An Epic Story – Challenging, Surprising, Transformative

Sun, Oct 9, 2022 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm

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In this groundbreaking work of science, history, and archaeology, science journalist Charles C. Mann provides a sweeping portrait that radically alters our understanding of the Americas before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.

In a book that startles and persuades, Mann shows how a new generation of researchers equipped with novel scientific techniques have come to previously unheard-of conclusions about the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans:

  • The pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively moulded and influenced the land around them. In 1491 there were probably more people living in the Americas than in Europe.
  • The earliest cities in the Western Hemisphere were thriving before the Egyptians built the great pyramids. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán had a larger population than any European city. Unlike any capital in Europe at that time, it had running water, beautiful botanical gardens, and immaculately clean streets.
  • Pre-Columbian Indians were not living lightly on the land but transformed it so completely that Europeans arrived in a hemisphere that was already massively “landscaped” in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Amazonian Indians learned how to farm the rain forest without destroying it – a process scientists are studying today in the hope of regaining this lost knowledge.

Pre-Columbian Indians in Mexico developed corn by a breeding process that the journal Science recently described as “man’s first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering.”

A remarkably engaging writer, Mann lucidly explains the significance of everything from haplogroups to glottochronology to landraces. He offers amusing asides to some of his adventures across the hemisphere during the course of his research, but unlike so many contemporary journalists, he never lets his personal experiences overwhelm his subject. Instead, he builds his story around what we want to know.

He is most interested in showing us is how American Indians – like all other human beings – were intensely involved in shaping the world they lived in. He is sure that “many though not all Indians were superbly active land managers – they did not live lightly on the land.” Just how they did live, so long uninfluenced by the vast majority of the world’s population in Africa and Eurasia, forms the bulk of his fascinating narrative. What emerges is an epic story.

Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew. Join us at 12:30 on October 9 for what will be a lively and informing discussion. All are welcome.


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