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The Americas That Might Have Been

Native American Social Systems through Time

Written by Julian Granberry

Publication Year: 2005

This work answers the hypothetical question: What would the Americas be like today—politically, economically, culturally—if Columbus and the Europeans had never found them, and how would American peoples interact with the world's other societies? It assumes that Columbus did not embark from Spain in 1492 and that no Europeans found or settled the New World afterward, leaving the peoples of the two American continents free to follow the natural course of their Native lives.

The Americas That Might Have Been is a professional but layman-accessible, fact-based, nonfiction account of the major Native American political states that were thriving in the New World in 1492. Granberry considers a contemporary New World in which the glories of Aztec Mexico, Maya Middle America, and Inca Peru survived intact. He imagines the roles that the Iroquois Confederacy of the American Northeast, the powerful city-states along the Mississippi River in the Midwest and Southeast, the Navajo Nation and the Pueblo culture of the Southwest, the Eskimo Nation in the Far North, and the Ta&iactue;no/Arawak chiefdoms of the Caribbean would play in American and world politics in the 21st Century.

Following a critical examination of the data using empirical archaeology, linguistics, and ethnohistory, Granberry presents a reasoned and compelling discussion of native cultures and the paths they would have logically taken over the past five centuries. He reveals the spectacular futures these brilliant pre-Columbian societies might have had, if not for one epochal meeting that set off a chain of events so overwhelming to them that the course of human history was forever changed.

"Offers the latitude to explain a model of cultural evolution based on kinship categories while speculating about hjow several Indian nations might have developed sans colonialism."—North Dakota Quarterly

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

This book owes its ultimate genesis to four individuals. Franz Boas set me on the direction my professional life has taken, and Mary Haas, Charles Hockett, and Ben Rouse kept me steadfastly on that path over more than fifty years. Without their views of social phenomena, I am sure this book would never have been written. ...

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Introduction: The Whys and Wherefores

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pp. 1-19

The arrival of Christopher Columbus on the Bahamian island of Guanahaní in 1492, followed by the large-scale European settlement in the Americas, was one of the most profound and momentous events in world history. The impact of the settlers who followed in Columbus’s footsteps was of a magnitude beyond description, and, half a millennium later, it is still being felt. ...

Part I: In the Beginning

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1. Men Out of Asia

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pp. 23-32

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Euro-Americans and their European confrères were preparing to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyages to the New World, a visitor from another world would be led to assume, on the basis of that jubilation and the interminable, often unresolvable, scholarly arguments, that these “Americas,” wherever they may have been, ...

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2. America 1492

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pp. 33-37

When Columbus landed on the Bahamian island of Guanahan

Part II: The Inner Man

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3. Native Philosophies of Life

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pp. 41-45

The four chapters in Part II are stage setters. Their purpose is to provide a general description of the social systems that are known to have characterized native American societies in the past as well as now. Most of the examples in these chapters, however, concern recent historical events in modern European, African, and Asiatic societies with which the reader is already familiar—chosen because they show the general social characteristics we wish to explain. ...

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4. Unitary Norms: The Asian Perspective

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pp. 46-51

Of the Big Six, the M

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5. The Dualistic View: The European Norm

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pp. 52-61

Of all the chapters in the book, this is the one that will cause some readers the greatest discomfort. To some, in fact, it will probably seem downright offensive. To readers of both kinds I offer an apology beforehand, for no affront is intended. Such negative reaction is likely to be engendered because the social characteristics discussed reflect the way of life that most of us who ...

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6. The Trinary Compromise: The Near Eastern Norm

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pp. 62-68

The third, and very frequent, native American social theme is the trinary theme. Of the native American Big Six, two followed a trinary theme—the majority of the Pueblo Towns of New Mexico and the Taíno Kingdoms of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. The trinary social theme also occurs widely in smaller native American societies on both continents, particularly North America. ...

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Part III: The Matrix of Lives

Now that the stage has been set, and the framework for our cultural descriptions has been defined, it is time to look at native American societies as they were in 1492 and the early 1500s. We have purposely chosen, bear in mind, to describe only a select number of those cultures, those that were at the end of the fifteenth century similar in structure to the emerging nation-states of ...

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7. The Empire of Tawantinsuyu

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pp. 71-83

Late in the afternoon of the previous day the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro and some 200 soldiers had arrived at Caxamarca, whose population of 10,000 had left the city some days before for the military camp just outside the town where the Emperor was staying. On their arrival, finding the city deserted, the Spanish encamped in several of the large barracks in the city, and Pizarro sent ...

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8. The Empire of the M

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pp. 84-94

A distant vision of unbelievable beauty unsurpassed by anything they had ever seen: that was the Spanish invaders’ first impression of Tenochtitlán, the imperial capital of the Aztec Empire in the Valley of Mexico. The city, as seen by the advancing expeditionary force of Hernán Cortés on November 8, 1519, from the banks of the great lake of Tezcoco, seemed to float on the ...

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9. The Maya Kingdoms

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pp. 95-106

Though there were more than half a dozen urban dualistic societies in the pre-Columbian New World, only two controlled large geographical areas— the Maya peoples of Middle America and the Mississippi River Valley peoples of North America. In this and the following chapter, we will describe both of these societies, which, in spite of their seemingly exotic natures, followed ...

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10. The Mississippian Cities and Towns

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pp. 107-116

During the period a.d. 1000 to 1500 a number of native American communities, not surprisingly called Mississippian by archaeologists and ethnologists, developed along the length of the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico northward to the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers and beyond, as far as Wisconsin in North America’s heartland and as far as the ...

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11. The Pueblo Towns

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pp. 117-126

In the American Southwest the Spanish word pueblo, town, is used with a capital p—Pueblo, to refer both to the settlements and the inhabitants of the native American towns that line the Rio Grande in central New Mexico and the adjacent mesas of eastern Arizona, and which in earlier centuries were found in all the Four Corners region where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico come together. ...

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12. The Ta

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pp. 127-137

If the trinary confederation of the Pueblo towns of the American Southwest has been the most durable of all the native American Big Six, the trinary Ta

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Part IV: The Future of the Past

At this stage in our discussion of native American societies we need to know with the highest degree of probability what the New World would be like today if Columbus had not arrived and if none of his comrades from other European or African lands had set foot in the Americas. ...

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13. Hemispheric-Internal Relationships in the Twenty-first Century: The Inner Design

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pp. 141-155

If anthropologists are correct, it is unlikely that any major alterations would have occurred in New World social systems during the past five centuries. Every example of substantial social change elsewhere has taken seven to ten centuries to establish itself, and then only if accompanied by significant long-term contact with other societies (Kryukov 1998, Murdock 1949:330–331). ...

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14. Commerce and Discovery of the Old World

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pp. 156-170

If Europeans had never ventured westward across the Atlantic, would native America have ventured east and discovered Europe? If the picture we have sketched is anywhere close to the mark, the answer has to be “very likely.” If so, then what kinds of interaction would have taken place? ...

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15. International Alliances and Interaction in the Twenty-first Century: The Outer Scheme

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pp. 171-177

The most vital form of interchange between a native American New World and the nations of the Old World would have been economic, but, to solidify old economic ties and forge new ones, this would surely have been followed by diplomatic and political interaction. This interaction, as in all such interchanges, would have taken the form of ambassadorial exchanges and international alliances and, inevitably, military confrontations and incursions of one ...

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Epilogue: The First Baktun

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pp. 178-179

From a cultural point of view, the European conquest of the Americas was likely the most amazing event in human history. With respect to the enormity, gravity, and permanence of the extinction it brought, it compares favorably, if that is the right word, to the disappearance of the dinosaurs. It altered the lifestyles of a larger percentage of humankind than ever before or since. The entire course of world history was irrevocably altered. ...


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pp. 181-197


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pp. 199-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383459
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817351823

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • America -- Colonization.
  • Europe -- Colonies -- America.
  • Indians -- Transatlantic influences.
  • Indians -- Colonization.
  • America -- Discovery and exploration.
  • Indians -- First contact with Europeans.
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