Even if a lot of people now know that horses were
introduced by the Europeans, and that the Hollywood Indian thus is NOT a
authentic picture of how native peoples lived when Columbus arrived in the
Caribbean, there still remains that romantic idea of wandering nomads, living
in harmony with Mother Nature. Even among a lot of native peoples themselves. This
is because of a lack of proper education and a focus on European and Europeanized
I can present this history in 5 phrases:
Man originated in Africa, wandered around the world,
and, around 10.000 years before the birth of Christ, invented agriculture in
the Middle East.
A good 5000 years later the first cities and states
arose in that same area and civilization spread around the world reaching Old
Greece around the year 1000 BC.
Things also happened in China and India but Greece is
the founder of modern Western Civilization so we focus on that.
They developed true alphabetic writing and democracy,
passed that over to Ancient Rome, which was later transformed into an empire that
eventually took over Christianity, spreading this faith throughout Europe and
The new faith blossomed in the Middle Ages and was spread
in the Renaissance by the big discoverers in the world like Columbus and Vasco
The last 500 years are even easier:
Europe conquered America, had big wars about which
Jesus was the best one, created new fabulous art styles and ways of thinking,
established colonies in the east and thus controlled the whole sea trade around
the world out of which eventually grew more and more competition between the
European superpowers (mostly Spain, Portugal, France, Netherlands, England) that
resulted in the reducing of Portugal, Spain, and in the end the Netherlands so
that finally only France and England ruled the waves.
After the death of the French Sun King however, only
England was left although they didn’t enjoy that for too long, being kicked out
of North America by their own subjects which made France very proud again,
trying once more to establish French power in Europe and failing to do so
because of England and the new powers like Austria-Hungaria, the German empire
and the Russian Czardom in the east.
Three more wars followed between the old and the new
superpowers while in the mean time they conquered Africa, Asia and Australia,
establishing the new democratic, free and civilized state of living we all
Of course not. Not only because this is a very
simplistic version of European history, and also not because the dubious last
phrase (which seem to imply that European colonization did only good to the
other continents), but also, last but not least, because it IS ignoring the
fact that North & South American history, African history, Asian and
Australian history, is world history too.
World history that is ignored in most books in school,
but also at the university. Even the internet is quite Eurocentric… (if you don’t
believe this, check out Google Translate and count the amount of American,
Australian, and African languages. And if you believe this is about numbers of
speakers, just count the total amount of speakers of the following European
languages used by Google Translate: Basque, Esperanto, Galician, Irish,
Icelandic, Latin, Maltese & Welsh. Compare this to American languages like Quechua,
Aymara & Guarani or African languages like Hausa, Wolof, and Amharic)
It might seem obvious that knowing something about
Amerindian history is useful to North and South American people. Just like
African history seems useful to African people. But even on those continents,
very little is known and most history taught in schools is European history
(although in the Americas it’s a lot worse than in Africa since the latter one
is almost entirely independent of Europe and/or its descendants, while the
Americas are almost entirely ruled by Neo European countries, most of them
established in the 19th century)
But what about WORLD History? Should Europeans or
Asians learn Amerindian, African, and Australian history? Did American Indians,
Africans, or Aboriginal peoples in Australia and the Pacific have a large
influence on world history, worth learning? Although most people won’t realize
it, the simple answer to this question is YES. And the most simple answer to
the question WHY then is “Because of these great European discoverers like
Columbus and Da Gama”. They brought Europeans in contact with “The Other”, it
was because of their voyages that modern day globalization is what it is. Europe
is not an island. European peoples are not more or less unique than others.
History shouldn’t be only about one continent, simply because nowadays we think
that the world has been Europeanized or Westernized. Globalization is globalization
because it covers the world. Without peoples, products, markets, cultures,
religions, languages, economies, science, and inventions from other places than
Europe, Europe would still be the tiny place it is. One of the great achievements
of Europeans was to trade, communicate, work together, and share with other peoples
on other continents. In this way Europeans learned from non-Europeans and
taught to non-Europeans. Europeans globalized the world for the first time, but
this was only possible TOGETHER with peoples from other continents. It is time
we recognize this.
So, man originated in Africa, wandered around the word
and started agriculture in the Middle East. And the Andes. And Mexico. And China.
And the island of Papua. And India. And Western, and Eastern Africa. And eastern
North America. Crops and civilizations spread around the world, not from one
place, but from many.
Around 5000 years
later the first complex societies arose, not only in the Middle East but also
in Peru, Egypt, China, and India. Cities, organized religions, writing systems,
pyramids, temples, and organized trade, and leadership appeared. Why first in
these places? Nobody knows for sure although there are of course a lot of educated
Once Hidden by Forest, Carvings in Land Attest to Amazon’s Lost World
By SIMON ROMERO
RIO BRANCO, Brazil — Edmar Araújo still remembers the awe.
Douglas Engle for The New York Times. Geoglyphs, geometric designs carved into the earth, have become increasingly visible with the deforestation of the Amazon.
As he cleared trees on his family’s land decades ago near Rio Branco, an outpost in the far western reaches of the Brazilian Amazon, a series of deep earthen avenues carved into the soil came into focus.
“These lines were too perfect not to have been made by man,” said Mr. Araújo, a 62-year-old cattleman. “The only explanation I had was that they must have been trenches for the war against the Bolivians.”
But these were no foxholes, at least not for any conflict waged here at the dawn of the 20th century. According to stunning archaeological discoveries here in recent years, the earthworks on Mr. Araújo’s land and hundreds like them nearby are much, much older — potentially upending the conventional understanding of the world’s largest tropical rain forest.
The deforestation that has stripped the Amazon since the 1970s has also exposed a long-hidden secret lurking underneath thick rain forest: flawlessly designed geometric shapes spanning hundreds of yards in diameter.
Alceu Ranzi, a Brazilian scholar who helped discover the squares, octagons, circles, rectangles and ovals that make up the land carvings, said these geoglyphs found on deforested land were as significant as the famous Nazca lines, the enigmatic animal symbols visible from the air in southern Peru. “What impressed me the most about these geoglyphs was their geometric precision, and how they emerged from forest we had all been taught was untouched except by a few nomadic tribes,” said Mr. Ranzi, a paleontologist who first saw the geoglyphs in the 1970s and, years later, surveyed them by plane.
For some scholars of human history in Amazonia, the geoglyphs in the Brazilian state of Acre and other archaeological sites suggest that the forests of the western Amazon, previously considered uninhabitable for sophisticated societies partly because of the quality of their soils, may not have been as “Edenic” as some environmentalists contend.
Instead of being pristine forests, barely inhabited by people, parts of the Amazon may have been home for centuries to large populations numbering well into the thousands and living in dozens of towns connected by road networks, explains the American writer Charles C. Mann. In fact, according to Mr. Mann, the British explorer Percy Fawcett vanished on his 1925 quest to find the lost “City of Z” in the Xingu, one area with such urban settlements.
In addition to parts of the Amazon being “much more thickly populated than previously thought,” Mr. Mann, the author of “1491,” a groundbreaking book about the Americas before the arrival of Columbus, said, “these people purposefully modified their environment in long-lasting ways.”
As a result of long stretches of such human habitation, South America’s colossal forests may have been a lot smaller at times, with big areas resembling relatively empty savannas.
Such revelations do not fit comfortably into today’s politically charged debate over razing parts of the forests, with some environmentalists opposed to allowing any large-scale agriculture, like cattle ranching and soybean cultivation, to advance further into Amazonia.
Douglas Engle for The New York Times. Pre-Columbian artifacts, found near some of the geoglyphs in Acre State, offer clues to their origin.
Scientists here say they, too, oppose wholesale burning of the forests, even if research suggests that the Amazon supported intensive agriculture in the past. Indeed, they say other swaths of the tropics, notably in Africa, could potentially benefit from strategies once used in the Amazon to overcome soil constraints. “If one wants to recreate pre-Columbian Amazonia, most of the forest needs to be removed, with many people and a managed, highly productive landscape replacing it,” said William Woods, a geographer at the University of Kansas who is part of a team studying the Acre geoglyphs.
“I know that this will not sit well with ardent environmentalists,” Mr. Woods said, “but what else can one say?”
While researchers piece together the Amazon’s ecological history, mystery still shrouds the origins of the geoglyphs and the people who made them. So far, 290 such earthworks have been found in Acre, along with about 70 others in Bolivia and 30 in the Brazilian states of Amazonas and Rondônia.
Researchers first viewed the geoglyphs in the 1970s, after Brazil’s military dictatorship encouraged settlers to move to Acre and other parts of the Amazon, using the nationalist slogan “occupy to avoid surrendering” to justify the settlement that resulted in deforestation.
But little scientific attention was paid to the discovery until Mr. Ranzi, the Brazilian scientist, began his surveys in the late 1990s, and Brazilian, Finnish and American researchers began finding more geoglyphs by using high-resolution satellite imagery and small planes to fly over the Amazon.
Denise Schaan, an archaeologist at the Federal University of Pará in Brazil who now leads research on the geoglyphs, said radiocarbon testing indicated that they were built 1,000 to 2,000 years ago, and might have been rebuilt several times during that period.
Initially, Ms. Schaan said, researchers, pondering the 20-foot depth of some of the trenches, thought they were used to defend against attacks. But a lack of signs of human settlement within and around the earthworks, like vestiges of housing and trash piles, as well as soil modification for farming, discounted that theory. Researchers now believe that the geoglyphs may have held ceremonial importance, similar, perhaps, to the medieval cathedrals in Europe. This spiritual role, said William Balée, an anthropologist at Tulane University, could have been one that involved “geometry and gigantism.”
Still, the geoglyphs, located at a crossroads between Andean and Amazonian cultures, remain an enigma.
They are far from pre-Columbian settlements discovered elsewhere in the Amazon. Big gaps also remain in what is known about indigenous people in this part of the Amazon, after thousands were enslaved, killed or forced from their lands during the rubber boom that began in the late 19th century.
For Brazil’s scientists and researchers, Ms. Schaan said, the earthworks are “one of the most important discoveries of our time.” But the repopulation of this part of the Amazon threatens the survival of the geoglyphs, after being hidden for centuries.
Forests still cover most of Acre, but in cleared areas where the geoglyphs are found, dirt roads already cut through some of the earthworks. People live in wooden shacks inside others. Electricity poles dot the geoglyphs. Some ranchers use their trenches as watering holes for cattle.
“It’s a disgrace that our patrimony is treated this way,” said Tiago Juruá, the author of a new book here about protecting archaeological sites including the earthworks.
Mr. Juruá, a biologist, and other researchers say the geoglyphs found so far are probably just a sampling of what Acre’s forests still guard under their canopies. After all, they contend that outside of modern cities, fewer people live today in the Amazon than did before the arrival of Europeans five centuries ago.
“This is a new frontier for exploration and science,” Mr. Juruá said. “The challenge now is to make more discoveries in forests that are still standing, with the hope that they won’t soon be destroyed.”
Lis Horta Moriconi contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.