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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Vintage) Paperback – 10 Oct 2006


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Product details

  • Paperback: 541 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books USA (10 Oct. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400032059
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032051
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 73,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
There has been much scholarly discussion over the years about pre-Columbian societies in the Americas. How many were there? What technologies did they develop? Did they have writing? What destroyed them? Where is the evidence?

In this book, Charles Mann brought together much of the recent scholarly knowledge, piecing together evidence from across North, Central and South America, to come up with a cohesive image of what the Americas looked like in terms of human occupation before Columbus.

The book's main arguemnt is that the Americas were already heavily populated with as many as 20 million people when Columbus arrived. These people possessed technology very advanced that was not, as much of history tells, puny and weak compared to what Europeans had developed. Agricultural methods were advanced and very productive, providing the basis for the establishment of large sedentary populations, much larger than previously thought. These large populations were mainly destroyed by disease. What we see today are in fact the remaining population after the equivalent of a holocaust, which is hardly a good basis to judge their capabilities and one time glory.

To demonstrate this theory, evidence is gathered from archeology and ancient reports from travellers. From most 16th century explorers, we get a picture of a heavily populated landscape, both in the southeastern US and in the Amazon. However, explorers through the same regions roughtly a century later describe a landscape of peaceful nature without large human interventions. The archeological evidence, as more is discovered, points in the direction of large populations and many characteristics (such as religion and art) of sedentary populations.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER on 7 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback
It's a great title, and a great book. Though some reviewers have fussed at the sub-title, claiming that there weren't really new revelations in the book, should I be ashamed to admit that almost all the book was history of the best kind; the history I did not know?

Of course the book is not literally about that year; it covers the period from the very first arrival of humans in America, which Mann claims is substantially before the 12,000 BC Bering Straits land bridge arrival that I had been taught; and it extends to much beyond the initial arrival of the Europeans, to cover their interactions with the natives. The author devotes major sections to the civilizations in what is now Peru, and Mexico; the prehistoric finds in eastern New Mexico; the Cahokia "mound builders" around modern-day St. Louis; the arrival of the Pilgrims in New England; and life in "Amazonia."

Charles Mann is not a "scholar"; instead he has a journalist background writing for "Science" and the "Atlantic Monthly," and I think the reader is much better served as a result. He displays humbling erudition, managing to incorporate observations by Nabokov and Pascal, while also capable of giving a concise explanation of the Carbon-14 dating process in one paragraph. His central premise is to debunk the idea that not many people were in America, in 1491, and that they were "primitives," devoid of higher learning. His first chapter is entitled "Holmberg's Mistake," after the academic who promoted the concept, and Mann quotes from historians George Bancroft, Samuel Eliot Morison and Hugh Trevor-Roper who supported this view.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 6 Jan. 2006
Format: Hardcover
Many thousands of years ago, people arrived in the Western Hemisphere from Asia. How many years, how many people and how many times they made the incursion are all topics of this book. How they lived has been the subject of increasingly intense investigation. Mann has assembled much research, both old and modern, to present a sweeping analysis of what the Europeans found when they arrived millennia later from the opposite direction. In a compelling and well-structured account, he offers an iconoclastic analysis of what the Americas were before Columbus' arrival.
Mann's thesis is that the Western Hemisphere was far more densely populated than our school courses [when they touched on the indigenous peoples at all] led us to believe. After fitful starts along the Atlantic seaboard, European colonists felt they'd entered a nearly empty continent. The sweeping expansion of the United States seemed to reinforce the notion of an "empty land". Recent archaeological finds and closer examination of the conquistadores' accounts suggest otherwise. It's now known that many urban centres of high population density existed in the Mississippi Valley, in central Mexico and throughout South America. The peoples living there had complex societies and economies, with trading and cultural influences extending vast distances. Intricate calendar systems, including use of "zero" as a real number, existed centuries before Europeans developed the idea.
Why did these cities and their inhabitants not survive to greet the invaders? There are the accounts of Cortes in Tenochtitlan and Pizarro saw Inka settlements, but population conglomerates seem rare in most accounts. According to Mann, the culprit was European disease resulting from the development of agriculture.
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