7 Dec 2007, 12:49am
Cultural Landscapes
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Forgotten Fires

Stewart, Omer C. Forgotten Fires — Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness. Edited and with Introductions by Henry T. Lewis and M. Kat Anderson. 2002. University of Oklahoma Press.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

Omer Call Stewart (1910-1991) was the most perceptive, influential, and possibly the greatest American anthropologist of the 20th Century. And possibly the 21st, too; it’s fair to say that Omer Stewart was fifty years ahead of his compatriots, and his genius is still not widely recognized outside of esoteric circles.

Omer Stewart founded the Department of Anthropology at the University of Colorado and was its first chair. He was instrumental (and successful) in defending Native American land claims and helped to establish important legal precedents recognizing Indian land rights. He was at one time the principal defender of Native American religious beliefs, the Native American Church, and the sacramental use of peyote.

In addition, Omer Stewart is the Father of Anthropogenic Fire Theory.

Anthropogenic Fire Theory is a shorthand name for the study of indigenous human influences on the environment during the last 10,000+ years, especially in North America. Other folks call it Indian burning, or traditional environmental knowledge, or tending the wild, or tending fire, or a variety of other monikers and acronyms.

Omer Stewart developed the first elucidation of AFT in a manuscript that lay unpublished for fifty years, until 2002. He began work on Forgotten Fires in the early 1940’s. His efforts were interrupted by the war, and he renewed them in 1951. Efforts to get the manuscript published failed despite repeated attempts over the subsequent decades. Stewart freely shared his manuscript with correspondents, though. Before his death, the University of Oklahoma Press agreed to consider publication, and did publish it, though the effort took another ten years.

The publication of Forgotten Fires corresponds to the current revolution in the life sciences, wherein human cultural influences upon the historical environment are being taken into consideration, and Forgotten Fires is at the same time the elderly foundational document of that revolution.

In Forgotten Fires Omer Stewart united cultural anthropology with landscape ecology, in effect combining social sciences and history with geography, ethno-botany, forestry, range management, and fire management. His interdisciplinary approach generated new insights and understanding in each of those individual fields.

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6 Dec 2007, 4:28pm
Native Cultures
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Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims

Winnemucca, Sarah (Thocmentony). Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims. Self-published, 1883. Edited by Mary Peabody Mann.

Full text [here]

Sarah Winnemucca (Thocmentony, or Shell Flower, was her Indian name) learned English and Spanish, how to read and write, and became a teacher. She started her own reservation schools, represented the Winnemucca Tribe in Washington, D.C., gave over 300 lectures on behalf of her people, and wrote her autobiography, Life Among the Piutes. It was the first book written in English by a Native American woman. She accomplished all this in an era when women of any color didn’t even have the right to vote.

Sarah Winnemucca was born in 1844. She died after a most eventful life October 16, 1891 at her sister’s home near Henry’s Lake, Idaho.

In 2005 she was honored with a statue in the U.S Capitol, nominated by the State of Nevada.

Some excerpts from Life Among the Piutes, Sarah Winnemucca’s autobiography:

I was born somewhere near 1844, but am not sure of the precise time. I was a very small child when the first white people came into our country. They came like a lion, yes, like a roaring lion, and have continued so ever since, and I have never forgotten their first coming. My people were scattered at that time over nearly all the territory now known as Nevada. My grandfather was chief of the entire Piute nation, and was camped near Humboldt Lake, with a small portion of his tribe, when a party travelling eastward from California was seen coming. When the news was brought to my grandfather, he asked what they looked like? When told that they had hair on their faces, and were white, he jumped up and clasped his hands together and cried aloud–”My white brothers–my long-looked for white brothers have come at last!”…

He had expected so much pleasure in welcoming his white brothers to the best in the land, that after looking at them sorrowfully for a little while, he came away quite unhappy. But he would not give them up so easily. He took some of his most trustworthy men and followed them day after day, camping near them at night, and travelling in sight of them by day, hoping in this way to gain their confidence. But he was disappointed, poor dear old soul!

I can imagine his feelings, for I have drank deeply from the same cup. When I think of my past life, and the bitter trials I have endured, I can scarcely believe I live, and yet I do; and, with the help of Him who notes the sparrow’s fall, I mean to fight for my down-trodden race while life lasts…

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5 Dec 2007, 5:00pm
Native Cultures
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The Coso Sheep Cult of Eastern California

Garfinkel, Alan P. Paradigm Shifts, Rock Art Studies, and the “Coso Sheep Cult” of Eastern California. North American Archaeologist, Spring 2007.

Full text [here]

Review by Mike Dubrasich

The impression was left by some (long-departed) anthropologists that the Paiute-Shoshone people were less evolved than other tribes, particularly less so than the transplanted Euro tribes that generate modern anthropologists.

The august (even in death) Dr. Julian H. Steward claimed that, “the Basin-Plateau–or “Numic”–division of Shoshonean-speakers had the simplest culture in the Western Hemisphere, and in some respects the entire world.”

Omer Stewart claimed otherwise in a series of Indian Land Claim cases that O. Stewart subsequently won and J. Steward lost.

The proof of ancient culture, one way or the other, might be found in the petroglyphs of the Cosos Mountains. The Cosos are adjacent to Owens Valley and Death Valley in California. Although dwarfed by the nearby Sierra Nevada and Panamint mountain ranges, the Cosos are home to the greatest collection of prehistoric rock art in North America and possibly the world.

In Paradigm Shifts, Rock Art Studies, and the “Cosos Sheep Cult” of Eastern California, Alan Garfinkel presents an excellent discussion of the meaning behind the Cosos rock art and the intentions of the ancient artists.

Selected excerpts:

ABSTRACT — One of the more spectacular expressions of prehistoric rock art in all of North America is the petroglyph concentration in the Coso Range of eastern California. These glyphs have played a prominent role in attempts to understand forager religious iconography. Four decades ago, Heizer and Baumhoff (1962) concluded that Great Basin petroglyphs were associated with hunting large game and were intended to supernaturally increase success in the hunt. Similarly, in their seminal work Grant et al. (1968) concluded that the mountain sheep drawings of the Coso region bolstered the “hunting magic” hypothesis.

However, this hypothesis has become increasingly marginalized by a prevailing view that considers most rock art as an expression of individual shamanistic endeavor.1 This paper explores comparative ethnologic and archaeological evidence supporting the hunting magic hypothesis. I place this explanatory framework in a fuller context based on a contemporary understanding of comparative religion and the complexity of forager symbolism. The paper argues that the preponderance of Coso images are conventionalized iconography associated with a sheep cult ceremonial complex. This is inconsistent with models interpreting the Coso drawings as metaphoric images correlated with individual shamanic vision quests.

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4 Dec 2007, 10:21am
Cultivated Landscapes
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The Cahokia Example

Woods, William I., Population nucleation, intensive agriculture, and environmental degradation: The Cahokia example. Agriculture and Human Values 21: 255–261, 2004.

Full text [here]

Dr. William I. Woods was in the Department of Geography, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for 20 years and is now Director of the Environmental Studies Program and Professor in the Department of Geography, University of Kansas. For over thirty years he has been conducting prehistoric and historic settlement-subsistence research in the Eastern United States, Latin America, and Europe.

Abstract: Cahokia, the largest pre-European settlement in North America, was situated on the Middle Mississippi River floodplain and flourished for approximately three hundred years from the 10th century AD onward. The site was favorably located from an environmental standpoint, being proximal to a diversity of microhabitats including expanses of open water and marshes from which the essential, renewable fish protein could be procured. More importantly, the largest local zone of soils characterized as optimal for prehistoric hoe cultivation lay immediately to the east. Here, on the floodplain and along its bordering alluvial fans, the large maize outfields were situated, while the multi-crop house gardens were placed within the habitation zone on soils that had often been culturally enriched by prior occupation. As successful as this strategy might have been for small, dispersed populations in such a plentiful environment, nucleation of large numbers of people at Cahokia provided a different adaptive context that ultimately led to ruinous consequences. The seeds for the city’s destruction centered on anthropogenically produced environmental degradation. Demands on wood resources for fuel and construction were enormous and agricultural field clearance was in forested rather than prairie settings. The resultant watershed deforestation produced greatly increased rates of erosion, runoff, and unseasonable downstream flooding during the summer growing season. The economic and social consequences of declining production and localized crop failures proved disastrous for this city of farmers.

Selected excerpts:

One thousand years ago a city existed on the Mississippi River floodplain directly to the east of the present St. Louis. Called Cahokia after the historic aboriginal group who inhabited the site in the 18th century, this was the most extensive expression of population nucleation to have been produced prehistorically in America to the north ofMexico. The structure of the community was planned with clearly defined administrative/ceremonial zones, elite compounds, discrete residential neighborhoods, and even suburbs. An enormous central plaza and numerous immense earthworks provide evidence of high organizational skills and great expenditures of labor. With a population peak of perhaps 15,000 individuals, Cahokia existed for approximately three centuries (Fowler, 1997; Milner, 1998; Dalan et al., 2003)…

A variety of environmental niches within the American Bottom and adjacent uplands were present (Gregg, 1975; Welch, 1975). In the main bottom, ecological zones would have included annually submerged river edge woodlands, perennially inundated sloughs and other low areas, floodplain woodlands, extensive bottomland prairies, and oak-hickory forests on high, well-drained areas associated with a late Pleistocene terrace in the northeastern portion of the bottom (Goddard and Sabata, 1986; Wallace, 1978). In the bordering loess-covered uplands, the oak-hickory forest graded toward the east into circumscribed zones of woodland, savanna, and prairie vegetation, with large expanses of prairie only present well to the east and bottomland forest and prairie confined to the major watercourses. The great number and variety of microhabitats in the region would have sustained a high diversity of exploitable plant and animal populations…

Even during the Mississippian Period though, one cannot speak of a truly “natural” American Bottom landscape. The effects of many millennia of human occupation had resulted in great landscape change through the extirpation of local animal species; introduction of exotic plants (including domesticates); forest clearance for fuel, construction materials, and agricultural fields with attendant accelerated erosion and downslope deposition; localized enrichment of soils in habitation areas; the maintenance of prairies and removal of forest undergrowth through burning; and, perhaps, managed groves of nut bearing trees on the bluffs and bluff slope environments…

Native vegetation at the site consisted of grasses with scattered woodlands and forest found only as galleries along the watercourses. However, to the east, Cahokia’s five-kilometer radius catchment contains the largest zone in the American Bottom of soils characterized as optimal for prehistoric hoe cultivation (Figure 3). Here, on the silty alluvial overbank and fan sediments, the large, communally worked, maize outfields would have been located. Additionally, production would have been augmented by multi-crop house gardens within the site itself found on soils highly enriched by the debris from prior habitation activities, as well as from fields situated on vacated ancestral lands further upstream on the Cahokia Creek floodplain…

2 Dec 2007, 9:25pm
Cultivated Landscapes Cultural Landscapes
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1491

Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. 2005. Alfred E. Knopf.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

1491 is one of the best and most important books of the New Paradigm. Mann reports on our new Age of Exploration, the reconstruction of an accurate picture of the past. The new, developing ideas and evidence regarding pre-Columbian America indicate that the Western Hemisphere was populated by millions of people living in civilizations older and more advanced than those of the invading Europeans.

1491 is about the cultural and cultivated landscapes of the Americas and the indigenous peoples who lived here for millennia, caring for those landscapes. Forests were part of those landscapes, too, and the residents had huge impact upon forests during the entire Holocene.

Mann has performed an stellar job of scholarship, journalism, and scientific synthesis, and in 1491 he presents the latest anthropological, paleontological, historical, and ecological findings regarding human life in North and South America before Columbus. The work of Dr. William M. Denevan, Professor Emeritus of Geography, Univ. Wisconsin, figures prominently, as does that of Carl Sauer, William Borah, William Doolittle, James Parsons, Thomas Whitmore, and many other leading geographers, anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, and ecologists.

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1 Dec 2007, 7:47pm
Wildlife History
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Twilight of the Mammoths

Martin, Paul S., Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America. 2005. Univ. of California Press.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

Twilight of the Mammoths is a first-person account of one of the greatest scientific discoveries of modern times, and that statement deserves some explanation.

In the main, Twilight of the Mammoths is about the Overkill Hypothesis. The end of the Ice Age saw the extinction of mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, saber-toothed tigers, camels, horses, and all told, over 40 species and 30 genera of large mammals in the Western Hemisphere. These extinctions took place more or less contemporaneously with the arrival of the first humans, the Clovis People, approximately 13,000 calendar years ago. Dr. Martin hypothesizes that the two phenomena were linked, that paleo hunters decimated large mammal populations in North and South America within a few centuries (and perhaps in as little as 70 years after people first arrived).

But Twilight of the Mammoths is so much more than that.

The Overkill Hypothesis is a crude substitute for a much larger concept. Paul Martin should more properly be known as the Father of the Anthropogenic Predation Theory, which holds that human beings have been impacting wildlife populations for millennia, on all continents (except Antarctica), much as the Anthropogenic Fire Theory contends that humans have also been impacting terrestrial vegetation everywhere for a long time, too.

At their cores, the Anthropogenic Theories are an extension of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. The principal selective agent in nature has been human beings for as long as we have existed on this planet. People have been driving natural selection, and hence evolution, wherever we have lived (13,000 years in the Western Hemisphere, 25,000+ years in Europe, 40,000+ years in Australia, 50,000+ years in Asia, and 100,000+ years in Africa).

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11 Nov 2007, 6:47pm
Cultural Landscapes
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America’s Ancient Forests

Bonnicksen, Thomas M., America’s Ancient Forests–From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery. 2000. John Wiley and Sons.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

Dr. Thomas M. Bonnicksen, PhD, is Professor Emeritus of Forest Science and former department head at Texas A&M University, Visiting Scholar at The Forest Foundation, and the author of the greatest book ever written about our forests, America’s Ancient Forests – From the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery.

Dr. Bonnicksen holds a bachelor’s degree in forestry, and master’s and doctorate degrees in wild land resource science. He studied under Drs. A. Starker Leopold, Edward C.Stone, and Harold Biswell at UC Berkeley, and later worked with them conducting research and teaching about the history and restoration of historic native forests. Dr. Bonnicksen named the field “restoration forestry.” He has published more than 100 scientific and technical papers, articles, textbook chapters, and other publications, six computer programs and four multimedia CDs.

Dr. Bonnicksen also is a U.S. Navy veteran, former U. S. National Park Service ranger, and in 2002 received the Bush Excellence in Public Service Award for Texas A&M University Faculty for his lifetime work on the protection and restoration of native North American landscapes. The Bush Presidential Library Foundation established the award to annually recognize a Texas A&M faculty member who makes outstanding contributions to public service. From the Texas A&M press release on that occasion:

“What I care about most, after my family and country, is the restoration of America’s native forests and the security and welfare of the people who live and work in them,” Bonnicksen said.

Bonnicksen is a renowned public speaker, published author and legislation writer. His model for decision making provides a basis for strategic planning and insight into the relationship between fire and the structure and dynamics of native forests.

He wrote “America’s Ancient Forests,” published in 2000 by John Wiley & Sons. The book documents the existence of more than 20 North American ancient forests and details how the findings should be a model for maintaining today’s threatened forest lands across the nation…

“I aim at restoring forests’ historic beauty and diversity while maintaining the jobs and economies of local communities in and around them,” he said.

From briefing staff members of the U.S. House of Representatives in testifying before the U.S. Senate Forest and Public Land management Committee on Resources, Bonnicksen continues to serve as a bridge between academic and research endeavors. He has served as the sole expert intervener witness in Federal Court cases affecting all national forests in Texas, and encouraged the practical and useful application of knowledge that led to improved policy developed with active participation of the public.

In America’s Ancient Forests Dr. Bonnicksen discusses all of North America’s forests, their histories, anthropogenic fire, and much, much more, and does it with the style of an accomplished educator and professional writer. His easy, almost chatty cadence belies tremendous experience and scholarship (the bibliography is 75 pages long).

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11 Nov 2007, 12:53am
Cultural Landscapes
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Tending the Wild

Anderson, M. Kat. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources. 2005. Univ. Calif. Press.

Review by Mike Dubrasich

M. Kat Anderson is a Lecturer in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis; Associate Ecologist at the Agricultural Experimental Station at the University of California, Davis; and a faculty member in the Graduate Group in Ecology at the University of California, Davis. She is coeditor, with T. C. Blackburn, of Before the Wilderness: Native Californians as Environmental Managers (1993) and coeditor, with Henry T. Lewis, of Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness by Omer C. Stewart (2002).

Tending the Wild was winner of the 2007 Mary W. Klinger Book Award from the Society for Economic Botany.

Tending the Wild focuses on the many uses the pre-Columbian California Indians made of native plants, and the methods the Indians used to perpetuate those plants. Contrary to some modern myths, California Indians were extensive agriculturalists who planted, tilled, pruned, and especially burned to manage desirable plants and animals.

Kat Anderson imparts a humanitarian undercurrent to her studies and writing. Indian burning may have had landscape-level effects, but the practices were also individualized and localized. They were personal. The real people who lived in California and across the West managed their properties for the greatest survival/sustenance values.

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7 Nov 2007, 3:42pm
Fire History
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Anthropological and Archaeological Perspectives on Native Fire Management of the Willamette Valley

by Dr. Thomas J. Connolly, PhD, Research Division Director, Museum of Anthropology, University of Oregon.

This paper was originally presented at the 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Pacific Division, (Symposium: Fire History in the Pacific Northwest: Human and Climatic Influences), June 11-14, 2000, Ashland, Oregon. 12p.

Full text [here] 64KB

Selected excerpts:

In contrast to popular myth, the hardy Mountain Men of the American West did not venture into an uncharted and untamed wilderness. They frequently followed well worn trails, connecting generations-old villages and camps of a considerable population of Natives that they encountered in every valley they entered. Likewise, when Euroamerican trappers and settlers entered the Willamette Valley in the early 1800s, it was not a pristine wilderness they entered; but an anthropogenic landscape, maintained–and to a real extent created–by the valley’s Natives with the use of fire…

Many anthropologists, among them Omer Stewart (1956), Henry Lewis (1973, 1976), Richard Gould (1971), and others, have documented deliberate burning of vegetation by hundreds of Native groups worldwide, for the purpose of managing plant and animals resources. The practice of burning in connection with subsistence activities has been recently explored by Lawrence Keeley (1995), who examined 96 ethnographic groups worldwide–characterized by anthropologists as hunter-gatherers–to assess the strength of correlations between plant exploitation practices, and ecological, demographic, and social variables. He found particularly strong correlations between fire-setting and the use of nuts and seeds as staple foods. Further, he found that the most intensive uses of plants–involving the sowing of seed–usually occurs only if the foraging group is also using fire for vegetation management. Based on his findings, he suggests (cf. Lewis 1972) that burning may be more strongly associated with the development of agriculture than variables such as population pressure, increasing social complexity, or other conditions seen as classic drivers of agricultural development. He does not suggest that burning causes agriculture, but that it is one of a set of tools–including sowing, planting, cultivating, weeding and other practices–used by hunter-gatherer groups worldwide who actively manipulate plants in their environment for the purpose of enhancing their productivity and reliability…

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