Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How the Aztecs Organized Themselves (Part 1)

Fig A. Mural by the famous Diego Rivera of Mexica (Aztec) Civilization. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber. Click to Embiggen. 
     When the enterprising Spanish finally did meet the high civilizations of Mesoamerica, after spending several unrewarding decades invading the contrastingly meager Carib and Taino chiefdoms of the Greater Caribbean Sea, they found orderly, structured societies with qualities alien to their medieval sensibilities. Among those qualities were a series of polytheistic religions that happen to promote ritualistic human killings, densely populated stone cities built and maintained without the aid of domesticated work animals, and a nutritious crop base wholly incomparable to that of the greater Eastern Hemisphere. For these Spanish, it represented a drastically alien context than that of their native Iberian Peninsula.
Fig B. Diego Rivera Mural of Tenochtitlan. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber.
Click to Embiggen. 
However, regardless of what may have seemed like an infinite gulf of differences between them, the invading Spanish and the American world increasingly dominated by the Mexica (Me-SHE-ka...who we now call the Aztecs) did share recognizable similarities. State-level, centrally controlled societies were obvious from the first moments Hernan Cortes and his predecessors (expeditions under Francisco Hern├índez de C├│rdoba and Juan de Grijalva) stood on Mexican beaches. In the Spanish and greater European areas of the time period, similar sorts of societies were the normal course of human organization. So, in the establishment of colonial Spanish existence and the reorganization of native institutions and traditions to suit that existence, the Spanish, their reluctant newly-conquered subjects and willing allies, did not wander far from the native political structures being utilized in Mesoamerica nor did they replace them completely with an all-Iberia model. As time wore on, the Spanish understanding of political organization was interwoven with that of the Mesoamerican order to produce a unique Mesoamerican-Castilian hybrid, which was born out of the varying circumstances, chaos, compromises, and aims of post-Conquest Mexico.So, let's start at the beginning: what was the Aztec organization like? How did they divide themselves into "states" and "counties" and "parishes"? What did the map look like to them?

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Holy Grail of North American Maps

The  Voegelin & Voegelin (1965) language classification, one of the best linguistic maps of 1491 North America. 

The above map depicts the arrangement of linguistic language groups in North America believed to be present in 1492 when Christopher Columbus's first voyage accidentally landed upon an area of the world that was decidedly not China (they were looking for a sea route to the Far East from Western Europe). The changes that began in that year altered the map of North America in ways that had never happened before.

Map of Virginia in 1624
To be fair, changes in human boundaries and political organization have always been in a state of flux for North America, as they were in any other part of the world. Empires rose and fell, ethnic groups dispersed and concentrated, and new systems of organization were developed and tested with more or less the same regularity as the rest of humankind. However, the scale and speed of these changes intensified, for a time, when Europeans began to settle the Americas. This happened for many reasons that this blog will touch on from time to time, but the primary reason appears to be disease. Wide-ranging, epic diseases may have contributed more to our modern map arrangement than most other factors. This accelerated circumstance, combined with the general lack of records in pre-Columbian North America (and there were records), creates blank spots on any map we create of pre-Columbian America. Thus, any map claiming to represent North America as it was at 1491 or earlier is both incomplete and a bit suspect.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

About the Atlas of Extinct Nations

     Greetings and welcome to the Atlas of Extinct Nations for North America. This blog is a casual resource for the examination and discussion of failed states, abandoned cities and towns, extinct and forgotten nations, as well as struggling and/or politically muzzled nations within the realm of modern North America. Also to be discussed on this blog will be the archaeological, anthropological, linguistic and overall scientific implications that are related to these subtopics, with special emphasis on the satellite remote sensing of archaeological sites in North America. If you love maps, then you've landed in a good place. Welcome =)

Cahokia, a pre-historic Native American city. Click to Embiggen.
Why do this? Well, because it is interesting! It is different and perhaps a little fresh. The past has created every one of us and all of our present circumstances. To explore this past is to explore ourselves. And, frankly typing, not a lot of us (North Americans) have a solid handle on what is going on here on this continent, and thus have a bit of a loose grip on ourselves. Perhaps we are little too confined by the lines we've drawn on the map. Perhaps we are not confined enough? This blog is here to partially educate us all on these matters and hopefully open our minds a little to our present circumstances, politically, linguistically, and culturally. 

It is difficult to imagine sometimes how the world ended up being they way it is, but perhaps more difficult to grasp just how close the world was to being very different. For example, the United States is a nation that is regarded to possess 50 states, give or take an overseas territory or quasi-dependent Native American Nation. However, would it interest you to know that there has been a series of proposals for US states that never came to be?  Indeed, there is a whole series of proposed states that might have been, buried in our past (as well as states being proposed right now). Might it also interest you to learn that several times in US history, individual states have suggested splitting into smaller states for various reasons? Or did you know that 27 US states derive their names from Native American languages? Or that the largest city in North American history was Cahokia until the rise of Philadelphia in 1800? Or that the oldest existing town in US territory is Taos Pueblo and is probably 1000 years old? It is often surprising to learn just how the cultural, historical, and physical landscape of North America is really shaped. There are many interesting details concerning past life in North America that can inform us here in the present on how things came to exist in their current forms. Many of these details are not covered in textbooks and sometimes almost forgotten by the general public.