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1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before…

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

by Charles C. Mann

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3,8411111,343 (4.16)1 / 215
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Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed this. Page after page of interesting stories, stuff I didn't know, about North and South America before Columbus. ( )
  piemouth | Aug 28, 2014 |
This is one of those "Everything you know is wrong" books. Presents recent theories and findings about the peoples of the Western hemisphere, their arrival, their civilizations and their fate. Estimates that up to 90% of the pre-contact population was wiped out by a combination of Old World diseases and the resulting collapse of entire cultures. Amazing information on new theories about the Amazon. If you are interested in anthropology, history, or ecology this is a must read.
  ritaer | Aug 25, 2014 |
In the study of American history, during my school years in the US, including college, I just could not believe that Europeans arrived at the only continent on the planet to be so sparsely populated as to appear 'empty.' It didn't make sense, to me. After reading this book, I finished with a smile on my face. It is the first book on the early history of the Americas that made sense and had the data to back it up. This book should be required reading for every student in the Americas. (I also highly recommend '1493, How Europe's Discovery of the Americas Revolutionized Trade, Ecology and Life on Earth,' by the same author.) ( )
  K.J. | Aug 16, 2014 |
Wow! This was a great read! I found this while at the Baltimore Book Thing with Lily, and tore right through it. The author writes with the quick pacing and sense of story one would expect from a journalist. The book itself details the current thinking of the state of both the broader environment and human societies throughout the America's prior to the arrival of Columbus and the wave of European exploration and colonization. Its fascinating to see how the current state of scholarship is something equally terrifying to euro-centric rightists and eco-minded leftists. The America's were a far more, and far differently civilized place than I ever thought before. I highly recommend this book!

(2014 Review #12)
  bohannon | Jul 2, 2014 |
An amazing book. I learned an awful lot from it that will change the way I think about America's pre-contact history. What I appreciated most and the reason for the five stars is that although Mann was conveying a clear and major thesis, he didn't do it by overstating or oversimplifying the evidence. Instead he took you right up the cutting edge by presenting the debates in archeology and a number of related fields that are all trying to make sense of millennia of history that are a lot less definitively understood than one would like.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter was the one on the ways that much of the "pristine" and "natural" wilderness we see was really the deliberate product of thousands of years of effort by Indians. And that includes one of the most supposedly wild places in the world -- the Amazon -- with its many edible fruit trees likely the result of deliberate cultivation by the large population living there.

I'm tempted to follow up with a subscription to Latin American Antiquity so I can follow the sequel to this book in real time. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
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The seeds of this book date back, at least in part, to 1983, when I wrote an article for 'Science' about a NASA program that was monitoring atmospheric ozone levels.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 140004006X, Hardcover)

1491 is not so much the story of a year, as of what that year stands for: the long-debated (and often-dismissed) question of what human civilization in the Americas was like before the Europeans crashed the party. The history books most Americans were (and still are) raised on describe the continents before Columbus as a vast, underused territory, sparsely populated by primitives whose cultures would inevitably bow before the advanced technologies of the Europeans. For decades, though, among the archaeologists, anthropologists, paleolinguists, and others whose discoveries Charles C. Mann brings together in 1491, different stories have been emerging. Among the revelations: the first Americans may not have come over the Bering land bridge around 12,000 B.C. but by boat along the Pacific coast 10 or even 20 thousand years earlier; the Americas were a far more urban, more populated, and more technologically advanced region than generally assumed; and the Indians, rather than living in static harmony with nature, radically engineered the landscape across the continents, to the point that even "timeless" natural features like the Amazon rainforest can be seen as products of human intervention.

Mann is well aware that much of the history he relates is necessarily speculative, the product of pot-shard interpretation and precise scientific measurements that often end up being radically revised in later decades. But the most compelling of his eye-opening revisionist stories are among the best-founded: the stories of early American-European contact. To many of those who were there, the earliest encounters felt more like a meeting of equals than one of natural domination. And those who came later and found an emptied landscape that seemed ripe for the taking, Mann argues convincingly, encountered not the natural and unchanging state of the native American, but the evidence of a sudden calamity: the ravages of what was likely the greatest epidemic in human history, the smallpox and other diseases introduced inadvertently by Europeans to a population without immunity, which swept through the Americas faster than the explorers who brought it, and left behind for their discovery a land that held only a shadow of the thriving cultures that it had sustained for centuries before. --Tom Nissley

A 1491 Timeline

Europe and Asia

Dates The Americas

25000-35000 B.C. Time of paleo-Indian migration to Americas from Siberia, according to genetic evidence. Groups likely traveled across the Pacific in boats.

Wheat and barley grown from wild ancestors in Sumer.


5000 In what many scientists regard as humankind's first and greatest feat of genetic engineering, Indians in southern Mexico systematically breed maize (corn) from dissimilar ancestor species.

First cities established in Sumer.


3000 The Americas' first urban complex, in coastal Peru, of at least 30 closely packed cities, each centered around large pyramid-like structures

Great Pyramid at Giza


32 First clear evidence of Olmec use of zero--an invention, widely described as the most important mathematical discovery ever made, which did not occur in Eurasia until about 600 A.D., in India (zero was not introduced to Europe until the 1200s and not widely used until the 1700s)

800-840 A.D. Sudden collapse of most central Maya cities in the face of severe drought and lengthy war

Vikings briefly establish first European settlements in North America.

1000 Reconstruction of Cahokia, c. 1250 A.D.* Abrupt rise of Cahokia, near modern St. Louis, the largest city north of the Rio Grande. Population estimates vary from at least 15,000 to 100,000.

Black Death devastates Europe.


1398 Birth of Tlacaélel, the brilliant Mexican strategist behind the Triple Alliance (also known as the Aztec empire), which within decades controls central Mexico, then the most densely settled place on Earth.

The Encounter: Columbus sails from Europe to the Caribbean.

1492 The Encounter: Columbus sails from Europe to the Caribbean.

Syphilis apparently brought to Europe by Columbus's returning crew.


Ferdinand Magellan departs from Spain on around-the-world voyage.

1519 Sixteenth-century Mexica drawing of the effects of smallpox** Cortes driven from Tenochtitlán, capital of the Triple Alliance, and then gains victory as smallpox, a European disease never before seen in the Americas, kills at least one of three in the empire.

1525-1533 The smallpox epidemic sweeps into Peru, killing as much as half the population of the Inka empire and opening the door to conquest by Spanish forces led by Pizarro.

1617 Huge areas of New England nearly depopulated by epidemic brought by shipwrecked French sailors.

English Pilgrims arrive at Patuxet, an Indian village emptied by disease, and survive on stored Indian food, renaming the village Plymouth.

1620 *Courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Collinsville, Ill., painting by Michael Hampshire. **Courtesy Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Santa Fe, N.M. (Bernardino de Sahagún, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España, 1547-77).

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:39 -0400)

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Mann shows how a new generation of researchers equipped with novel scientific techniques have come to previously unheard-of conclusions about the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans: In 1491 there were probably more people living in the Americas than in Europe. Certain cities--such as Tenochtitlâan, the Aztec capital--were greater in population than any European city. Tenochtitlâan, unlike any capital in Europe at that time, had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets. The earliest cities in the Western Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyramids. Native Americans transformed their land so completely that Europeans arrived in a hemisphere already massively "landscaped" by human beings. Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico developed corn by a breeding process that the journal Science recently described as "man's first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering."--From publisher description.… (more)

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