Native American Civilizations: Stone Age People


Figure 1.--The Inca and other great Native Americans founded wonderous civilization with a long list of impressive achivements. They were also still a stone age people, evn the most advanced. The question often unasked is why such an impressive, creative people were still living in the stone age millenia after people Old World had entered the Bronze and Iron Ages. For centuries Native American origins and culture had a stigma in Spanish colonial America and the indepensent Latin American republis. In recent years the people of the ndes and Meso-America are embracing their origins and traditions.

Native Americans, even the great civilizations of Meso-America and the Andes, were stone age people. This is not to denigrate these people and their achievements, it is simply a statement of fact. This made their phenomenal achievements even more remrarkable. The stone age is usually defined as the era of human developent in which stone tools and weapons were used. Many advances could be made during the stone age, including achievements in fields often associated with more technologically advanced eras. The key technological development leasing to more advanced periods is metalurgy. And here the technological advance was the ability to generate high temperatures. The first step ws the Bronze Age nd finally the Iron age. Native american peoples had begun to nake some achievenents in metlurgy, but primarily work in precious metals like gold nd silver, metals with low melting points. They were on the cusp of the Bronze Age, but never made this vital transition. This is astonishing because the agricultural societies of the Old World had all energed from the Stone age by 2000 BC. Academecians tend to stress the achievements of Native Americans, especially because its fits the modern ideological docrtines of cultural relativity and resistance to recognizing the achievements of the West. And thus the failures of Nativive amrican civilization such the continued use of crude stone tools, limited metalurgical technology, failure to develop the wheel, lack of a fully developed written language, and absence of any movement toward scientific discipline. Rather than trying to make the cultural relativity case, the question that should be asked and the really interesting question was why Native Americans were so far behind the Old world (both the West and China). We suspect that the reason so many scholars fail to ask this question is that it leads to answers that do not ideological conform to the desire to undermine the great achievements of the West. And part of this answer is isolation.

The Stone Age

The stone age was the longest epic of human history. It is essentially synonamous with pre-history. Archeologists have didided the stone age into the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. The terms and time frame have changed over time as archeologists have improved our understanding of early people. The Paleolithic was the early stone age. It is by far the eariest period of human existence. There is no precise date for the beginning of the Paleolithic period, but about 2 million years ago is a good rough estimate. It approximately marks the point at which people became human. Paleolithic people were nomadic hunter gatherers. Major advances such as tool work, the use of fire, and lanuage developed in the Paleolithic. The Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age is a relatively recent term. Other terms have been used. The term represents the need felt by archeologists to better describe the transituin from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic. During this period ground stone tools appeared they were much more finely fashioned than those used in the Paleolithic. The tools were commonly used for cutting and smoothing. Some may have been used for ornamentation. The people involved were still hunter-gathers. The Neolithic was the late stone age. This was when man began to settle down to form agricultural communities and has been called the Neolithic Revolution because of the dramatic accomplishments in laying the ground work of early agriculture. Many people mixed foraging with agriculture, but the groundwork for agriculture and animal husbandry was made during this period. There is considerable differece concerning the chronology of the stone age. A factor here is that the chronologies varied in different geographic areas.

Native Americans: Stone Age People

Native Americans, even the great civilizations of Meso-America and the Andes, were stone age people. This is not to denigrate these people and their achievements, it is simply a statement of fact. This made their phenomenal achievements even more remrarkable. The stone age is usually defined as the era of human developent in which stone tools and weapons were used. Many advances could be made during the stone age, including achievements in fields often associated with more technologically advanced eras. The key technological development leasing to more advanced periods is metalurgy. And here the technological advance was the ability to generate high temperatures. The first step ws the Bronze Age nd finally the Iron age. Native american peoples had begun to nake some achievenents in metlurgy, but primarily work in precious metals like gold nd silver, metals with low melting points. They were on the cusp of the Bronze Age, but never made this vital transition. This is astonishing because the agricultural societies of the Old World had all energed from the Stone age by 2000 BC.

Stress on Achievements

Academicians tend to stress the achievements of Native Americans, especially because its fits the modern ideological docrtines of cultural relativity and resistance to recognizing the achievements of the West. As a result, we find people taking offense atwhen we point out that that Native Americans were stone age people, even the most advanced Native americans had a stone age cilture. Here is a good example, "That's ignorant, and based on information about 50 years out of date. No respectable historians or most other scholars would make the "Stone Age" claim. Especially since the Aztecs, Incans, and Mayans had superior astronomy and mathematics to Europeans. Especially since they were more advances in medicine. Especially since Natives as a whole over both continents were far superior in their agriculture to Europeans. That's why 60% of the world's food supply was hybridized or domesticated by Native cultures. And finally, Natives were superior in their political theory and social organization in mostly being radically democratic at the time Europe was still in the dark ages politically by relying on absolute monarchy. The only two areas Europeans had superior technology in was shipbuilding and weapons." [Carrol] Our respnse was, "Very rude and poorly informed response. I must complement you, however, with how perfectly you have expressed PC thought. Now I suggest you actually read a little. The Native Americans were stone-age people as any scholar or historian would tell you if you bothered to read a little history. rather than spout off PC cultural relativity ideology. Do you even know what the Stone Age was? Wiki tells us, 'The Stone Age is a broad prehistoric period during which stone was widely used to make implements with a sharp edge, a point, or a percussion surface. The period lasted roughly 3.4 million years, and ended between 6000 BCE and 2000 BCE [meaning the Old World] with the advent of metalworking.' More than 3 millennia after the Old World entered the Bronze Age and Iron Age, Native Americans, including the most advanced civilizations, were still using stone tools Native Americans never entered the Bronze Age, although when the Spanish arrived, thy were on the cusp of it. This failure is one of the reasons a handful of Spanish defeated massive Native American armies. Even the advanced Native American people used stone tools. The magnificent Inca and Meso-American structures (many of which I have visited probably before you were born and before it was easy to get many sites) including the monumental buildings were done with stone tools. They also used stone and wood for their military Campinas--with the addition of obsidian tipped weapons. Native Americans had begun to work with metals, but mostly in precious metals for decorative / religious purposes. The accomplishments you mentioned were true, although I would take issue with the claim that agriculture was more advanced than in the Old World. They did develop the potato and corn which are central to modern agriculture. Now I never said that Native Americans were not very impressive people with enormous accomplishments . And I accept the examples you give. But that does not mean that they were not a stone-age people. And with all their accomplishment they had not even invented the wheel--something you fail to mention--did you even know it. Nor do you note along with impressive mathematical achievement, unlike the Europeans they did very little with it except for religious ceremonies and agricultural planning. And by the way for your PC proclivities it is you who has shown shocking disrespect for other people by assuming that Stone Age means primitive people without any real accomplishment. Tsk. Tsk." And I might add, I spent 2 years in the Peace Corps teaching children in Ecuador, most with Native American origins.

Overlooking Weaknesses

And thus the failures of Nativive Amrican civilization such the continued use of crude stone tools, limited metalurgical technology, failure to develop the wheel, lack of a fully developed written language, and absence of any movement toward scientific discipline. This is important, especially when viewed with their mny accomplishments. Academicians, especially ideologicaly oriented authors, commonly overlook or down play these weaknesses.

Important Question

Rather than trying to make the cultural relativity case, the question that should be asked and the really interesting question was why Native Americans were so far behind the Old world (both the West and China). We suspect that the reason so many scholars fail to ask this question is that it leads to answers that do not ideological conform to the desire to undermine the great achievements of the West. And part of this answer is isolation.

Isolation

The Native American civilizations of the New World are unique in that they developed in isolation from the other great world civilizations. Some of the great Old World civilizations had extensive contacts. Others had only minimal contact, but contact nevertheless. Some archeologists have postulated contacts with Polynesians and or Africans and cthere are some intreaguing indicators, but these contacts have yet been proved with DNA evidence. Whether there were such contacts, it is clear that Native Amnericans of the New World were largely isolsted from the Old World. The contact with the Europeans beginning in 1492 was in many ways to Native Americans like visitors from outer space would seem to our modern world. [West] The Native American civilizations of the Americas lived in almost complete isolation from the rest of the world. This was true to such an extent that many Native Americans thought the Spanish might even been gods. One of the many fascinating questions of history is how Cortez, Pizarro, and other Conquistadores defeated empires with millions of inhabitants with pitifully small armies. One reason is the cultural isolation of Native Americans. One historian writes, "Isolation insulates a culture from a wider field of competition and stimulus; and in the long run this is unlikely to be in its advantage." [Cook] Here the danger in part biological. Isolated communities do develop resistance to major disease. The European Conquistadors brought with them diseases like smallpox that proved more deadly than the European plagues of the 14th century. Another matter is technology. The technological progress in human civilizations do not follow a prescripted pattern. A society my be advanced in some areas and very primitive in others. The Native Americans had sophisticated mathematics and calendars, but did not develop the wheel. Europe on the other hand shared technological advances directly or indicrectly with other civiliizations (especially the Arabs ad China). While the contacts might be tenuous, such as over the Silk Road, might have been tenuous, but it existed. The contribution of Chinese technology to European history and civilization is astonishing. The isolation of Native Americans put them at a great disadvantage to the Spanish. As a result, the Native Americans could not match the technology of the Europeans.

Sources

Carol, Al. Internet post, August 2, 2014.






CIH





Navigate the Cildren in History Ebsiute
[Return to the Main Native American page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]






Created: 1:16 AM 8/5/2014
Last updated: 1:16 AM 8/5/2014