Monday, February 22, 2010

Diffusionistic Fantasies IIb
Thor Heyerdahl, Part Two

Stela from Chavin in Peru

In a previous post I went through the first twenty points giving reasons for thinking widespread significant diffusion happened between the Old and New Worlds. Here I the next twenty reasons given by Thor Heyerdahl along with comments on each point.
21. The building of adobe houses regulated into blocks that are separated by street and public squares and equipped by water and sewer systems.
22. Long-distance supply of water for irrigation and public consumption through channels and elevated aqueducts, and the manufacture of uniform sections of pottery piping widened at one end to receive and enclose the narrow end of the next and higher pipe to form a continuous conduit.
23. Large-scale terrace agriculture with the use of animal manure and artificial irrigation for the cultivation of food crops and cotton for clothing.1
I am speechless. Does Thor Heyerdahl seriously think that learning to use mud to build shelters requires diffusion? Or that mixing it with straw and other binding agents is impossible to learn independently. We have mud building from very early on in the New World there is no need to assume diffusion. Besides the dwelling show a process of development. No sudden eruption of such dwellings. As for streets, sewers and water dispersal systems. Well those are simply natural and fairly obvious solutions to the problem of a lot of humans living together. After all there should be paths to walk among the dwelling, some sort of disposal system for all the human waste etc., created and of course people will need water. This of course especially important for people living in dry areas.

As for long distance supply if you live in an area that is dry or where the sheer number of people make it difficult to use local supplies because of pollution by human waste etc, then of course you must get it from other areas and somehow bring it to where it is needed; an aqueduct or canal are fairly obvious solutions. Besides is Thor Heyerdahl seriously suggesting that it would occur to no one to dig a canal to get water from point a to point b? As for the pottery piping. It should be pointed out that pottery piping is a good solution to the problem of getting water from point a to b. It also reduces losses through evaporation and protects the water from theft and possible blockage. Further if your going to use pottery to conduct water from point a to b you have to construct the pipes that way and seal them, otherwise water will leak out at the joints between sections. As per usual the archaeological record shows development over time in the New World.

Let get this straight is Thor Heyerdahl seriously suggesting that it requires diffusion for people to realize that if you practice agriculture on hilly and mountainous terrain it is a good idea to build terraces?! This is absurd terraces are an obvious solution to the problem. As for animal manure and irrigation; the fertility enhancing properties of animal manure are obvious and so is using canals etc., to bring water where it is needed. No need to evoke diffusion.2

24. The harvesting of the lint obtainable not from wild cotton but only from the artificially hybridized cultivated cotton; the spinning of those short fibers into yarn by twisting a stick threaded onto a specially shaped ceramic spinning whorl of identical size and form in both areas; the dyeing of the yarn; and the manufacture of the same two types of looms used to weave the yarn into polychrome fabric.
25. The similarity of cotton garments as pointed out by isolationists and diffusionists alike: the loincloth and cloak for men, and the dress with girdle and shoulder pin for women.
26. Identical types of leather and rope sandals.
27. The extremely important feather crown worn by warriors and men of rank (Characteristic of Mexican and Peruvian nobles, feather crowns are assumed by many to be a strictly American custom; it is nevertheless a characteristic headwear of the ancient Middle East, as shown in reliefs of Hittite warriors, as well as Egyptian illustrations of their sea-roving enemies, the mysterious Mediterranean “Sea People”)3

Well first of all the cotton of the New World is not “artificially” hybridized. The so-called hybridized form has existed for millions of years. Thor Heyerdahl claims this in order to provide an argument for the human borne spread of cotton and cloth manufacture. Second of all the making of cloth from cotton goes back to before 2000 B.C.E., maybe even 4000 B.C.E., in Peru which precludes pretty well diffusion and especially any diffusion by people from the Atlas region of North Africa c. 1200 B.C.E., which is Thor Heyerdahl’s main claim in the book. Given the above the further claims of similarity of whorl is not very helpful especially since the whorls are different. The whorls seem to have been in use in the Americas from early on. Diffusion seems to be precluded. As for dyeing the yarn. Since when is diffusion need to explain why people dye their clothing? The same thing for multicoloured fabrics. Of course Thor Heyerdahl ignores the differences between Peruvian textiles, with their intricate weave patterns and many, many colours with old world textiles. The two types of loom, not mentioned by Thor Heyerdahl are the back loom and the independent loom. Those are general types not specific types. Thor Heyerdahl ignores differences in detail. Further he ignores the fact that looms seem to have been in use from at least 2000 B.C.E., and probably 3000 B.C.E. Which effectively precludes diffusion. As per usual Thor Heyerdahl ignores also the evidence of the slow development of technique.

The clothing similarities Thor list ignores that the human body is the same the world over so humans happening on the same clothing solutions is not a surprise at all. Further it is likely that the first Americans had similar clothes to Europeans when they arrived in the New World so that modifications of that dress would likely have similarities with the Old World. Thor Heyerdahl also picks the clothing that is similar to the Old World examples he compares them too ignoring clothes that are different. The same goes with sandals. Once again over time and place Americans had a great variety of clothing just why are those similar ones considered so important by Thor Heyerdahl? This is an example of a trivial similarity. Diffusion is simply not necessary.

Thor Heyerdahl then tries to claim that the feathered headdresses of the New World derive from the Old World. There are a number of problems with that; one of them is that it is very likely that the so called feathered headdresses of the Hittites and Sea Peoples are no such thing but hair cut short and then bundled up with string. The other thing is that the feathered headdresses of the Olmecs seem to be quite different from any of the so-called headdresses of the Sea Peoples and Hittites. Finally it appears that feathered headdresses predate the Hittites and Sea peoples in the Americas.4

28 The Complex organization and maintenance of standing armies, with the custom of giving the soldiers shields with painted symbols intended to identify their units, and the use of canvas tents in military camps.
29. The use of the sling as an important weapon, the corresponding types of both rope and band slings with the same kinds of cradle, slit, and finger hole.
30. Parallels and identities in tools and utensils, often pointed out in farming implements, and in carpenters’ and masons’ tools, in the instruments of artists, in the
hooks, nets, and weirs of the fisherman, in the merchants’ balances, and in the drums and wind instruments of musicians.
31. Long range expeditions in search of special molluscs, highly valued for their red shells or for the red dye extracted from the snail.
32. Identical stages in the evolution of metallurgy. The same metals were sought, yet iron was ignored by the pre-European cultures here compared. Gold and silver were highly treasured, the ore was melted, hammered and molded in the same kind of pottery matrix to form figurines and jewelry sometimes with striking similarities. For the hardening of copper into bronze difficult prospecting was carried out often in remote areas, in search of the tin to produce the alloy.5

Sometimes Heyerdahl seems to display the most amazing inability to see humans as intelligent. Does he seriously believe that the idea of having a standing army requires diffusion! It is rather an obvious solution to the problem of protecting the state. The stuff about painted shields etc., and the use of tents all seem, well obvious! Finally why is Thor Heyerdahl once again comparing things that existed in the New World c. 1500 C.E., with things that existed in the Old World c. 1200 B.C.E? Thor Heyerdahl does not provide the evidence that these things existed in the New World c. 1200 B.C.E.

The sling almost certainly predates man arriving in the New World. They probably brought it there with them. Given the nature of the sling they would look alike anyway even if they were independently invented. It is of interest that Thor Heyerdahl ignores the following. His Sea People like invaders of 1200 B.C.E., had the Bow and Arrow which they unaccountably left behind in Europe the Bow and Arrow does not show up in the Americas until c. 800-1000 C.E. That is really strange in they invaded c.1200 B.C.E.

As for the general similarity of tools. Given similar problems and the similar configuration of the human body it is not surprising that many tools will show a similarity. It is for example easy to establish that fishing equipment was fairly similar between the Old and New World in say c. 8000 B.C.E. Thor Heyerdahl assumes because they look sort of look alike they had a common origin. Further no Old World tools of these types have been found in the New World. Also New World tools show a pattern of development that seems to preclude diffusion. Also it is likely that some of the very basic prototypes of these tools were brought into the Americas by the first Americans. Many of these tools seem to long precede 1200 B.C.E., in the Americas.

Regarding the dye. Firstly the use of red dyes especially red ochre is common the world over. Probably because red ochre looks like blood. So Americans investing red with importance as a colour is not a surprise. If they valued red coloured dyes and minerals that produced that colour than long expeditions to get it are not surprising. Does Thor Heyerdahl honestly think that Americans have to be taught red was important?

The last section is purest deception by Thor Heyerdahl. At the time he was writing the book he would have known that metallurgy of any kind did not appear in Mesoamerica until after c. 700 C.E. This includes silver, gold and bronze. It is passing strange that his bronze welding Sea People warriors completely forgot metallurgy when they invaded Mesoamerica. So for c. 2000+ years after they supposedly invaded Mesoamerica metallurgy was completely forgotten. Since Thor Heyerdahl would know this with even a cursory look at the literature his suppressing of this is in fact deception on his part. Further the Olmecs apparently knew nothing about metallurgy and no evidence as been found to indicate metallurgy c. 1200 B.C.E. in Mesoamerica.

As for South America it appears that metallurgy involving silver and gold appears c. 800 B.C.E., and bronze making c. 400 B.C.E. Both well after Thor Heyerdahl’s Sea People invaders are supposed to have arrived. Further Thor Heyerdahl in another effort of deception ignores that the vast majority of bronze in the Andean region was copper with arsenic as the alloy not tin. Since this is well known Thor Heyerdahl’s suppression of this information is a form of deception. Also the evidence seems to be clear that the methods of working metals including casting methods were independently invented as indicated by the archaeological record which shows the development of technique.

Of course the implied notion that Americans had to be taught to value gold and silver and had to then learn fro someone else to go into difficult areas to find it is simply risible. As for ignoring iron. Well some American did use iron, however like the peoples of the Old World, until they learned how to work it, they generally ignored iron because they did not have the requisite techniques to work it.6

33. Short-handled bronze mirrors, pincers, and small ornamental bells as major products marking entry into the Bronze Age.
34. Gold filigree work of outstanding quality. The minutely detailed articles of adornment produced by the American high cultures equalled the masterpieces of the ancient Middle East and, like the best of the fine-meshed textiles, surpassed anything in contemporary Europe.
35. Extremely sophisticated ceramic art repeated in the same specialized forms as polychrome funeral ware. The conventional tripod vase, considered so characteristic of the Middle East that it is identified as Phoenician when encountered archaeologically on the Atlantic coast of Morocco or the Canary Islands, is equally symptomatic of the American high-culture area from Mexico to Peru. Characteristic of both areas are also the polychrome effigy vessels in the form of heads and objects of various kinds. Reappearing on both sides of the Atlantic, and well known in each area, is the ceramic vase in the form of a human foot truncated above the ankle and wearing a sandal; the constantly repeated jars in the form of fish, birds, and quadrupeds, with spout and loop handles on their backs; the ring-shaped vase in the form of a coiled-up snake carrying miniature jars on its back; and its composite clusters of fruits and globular jars joined by cross tubes into one common long-necked spout.
36. The great importance of an abnormally flat ceramic figurine representing a naked female goddess. Its universal characteristic is that the body and limbs were flat as a plate, whereas the head was represented in the round. From the Middle East the Phoenicians brought this figurine westward through the Mediterranean as a representation of their principal goddess, Tanit, the Earth Mother. With identical properties the same little female figurine is perhaps the most characteristic example of early ceramic art all the way from Mexico to Peru.7

Regarding no. 33. It should be repeated that these inventions are rather obvious and further they do not appear in the New World until after 600 B.C.E., and then only in South America. Also they do not appear at all in Mesoamerica until after 800 C.E. This is long after the supposed arrival of Bronze welding invaders c. 1200 B.C.E. Once again Thor Heyerdahl “forgets” that the appearance of these traits does not synchronize very well with the Old World. Thor Heyerdahl compares traits from before 1200 B.C.E. to traits in the New World that appeared in some cases well over 1000 years later. Of course Thor Heyerdahl once again ignores all the signs of gradual development over time of these cultural traits.

Regarding no. 34. Thor Heyerdahl once again ignores signs of the development of these cultural traits over time and of course the fact that metal work appears in the New World at least 400 years after the alleged arrival of his Sea People invaders. Of course he also ignores the clear signs in the archaeological record of the development of these cultural traits over time.

No. 35 is an example of trait mining. Once again Thor Heyerdahl ignores when the various traits appeared in the New World as against the Old World. Instead he searches in the vast cornucopia of New World pottery for objects that resemble objects found in the vast cornucopia of Old World pottery. Not surprisingly given the vast amount of objects to choose from he finds some that resemble each other. Of course Thor Heyerdahl ignores issues like whether or not the objects in question are in any way close in time. Instead he compares objects that may be from very different time periods. I further note that he does not give any specifics about the New World finds he is comparing to the Old World finds. The mention of the Phoenician tripod vase is fascinating I wonder why he doesn’t mention the same detail for their New World counterparts? Perhaps because they are too far apart in time? The rest of the traits lack specifics and are also fairly general and so not of much use.

36 is fascinating although he once again gives the alleged Old World source he does not give any specifics about the New World except very general claims that the trait is early and widespread. Well that could mean all sorts of things. Well it appears that this Earth mother figure did not appear among the Olmecs or among the cultures of Peru at this time. It appears that Thor Heyerdahl has in mind the culture of Teotihuacan and its Great Goddess. By failing to give specifics and making it difficult to check Thor Heyerdahl does not help himself. It also appears that this cultural trait is not widespread in the New World.8

37. Clay models of daily life. In both areas occur identical pottery figurines showing a kneeling woman grinding flour; a pregnant woman sitting in a straddling position with another holding her from behind and a third one in front receiving an emerging baby; and a ring of little figurines holding hands in a dance around a little central figure playing the flute.
38. Funeral ware in the shape of small animals rolling on wheels. Although it was widespread I the Middle East and brought westward by the Phoenicians at least as far as Ibiza, the American distribution seems to be restricted to the early Olmec horizon in Mexico.
39. Marked importance of short-handled stamp seals as well as cylindrical seals of terracotta, with surfaces incised with a variety of figurative or geometric motifs. Dipped in color the stamp seals used for printing symbols and designs and the cylinder seals for rolling them in continuous bands. The same special motif is sometimes repeated within both areas.
40. The custom of carving wooden figurines and sometimes also big stone statues with deep concavities in place of eyes, which were subsequently inlaid with sea shells surrounding a black obsidian pupil.9

No. 37 is rather funny aside from the usual problem of what time period he is comparing them to. Is Thor Heyerdahl seriously suggesting that representations of such common motifs world wide require diffusion!? I personally think that Thor Heyerdahl is referring to, in part, the abundant pottery remains depicting everyday life that has been found in western Mexico. Unfortunately for him it dates long after c. 1200 B.C.E. This point cannot be taken the slightest bit seriously.

38 is interesting in that it remains of wheeled toys have been found at the Olmec site of Tres Zapotes dating to about 800-600 B.C.E. A problem is that they don’t look much like Phoenician wheeled toys and of course this is long after the supposed invasion of 1200 B.C.E. Also it occurs among a whole list of artifacts that show little sign of Phoenician influence and of course no Phoenician artifacts have been found. Despite what Thor Heyerdahl says the wheeled toy was used by later cultures in the Mesoamerica, notably El Tajin and the Maya. The wheeled toy seems entirely absent in South America. Of course the invaders of 1200 B.C.E. came from cultures with the widespread use of wheels, from carts to toys just why would they suddenly restrict the use of wheels to toys in the New World is a bit of a mystery. They also did not bring over the pottery wheel. It appears that this use of the wheel was discovered independently in the New World. The reason for the failure to use it in other ways like transportation seems to be related to the lack of animals to pull. Still the use of he wheel does not require draft animals and supposedly these invaders came from societies that were familiar with all sorts of ways to use the wheel. So the failure to bring those other ways assuming they came at all at least indicates that contact was not intense.

39 is another example of Thor Heyerdahl’s inability to credit human inventiveness. The fact is seals exist the world over and seem to be a fairly common invention. Further the earliest seals in the Americas do not much resemble Old World seals in terms of motifs. Of course no Old World seals have ever been discovered in the Americas. Independent invention seems to be the obvious solution.

No. 40 can be dismissed out of hand in that Thor Heyerdahl is comparing a cultural trait that is fairly late in the New World at least in terms of evidence with a trait that existed early on in the Old World. Of course once again Thor Heyerdahl ignores the idea that replacing carved eyes with inlaid eyes for a more realistic effect is not a very difficult eye. Since human whites are white and pupils black replicating them with white shell and black obsidian seems rather obvious.10

Once again we have Thor Heyerdahl making vague comparisons, making much of the trivial among other gaffes. He also engages in outright distortion in some cases. Thor Heyerdahl further gives virtually no concrete examples of comparison and almost completely ignores problems with chronology, i.e., comparing items that are far apart in time. And as per usual assuming that humans are uncreative and un-inventive. Also Thor Heyerdahl engages in what can only be called deception in some of his points. In many cases the similarities given as evidence of diffusion are vague and not terribly convincing. The failure of Thor Heyerdahl to give many specific examples for the purpose of comparison also looks deceptive. Of course he also ignores again the issue of the lack of Old World artefacts in the New World specifically during the time he assumes that the invasion by Sea People occurred.11

That some of the similarities he touts as evidence of diffusion are mere trivial similarities that prove nothing, indicates that Thor Heyerdahl was padding his list. One again the examples are not terribly convincing and the mere piling up of dubious examples doesn’t prove anything.

In another posting I will complete my analysis of all of Thor Heyerdahl’s points.

Olmec Pendant

1. Heyerdahl, Thor, Early Man and the Ocean, Vintage Books, New York, 1978, pp. 87-88.

2. Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel, Handbook to Life in the Aztec World, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006, pp. 321-326, Coe, Michael D., The Maya, Seventh Edition, Thames and Hudson, London, 2005, pp. 204-206, Smith, Michael E., The Aztecs, Second Edition, Blackwell Pub., Oxford, 2003, pp. 665-72, McEwan, Gordon F., The Incas: New Perspectives, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 2006, pp. 83-85, Janusk, John Wayne, Ancient Tiwanaku, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, pp. 182-193, D’Altroy, Terrence N., The Incas, Blackwell Pub., Oxford, 2003, pp. 24-25, 28, 32-33, 197-199.

3. Heyerdahl, p. 88.

4. Mason, J. Alden, The Ancient Civilizations of Peru, Revised Edition, Penguin Books, 1968, pp. 240-262, Moseley, Michael E., The Incas and Their Ancestors, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992, pp. 96-97, 101, 107-108, De Montellano, Bernard Ortiz, et al, Robbing Native American Cultures, in Current Anthropology, vol. 38, Issue 3, June 1997, pp. 419-441, at 437, Sandars, N. K., The Sea Peoples, Thames and Hudson, London, 1978, pp. 134-137. Dillehay, Tom D., et al, The first Settlers, in Andean Archaeology, Editor, Silverman, Helaine, Blackwell Pub., Oxford, 2004, pp. 16-34, at p. 25.

5. Heyerdahl, p. 88.

6. Driver, Harold E., Indians of North America, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1961, pp. 177-178, Mason, pp. 57-58, Davies, Nigel, The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru, Penguin Books, London, 1997, pp. 10, 14, 19, Sharer, Robert J., The Ancient Maya, Sixth Edition, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 2006, p. 576, Meltzer, David J., First Peoples in a New World, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2009, pp. 313-318, Leonard, Jonathan Norton, Ancient America, Time Incorporated, New York, 1967, pp. 122-123.

7. Heyerdahl p. 89.

8. Davies, Nigel, Voyageurs to the New World, William Morrow and Co. Inc., New York, 1979, pp. 141-165, Stiebing, William H., Ancient Astronauts Cosmic Collisions, Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY, 1984, pp. 131-165, Fritze, Ronald H., Invented Knowledge, Reaktion Books, London, 2009, pp. 62-96, Diehl, Richard A., The Olmecs, Thames and Hudson, London, 2004, pp. 97-105, Pool, Christopher A., Olmec Archaeology and Early Mesoamerica, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, p. 117.

9. Heyerdahl p. 89-90.

10. Davies, p. 109, Illustration between p. 178-179, Wauchope, Robert, Lost Tribes and Sunken Continents, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1962, pp. 74-77, 87, 91

11. For a fuller analysis of the logical flaws in Thor Heyerdahl’s arguments see Wauchope and Davies.

Pierre Cloutier

No comments:

Post a Comment