Subject: papermaking and trans-pacific contacts: Tolstoy From: email@example.com (Yuri Kuchinsky) Date: 1997/07/06 Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Newsgroups: sci.archaeology.mesoamerican,sci.archaeology, sci.anthropology,sci.misc What can papermaking and barkbeaters tell us about the ancient contacts between Asia and America? --------- While the discussion of trans-pacific contacts in these newsgroups has focused primarily on plant diffusion, and various other assorted parallels, the importance of papermaking has not been considered as yet. Prof. Paul Tolstoy, of Montreal, has done much work in this area. Here I will try to summarize his relatively recent publication, PAPER ROUTE, in NATURAL HISTORY (6/1991). In this article that includes some very helpful illustrations, Tolstoy considers in detail the parallels in papermaking on both sides of the Pacific, as well as in the Polynesian islands. The technology of papermaking appeared 4,000 or 5,000 years ago in Asia. Mayan codices (of which very few survived the destruction by the Catholic Inquisition) were made of bark paper, a material different from "true paper", which was invented in China between 2,500 and 2,000 years ago. "The Maya and Mexicans used bark paper not only to write on but also for ceremonial clothing, banners, fans, bags, and other items." (p. 6) And most if not all of such uses have also been documented in Asia. Such ceremonial uses certainly predate the use of paper for writing, contrary to what most of us would think... "Bark paper or cloth is a layer of inner bark, or bast, taken from a tree, often of the fig family. It is widened, thinned, and made flexible by beating, sometimes in combination with other techniques, such as soaking in water." (p. 6) The difference between the two kinds of paper is that in "true paper" the bark has been transformed by pounding into a pulp to the point where the natural structure of the material is lost -- whereas in "bark paper", much of the original structure of the naturally interconnected fibers of bark is still retained. According to Tolstoy, "true paper" has not been found in precolumbian America, and this may indicate that the trans-pacific connection, such as it may have been, had been lost by the time when the "true paper" was invented in China. Or at least that any further contacts did not succeed in transmitting the more advanced technology. As early as 1888, German archaeologist Max Uhle noticed close similarity between certain stone artifacts of Mexico and others in Indonesia. It was already well known at the time that these stone artifacts, i.e. specially shaped and grooved flat stones, were used in Asia as barkbeaters in the manufacture of paper. Yet their use was then unknown in Mexico, although Uhle suggested that they were used in ancient Mexico for a similar purpose. This was confirmed in 1900 by Frederick Starr, who was the first scholar to document the contemporary papermaking by Native Americans, the Otomi in northeastern Mexico. His findings were confirmed by others. And now let's look at what Tolstoy found in the course of his research. He writes: "My own survey of hundreds of speciments of the club and racquet types [of barkbeaters] shows further correspondences in the construction of Mesoamerican and Indonesian examples. ... My research also reveals a pattern of dates for the archaeological examples. In Mesoamerica, the earliest bark beaters are from the Maya area and its periphery, particularly the Pacific coastal plain of Guatemala and El Salvador, where they appear some 2,500 years ago." (p. 8) "The dating of artifacts from the islands of Southeast Asia is less secure, but both forms [of barkbeaters, i.e. club-shaped, and racquet-type] almost certainly go back several hundred years earlier than they do in Mesoamerica. In Taiwan they probably go back one or two thousand years still earlier." (p. 8) "Surveying the manufacturing technologies of bark cloth and early true paper worldwide, I have identified some 300 variable features in the steps that go into producing these materials. They include such elements as the cultivation or care of trees used for their bark; ways of getting at the desired bast layer, ... [a long list of such features follows here]" (p. 10) "In addition, I have recorded some 140 uses of the product, such as mats, blankets, bags, various items of clothing, shrouds, banners, and of course, writing paper." (p. 10) "Finally, there are some 100 specific details of the design of bark beaters, which may be combined in various ways, and a mass of relevant botanical and linguistic information." (p. 10) "As a result of this research, I have reached three principal conclusions.  The first is that, bark beaters aside, the Toradja of central Sulawesi (in Indonesia) and the Mesoamerican communitites share ways of making and using bark cloth that are as numerous and as striking as the similarities between the tools they use. ... Some of the elements are very rare in the world and are found only in these industries and their close relatives. All have functional alternatives, and few, if any, are absolutely determined by the mere goal of making bark cloth" (p. 10) This of course is very important from the point of view of whether or not these inventions may or may not have been made independently in the two geographical areas under consideration. Here is where the _complexity_ that was already discussed in these ngs comes in as an important consideration. If certain elements of the manufacturing complex _could_ have many possible functional alernatives, but these alternatives are not evidenced in the _actual_ processes, the possibility of independent invention is diminished significantly thereby. In other words, the manufacture and use could have diverged significantly, and yet they didn't. And this is a strong indication that these complexes sprang from a common source.  "The second point ... Mesoamerican papermaking qualifies as a member of one family of Southeast Asian bark cloth and paper industries. Its direct connection to them would be unpoblematical were it not for its geographical location." (p. 10)  "Finally, the shared features and innovations suggest a family tree for these industries with a history of common inheritance and local differentiation. In it, Mesoamerican paper technology evolves from a prototype shared with Sulawesi bark cloth and moves toward the threshold of the true papermaking. Evidence from China suggests that this threshold was crossed sometime between 2,500 and 2,000 years ago, possibly in southern China or Indochina. Mesoamerica, however, acquired a version of the technology as it existed just prior to this event, probably from the area that includes Indochina, Taiwan, and the Philippine Islands, where the two beater forms occur together archaeologically." (p.12) Further, Tolstoy adds: "Contrary to what some might expect, Polynesian tapa making -- perhaps the most elaborate set of procedures ever devised to make bark cloth -- does not provide a credible link between the Indonesian and Mesoamerican technologies. ... Polynesian tapa making has its own distinctive characteristics, such as the use of the hollow wood anvil, and lacks many key features that link Java and Sulawesi to Mesoamerica, notably the unique racquet beater with a stone head, unknown in the Pacific east of the Philippines." (p. 13) (As I understand it, Tolstoy is suggesting that Polynesian papermaking branched off the common "family tree" of East Asian papermaking technologies very early on, and continued as a separate tradition thereupon. This "separation" may have taken place as early as 3,000-2,000 years bce.) So here we see that our intuitive idea that if some cultural traits, or agricultural plants, did diffuse across the Pacific, the Pacific islanders should have had them too is probably quite off base. Greg, for example, was wondering why maize, that I believe diffused across the Pacific in ancient times, is not found in precolumbian Pacific islands? I suggested some reasons for this already, i.e. that it was unsuitable for Pacific islands agriculture. The example of papermaking further adds to the things that could have been in evidence in precolumbian Pacific islands, supposing that diffusion across the Pacific is accepted, but were not. As to who and how may have brought this technology to America, Tolstoy says: "The travelers who brought papermaking to the New World may not have been castaways [as has been commonly proposed] at all, but explorers or deliberate settlers." (p. 13) People who may be interested to learn more about this fascinating research are encouraged to track down this article by Tolstoy and see there some good quality illustrations of barkbeaters on both sides of the Pacific. They do look remarkably similar. It seems to me that Tolstoy has contributed very significantly to helping us see at last those dark pages of the world history that remained obscure for so long. His research is finally uncovering the full story of the incredible co-operation of the Native peoples around the world many centuries before the Europeans ever managed to make it to these areas. Those whose Eurocentric pre-conceptions may make them feel uncomfortable about this hidden story of accomplishments of ancient tribal cultures being told should perhaps re-examine their cherished dogmas and prejudices... Best regards, Yuri. Yuri Kuchinsky | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there -=- | is always Paradise: so say the most ancient in Toronto | and the most modern serpents." F. Nietzsche ----- my webpage is for now at: http://www.io.org/~yuku ----- Paul Tostoy, PAPER ROUTE, NATURAL HISTORY, 6:1991. p. 6. _________________________________________________________________Click here to go one level up in the directory.