Subject: Re: earliest pottery: thoughts upon a strange controversy From: email@example.com (Yuri Kuchinsky) Date: 1997/06/19 Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Newsgroups: sci.archaeology,sci.archaeology.mesoamerican, sci.anthropology,sci.anthropology.paleo Greetings again, So it seems that this subject of the earliest pottery in the Americas is not controversial enough?Click here to go one level up in the directory.
Why the underwhelming response, I wonder? Is no one really interested? Oh, well, be it as it may... So here's the conclusion of my "thoughts". To remind, this is a review of the two articles appearing in current AMERICAN ANTIQUITY. [Also, I forgot to mention in the previous post that files with the summary of Roosevelt's 1995 publication were posted by me a few months ago in some of these ngs, and are also available on my webpage. If someone cannot access them there for some reason, email me, and I will send the material to you.] I was talking before about how difficult it is to maintain reasonable and objective discussion nowadays when the question of "the Origins" of Native American cultures is mentioned... Diffusionism, both hyper- and hypo-, mystical unity, convergence, evolutionism, you name it, the whole array of obscure theoretical positions are brought out, and Good Bye common sense. The sleeves are rolled up and then, all of a sudden, it's an unseemly squabble instead of a scholarly debate. In this Kingdom of Shadows named the Ivory Tower, in the Days of the Present when carbon-dating is still a radical new thing not entirely documented in Guyana archaeology, Functionalism and Structuralism Triumphant, although not entirely mutually at peace, now Rule over Evolutionism, while Diffusionism, the bastard child of something as sinister-sounding as Kulturkreis is slinking in the shadows and plotting surprise guerilla attacks... This is as far as I will go in the theoretical part of this article. The whole thing sounds obscure and that's how it is... So, does Alaka phase, the earliest cultural stratum in Guyana, have pottery? Big question. And, in particular, does Alaka phase have sand-tempered pottery? It has been generally believed by previous researchers that sand-tempered pottery is the oldest pottery there. Williams may be trying to deny this. Another big question seems to be: were there preceramic occupation levels in the Amazon at all? Roosevelt said "probably not" in her 1995 publication. She suggested that the earliest human occupations were already ceramic. She was not really being "radical" in this, as this was apparently the opinion of most previous researchers in this field. But Williams clearly says all, or almost all, depending which part of his article you quote, early human occupation in Guyana was preceramic! Here's Williams: Apart from the Hososoro Creek deposit, none of the 14 shell middens excavated so far on the Western Guiana Littoral can by any means be described as pottery-age shell middens. All but one are preceramic. (p. 348) So what's the truth here? This would be rather important to find out for sure. (To me, there does seem to be an inconsistency in Williams. He publishes in 1992 and says fairly clearly there's plenty of Alaka- style pottery. Then he seems to deny this in the present article...) There's another endemic malady of today's scholarship that one can discern in the present mess. I mean the parochialism of our academic mainstream scholar. Everyone has their own little niche. Nobody seems to like if a scholar from an adjacent discipline "intrudes" to offer any radically new and unusual ideas. Everyone watches one's own turf, and woe befall the intruder. So here we have the problem of coordinating chronologies for the different areas of Amazon that happen to belong to different countries in our day and age. Of course 8,000 years ago, when those ancient folks being studied now were etching out a living in this swampy Amazon delta, there were no national boundaries or nations anywhere about. The people moved around a lot then. If only the archaeologists now did... The following two quotations indicate both the difficulties, at present, in coordinating chronologies for earliest pottery in the Amazon basin as a whole, and the virulence of the present debate. As noted previously, Roosevelt seems to be accusing Williams of "revisionism", of going against most of the previous scholarship in the area: Williams: ... it may have saved Roosevelt (1995:120) the futility inherent in drawing conclusions from the supposed link between the Mina and Alaka phases. There simply was never any connection between the two. (p. 350) Roosevelt: In his comment, Williams also writes as if the similarity of Alaka-phase pottery to the Mina-phase pottery is an idea that originated with me. However, like the idea of the existence of Alaka-phase pottery, this idea originated with Evans and Meggers. (p. 362) Of course the problem with the present controversy is that Guyana and Brazil contain a lot of the sites in question. But the people who are in charge of excavations are obviously different in each area, and the researchers involved tend to specialize either in the one or in the other area. So the excavations, the dating of artifacts, and the publishing of the results have been going on at very different rates for these two countries. It seems that the Guyana area is currently lagging behind significantly in contributing for us the true picture of what went on in that very interesting historical period. The more general, and a very important question here is, of course, How early the Amazonian pottery really is? Is it ca. 7000-6500 b.p. years old, as Roosevelt maintains, based on carbon dating? The Brazilian early dates now seem well-established. So this thing is not in question, or at least so it seems. The stakes in the present Guyana controversy may be diminished considerably because of this. The academic parochialism may have definitely contributed significantly to the present controversy. Williams has been rather slow to present evidence. While the general picture in the Amazon is strongly indicative of the earliest pottery in the Americas, the relevant data from Guyana was/is missing, and so that part of the historical jig-saw puzzle is still missing. Now Williams may be trying to signal that the pottery in the Amazon is not so early as people are beginning to think. At least this is my interpretation of what is going on. It seems to me that Williams may be inclined towards bringing the chronology for the earliest pottery closer to the present, i.e. towards making it look younger... Once upon a time, this debate apparently had something to do with whether or not a boatload of Japanese fisherfolk came to Ecuador to start the pottery phase in Valdivia. It's hard to say if this is still involved now. Perhaps it is. Certainly where the earliest pottery is found matters. But, myself, I see no reason why the location of the earliest pottery should have any impact at all on the convoluted grand theories about the Origins of Cultures that scholars formulate in their spare time. The contact with the Old World civilizations could have occurred both across the Atlantic and across the Pacific very early. If the earliest pottery is in the Amazon, theoreticians wishing to evoke transoceanic contacts can always theorize that the early contacts were with Africa, instead of with Asia. In fact such theories have been formulated long ago already by Donald Lathrap (1977). So let's hope the facts will emerge soon behind all this smoke. Let's hope archaeologists will let go of theory and get down to settling the much simpler matter of those potsherds -- the matter that _should be simple_, but is not, unfortunately -- so that the early history of Native American peoples and their cultures may become a little more clear to all of us. Best regards, Yuri. p.s. Of course I will be very greatful if any errors or inaccuracies in my two posts are found and pointed out to me. Any new information is certainly welcome too. Post or email privately please. 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 at: http://www.io.org/~yuku ----- _________________________________________________________________