32. Mission Possible: Crossings Occurred
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32 Mission Possible Crossings Occurred The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes. —Marcel Proust, 1925 In 1993, the Ameri­ can historian Jerry H. Bentley wrote, “The lack of solid, substantial information will make it impossible, probably forever, to develop definitive proofs either for or against theories of intercontinental diffusion.”1 However, the sum of the evidence discussed in chapters 26 through 31 seems definitive in demonstrating the reality of important transoceanic interactions, and, therefore , opportunity for diffusion of culture. Demonstration of opportunity for cultural exchange does not prove that such exchange actually occurred beyond the realm of the proof of contact itself. Still, it does mean that—at least in areas between which encounter is demonstrable—every explicit cultural similarity is a candidate for explanation in terms of overseas introduction, and such introduction may, in fact, be the most parsimonious explanation. Come the Revolution(s) Although many of the pertinent data and diffusionist explanatory models have been around and readily available for over half a century, there have been some dramatic developments in recent decades that throw much new light on the issue and that make the present synthesis most timely. I see six major evidentiary revolutions that have taken place largely since 1980. Two of these—in linguistics/­ epigraphy and in calendrical/cosmological studies—do not fig­ ure in this book, but the others do, have been given major treatment earlier in the work, and are summarized here. Watercraft and Navigation It was once widely agreed that, before the Renaissance, humans had not yet developed the means of effecting interhemispheric contacts: neither vessels capable of crossing oceans nor requisite navigational skills (never mind the feats of the Polynesians and the Norse). However, the development of nautical archaeology 360 / Chapter 32 during recent decades, added to the study of his­ tori­ cally observed traditional watercraft and sailing rigs as well as to long-­ distance experimental voyaging in a variety of replica craft, has vastly increased our knowledge of and respect for premodern maritime conveyances, their temporally deep roots, and their considerable capabilities. Ethnographic and his­ tori­ cal investigations and at-­ sea experiments have done likewise for traditional noninstrumental navigation and haven-­finding. Archaeology has demonstrated modern human presence not only in Australia but also on islands of Near Oceania, the Mediterranean, and East Asia at least 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. Reaching these bits of land required traversing substantial and sometimes multiple water gaps and, therefore, presupposes possession of adequate aquatic craft. These vari­ ous research discoveries have made clear that watercraft and way-­ finding methods quite serviceable for crossing great expanses of open ocean existed far earlier than formerly imagined. In addition, advances in oceanography , climatology, and computer modeling of accidental drift and other voyages have underlined both intentional nautical possibilities and, for disabled craft, the truly impelling quality of nature’s winds and currents. Pathogens We have noted a number of kinds of “hard,” mostly bio­ logi­ cal, evidence that testify to contacts. Pathogens are among the relevant organisms. Once thought of as an edenic “virgin-­ soil” hemisphere with respect to almost all Old World human pathogens, the New World, we now know, anciently harbored at least tuberculosis and perhaps one or more other Afroeurasian mala­ dies. Both of the hemispheres possessed treponematosic diseases as well, al­ though the sources, routes of entry, and timings of transfers remain uncertain . Less equivocal than these microbial diseases are human intestinal parasites . Since the 1980s, paleopathological investigations have revealed that four species of tropical/subtropical Old World intestinal worms that cannot endure cold climates like those of Siberia and Alaska were widespread in the pre-­ 1492 Americas—from remarkably early times—and must have been introduced by ocean voyagers. A species of head louse was also shared. Domesticates The great majority of cultivated plants and domesticated animals cannot cross oceans—or even survive—without human intervention. Although there has long been circumstantial evidence of the presences of a plethora of domesticates in the hemisphere opposite that of their origins, in recent decades the archaeo­ logi­ cal discovery of datable physical/chemical remains of numbers of such cultigens and the chicken have come to attest, in material fashion, the pre-­ Columbian human-­ mediated transfer of a score or more of domesticated plants and animals. Because the establishment of novel domesticates is seldom easily accomplished, the interhemispheric sharing of so many species implies that pre-­ 1492 transoceanic contacts were intensive. Crossings...