Sunday, March 1, 2015

The first Americans and Who They Were – Part I

The expansive, culturally rich civilizations that existed in the Americas at the time of European contact came as a great surprise to the early Spanish conquerors and explorers. Most notable were the Aztec empire in Central Mexico and the Incan empire in Peru, both of which controlled great expanses of land and millions of people. 
Left: Aztec Empire; Right: Inca Empire—both controlled large areas, people and resources
    The Aztec, which many include along with the Maya, were the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica (Central America), and have garnered much notoriety in the architectural circles of the Church because of BYU, FARMS and now the Neal A. Maxell Institute, which have all promoted the Mesoamerica placement of the Land of Promise and the geographical setting of the Book of Mormon.
    However, further south, in Andean South America, which predates Mesoamerica development and housed the First Americans many centuries before the Olmec and later the Maya, civilization got its first foothold in the Western Hemisphere after the Flood.
In that location, the well-known Inca Empire at the time of the Spanish Conquest encompassed what is now modern day Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, and Chile, and left its mark with impressive architecture, elaborate road networks and innovative agricultural developments. The scenic backdrop of Machu Picchu, the sacred lost city of the Incas, stirs the imagination and fills the mind with wonder and amazement as the modern day symbol of the Inca Empire's accomplishments. Sacsayhuaman above Cuzco, Tiahuanaku near Lake Titicaca, and coastal Pachacamac just outside Lima, all lend to the amazing sites awaiting the tourist. However, and it is unfortunate indeed, most discussions about Peruvian archaeology begin and end with the Inca. What most people fail to realize is that the Incas reigned for less than a century (1438 to 1533 A.D.) out of the nearly three thousand years prior to the arrival of the Europeans.
Several cultures laid the groundwork for the rise of the Inca, cultures of which most people have never heard: the Valdivia, Norte Chico, Sechin Bajo, Caballete, Chavin, Huarca Prieta, Aspero, Wari, Nazca, Tiwanaku, Chimu, and Moche—all had striking achievements of their own, upon which the Inca were able to later build.
    The problem, in part, lies with the so-called scholars and historians who are too lazy to check their facts, all tend to give the Inca the credit for the awesome and magnificent structures built all over Andean South America, from Ecuador to Peru, Bolivia and Chile.
Left: The incredible stonework of Sacsayhuaman was built so much earlier than the Inca, they had no memory or knowledge of who the original builders were; Right: The ruins of 100-ton blocks of stone at Puma Punku that were built and and lasted for a millennium and then destroyed centuries  before the Inca existed
    The ancient Peruvians built inspiring structures that have lasted for nearly three thousand years, using technology unknown to the Inca and never duplicated by them. The roadway system attributed to them by uninformed historians that covers 20,000 miles was long in place and in use befor the Inca, though they used the magnificent highway system to move their conquering armies from Ecuador to Chile over an area totaling 1.2 million square miles.
    The eastern route ran high in the puna grasslands and mountain valleys from Quito, Ecuador to Mendoza, Argentina, with the western route following the coastal plain not including in coastal deserts where it hugged the foothills. More than twenty routes ran over the western mountains, while others traversed the eastern cordillera in the mountains and lowlands. Some of these roads reached heights of over 16,000 feet above sea level. The trails connected the regions of the old Peruvian lands, from the northern area of Ecuador to Santiago, Chile, in the south, linking access to millions of people. The roads were as wide as 66 feet, but most measured between 4 and 13 feet in width, though they varied greatly in scale, construction and appearance.
    That any culture could have built such a system in a century or two is unthinkable, however, it is today called “The Inca Roads,” despite the fact they date far beyond the Inca period well back into antiquity.
Left: They were building ancient terraced walls for planting and irrigation at Pisac long before the Inca; Right: They were building earthquake-proof buildings and doorways (like the Egyptians) all over Peru long before the Inca
    Chronologically, archaeologists have divided prehistory in Peru into the Pre-Ceramic (Before 1800 BC), Initial Period (1800 BC - 800 BC), Early Horizon (800 BC - 750 AD), Middle Horizon (750 AD - 1000 AD), and Late Horizon (1000 AD -1476 AD).  By way of understanding the Inca place in this history, they came onto the scene in the last century of the last (Late Horizon) period.
    Though archaeology always considers their dating to be precise, and the fact that previously it was believed that the earliest Peruvian civilizations were tied to the emergence of irrigation agriculture and the introduction of ceramics dating to the Initial Period, new discoveries, innovative field techniques and advances in radiocarbon dating have pushed that date back to the Late Pre-Ceramic Period (4000 to 3000 BC). This earlier date is now characterized by the emergence of monumental public architecture, basic floodplain farming of local varieties of gourds, squash, lima and kidney beans, as well as the cultivation of cotton, which led to an abundant use of cotton textiles.
    It is interesting that archaeology had always considered that ceramics, irrigation agriculture, and monumental architecture were the chief markers of sedentary civilizations and complex societies with socio-political organizational structure. However, archaeologists in Peru were shocked when their excavations at the earliest structures failed to produce any evidence of ceramics. How could such large monuments be constructed by societies lacking in ceramic technology and reliance on agriculture? The answer to this intriguing question may lie in the location of these early sites—along the coasts of the land.
    Surprisingly, the earliest Peruvian cities did not spring up in the lush highlands of the Andes where the Incan empire would so much later begin, nor did they develop in the fertile river valleys between the Andes and Pacific coast where later complex civilizations would take root. To date, the earliest cities in the New World have been discovered along the northern and central Peruvian coast, which is today an arid environment, broken up by green verdant valleys created by rivers flowing down from the mountains. Because of the upwelling of the Humbolt (Peruvian) Current, the fishing resources of Peru are among the richest in the world, yielding 1680 kg per hectare, which is almost a thousand times the average of worldwide ocean productivity, no doubt sustaining the growth of early littoral populations, the rise of large sedentary communities, and the formation of complex societies—no doubt also establishing the foundations of coastal civilization.
    Isn’t it interesting that the three groups of people who settled the Western Hemisphere mentioned in the Book of Mormon, the Jaredites, Nephites and Mulekites, all landed and immediately occupied the west coast of the promised land, which match these earliest locations of settlement science has so recently discovered and placed along the Pacific Coast of South America.
(See the next post, “The first Americans and Who They Were – Part II,” for a continuation in recent discoveries that show Andean Peru far precedes the developments in Mesoamerica and the location of the first Americans in the Western Hemisphere)

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