Fascinating ancient history

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was dense in detail but fascinating. Mann surveys traditional views of pre-contact Americas and shows how recent scholarship has undermined some and challenged others. Several are still unresolved, giving scholars more research to do.

It begins quite slowly, but for me became fascinating in the later 2/3 with the discussion of when and how the first peoples entered via the Bering Straits. Among other things, research has challenged there ever being a narrow window when there was a path between glaciers for them to traverse. Also the date has been pushed back and the three migrations questioned.

The biggest revision is the shift from natives who didn’t disturb nature to natives who farmed and tamed nature to their needs, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. Another revision is the sophistication of civilization achieved. I was also interested in discussions of writing, especially the group who used knots on string, not as mnemonics, but as stories, in a binary system.

The first time history is given, the traditional view was stated more or less as fact with a “gotcha” and introduction of challenges to follow. Gradually the cues that a view was going to be questioned improved.

And the ending sets up the follow-up book, 1493, which I have requested from the library.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Fascinating ancient history

  1. Wow! The idea of a binary system for storing information in a preColumbia society is wild! Thanks for the review!

  2. That does sound fascinating!

  3. dezertsuz

    That sounds quite interesting – not a quick read, but one to savor in between other books, a bit at a time.

  4. I’ve read a part of this book, it is definitely interesting

    I’m wondering if you’ve read any of the works of Anatoly Fomenko?

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