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Books about Native American Agriculture?  RSS feed

 
Brandon McGinnity
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Hey folks. Planning out my garden this year, I decided to try out the "Three Sisters" method of growing corn, squash and beans together in a polyculture; a Native American technique I've always been interested in. Finally have space to try it out (any advice from those who've done it can be added to this thread too!). But, being a lover of history, it has sparked an interest in Native agriculture in general. Looking around online hasn't been very productive, not a lot of details to be found. For example, corn seems to have been domesticated, slowly, around ten thousand years ago... but it only reached the Eastern US areas about 250 BC. I wonder, but cannot find any info about, why it took so long to spread. Or how did it get down to Peru, but llamas and alpacas never made it north? Clearly there was trade and contact. But online I can only find very general statements, or nothing, about these things.

I wonder if anyone knows any good books that deal in a more focused way on the spread, development, and techniques of farming by the original inhabitants of this land. Or good websites if you know any. Thanks in advance.
 
Devin Lavign
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I don't know any single books on agriculture of the Americas. But would be interested in reading one also.

I have picked up a lot of info in various books about the Native Americans. Like there were trade routes, and the Native American sign language which enabled trades to happen. The trade routes were not someone from Peru treking all the way to Texas however, to trade goods. But a lot of short hops passing goods on to a new trader who would take them further and so on. There is a lot of evidence of South and central American goods making it up into N America, especially composite bows which were highly prized but not made in N America. The blue dye that the Maya used a lot likely came from the Mississippi valley There is even a theory that the Mound culture was a Maya colony or heavily influenced by the Maya due to their extensive trade with the Maya for the blue dye. There were extensive trade networks but like not seeing any books dedicated to agriculture, there isn't really any dedicated to the trade either. Which would be a fascinating books to learn about how much goods did move around the Americas.

Honestly I think there is a lot of really significant info we likely could learn a lot from if more serious effort were put into publishing the history of the Americas. 500 Nations is a great book of American history told by Native sources, but it starts at contact and unfolds from there explains the Native side of the story. So not really heavy into agriculture and trade.
 
Devin Lavign
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Oh something worth noting since you mentioned how corn didn't get to Eastern US until late in the development. The cultures there are not that old. There was some previous culture there that no one seems to know anything about.

All we have left of this old NE US culture (From NJ up into Canada) is odd rock walls and small rock buildings. Weird enough if added up these rock structures actually out mass all other ancient stone monuments combined, meaning this would have been the largest stone work undertaking in the world. Yet we don't have much understanding of their purpose or who built them. These walls seem to have no understandable purpose. Sometimes 2 parallel walls going for miles, sometimes a single wall for a 100 ft. Sometimes walls meet, others they don't. Sometimes there is a little stone building like a root cellar, others nothing but wall. Sadly many of the walls have been destroyed by farmers over the centuries due to not understanding what possible historic value they might have.

A lot of people just assume the colonists made them, but there are records from the colonists asking where the walls came from, with reports the Natives claim they were there before them. So who built them? No one actually knows and little to no investigation is being done on them.
 
Alder Burns
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Try "Tending the Wild"by M. Kat Anderson;  and "Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  Both of these are by Native authors and accurately convey the Native ethics of land care.  Both are more concerned with the management of natural landscapes for improved yields, as contrasted with "agriculture" proper.  Good stuff....
 
Loxley Clovis
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Charles C. Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus has some eye-opening work about some of the latest discoveries on ancient American inhabitants' advanced earthworks & agricultural practices. Though the book's thesis is not focused on agriculture, it's a great read.
An excerpt:
"The Beni is a case in point. In addition to building roads, causeways, canals, dikes, reservoirs, mounds, raised agricultural fields, and possibly ball courts, Erickson has argued, the Indians who lived there before Columbus trapped fish in the seasonally flooded grassland. The trapping was not a matter of a few isolated natives with nets, but a society-wide effort in which hundreds or thousands of people fashioned dense, zigzagging networks of earthen fish weirs (fish-corralling fences) among the causeways. Much of the savanna is natural, the result of seasonal flooding. But the Indians maintained and expanded the grasslands by regularly setting huge areas on fire. Over the centuries the burning created an intricate ecosystem of fire-adapted plant species dependent on indigenous pyrophilia." http://www.charlesmann.org/Excerpt-1.htm
 
John Weiland
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Brandon McGinnity wrote:
I wonder if anyone knows any good books that deal in a more focused way on ...... techniques of farming by the original inhabitants of this land. 


Buffalo Bird Woman's Garden-- https://www.amazon.com/Buffalo-Bird-Womans-Garden-Agriculture/dp/0873512197/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491831372&sr=8-1&keywords=buffalo+bird+woman%27s+garden

The Conference has passed, but a possible useful link: http://welrp.org/14th-indigenous-farming-conference
 
Brandon McGinnity
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Thanks everyone for the suggestions. That Buffalo Bird Woman book sounds particularly interesting.

Devin Lavign wrote:All we have left of this old NE US culture (From NJ up into Canada) is odd rock walls and small rock buildings...

A lot of people just assume the colonists made them, but there are records from the colonists asking where the walls came from, with reports the Natives claim they were there before them. So who built them? No one actually knows and little to no investigation is being done on them.


Thats really interesting. I hiked through those areas on the Appalachian Trail and remember enjoying seeing walls often, there in the middle of the woods. I too assumed it was colonists, and marveled at how quickly nature had returned to cultivated fields. I have heard of some stone monuments up that way, resembling structures in Ireland and such, that the colonists said were already there, but I thought the walls themselves were from the European farmers clearing fields of stone, year by year, and piling them at the edges of their plots. Pretty amazing to consider the possibility that they are that much older. I'd want to see more evidence but its interesting.
 
John Weiland
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Devin Lavign wrote:... but there are records from the colonists asking where the walls came from, with reports the Natives claim they were there before them. So who built them? No one actually knows and little to no investigation is being done on them.


Devin, this kind of thing really interests me....do you have any books or websites that give more details on this?  The one book I've read that alludes to the different populations of NE North America was Farley Mowat's "The Farfarers" [ https://www.amazon.com/Farfarers-New-History-North-America-ebook/dp/B004VX3D0Q/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8 ] and yet there is some question as to the integrity of the archaeological approaches (or lack of?) in producing that work.  Mowat mixed fact and fiction in many of his books which nevertheless were a good read, much like other's works of 'historical fiction'....or in his case 'fictional history"??....

Anyway, if you do happen to have some leads here I would be interested in reading through some of them.  Thanks!
 
Devin Lavign
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Brandon and John, glad you enjoyed my comment, but I don't want to sidetrack this thread anymore than already has been done.

John, sorry no I can't remember the books I had read about the topic. I have moved too many times back and forth coast to coast and had to reduce my books too many times. There are some out there, as I owned them and read them. Yes the Farfarers was not a very good source. While I do believe there was some movement from Europe to the Americas, I don't think that is who built these. I think they were indigenous people, we just don't know who yet. There were a few videos on youtube about the walls that I had watched. None very good and the best was decent with info but so repetitive in info after hearing the same info repeated for the 5th time you really start hating the video. I have seen a few OK lectures on youtube about the walls, but really nothing to say who built them. There really just isn't any solid investigation into it. That is by far the most perplexing thing. Just a complete disinterest in the topic by archeologists and historians it seems.
 
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