is very often done and very often (as explained above) without taking care of the sources. Most are hopelessly outdated and no longer supported by the people who actually work on the subject. However troublesome, I do think it is necessary to jump into this discussion because the specialists are too often ignored or neglected and because this causes some strange, not to say dangerous, oversimplifications of world history. We should be very careful with comparing, and absolutely should not draw conclusions from it. However, if we do compare, we at least have to come up with the latest available data and theories. Not with some outdated, 150 years old material.

Asia
Africa
Europe
North America
South America: 
1 = 12.600BC* (Monte Verde, Chile)

2= 9850-9200BC*** (Las Vegas, Ecuador)/ 9700BC** (Late Paiján, Peru)
3 = 4700BC (El Porvenir, Peru), 4400 (Valdivia, Ecuador), 3500-3200BC**** (Norte Chico cities, Peru)
4 = 6050BC (Taperinha, Brasil)

5 =  2150BC (Jiscairumoko, Peru)
6:

Australia and Pacific

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