July 9, 2001


Native Americans - Origins

Many theories on origins of Indians:

· Cotton Mather – said Indians were Satan’s chosen people – the devil sent them to America so they wouldn’t be converted to Christianity; so they escaped from Europe to avoid conversion.

· Mormons – said that c. 600 A.D. a group migrated from the Middle East. (Lost tribe of Israel.) This group split into two factions: One, the Lammanites, abandoned God; who punished them by giving them dark skin, and an unintelligible language.

· Adolf Hitler – said that Indians were lost tribes of Northern Europeans. Even argued that the Sioux were Aryan by heritage.


Four Major Theories on Origins of Indians


*** Gates wrote term paper on origin of Indians: Was supposed to be 10 pages; was 21; turned in three weeks early; got an A+. Today, same paper would have earned an F-; much has been learned in the meantime.


A. Some strong argument that Indians were descendants of ancient Egyptians or Phoenicians. It is possible that they sailed too far; ended up in North America by accident.

There is strong support for this theory:

· 1970: Thor Hyerdahl: tested idea that Ancient Egyptians may have settled in Central America. He built a boat similar to that used by the Egyptians, using the same plans and materials; sailed boat into Atlantic, caught a current which carried him to Central America.

· Both cultures built Pyramids which were originally used as tombs for leaders.

· Both had advanced technology in math and sea travel.

· Religions were similar – worshiped similar Gods.

· Writing was similar: Hieroglyphical.

· Social structure was the same: matrilineal societies.

An ancient Indian settlement was recently discovered in upstate South Carolina dated over 15,000 years old – this actually predates the Egyptian civilization!

Other communities have been located up and down Atlantic coast aged 7,000 – 10,000 years.

Near Outer Banks of North Carolina, a Celtic community has been located which has been dated to be over 2,000 years old – the time that Christ was on the earth.

B. Trans-Pacific Theory: Argument is that Indians came from Southeast Asia (Vietnam; Thailand, etc.)

These were seagoing people who traveled from Island to Island. They could have found currents and traveled Island to Island all the way to N. America.

Settlements have been located in San Francisco that are 11,000 years old; in South America that are 12,000 years old.

C. Bering Strait Theory: East Asians followed migratory herds of animals across Bering strait land bridge – Beringea. Land bridge appeared at least twice, 25,000 and 35,000 years ago. The Land bridge was approx. 55 miles in width. There is speculation that people followed the animals; some followed the coast; others spread out over the two continents.

Most scholars support Bering Strait bridge theory. Archaeological evidence supports it; but is not exclusive.

D. Native Americans believe were always here. If human beings were extant when Pangeia broke apart, they were located on the part which became North and South America.

Strong evidence that continents were once joined. Minerals found on N.C./S.C. coast not located anywhere else in Continent; but are found on West Coast of Africa.

Certain facts are known about Indians to be true:

· They adopted Agriculture more than 8,000 years ago. As a result, they had a sedentary life style, built permanent settlements.

Evidence of a sedentary lifestyle and developed civilization in America actually predates similar situations in Western Europe. Were made sedentary by agriculture.

· There was an adequate supply of meat, vegetables, water, so no longer migratory; as a result, population grew. Populations do not grow quickly in migratory societies; Indian population did grow.

· A growing community must construct physical, economic structures: Indians had this; had division of labor; gender roles 8,000 years ago. By 3,000 years ago, they had a highly developed civilization.

· By 1492 (Year Columbus landed), U.S. and Canada had 4 million residents. Most Indians preferred climates in warmer subtropical areas. Southern California, Central America, northern South America had over 40 million Indians.

There was a tremendous level of development.

· Cortez wrote in his dairy in 1519 that the Aztec city of Technocticlan (under present day Mexico City) had a complex irrigation system based on a series of canals and a grid system. Houses, etc. were strategically located along the grid. Even he recognized that this far exceeded the development and lifestyle of big cities in Europe.

· By 15th Century, the Incas of Peru were performing brain surgery; evidence indicates the practice dated back 1,000 years.

· Mayas had two calendars; one based on 185 days; another quite close to our modern calendar. They also had the technology to drill tiny holes in stone; something American technicians learned only within the last 100 years.

· Anasazi of Four Corners region had community developed 12,000 years ago with civilization more advanced than anything that existed in Europe. One subdivision had over 800 apartments; plus a network of roads that were straight.

· Also evidence of large figures carved into surface of earth; can only see entire image from high altitude.

Many scholars speculate on where the Indians originated; but also on what was lost when their civilization was destroyed.

By 1892 (400 years after Columbus landed), only 200,000 Indians left in North America. Only 4 million left in South America – utter destruction.

Where would society be today if this destruction had not occurred?

Not all Indian cultures were that advanced; not all equally advanced; some were more advanced than others; but many were far more advanced than has previously been believed.

See Transparency: How They Lived. They did NOT all live in Tepees.

There was a myriad of Indian cultures; not a single Indian culture. They had different styles of homes; all the product of the local environment; All cultures different, but there were similarities in


· Spirituality

· Religion

Eastern Woodlands Indians

Lived in area between Mississippi River and Atlantic Ocean. There were actually two cultures, Northeast and Southeast; both somewhat different.

Handout: Eastern Woodland Indians.

Wampanoags were Indians who met the Pilgrims in 1620.

Most populous were the Cherokee; occupied five southern States.

Note: Chicora Indians in this area claim attention, but have not been recognized by any official entity as an actual Indian tribe. Present members claim to be connected to the Sioux, and have adopted Sioux wardrobes (War bonnets, etc.)

In fact, no Indian in South Carolina ever wore a war bonnet (or even saw one), never lived in tepees, or wore breast plates. Sioux is actually a language family; only possible connection.

By 1492, there were over 2,000 Indian languages in the U.S.

Eastern Woodland Indians lived in a Longhouse . (See diagram).

Walls were made from woven mats, usually made of long grasses, etc. In New England, supporting poles of long houses were smaller; spaces were filled with mud, twigs, etc.

All long houses were insulated with Animal hides; and were typically about 50 ft. long. They housed 10-20 people, usually in a family setting; parents, grandparents, extended family, etc.

There was little or no privacy. Intimacy occurred in full view of all occupants.

The length of the longhouse determined the number of vents for smoke to escape. There was a long bench down one wall, and a flap that could regulate heat coming into/out of the dwelling.

Many Indian villages were surrounded by a Palisade (see drawing). Americans got the idea of a fort from the Indians. Poles of the palisade were from six to 15-2- feet high. Gaps between poles allowed air circulation during winter months. Also, arrows could be fired between the poles. Entry into the palisade normally involved a series of sharp turns, which made it easier to defend.

Note drawings of John White in Roanoke Colony. White was the only Englishman to make three trips to Roanoke.

Drawings show a community layout was present (communities were largely planned, not haphazard. There was typically a religious center, a housing area, etc. It was very planned and very tidily organized.

Mohawk drawing shows very elaborate structure. The CHICKEE was a simple structure for warm climates. The floor was elevated in case of rising water, and the roof was thatch.

Creek village drawings show an area set aside for entertainment, games etc. with a "housing area: where family groups lived.

The Wigwam was for small family groups; those just starting out; couples who had lost parents, etc. In many respects was similar to the long house.

Upper Louisiana, Arkansas, etc., Indians lived in huts.

Indians typically were nude during warm months; which was commonly accepted. There was nothing kinky about men and women running around butt naked during warm weather.

Subsistence: Eastern Woodland Indians were first and foremost farmers; and very skilled at their craft. Each family had its own garden plot, but shared produce with others if need arose. It was expected that the family would do so; the good of the community was far more important than the needs of the individual.

The village also had a common agricultural plot outside the palisade. The crops here were tended, harvested, and shared equally by all.

Farming was almost exclusively a female role. Women tended the crops, harvested them, and stood on scaffolds to scare away birds and animals, literally human scarecrows. It was considered unmanly for a man to engage in farming.

This led Europeans to conclude that Indian men were lazy and indolent, because they did not farm. This was not true; in Indian culture, farming was women’s work. Also, when Europeans enslaved Indian men, they forced them to work as slaves performing agricultural work; which was quite demeaning to them.

All food grown in community plot was stored in a community warehouse, and shared by all in the community. If one shirked his responsibility, he could be fined. There were overseers who assigned work in the fields, decided which areas needed to be worked and by whom, etc., just as in old Southern plantations.

Variety of crops grown: Melons, potatoes, squash, beans, corn.

Other than a few varieties of melons, all of these were absent from the European diet before contact with the Indians.

Woodland Indians also grew tobacco, but were aware even then of its health risks. The Powhatans warmed the Europeans not to smoke too much, as it would make them short winded, and cause death. By the 1500’s, Central American Indians had warned the Spanish about too much tobacco use; that it could be unhealthy.

They also grew cotton and created dyed material, woven with decoration. This was used to make a variety of clothing articles, normally only worn in cooler weather. Cotton as a clothing/textile material was heretofore not available to Europeans.

Flax was also grown. It was used to make linen which was used for bedding material.

Hunting was primarily the man’s responsibility, (along with fighting, defense of the community.) The prominent animal hunted by the woodlands Indians was the deer.

The stereotypical Indian hunting deer, etc., with bow and arrow is not accurate. This was seldom done, if at all. The Indians typically found herds of deer, and by means of noise and beating, chased them into a palisaded area and kept them in the palisade until meat was needed; literally herded and farmed them like cattle.

Indians did not like killing the deer for spiritual reasons. They considered it a brother of the earth; like themselves, with equal right to live. They only killed deer when needed for food; hunting for sport was completely unheard of.

All parts of the deer were used. Aside from meat and hides for food and clothing, straps were made from strips of hide; hooves were filled with pebbles and hide tied over it to make a rattle, ribs were used for sleigh runners; bones were made into farming tools, needles, even buttons.

They were also good fishermen; often corralled fish into a device similar to a fish trap, then pulled fish out when needed.

Two types of boats were available:

· Birch-bark Canoe: was lightweight; one man could carry; was used more for warfare than fishing, as could move quickly; quietly. It did NOT resemble the modern canoe.

· Dugout: made by burning away interior of logs, creating boat. Much more common than the canoe.

It is widely believed that by the 1400’s, the Indian typical diet was far superior to that of the Europeans.

Medicines were made from native barks and trees (see attachment). All were products of environment. Their knowledge of all this came back to haunt them later.

Indian Values: Common to all Indian Cultures. Values show a close connection to environment (see handout).

Plants and animals were considered equal with humans. Man was but one more contributor to nature. When he died, his body became fertilizer for the earth. There was a "circle of life;" an interdependency of all living things.

Indians had no concern for time. One can’t change the past or create future, so they lived for the moment. They revered, respected ancestors, but didn’t worship them.

Possessions: Private property was of very little concern. Idea of sharing was essential to the welfare of all in the community. One used that which was available, only "owned" that which he made with his own hands and used. But he was still obligated to share with others.