Message #42:
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 
Subject: Intro to Amerind (Part III)
Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 20:01:59 -0700
Encoding: MIME-Version: 1.0 


The folktales of Native Americans, as well as their myths, frequently
express ideas about the nature of humans, other creatures, and the
universe. Among the Mexican nations, detailed historical records are
maintained; elsewhere, in general, no sharp distinction was drawn
between history and legend. Many Native American folktales are fables,
pointing out a moral; others are simply exciting or amusing stories.
Translations of Native American stories and myths-like descriptions of
native religious beliefs and ceremonies-seldom capture the full Native
American meaning; a nonnative reader is rarely aware of the background
of ideas that native listeners bring to a story or ceremony.

Warfare The common stereotype that Native Americans were extremely
warlike arose because, when Europeans first came into contact with them,
the Native Americans were usually defending their homelands, either
against European invaders or against other native peoples supported by
European invaders. Archaeological evidence of fortifications, destroyed
towns, and people killed in battle indicates, however, that wars between
Native American groups did take place before the European invasions.

Most Native Americans fought in small groups, relying on surprise to
give them victory. The large nations of Mexico and Peru sometimes relied
on surprise attacks by armies, but their soldiers also fought in
disciplined ranks. The Aztecs fought formal battles called "flower wars"
with neighboring peoples; the purpose was to capture men for sacrifice
(the Aztecs believed that the sun would weaken if it were not fed with
human blood). Other native peoples, including many in present United
States territory, conducted war raids to obtain captives, but these
captives were used as slaves, rather than as victims for sacrifice. Some
Native American battles were fought for revenge. The most common cause
of war between Native American groups was probably to defend or enlarge
tribal territory.

Before the Spanish colonizations, warfare was conducted on foot or from
canoes. Both the Mexican and the Andean nations, as well as smaller
Native American groups, employed hand-to-hand combat with clubs,
battle-axes, and daggers, as well as close-range combat with javelins
hurled with great force from spear-thrower boards (known as atlatls).
Bows and arrows were used in attacks, and fire arrows were used against
thatched-house villages. When the Spanish brought riding horses to the
New World, native peoples in both North and South America developed
techniques of raiding from horseback.

Languages About a thousand distinct languages are presently spoken by
native peoples in North and South America, and hundreds more have become
extinct since first European contact. In many areas, among them the
Intermountain and Plateau regions of North America, people often spoke
not only their native language but also the languages of groups with
whom they had frequent contact. In various cases one language served as
a common language for a multilingual region; examples include Tucano
(western Amazon area) and Quechua (Andean region). Some regions had a
traders' language or pidgin, a simplified language or mixture of several
languages, helpful to traders of different native languages; among these
were Chinook Jargon (Pacific Coast, North America), Mobilian (United
States, Southeast), and lingua geral (Brazil). Linguists have grouped
many of the Native American languages into roughly 180 families, but
many other languages have no known relatives; scholars differ in
proposing more distant relationships among families. Grammatical traits,
sound systems, and word formation often vary from family to family, but
families in a given region often influence one another.  Crafts and the
Arts Distinctive craft needs and artistic styles characterize each
culture area of the Americas. Nearly all the major technologies known in
Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 16th century were known also to Native
Americans before European contact, but these technologies were not
always used in the same way. For example, although the Andean nations
had superb metallurgists, they made few metal tools (people used stone
tools for most tasks); instead they applied their skills to creating
magnificent ornaments. In architecture, the Maya built a few true (known
as keystone) arches, but for roofing their buildings, Mayan architects
preferred not the true arch but the narrow corbeled vault. Stonework The
earliest American art known to archaeologists is flint knapping, or the
chipping of stone. Between about 9000 and 6000 BC, stone spear and dart
points of sharp beauty, such as the Folsom and Eden points, were
produced with great skill. Although flint knapping eventually declined
somewhat in other culture areas, in Mesoamerica the art of chipping
flint and, especially, obsidian continued to be highly prized. In the
Late Archaic period, after 3000 BC, the pecking and grinding (rather
than chipping) of stone developed into art. In the region that is now
the eastern United States lovely small sculptures, particularly of
birds, were made as weights for spear-thrower boards. Between about 1500
and 400 BC in Mesoamerica, the Olmec made small ornaments of
semiprecious stones, as well as fine naturalistic and in-the-round stone
sculptures that were close to or larger than life size. Jade was a
favorite stone of the Olmec, and it continued to be carved throughout
Mesoamerican prehistory. Northwest Coast Haida carvings in argillite and
recent Inuit soapstone carvings are examples of the continuing
expression of Native American art through stone.

In architecture, the pre-Hispanic Andean nations developed stone masonry
to a high degree, fitting smoothed stone blocks together so expertly
that no mortar was needed for walls that have stood for more than a
thousand years. The Mesoamerican peoples also built in stone, and they
preferred to cover their buildings in stucco plaster and adorn them with

Pottery The earliest pottery in the Americas was made about 3500 BC. By
2000 BC several known styles of ceramics had emerged, and in the wares
of the following centuries everyday cooking pottery can be distinguished
from fine serving pieces. Among outstanding styles are the Mayan vessels
painted with scenes of royalty and mythology; the molded vessels of the
Moche culture of Peru, reproducing objects and scenes from daily life as
well as images from mythology; and the pottery of the Pueblos of the
Southwest culture area, painted in geometric or stylized naturalistic
designs. Ever since its beginnings as an Archaic-period art form in the
Americas (by about 8000 BC or perhaps earlier), basketry continued to
develop, reaching its finest levels of achievement in western North
America. There, baskets became a true art form, prized as objects of
wealth when of highest quality. In most parts of the Americas several
basketry techniques were known, among them weaving, twining, and
coiling; decorative techniques included embroidery and the use of bright
feathers, shells, and beads. Weaving Throughout the Americas weaving of
one kind or another was practiced, but the craft reached its highest
development in the Andean nations. In ancient South America twining
seems to have been in use earlier than true weaving, and this early
technique continued in use in both North and South America for bags,
belts, and other items. Almost as widespread as twining was the use of
the backstrap loom, in which the tension on the threads is maintained as
the weaver leans against a strap attached to the lower ends of the warp
threads (the upper ends are attached to a hanging bar). On this simple
loom a skilled weaver can make extremely fine, although narrow,
textiles. Heddle looms appeared in Peru after about 2000 BC, allowing
wider cloth to be woven (a heddle is a mechanism that raises and lowers
the warp threads in the pattern required). Peruvian weavers, using
cotton as well as llama and vicu–a wool, produced some of the finest
textiles known, from filmy gauzes to double-faced brocades. Into their
fabrics Native American weavers sometimes wove feathers or ornaments of
precious metal, shell, or beads. The Aztec emperor and the Inca wore
cloaks completely covered by brilliant feathers of rare birds, or by
gold. Metalworking In North America, in the upper Midwest, copper had
been beaten into knives, awls, and other tools in the Late Archaic
period (around 2000 BC), and since that time it had been used for small
tools and ornaments. The use of copper in this region, however, was not
true metallurgy, because the metal was hammered from pure deposits
rather than smelted from ore. The earliest metallurgy in the Americas
was practiced in Peru about 900 BC, and this technology spread into
Mesoamerica, probably from South America, after about AD 900. Over the
intervening centuries a variety of techniques developed, among them
alloying, gilding, casting, the lost-wax process, soldering, and
filigree work. Iron was never smelted, but bronze came into use after
about AD 1000. Thus, copper and, much later, bronze were the metals used
when metal tools were made; more effort, however, was put into
developing the working of precious metals-gold and silver-than into
making tools.

The best-known recent Native American metalwork is that of Navajo and
Hopi silversmiths; their craft began when they adopted Mexican
silver-working techniques in the mid-19th century.

Work in Other Materials Among hunting peoples leather was used
extensively for clothing, tents, shields, and containers (quivers, baby
carriers, food storage, sheaths, ritual paraphernalia). In North America
leather clothing was often embroidered with dyed porcupine quills. After
European trade began, quill embroidery gave way to decoration with glass
beads. Native Americans in eastern North America copied embroidery
designs of the French, and they substituted silk threads for quills and
moose hair.

Wood carving was a widespread craft among Native Americans. The peoples
of the Northwest Pacific Coast developed a truly distinctive art style
in their wood carvings, with variations from tribe to tribe; the most
famous examples of this style are its totem poles, tall logs carved and
painted to represent the noted ancestors of a clan and figures from

Bark was employed in several Native American crafts. In northeastern
North America it was used for roofing, canoes, and containers; along the
Northwest Coast, shredded cedar bark was woven into rain capes and
ornaments; in South America bark was beaten in a felting process into a
kind of cloth; and in Mexico bark pulp was made into paper.

Among Southwestern peoples such as the Navajo, Pueblo, and Yumans,
pollen, pulverized charcoal and sandstone, and other colored powdery
materials are distributed over a ground of sand to create symbolic sand
paintings that are used in healing rites and then destroyed. In the 20th
century a number of Native American artists in Canada and the United
States have adopted tempera, watercolor, and oil painting, using both
traditional imagery and modern Western styles. The peoples of the
Northwest Coast and the Inuit have also adapted traditional pictorial
styles to printmaking.

Music and Dance In North America six distinctive musical styles or
regions have been recognized: Inuit and Northwest Coast; California and
nearby Arizona; the Great Basin; Athapaskan; Plains and Pueblo; and
Eastern Woodland. The music of northern Mexico has much in common with
that of western Arizona; farther south, however, in the regions of the
Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations, complex musical cultures existed.
Little information has been preserved about the music of these
civilizations, and whatever remains of the original styles survived the
Spanish conquest principally in the form of highly complex and varied
blends of native and assimilated Spanish elements. Elsewhere in South
America the music of the native peoples, like that of North America, was
relatively insulated from nonnative influence; the South American music,
however, has been less extensively studied than that of North America.
Instruments and Vocal Styles Among the persisting native musical styles
of the Americas, singing is the dominant form of musical expression,
with instrumental music serving primarily as rhythmic accompaniment.
Exceptions occur, notably the North American love songs played by men on
flutes. The native peoples of South America tend to use a softer singing
voice than those of North America, whereas a tense vocal production is
characteristic east of the Rocky Mountains.

Throughout the Americas the principal instruments have been drums and
rattles (shaken in the hand or worn on the body), as well as flutes and
whistles. In Mesoamerica and the Andes, greater variety exists. Besides
rattles and drums, the pre-Hispanic ensembles of the Aztecs are known to
have included double and triple flutes; trumpets played in harmony in
pairs; rasps; and the slit-drum (known as the teponaztli, a resonant,
carved hollowed log struck with a stick). In Panama and the Andes,
panpipes continue to be played in harmony. Instruments have often had
ritual or religious significance; among some Brazilian tribes, for
example, women must not view the men's flutes. In North America the
tambourinelike frame drum, and in South America the maraca rattle, were
frequently played by shamans.

Inuit and Northwest Pacific Coast The Inuit and the peoples of the
Northwest Pacific Coast use more complex rhythms than are common
elsewhere in North America, and on the Northwest Pacific Coast, songs
may have more complex musical forms and may use exceptionally small
melodic intervals (a semitone or smaller). Northwest Pacific Coast dance
dramas are lengthy, elaborate productions with magnificent costumes and
tricky props, and the songs for these dramas are carefully taught and
rehearsed. Inuit dance and costumes are simpler, possibly because their
communities are smaller, and the dances often feature men using the
forceful movements of harpooning while women sing accompaniment.
California and the Great Basin The singing of the Native Americans of
California and the Great Basin is produced by a more relaxed throat than
that of other North American musical areas. The melodies and texts,
however, are like those found elsewhere in North America in that the
songs are short (although they may be repeated or combined into series)
and the texts are often brief sentences. Such texts tend to refer to
myths, events, or emotions, rather than telling stories, and sections of
text may alternate with song sections sung to meaningless syllables.
Listeners must know the background to appreciate the poetry and meaning
of a song. Both social dances and costumed ritual dances are found in
the Great Basin and in California, where they are more elaborate. Some
California (and western Arizona, particularly Yuman) music is
characterized by a rise in pitch in the middle section of a song. Songs
of the Great Basin often have a structure consisting of paired phrases.
Athapaskan Music The music of the Athapaskan peoples-those of
northwestern Canada and Alaska as well as the Navajo and Apache of the
Southwest-is characterized by melodies that have a wide range and an
arc-shaped contour, and by frequent changes in meter; falsetto singing
is prized. Costumed ritual dances are unusual except among the Apache,
who, like the Navajo, have been influenced by the Pueblos. Much Navajo
music belongs to healing rituals designed to restore patients to harmony
by seating them in beautiful sand paintings while they listen to poetic
songs. Plains and Pueblo Music The music of the Great Plains is the best
known of the Native American styles of North America and is the source
of the musical styles heard at present-day powwows (social gatherings,
often intertribal, featuring Native American dancing). Singing is in a
tense, pulsating, forceful style; men's voices are preferred, although a
high range and falsetto are valued. Melodic ranges are wide, and the
typical melodic contour is terrace-shaped-beginning high, and descending
as the song progresses. Plains music is often produced by a group of men
sitting around a large double-headed drum, singing in unison and
drumming with drumsticks (at powwows, the group itself is called a
drum). In Plains dancing, men usually dance solo with bent body (several
may dance at once, independently), but there are also ritual dances with
symbolic steps and social round dances for couples. The Pueblos add some
lower-voiced music; they make more use of chorus, and they perform
elaborate costumed ritual dances (often with clowns that entertain
between serious dances).Eastern Woodland Styles Eastern Woodland music
resembles Plains music, but it tends to have narrower melodic ranges,
and Eastern singing makes use of polyphony (multipart music) as well as
forms that are antiphonal (with alternating choruses) and responsorial
(with alternating solo and chorus). Dances include men's solos, as well
as ritual dances and social round dances. In the Stomp Dance of the
Southeast, a snakelike line of dancers follows a leader who calls out in
song and is answered by the followers. Mexico and the Andes Almost no
archaeological evidence exists for prehistoric music in the Americas;
all that is known from pre-Hispanic civilizations is a few preserved
instruments (such as panpipes and ocarinas in Peru) and painted or
carved scenes of musicians and dancers. In Mexico and Peru at the point
of European contact, the nobles and the temple personnel maintained
professional performers. In Mexico officials organized rituals for each
month, with hundreds of richly costumed, carefully rehearsed dancers and
musicians. Responsorial singing was practiced; sophisticated scales and
chords were apparently used, and compositions seem to have been formally
structured, with variety in melody and in combinations of meters.
Secular dramas with professional actors were also produced, and bards
composed epics. The harps, fiddles, and guitars found in the Native
American music of present-day Mexico and Peru were adopted from the
Spanish. Other South American Areas Elsewhere in South America,
indigenous music was relatively unaffected by European music. The
pentatonic (five-note) scale of the Incas spread to some other regions,
but earlier scales of three or four notes also survived. Polyphonic
singing, characterized by various voices and melodies, developed in some
areas, notably in Patagonia. Flutes are still sometimes played in
harmony, and the music of some Tropical Forest peoples is often a
complex combination of voices, percussion, and flutes.

European Contact and Impact As early Europeans first stepped ashore in
what they considered the "New World"-whether in San Salvador (West
Indies), Roanoke Island (North Carolina), or Chaleur Bay (New
Brunswick)-they usually were welcomed by the peoples indigenous to the
Americas. Native Americans seemed to regard their lighter-complexioned
visitors as something of a marvel, not only for their dress, beards, and
winged ships but even more for their technology-steel knives and swords,
fire-belching arquebus (a portable firearm of the 15th and 16th
centuries) and cannon, mirrors, hawkbells and earrings, copper and brass
kettles, and other items unusual to the way of life of Native Americans.
Initial Reaction to Europeans Nonetheless, Native Americans soon
recognized that the Europeans themselves were very human. Indeed, early
records show that 16th- and 17th-century Native Americans very often
regarded Europeans as rather despicable specimens. White Europeans, for
instance, were frequently accused of being stingy with their wealth and
avaricious in their insatiable desire for beaver furs and deer hides.
Likewise, Native Americans were surprised at European intolerance for
native religious beliefs, sexual and marital arrangements, eating
habits, and other customs. At the same time, Native Americans became
perplexed when Europeans built permanent structures of wood and stone,
thus precluding movement. Even village- and town-dwelling Native
Americans were used to relocating when local game, fish, and especially
firewood gave out.

To many Native Americans, the Europeans appeared to be oblivious to the
rhythms and spirit of nature. Nature to the Europeans seemed to be an
obstacle, even an enemy. It was also a commodity: A forest was so many
board feet of timber, a beaver colony so many pelts, a herd of buffalo
so many robes and tongues. Some Europeans perceived the Native Americans
themselves as a resource-souls ripe for religious conversion, or a
plentiful supply of labor. Europeans, in sum, were regarded as somewhat
mechanical-soulless creatures who wielded ingenious tools and weapons to
accomplish their ends.

Relations with the Colonial Powers "We came here to serve God, and also
to get rich," announced a member of the entourage of Spanish explorer
and conqueror Hern‡n CortŽs. Both agendas of 16th-century Spaniards, the
commercial and the religious, needed the Native Americans themselves in
order to be successful. The Spanish conquistadors and other adventurers
wanted the land and labor of the Native Americans; the priests and
friars laid claim to their souls. Ultimately, both programs were
destructive to many indigenous peoples of the Americas. The first robbed
them of their freedom and, in many cases, their lives; the second
deprived them of their culture.

Contrary to many stereotypes, however, many 16th-century Spaniards
agonized over the ethics of conquest. Important Spanish jurists and
humanists argued at length over the legality of depriving the Native
Americans of their land and coercing them to submit to Spanish
authority. For the Native Americans, however, these ethical debates did
little good.

The situation for Native Americans was considerably less destructive in
Canada, where French commercial interests centered on the fur trade.
Many of the indigenous peoples were vital suppliers of beaver, otter,
muskrat, mink, and other valuable pelts. It would have been ruinous for
the French to have mistreated such useful business partners. It was also
unnecessary, as the lure of trade goods was sufficient incentive for the
native hunters to transport the pelts to MontrŽal, Trois-Rivires, and

Another factor favoring the relative independence of the indigenous
peoples of Canada was the French need for allies in their wars with the
British-both to the south, in the thirteen colonies, and to the north,
on the shores of Hudson Bay. Both the French and British employed Native
Americans as auxiliaries in their wars.

While the French tended to regard the indigenous peoples as equals and
intermarriage as acceptable, the English were not so inclined. English
scorn for Native Americans no doubt derived in large measure from the
tensions and friction generated by the English desire to acquire more
and more land. Unlike the French in Canada, the English settled the
Atlantic seaboard of the present-day United States on a relatively
massive scale, and in the process displaced many more Native Americans.
Moreover, Native Americans were not considered nearly as important to
the English economy as they were to the French. The result was that the
English generally viewed them as an obstacle to progress and a
nuisance-except when war with France threatened; at such times the
English attempted to purchase the support or neutrality of the
indigenous peoples with outlays of gifts.

The Ravages of Disease In 1492 the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America,
and Andean South America were among the most densely populated regions
of the hemisphere. Yet, within a span of several generations, each
experienced a cataclysmic population decline. The culprit, to a large
extent, was microbial infection: European-brought diseases such as
smallpox, pulmonary ailments, and gastrointestinal disorders, all of
which had been unknown in the Americas during the pre-Columbian period.
Native Americans were immunologically vulnerable to this invisible

The destruction was especially visible in Latin America, where great
masses of susceptible individuals were congregated in cities such as
Tenochtitl‡n and Cuzco, not to mention the innumerable towns and
villages dotting the countryside. More than anything else, it was the
appalling magnitude of these deaths from disease that prompted the
vigorous Spanish debate over the morality of conquest.

As the indigenous population in the Caribbean plummeted, Spaniards
resorted to slave raids on the mainland of what is now Florida to
bolster the work force. When the time came that this, too, proved
insufficient, they took to importing West Africans to work the cane
fields and silver mines.

Those Native Americans who did survive were often assigned, as an entire
village or community to a planter or mine operator to whom they would
owe all their services. The encomienda system, as it came to be known,
amounted to virtual slavery. This, too, broke the spirit and health of
the indigenous peoples, making them all the more vulnerable to the
diseases brought by the Europeans.

Death from microbial infection was probably not as extensive in the
Canadian forest, where most of the indigenous peoples lived as migratory
hunter-gatherers. Village farmers, such as the Huron north of Lake
Ontario, did, however, suffer serious depopulation in waves of epidemics
that may have been triggered by Jesuit priests and their lay assistants,
who had established missions in the area.

Wars and Enforced Migrations Without a doubt, the indigenous peoples of
Canada suffered fewer dislocations than did the indigenous peoples of
Latin or English America. This can be partly explained by the nature of
the fur trade, which militated against settlement; the idea was to
maintain the wilderness so that fur-bearing animals would continue to
flourish. Furthermore, French settlement in Canada was restricted to a
thin line of seigneuries (large tracts of land) and villages along the
banks of the Saint Lawrence and lower Ottawa rivers. This demographic
and commercial legacy continues to be felt in present-day Canada, where
numerous indigenous groups may be found living in a more or less
traditional manner, at least for part of the year.

In contrast, English-Native American relations in the 17th and 18th
centuries were marked by a series of particularly vicious wars won by
the English. The English exercised the mandate of victory to insist that
the Native Americans submit to English sovereignty and either confine
their activities to strictly delimited tracts of land near areas of
English settlement or move out beyond the frontier.

Disease was also a grim factor in the American colonies, where the
majority of the Eastern Woodlands people lived as village farmers.
Severely affected by smallpox and war and harassed by settlers, many of
the peoples indigenous to the eastern coastal areas gathered together
their remnants and sought refuge west of the Appalachians.

Relations with the United States

One of the problems confronting the young United States was what to do
with Native American peoples, particularly those in the Old Northwest
(today called the Midwest) and South. The Treaty of Paris (1783), which
formally ended the American Revolution, had made no mention of the
country's indigenous peoples, reflecting Great Britain's ambiguous
jurisdiction over them. The United States would have to chart its own
course, which it did in Article I, Section 8, of its Constitution: "The
Congress shall have Power  To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations,
and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." This was the
law from which more than 200 years of federal legislation and programs
would derive.

In the closing years of the 18th century, many of these "new" Americans
were migrating in search of land across the Alleghenies and the Blue
Ridge into the Ohio Valley, Kentucky, and Tennessee-areas where various
Native American nations were still intact and strong. Once there, many
of these migrants squatted on Native American land, with the predictable
result: war. A series of battles culminated in 1794 in the Battle of
Fallen Timbers in northwestern Ohio, won by the forces of American
General Anthony Wayne; it was followed, a year later, by the forced
Treaty of Greenville, establishing a definite boundary between what was
designated "Indian Territory" and white settlement.

The Trade and Intercourse Acts These were difficult years for the
fledgling government of the United States. Dominated by easterners, who
were far removed from the brutality and anxieties of the
trans-Appalachian frontier, the Congress of the United States was
interested in pursuing a just and humane policy toward Native Americans.
This was the rationale behind the passage of the Trade and Intercourse
Acts, a series of programs at the turn of the century aimed at reducing
fraud and other abuses in commerce with Native Americans. In practice,
Congress sought to extinguish Native American titles to lands through
peaceful negotiation before white settlement.