Monday, February 20, 2006

native americans and wildlife

Interesting little piece in the Washington Post's science column today. University of Utah archaelogists have discovered that Native Americans in an area near the San Francisco Bay hunted several species to local extinction long before Europeans showed up. As Jack Broughton put it, "The general public probably buys into the 'Pocahontas version' that Native Americans were inherently different and more in tune with nature. The evidence says otherwise."

This shouldn't be seen as a slam against American Indians. The noble savage stereotype of them, which the "in tune with nature" bit was a big part of, was frankly demeaning and insulting. It reduced them to the status of minor hunters and gatherers, incidentally making the European conquest of the Americas more "acceptable" since the myth arose that we took over an empty and underutilized hemisphere. It ignored the fact that before Europeans and small pox arrived in the Americas that there were hundreds of different societies, including flourishing agriculture-based civilizations in many areas in North, Central, and South America. Evidence like this study just proves one sad fact: that like humans on other continents over tens of thousands of years, Native Americans were also capable of short-sightedly destroying animal populations and mismanaging their environment.