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Eye-Opening Statistics
Greg
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Post Posted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 6:19 pm
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Yesterday, I read a statistic that rattled my brain even more than learning about the range in the age of consent around the world.

The total population of the Great Cherokee Nation that Mark Lindsay was singing about was 20,000. That's thousand, not million. And they accounted for about 20% of the indigenous tribes when Europeans arrived in the new world. *blink*

All the references I've seen to actual numbers in the Precolumbian Indian population have always been vague, but I had no idea they were that sparse. Usually history writers just gloss over it by mentioning that they were in serious decline, from an estimated maximum population of one million several hundred years before Columbus, but I had no idea it was that serious. I'm still wondering that the heck happened. Was it the Little Ice Age, or something else?

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miros1
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Post Posted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 6:26 pm
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Well, the best description for what happened in historical time is a rather emotionally charged word.

Genocide.

When that wasn't completely successful, destruction of the survivors' cultures began.

Now the survivors of that sell gasoline and cigarettes and pull-tabs (a form of gambling).

What's the exact date for that 20,000 figure?

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Greg
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Post Posted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 7:41 pm
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Wrong timing. I'm talking about what happened long before Europeans showed up.

That popular "genocide" myth that saw it's birth in hate propaganda within the past 20 years and grew because it's sensationalistic, but it's pure fiction. There were no military incursions against the Cherokee. Their only claim to angst is that they were relocated to Oklahoma; the "Trail of Tears" story. 20,000 was the number of Cherokee who settled on the new reservation.

It wasn't just the Cherokee, though. All the Indian tribes were in serious decline when Columbus arrived, dramatically down from their apparent peak in population about 800 years earlier.

That's the key question. Something had caused a dramatic decline in the Indian population before Europeans arrived. It wasn't just population, either; they seemed to have gone backwards in their use of technology. Admittedly, they were in the stone age when Columbus got there.

Except for rudimentary metalworking with gold and copper they had never advanced beyond the stone age, but by the time of Columbus the Indians on the east coast had even forgotten how to make copper ornaments.

I just read about another oddity of technology. When the French arrived in Illinois they reopened salt works that someone had built centuries before, but the local folks (must have been the Illini) weren't using them. They were struggling along game trails to find natural salt licks.

Which still begs the question: What the heck happened?

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Greg
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miros1
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Post Posted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 8:48 pm
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Greg wrote:
Wrong timing. I'm talking about what happened long before Europeans showed up.


That's why I said historical time. Probably should have said "since people on the North American continent started writing stuff down," since historical time varies from culture to culture.

Even the tribes who had writing usually didn't write down what was going wrong, so we have Chichen Itza and other cities standing empty.

Contrast: people actually documented the eruption of Vesuvius during or shortly after the eruption.

Greg wrote:
That popular "genocide" myth that saw it's birth in hate propaganda within the past 20 years and grew because it's sensationalistic, but it's pure fiction. There were no military incursions against the Cherokee. Their only claim to angst is that they were relocated to Oklahoma; the "Trail of Tears" story. 20,000 was the number of Cherokee who settled on the new reservation.


A substantial number died between North Carolina and Oklahoma. Other tribes were moved there too. The Seneca tribe was partially relocated, and the Oklahoma branch is currently filing lawsuits against New York State.

Not to mention that by treaty, Oklahoma was supposed to be perpetually Indian territory, then in total abrogation of the treaty, the territory was opened to settlers. That's why it's the Sooner State, named for the people who sneaked across the border to stake their claims early.

It wasn't just the Cherokee. During the Revolution, one of the Five Tribes of the Iroquois sided with the Colonies, one with the British, and the other three tried to stay out of it. When the shooting was done, they all paid for the actions of the tribe that supported the British.

Add in no resistance to all the European-origin diseases and accidental or deliberate spread of them to the Indians, and you've got the crude beginnings of germ warfare. Reference the Nantucket alternate histories: Although the time travellers knew the Indians wouldn't have any resistance to their germs, a simple cold decimated the entire local tribe.

Greg wrote:
Except for rudimentary metalworking with gold and copper they had never advanced beyond the stone age, but by the time of Columbus the Indians on the east coast had even forgotten how to make copper ornaments.


Technology is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. It only takes one generation to forget how to do a certain thing that it took dozens of generations to figure out. If a copper ornament making tribe moved to an area with no/little copper for 20 years, their artisans would forget the finer points of their craft. Even moving on to a copper rich area wouldn't get them those skills back. Make it a hundred years, and the skill is gone.

Greg wrote:
I just read about another oddity of technology. When the French arrived in Illinois they reopened salt works that someone had built centuries before, but the local folks (must have been the Illini) weren't using them. They were struggling along game trails to find natural salt licks.


One factoid that's kind of ignored by modern historians is that Indian culture wasn't all sweetness and light. They attacked each other. (Modern tribes trying to hold onto what they've got left will deny this, claiming they've been there since shortly after God made little green apples, because to do otherwise weakens every court case involving Indian soverienty for the rest of eternity.)

Whoever started those salt works probably got attacked, many of the men killed, the stores of salt taken, and women and kids adopted into the new tribe. Presto, no one left who knew how to mine salt efficiently.

BTW, adopting people from one tribe to another is a Good Thing, to prevent build up of lethal recessives. It's better when done peaceably, however. The Aborigines are/were better at doing it peaceably.

Greg wrote:
Which still begs the question: What the heck happened?


That's the problem with an oral tradition culture. When you lose the story tellers before they've trained the next generation, or they're prevented from doing the training, you've lost your history.

Side note: NY State Board of Regents accepts study in Indian languages as satisfaction of the foreign language requirement. A nearby city that's half on the reservation teaches Seneca in its schools.

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Greg
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Post Posted: Sun Jan 14, 2007 12:03 am
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What? You mean the noble native Americans were not a highly advanced, innocent, unified, peace-loving culture in tune with Nature and the Great Spirit who sat around smoking peace pipes and eating granola all day? I am shocked! Shocked!

OK, seriously, therein lies the rub. European diseases and retributions and all that stuff happened after the Europeans showed up. But something awful happened hundreds of years before that time.

There are some stories about wars between this tribe and that, and whathisname says they fought over salt works. On a local scale, those things can have a tremendous effect--we know from recorded history that hostile barbarians can destroy an organized civilization--but whatever was going on affected all the tribes from Mexico to southern Canada.

My guess is that some major global event changed the fortunes of all the folks to take a turn for the worse. The only event that I can think of that would have that big of an impact was the Little Ice Age.


Conan the Grammarian: To deciminate means to kill 1/10th of the population.

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Post Posted: Sun Jan 14, 2007 12:29 am
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Greg wrote:
Conan the Grammarian: To deciminate means to kill 1/10th of the population.


Although it's been years since I read the book in question, I believe the tribe in question was non-existent after the 20th century cold virus was finished with the indigenous population. I suppose obliterate would have been a better word. shocked Another book I'll have to find and re-read.

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Greg
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Post Posted: Sun Jan 14, 2007 1:43 am
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That would not be surprising. Plagues were a really big deal up until the 20th century, and even could be again if the right one gets spawned. The bubonic plague wiped out as many as half the people in some cities and overall killed about a third of the people of Europe.

It's entirely possible, today, that a plague could wipe out our entire species. I don't think that is a plausible scenario for what happened to the Indians, though. They weren't concentrated enough and there were too few of them. Even at the peak, there were no more than 1 million people in all of the western hemisphere in precolumbian history.

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miros1
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Post Posted: Sun Jan 14, 2007 8:18 am
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On the way to the bathroom this morning, I happened to think... if it were a natural disaster, there'd be some trace in the oral histories. Think of all the cultures with flood stories in their mythology.

Will have to ponder that more when I'm actually awake.

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Greg
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Post Posted: Sun Jan 14, 2007 9:28 am
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Good point. The same is probably true of anything that happens suddenly or is a dramatic departure from the routine.

That also would favor the Little Ice Age as an explantion. The change in weather would come on slowly, spread over a human life time. (Or more than a lifetime since the average life span of the precolumbians was probably twentysomething years.)

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miros1
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Post Posted: Sun Jan 14, 2007 12:38 pm
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Um, maybe we need to discuss the ways to calculate "average."

1) Mean. Add everything up and divide by the number of items. The number most people think of when they say "average."
2) Median. That's the number where one half of the items are below that number and one half are higher.
3) Mode. That's the number that's the "most popular" among the items.

In populations without good medical care, there's usually two modes in life expectancy. One's infancy/young childhood where they die of childhood diseases and accidents due to inexperience with the world. The other is "old age" where they die of age related diseases and infirmity related accidents. Very few teens and young adults and 20-somethings die, compared to those two modes. Basically, if you live to be 5, you'll probably live to be 40-60!

However, with that mode in the low years, both the "mean" and "median" come out to be... 20-something.

(BTW, I didn't think of this myself. Dana Carson made the point in the Moo one night.)

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