Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Diffusionistic Fantasies
Part VII

Sauna Diffusion
Or Steamed Off

Exterior of Finnish Sauna
Sometimes respected Anthropologists etc., go off the deep end. The following is a slightly expanded version of a posting I did c. 7 years ago in response to an article written by an Anthropologist who seemed to want to shock people with her daring and boldness.1

Dr. Kehoe seems to have gone off the deep end here. Aside from the usual stereotype / straw man of the hidebound mainstream Anthropologists, Archaeologists Dr. Kehoe creates of hidebound, dogmatic keepers of "truth", a few problems arise. Actually more than a “few” problems arise but I will keep to a few.

For example;

One interesting custom shared by Scandinavians and American Indians is the sauna, or sweat-lodge. Both users believe its use promotes health. Sweat-baths were standard in pre-Columbian Mexico, again as means of restoring or maintaining health. The antiquity of the custom is ambiguous because small structures with a fire pit in the center could have been used to smoke meat or hides. Whether Americans taught it to Norse, or Norse to Americans, cannot determined, but its near-ubiquity in America contrasted with limited historic distribution in Eurasia (Lopatin, 1960: 988–989) suggests Americans-to-Norse.2
Any evidence? Of course not aside from the fact that the sweat lodge is very common in much of the old World and is a ubiquitous feature of Finnish culture where it almost certainly predates the Norse arrival in the New World. I note that Ms. Kehoe seems to assume that the only issue is whether or not the Norse got it from the American Indians or vice versa. This basically prejudges the whole question. Why would you assume it must be a or b rather than c?

Wooden Saunas seem to date in Northern Europe from the 5th century although less permanent ones are probably far older. And of course the Romans had both the stream and hot dry bath.3

Ms. Kehoe does not seem to have done even the most basic simple research on the Sauna / steam bath. To quote a website: 

Most researchers agree that Finns always had some form of sweat bath, as did most peoples around the world. It was the simplest and most efficient way to satisfy people's innate need to keep clean. When the Finns were nomadic, they probably used a portable sweat lodge similar to those carried by the American Indian and still seen among nomadic tribes in central Asia. Once the Finns settled, they may have erected underground sweat houses, forerunners of the savusauna.4
and another website:

Finland is the land of the sauna and the Finns are a nation of sauna-enthusiasts. Finland has a population of 5.1 million and 1.7 million saunas — one for every three inhabitants. The sauna is considered an age-old Finnish feature, although it is not a Finnish invention and certainly not the private property of the Finns. In the late 19th century, sauna-bathing was practiced in the Old World all the way from the Baltic Sea to the Ural Mountains. The sauna was also common among the other Finnic nations in the Baltic region — the Estonians, the Karelians, the Veps and the Livonians. Other traditional sauna-users include many Slavic, Baltic (Latvians, Lithuanians) and eastern Finno-Ugric peoples as well as Turkic Tatars.

The traditional sauna is a wooden building where the bathers sit on benches splashing water on the hot stones of the stove and gently beating themselves with leafy birch whisks. ‘Sauna’, the most commonly borrowed Finnish word, has spread from Finnish to several world languages, although the Finns believe not always in its original sense. The expression ‘to have a sauna’ covers the whole bathing process and includes several repeated periods of perspiring in the heat and the steam, known as löyly, produced by the water thrown on the stones. Löyly is described as the spirit of the sauna. It is a Finno-Ugric word going back 7,000 years.

The Finns are not the only sauna-devotees in the world. Similar bathing houses and customs are also known among many other cultures (the Roman, Turkish and Celtic bath, the sweat lodge of the American Indians, the Japanese furo, the Russian banja, the Mexican temascal). The Finns are, however, a special nation of sauna-users in the sense that they have kept the tradition alive and adjusted it to their modern lifestyle. As conservers, developers and intermediaries they have spread the sauna round the world under the trademark ‘made in Finland’.5
Along the way we get from Ms. Kehoe dubious language comparisons, the usual dubious Maize supposedly carved in Indian temples etc., etc. But given example of Dr. Kehoe's research as indicated by Dr. Kehoe's comments about sweat lodges the quality of her research is dubious.
It appears that in regards to the sweat bath Ms. Kehoe merely free associated and did very little research otherwise she would have learned those easily learn facts.

The amount of discredited and dubious material in Dr. Kehoe's piece is amazing, (We get another round of the Cocaine mummies also.). So Why did Dr. Kehoe write it? And even more particularly, why was it published? If Archaeologists are so hidebound that they reject such theories out of hand just how does Dr. Kehoe explain the publication of her piece? I personally think that this piece of Scholarship is shockingly bad. 6

Dr. Kehoe confuses if something could have been done with it was done among other intellectual faux pas. But then the purpose of her dismissal of those who doubt transatlantic contacts is to avoid engaging in an argument with them but instead to dismiss them and thus dispose of their arguments.

Aside from the numerous straw men. Dr. Kehoe's discussion of inter-continental migration in the Americas, i.e., North America although interesting is decidedly unfair to so-called conventional Archeologists.

And of course Dr. Kehoe very carefully avoids the great pitfalls of hypothesizing extensive transatlantic contact. For example the arguably complete absence of pre-Columbian Old World material from the New World, (with a few dubious exceptions), with the rather glaring exception of certain Viking finds. Which indicates that if they are there they likely would have been found and also the "dogmatic" establishment would have accepted them. The other problem is if contact was regular the absence of certain cultural and biological traits is rather embarrassing if you assume more than sporadic contact. Dr. Kehoe mentions briefly the Bow and Arrow, (with some rather dubious entomological arguments), and ignores the implications i.e., if contact was "common" why did the Bow and arrow arrive so, relatively, late in the New World? In fact it appears that the bow and arrow diffused out of Asia and over the Bering strait and then south into North and then South America. One could also talk about iron, rice, wheat etc., in the same way. 7

None of this proves that no contact occurred, it does in my opinion tell us about the nature of said contact; that it was sporadic and its effects fairly minor.

As for Dr. Kehoe's silliness about those who view transatlantic contacts as viewing American Indians as savages incapable of dealing with visitors and so forth. And also that this doctrine has been used to justify "manifest destiny", and so forth.

The above is pure agit prop, designed once again in order to justify refusing to come to grips with the "other sides" arguments. What Dr. Kehoe is engaged in is obvious. For years those who doubted trans-oceanic contacts have noted that the purveyors of these ideas, all too frequently, seem to be unable to conceive of American Indians, developing their cultures etc., without help from outsiders; generally "White Gods". From the "mound builders" on legions of pseudo-scholars have endeavored to remove large chunks of the past of the Americas from Indians and give it to "others", generally Europeans. Everything from Pyramid building to writing etc., have been attributed to outsiders. The racist implications of this project are obvious. Dr. Kehoe is obviously trying to turn around the implication, i.e., we aren’t being racists, insulting American Indians you are! A nice polemical device hardly convincing. 8

This attempt to reverse onus the issue of racism implicit in far too much diffusionistic thinking fails. The model for diffusionism is all too clearly that of colonialists bringing civilization to the “savages” who all too obviously in this view can’t do it by themselves. Of course it is now rather clear that Ancient American civilization emerged independently.9 And that no amount of hand waving can get around that.

All in all the piece is one of the worst pieces of anthropological argument I've ever read.

Interior of Finnish Sauna
1. Kehoe, Alice B, The Fringe of American Archaeology: Transoceanic
and Transcontinental Contacts in Prehistoric America, Journal of Scientific Exploration, v. 17, no. 1, 2003, pp. 19-36. A pdf copy can be found Here. An abstract of the article is at Citeseer, Here.

2, IBID, p. 29.

3, Pure InsideOut, The Finnish Sauna, Here, Wikipedia, Thermae Here.

4. Cyber Bohemia, Finnish Sauna Here.

5, Virtual Finland, The Sauna, Here. Page is no longer available. Copy can be found at Make our Life Here. See also Wikipedia, Sauna Here.

6, For Cocaine Mummies see Edlin, Duncan, The Stoned Age, In the Hall of Maat, Here.

7, See for example Davies, Nigel, Voyagers to the New World, William Morrow and Company Inc, New York 1979.Hassig, Ross, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1992, pp. 119-120.

8, See Stiebing William H, Ancient Astronauts, Cosmic Collisions and other Popular Theories about Man’s Past, Prometheus Books, Buffalo,1984, pp. 164-166, Williams, Stephen, Fantastic Archeology, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1991, 281-284, Silverberg, Robert, The Moundbuilders, Ballantine Books, New York, 1970, pp. 16-81, Wauchope, Robert, Lost Tribes & Sunken Continents, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1962, pp. 115-124.

9. See Wikipedia Nortre Chico Here.

Pierre Cloutier

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