Sunday, June 19, 2016

Planting America: A Recap

Greek-style salt cod salad. Source

When the library is on summer hours, it is probably not a good idea to hang around the apartment until quarter to two if you need to do five or six hours of work to write a postblogging post. Just sayin'. And so much for last week.

Fortunately, a rich and famous blogger posted something that I felt I'd like to respond to in a way that won't take up too much of my now-blown time here. He's a Berkeley economics professor in his secret identity, and obviously I could  name him, but then you wouldn't feel "in the know" for guessing his secret identity. (Hint: he's not the Eighteenth Century Pennsylvania fur trader, George Croghan,)

As we have argued elsewhere, to a truly remarkable degree all United States citizens today owe that framework to the one single individual who may have made a significant difference in American political economic history, Alexander Hamilton—although even he needed his followers and successors to make a durable impact.
But, before there was a Hamilton, before there was a United States of America, there were earlier deliberate shapings of the economy of North America-to-be. These shaping were carried out by the colonial powers who ruled North American: Spain, France and Britain--and, in the end, especially by the British politicians who decided on the form that the British colonizing effort in the Americas would take.. Their plans and powers resulted in a pre-revolutionary American economy that was quite different in where it was located and how it was organized from what nature--also known as economic geography—-would appear to have intended.
Back in the 17th century the British government made the decision that its colonial policy would be to bet on populating the Atlantic seaboard--at least the Atlantic seaboard north of Virginia--with colonies based on staple agriculture and yeoman settlement, rather than with colonies based on treasure theft, on forced-labor mining, on slave-plantation agriculture, or on long-distance trade:

To some degree, this was a matter of necessity: Britain being late to the American colonial enterprise, It had to take what was left over.

To some degree, this was because the British government was not an absolutist one with Bastilles available, and it seemed wise to try to diminish domestic tensions by subsidizing the emigration of especially-vocal malcontents--whether Puritan, Quaker, or Catholic.

But mostly this was a matter of policy . . . . The English settled the wrong, eastern, Atlantic coast. Ships probing upward along the rivers soon encountered rapids, and beyond the rapids came the mountains: the great Appalachian Range. The Spanish and French built their port-forts on the proper, southern, Gulf coast of America. From that base broad navigable rivers allowed rapid, cheap, and easy movement inland; culminating, of course, in the unique Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio River. Spain had, of course, known about the Mississippi Valley since Hernando de Soto's thousand-man expedition of 1540.

Gulf of Mexico-based settlement provided a major advantage. The settler agricultural economies possible in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries were far from self-sufficient. Their spearheads required the weight of full spearshafts behind them, in the form of a steady supply of largely hand-made manufactured goods--high-tech for their time--from Europe.
Thus the southern, water road to the most fertile and valuable parts of agricultural America was the obvious and optimal one. A simple glance at the map of where U.S. agriculture is today tells the story. America's prime agricultural resources are in the watersheds of the St. Lawrence, Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio, Sacramento-San Joaquin, and Columbia Rivers--not east of the Appalachians. . .

So, anyway. . .

Our blogger has a huge and important point. State intervention in the economy is not un-American, but rather baked into it from . . . Well, our blogger vacillates. The hero of the monograph from which this is  extracted is Alexander Hamilton. He's big right now, I hear. And a hero for the times, too! The problem is that Hamilton arrived on the scene of a society already very different economically from the French and Spanish North American colonies. Our blogger also supposes that the English colonies had the further disadvantage of being in the wrong place, hemmed in on the shallow East Coast, basically between the fall line and the sea. Surely the right place to build a proper cameralist police state was in the midst of the Old Northwest, scene of the main indigenous North American experiments in state building, and the heart of modern American agriculture.

The last thing I want to do is contradict the main lines of this thesis. Sign me up for a Hamiltonian moment! That said, he's wrong from the get-go, when he characterises the British American colonies as not being plantation economies, because they were exactly and perfectly plantations. It's their success as plantations that make the history of the northeast coast different.

There you go, some contrarianism, to be developed below the cut. At least you can be glad that I am not going to lay it off on differences in relief and the neglected role of animal husbandry in economic history. Or will I?

In 1928, the Democratic Party nominated New York Governor Al Smith to run for President. Smith was a Catholiic. It did not go well. Please attend: when a Nineteenth Century, English-speaking historian tells you about Catholics, he is probably writing from his crazy place.
First, let's frame the problem. Again, i)

. . . the British government made the decision that its colonial policy would be to bet on populating the Atlantic seaboard . . . with colonies based on yeoman settlement . . .  the British government was not an absolutist one . . .  and it seemed wise to try to diminish domestic tensions by subsidizing the emigration of especially-vocal malcontents--whether Puritan, Quaker, or Catholic.

You would almost think that ecclesiastical politics mattered in the Nineteenth Century or something, and I could talk about this at length. In fact, I've already slipped it in, if you followed the link above to the pdf of Bradford's Plimouth Plantation and read the tangled introduction about how the only manuscript of Bradford was found in the libraries of the Bishop of London. I do not mention that it was discovered there after being quoted in Samuel Wilberforce's history of the Anglican Church in America. Learning who Wilberforce was, and why he mattered, would drop you into a historiographic maze, from which it would take a long time to read your way out.

Or you could go with Marx and say, "Bah! Ideology!" Saves time. There is a short cut, after all. Wilberforce found it. More credibly, so did Bernard Bailyn.  In one of the essays in Contours, Bailyn discusses a survey of the 1770s, when the British government began to worry that it was losing excessive numbers of taxpayers. It discovered that, for the five years between 1770 and 1775, annual total British migration to the Americas was between 3000 and 6000 individuals. Given the steady pace of technical and navigational progress,  this was probably close to the historic high. (There is other scholarship, but it is pretty weak. The less said of an earlier generatin of American genealogists' attempts to cram enough people into the Mayflower to answer Wilberforce's sneer, the better.)

Parliament stopped worrying; American historians started. One of the things about Wilberforce that made him such an obnoxious custodian of Bradford's manuscript, eye-witness history of the early days of "Plimouth Plantation--" apart from the court records of convictions for bestiality appended-- is Wilberforce's comment that the 5000 English ("Puritan") emigrants who had arrived in New England prior to 1650 had "somehow" become 100,000 in 1700.


What Sopay Sam means is that America is just another Western Hemisphere Creole oligarchy. There was no "Great Migration" across the Atlantic, and those who did come were mostly male. (More on both points below.) As in Spanish America, every effort was spent to persuade people to come over and take up farming in the kind of city-and-country state that cameralist theorists dreamed of, and those efforts failed. (Hugh Thomas, Rivers of Gold,is good on this.) What was left was a society of peninsulares,  Creoles, Indians
Paul Kane, "Half-Breeds Running Buffalo," 1848

and Black African slaves: exactly the same racial/caste/class pyramid as in Spanish America, with the one small difference that, until the regular army began to arrive in the Eighteenth Century, the "peninsulares" of British America were the Anglican clergymen invited over to add tone to growing towns; and that American Creoles did not take "Indian" names, unless you include the ancestors of the Tatums, Slocums, Sanduskys and so on as "Creoles."

Extended exegesis here.

But, but, you say, perfectly correctly. Look: there's plenty of evidence for the gradual ethnogenesis of New England Indians as "English" in New England. You know, local history, town-by-town, entrepeneur by entrepeneur, family by family. People have just been ignoring it very, vey hard. Very hard. I will concede that this does not make cosmetological sense, although Americans were weird about cosmetology a long time before Bernarr McFadden, Snooki, Donald Trump and Reagan's hair came along. Relax: the whole of the story has not yet been told.

I called this a "recap" earlier, but this is not precisely accurate. I do have some new research to foreground. I'll begin on the western side of the Atlantic.

Let's not kid ourselves, as some historians unfortunately have. We have to build from archaeology, archaeology only gives us the taxonomy that we've recovered. Here's what a purely archaeological history of the region of the "Middle Mississippi," from St. Louis (actually, Aztalan, Wisconsin, but never mind) to Louisville, and up the rivers to either side a few hundred kilometers, looks like.

Early Archaic
Red ochre burials; long distance trade; boats. Coastal focus, population concentrated on the Atlantic shore
Middle Archaic
Watson Brake culture in Lousiana is typical. Pounded-earth monumental structures, hunter gatherers; gradual increase in use of terrestrial (forest) resources instead of lacustrine.
Late Archaic
Copper tools and luxury goods traded widely. Red ochre burial sites found in Great Lakes Basin, Ohio Valley. Basic pottery. Projectile points rarely found. (Treasured and carefully curated?)
Numerous sites in central Ohio Valley. Substantial earthworks, recovered art includes use of “weeping eye” and cross-in-circle motifs, Master of Animals. Pipes indicate that tobacco cultivation arrived from Mesoamerica in this period. Better pottery. “Eastern Agricultural Complex.”
Early-Middle Missippian
Monumental earthworks develop into “ceremonial complexes,” perhaps towns. Maize Agriculture develops.

Late Mississippian
1400AD—European Contact
Artistic unity of earlier periods breaks down into local variations.  Towns coalesce, become larger. Permanent inhabitation. European goods appear well before historically documented explorers, settlers, traders. Art and pottery shows increasingly complex techniques.
Note that I had to steal from Maine to fill this table out. There just isn't a lot remaining of the Middle Missisippi's Early Archaic. After the earliest phases, in which highly mobile hunter-gatherers spread quickly across the whole continent, the "dark, ancient forest" really was "too silent to be real." Population, highly mobile, moved to the water, breaking out into the sun, like Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook at the beginning of Deerslayer. Or, to be less poetical and more practical, like various Mesolithic peoples around the world, who responded to the reviving Holocene forests by moving to the water margin and exploiting lacustrine resources.  

The "Woodlands Period," is the age of Hopewell, and of the "Eastern Agricultural Complex." The latter, an invention of Americanists of the 1940s with a major inferiority complex vis-a-vis the ancient Middle East, sells the rest of our Paleolithic ancestors short in the name of exalting the peoples of the old Northwest. Supposedly, they became one of "ten independent" areas where agriculture was invented around the world. In reality, all Paleolithic peoples seem to have curated their landscapes and gardened useful plants. A vast range of plants were included in hunter-gathering practice around the world, and as the Hopewell peoples themselves showed by adopting tobacco the moment it appeared down in Mexico, while ignoring maize and beans, they were perfectly capable of importing specific horticultural technologies across vast distances if it suited their needs. Eventually, full-blown agriculture was invented in the New World and in the Old, and in each case the shift to "agriculture" is the shift to more complex societies, verging on states. I've summarised Graeme Barker's excellent book on the origins of agriculture in the Near East here, although I find it hard to believe I did it justice; also, here's a book that covers the Olmec invention of agriculture in the New World.  I liked it, but it is a bit of a slog.

The Mississippian Era is the age of Middle Mississippi Indians building massive, earthen pyramids with chiefly houses/temples on their flat tops, surrounded by levelled, pounded-earth plazas on which ceremonial games were played, and "earth lodges." in which elite males gathered to drink frothy, highly-caffeinated "black drink." Some Americanists (good scholars!) have been known to pretend that this culture isn't derivative of Mesoamerican. I see no reason to take their denials seriously. To get romantic (again), how could whispers of Teotihuacan not have been heard down the forest trails? How could a whole hemisphere not sit up, wakened in the night, by a strangeness passing, by something so new, so wonderful?

You will notice that the Mississippian Culture adopts agriculture in the middle of its development. This may seem so weird as to endorse the "Eastern Agricultural Complex" by itself. Again, I urge you to read Barker. So insightful. What matters here,  I would argue, is the place of the Mississippian at the cross-roads of the continent. Historically, the river runs north and south, and continues, across an easy portage, via the Red. Lake Winnipeg, and the Nelson all the way to Hudson's Bay. West, the Santa Fe Trail leads down into Mexico, while, besides the portages to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Basin, there is the Buffalo Trace and the Ohio leading east. Meanwhile, archaeologists trying to explain the extraordinary wealth of the Spiro Mounds point to the potential role of the Arkansas River as a road towards the far southwest, controlling one point of access to Mesoamerican luxury goods.

All of this brings me to the point of this digression, which is the short duration of the Late Mississippian. I have long wondered whether the changes of the 1400--1500 period reflect earliest European contact. The coincidence in time is far too close, and it is also coincident with the mysterious depopulation of the Potomac Valley above the fall line, an event which may have coincided with the spread of Iroquian languages through the area. The relevance here is that I want to claim that the appearance of Algonquin and Iroqouian oecumenes in parallel bands along the major trade routes above and below the fall line reflect the emergence of two long-distance trade routes distributing European goods. While this is scarcely controversial for the 1600s, it is obviously crackpot crazy for the 1400s. 

But, we now have some solid archaeology to bear out the idea that major cultural and political changes did occur in the Fifteenth Century Mississippian. Specifically, Anthony Krus has now dated the "militarisation" of Late Mississippian sites with remarkable precision to the mid-1400s. His marker for militarisation is the building of wooden palisades with regular bastions set at effective arrow range distances. With the pious skepticism of New Zealander archaeologists in mind, I will quibble that this might not be "militarisation" so much as intensified status competition between the centres: not more war, but higher-stakes war. Perhaps saliently, Aztalan, the Mississippian Culture's gateway to the North (and Hudson's Bay, and Greenland. . .) is the precocious outlier, fortifying in 1415, followed by the bigger centres to the south after mid-century.

So there you go: vast changes, tectonically reshaping the northern woodlands from the tidelands to the Mississippi. In the 1400s. 

Now I'm going to step back and do a longue duree for the eastern side of the Atlantic. 

Here's the chronology I'm going with. 

411AD --Collapse of the Roman Empire in Britain. Amazingly fast, amazingly sudden. One day there are towns, villas, coinage, pottery; within a single lifetime, there are not. In a particularly exciting development for archaeology, it has been established that former Roman towns are covered in a layer of "dark earth," indicating a dramatically new form of soil formation in the old towns. Is it agriculture? The use of the old walls as animal pens? Buildings now of wattle and daub rather than stone? Simple abandoment, with weeds growing thick over ruins? In a way, the interesting question is what attention to soil can tell us about other sites. In another way, the shattering fall of the Roman Empire has always been an object lesson for historians. At the risk of being like every other generation of historian and getting "now" confused with "then," I will point out that one dimension of the failure of the Roman Empire has just got to be monetary, even if speculations over the years have ranged from inflation (low silver content in the coins indicates an expanding money supply, plus there is price control legislation from the late Empire) to deflation (the most plausible explanation for the Roman mania for hoarding money, especially low-value coinage struck locally for trade.)

500AD The Faeroes are settled. One of three archipelagos of the North Atlantic bridging the gap between Scotland and Iceland, the Faeroes are the last to be settled for thousands of years. Leaving the islands and island-like settings of the Norwegian coast out of the story for a moment, the enormous gap demands explanation. I know, I know, I've played Sid Meier's Civilization, too; but I don't think anonymous sub-Roman barley-and-sheep farmers finally accumulated enough science points to invent astronomy. There's a temptation to speculate, but this whole timeline conceit is strained enough as it is, and I don't want to put two Key Points in here, and the one that I want you to take away is that the Viking sagas say that the Faeroes were settled by certain named Viking chieftains around 800. This is obviously not true, and the Key Point is that sagas are complete bullshit. There's an argument for that, but you should be able to pierce together the elements out of pure cynicism at your leisure. cf., "lies my history teacher told me," etc. If a more elaborate development of the argument is wanted, it is my pleasure to cite Alex Woolf's From Pictland to Alba as a good place to go for that. 

735AD --A long time after the end of Rome, just in case you're ever tempted to take what a historian of this period has to say about the fall, seriously. (This is important because basically our understanding of the fall of the Roman Empire in Britain was shaped by a historian of this period.) By this time, there is an archbishop at York in northeastern England, who claims ecclesiastical dominion over the whole vast and oceanic North. Why is this peripheral zone of England so important that I have noted it, including the link above, twice? Because the economic order of this period was different, and peripheral zones were richer with respect to the centre than they later became. Amongst the resources that made them so are aquatic mammals. Although they do not scale up well, seal and walrus rookeries are rich sources of dietary fats, illuminants, high quality pelts, and even walrus ivory. (The salient good to be noticed here, because it is a luxury good, much sought after for religious sculpture, including book plates, which are gigantically, hugely important in this period for reasons that would take more than a sentence to explain, which is why I'm just linking and pointing.) But, you ask, why are these resources not exploited at an early stage of development, given that the Inuit and Maori, for example, made heavy use of them? Because, and this is a key point, societies are risk-averse, and for small societies, the loss of a boat that might have a half-dozen men in it is a potentially community-ending tragedy. (In an Inuit society, it could mean the death of the entire dependent household, and virtually the whole band! This suggests that those Inuit societies that did hunt seals and walrusses from boats had more elaborate social arrangements than is sometimes appreciated, but that's another story. Hunting seals from sea ice is much less socially risky, but not terribly practical outside the high Arctic.) 
Cheesecake to put us in a "floating proletariat" state of mind.

Hence, I conclude that in order to exploit these resouces, a society must have surplus young men (and probably women, but boys above all), whose chance of marrying and forming a household is dependent on acquiring wealth through risky business. A "floating proletariat," if you will; and, of course, to go with them a capitalist with some resources to put at risk; and some kind of market, or market-like institution to give a reasonably reliable return on investment by coordinating seller with buyer. Having regard to the realities of 732AD, which I have not well characterised so far, this is more likely to be a familia of "church settlements," or what are more often called monasteries. As for the ephemeral colonies of subordinated "servants" that these monks "planted," let us call them "plantations."

800AD Icelandic writers, especially of a more traditional type, like to dance around this, but the first reference to people travelling to Iceland occurs in about this year. It is fun to see just how hard people try to dance around this. The Wiki article I'm going to link to here invites us to imagine the reference as the tall tale of an "Irish monk." In fact, Dicuil was one of the elite ecclesiastical scholars gathered around the Emperor Charlemagne. Tasked with writing a new geography of the world (an ideologically important project in the court of a universal emperor), this expert astronomer takes care to add new locations "discovered" since Classical times. One of these was Iceland, and Dicuil tells us that he met monks who had spent the summer there. The tradition has been to dismiss this as one of those crazy things that monks do; but it is actually pretty clear that they were my "capitalists," operating settlements of floating proletarians extracting marine mammal products from the Icelandic littoral. I have links to actual scholarship at the post here. For monks as early medieval entrepeneurs, see this recent and entertaining mass-market history. 

850AD As I say, the Norse sagas, mostly written in Iceland for consumption at the Norwegian court, in the 1300s, claim that Iceland was discovered by Vikings, about 870AD. They were nobles of the most refined birth, and ancestors of the guys who were in charge in Iceland right now, and they were kicked out of Norway by the incredibly awesome king who was the ancestor of the current kings, and totally king there at that time on account of Norway totally being a kingdom then just like Denmark no you shut up it was so. I am, as you may detect, skeptical. And with good reason! The whole story has "Vikings" arrive, clear whatever forest there was, replacing it with the current pastoral landscape overnight, and building stone longhouses to live in. Meanwhile, actual Scandinavian farmers, then and through at least the Nineteenth Century, reacted to sub-Arctic forest (as Iceland was then) with a regime of shifting slash-and-burn cultivation which conserves forest resources and soil fertility while producing plenty of charcoal as a secondary fuel for industrial use such as iron production. Archaeology has pretty firmly established a "prehistory" of this swidden farming on Iceland through a consistent set of carbon-14 datings of domesticated animal remains to 750--800AD. 
It's easy to over-romanticise the forest folk, but compare this to being serfs back in old Britain.

It looks like some of the "servants" of Dicuil's monks elected to stay in Iceland. Given that the whole model of "plantation" involves stocking outbound boats with live animals (a few kids, lambs, calves and piglets an a great pile of hay is hugely cheaper than slaughtering, salting and packing the same animals), there is a fairly natural trend from initial plantation. Sometimes, you end up with a surplus of livestock at the end of year, while sometimes you are in deficit. So you leave some people to take care of your animals in years when you end up in surplus. It's not rocket science. And believe me, because I'm the guy techblogging the late 40s. Rocket science is hard.

980AD The sagas say that one Erik the Red brought 2000 people to Greenland, all in one go, from the overpopulated Iceland, where all the land had been claimed, and established a new colony on the southeast coast of Greenland. While the colony was definitely established, none of the rest of this makes sense. While the craziest part is two thousand people arriving in Greenland in the middle of summer and somehow putting away enough provisions to make it through the winter, the sticking point is that Scandinavia was underpopulated in this period, and the archaeology shows that "all the land had not been claimed" in Iceland. In fact, the arable lands of Iceland were not finally divided until the 1200s, which is also when it was deforested. Moreover, even the sagas admit that the Icelanders had already been active on the west coast of Greenland for years by this time. The west coast isn't nearly as hospitable as the east coast, but there is a permanent settlement on the central west coast, Tassiilaq, which has been inhabited for a lot longer than there have been Icelanders in Iceland. Given floe ice, and the small size of the settlement, they weren't necessarily paddling out into the middle of the Greenland Strait and harassing passing boaters, but Inuit pirates in kayaks have been alleged for later periods. so, basically, the "native-Norse" interaction began a lot earlier, and was a great deal more gradual than the sagas admit. And while we like to pretend that the old Vikings wer ea bunch of big, blond, white supremacists who would never stoop to interacting with brown people, that says more about our abnormal pyschology than actual Vikings. As for what actually happened in Greenland, it's a bit much to go into here (your source: have fun), but, basically, when the Greenland missions arrived on the east coast in the Eighteenth Century, all the Inuit living marginal lives in the high Arctic flocked to the missions and "underwent ethnogenesis" as Danes. (Or Christians, at least.) The previous high Arctic culture, the Dorsets, disappeared at the same time that the "Norse settlement" was established. You do the math.


1000AD If seal hunting is too dangerous to be a subsistence activity for small communities, that goes double for an extensive sea fishery. It's not that inshore fishing in small boats risks large numbers of non-expendable breadwinners --it's the vessels that take them to their "plantations." It is therefore of some little note that around the turn of the millennium, "deep, anthropogenic soils" appear on the islands of the High Atlantic. People are farming, as they have for millennia; but they now have access to unprecedented amounts of manure and fertiliser, and are using it far more intensively to produce larger crops --to the point where the Orkneys are exporting grain. (That's actually over a century later, at the height of the Earldom, but what's a century or so in a broad strokes account?) The source of the inputs, and the market for the outputs, is thought, on various grounds, to be a commercial fishery aiming to produce salt herring and cod for sale in an increasingly ramified urban economy. (Here's the abstract of a paper by the Professor Barret and colleages. Barrett originated this interpretation, "deep, anthropogenic soils" and all.) One thing that these soils establish is that "plantation" is not just a matter of far distant ocean frontiers. An inshore fishery that occurs off a stretch of rocky coastline in Devon may be just as inaccessible from the land as an Icelandic fishery, and there may be a patch of green in this bit of Devon, walled off by cliffs, that is as remote and "plantable" as an Icelandic shore. This is an ephemeral history, of piracy, smuggling, poaching and wrecking, and young men making trouble because they are too young and dumb to realise that it is not in their best interests. But it is  a history.

1076AD As with Dicuil, so with Adam of Bremen.  Old Icelandic writers, and, it seems, nearly every historian who writes on the subject today, wants you to know that the Vikings reached, first, Greenland, and, second, North America, and that we know this thanks to two Icelandic sagas composed at some point in the 1300s. Unconscious that they were writing the works that would later prove that Vikings, not Italians, "discovered America," the actual saga writers are mainly concerned to establish that those most excellent personages, the bishops of Iceland, were descended from Erik the Red. This is the interesting bit of a bit of bullshit, or "wishful thinking," as Sverrir Jakobsson  almost puts it. He's referring to modern interepretations of the sagas, rather than the saga writers themselves, but I think the attitude will carry over, since the saga writers knew the same ancient sources as we do, and probably not much else. The saga poets, after all, were well aware of the first reference to Greenland and "Vinland" in the literature, which occurs in Adam of Bremen's history of the Diocese of Hamburg and Bremen, completed for Archbishop Liemar, about 1076AD. They, far less than we, cannot be forgiven for not noticing that Adam's point is that the Archbishop of Hamburg and Bremen deserves to be a Patriarch on a par with Jerusalem, which is important Imperial politics, but so ridiculous on its face that Adam makes up a story about how the island of Vinland is so holy and liminal between Heaven and Earth that the transcendent substances of the Communion, wheat and wine, are miraculously produced there in defiance of climate and agronomy. Realistically, "Vinland" probably means "Meadow-Land," as sour-minded skeptics have been saying for years, and the discovery of Anse aux Meadows ought to be the final nail in the coffin of attempts to find a Viking Western Hemisphere landfall with native grapevines. (The self-sowing wheat is conveniently not included amongst geographical clues to the real location of Vinland.) The fact that this meaning of "Vinland" is Early Norse just tells us when Vinland was named --early in the history of Norse. Which would be more interesting if there was any reason to think that 1000AD wasn't the age of "early Norse."
Grass is very robust; but this kind of landscape still isn't that common in Newfoundland. By D. Gordon E. Robertson - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The important point is that Adam may be writing after the heroic age of Viking exploration, but he is also writing before the Vikings were "invented." As far as he knows, Greenland is so-called because its inhabitants spend so much time at sea that they are brined green. On the suspicion that he was told that they were "copper-skinned," that'll do. Although the most likely explanation for "Greenland" in turn is that the parts where people live are pretty green. You can also raise livestock in Greenland, which, counter-intuitively enough, you cannot do in Newfoundland.

Ever wonder why Erik the Red sdidn't settle at Gardar, by far the best site in Greenland, leaving it vacant for the later Bishop? Because the story of Erik the REd is probably as completely made up as the story of the first Norse discovered of the Faeroes.  We are probably looking at the site where a "church settlement" dependent on the presumed Pictish monastery at Birsay was established in c. 950, only to find itself surrounded by refugees from the, uhm, rigorous Dorset lifestyle.

1400AD Given that the quantity of cod taken is going to depend on the size of the market, it is not surprising that "plantations" seeking salt cod start close to home and move outwards towards the extreme end of the known maritime world of the Atlantic --Greenland. Kirsten Seaver has made a heroic effort to present the later stages of the Greenland Settlement as the first cod-fishing plantation economy of the Western Hemisphere, but she is quite clearly wrong. Right down to its end, which she more plausibly argues might have been as late as the Columbian period, the Greenlanders were busy with the old Atlantic plantation economy, aiming to produce Arctic furs and walrus ivory (and live peregrine falcons), not salt cod. About 1400, the cod rush reached Iceland's shore in full measure. Thousands of English fishers descended on Iceland, which rather upset the traders of the Hanseatic League, who had come to an arrangement with the Kings of Norway and the Archbishops of Bergen. The result was some tension, and the commissioning of some "pirates" to take English interlopers, notably including one Didrik Pining, a man who did so well in the enterprise that he was made Governor of Iceland in 1478. 

1497AD The generally accepted date for the discovery of northeastern North America by mariners from Europe is John the Baptist's Day, 1497, when the Genoese navigator, John Cabot, in the service of Henry VII of England, arrived in St. John's, Newfoundland. Whatever else we make of this, Cabot is the first recorded person to make the very common observation that there were a lot of cod swimming in Newfoundland inshore waters. Whether the discovery matters, or whether it was just time, the result was the establishment of that "nursery of sailors," the Newfoundland fishery. The date ofo the arrival of the first fishing fleets is obscure, but in some ways it is rather eclipsed for those interested in the history of contact by the discovery of the Basque whaling station at Red Bay on the coast of Labrador, at some point in the 1530s.   From that time at the latest, the "floating proletariat" of the North Atlantic fishery was in regular contact with the now no-longer "pre-Columbian" peoples of North America.

1700 By this time, 50,000 men (mostly) were crossing the Atlantic each spring to fish, seal and whale off Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Incredibly, the floating proletariat did not go as crews of ships, but as paying passengers, with no guarantee of a return trip. This was first necessary because the inshore fishery is conducted from small boats, and requires considerable labour on land. It was possible because the "planters" were exploiting a very vulnerable population. The outcome was that this movement of labour back and forth across the Atlantic was a pump, but a "leaky pump." From the earliest, fragmentary records of New England, so assiduously combed in search of actual European ancestors, we know that one of the places that the pump "leaked" into was New England. (Other places included piracy, the Barbary Coast, and, in general, wherever else rootless, unsocialised young men might end up.) The one place they did not end up, notwithstanding many attempts at "planting," was Newfoundland. The winters were too cold, and the animals died; so the young men departed, for wherever was more attractive. 

Including the upper country, where there was fur trading . . . So if you are wondering how the Indios and mestizos, and, yes, Creoles of New England don't look more Indian than they do, here is the gene flow that explains it.

This is not, obviously, settlement as we understand it from a blown weekend playing Civilization V. It is individuals: poor, reckless individuals. We are eager to fence them off, to dictate what is possible, and not. And yet there are no shortage of stories of young men abandoned on the American shore, who show up later with stories of Indian slavery; sometimes, with Indian wives. At one time, it was the fashion of the antiquarian to collect instances of "Indians" who spoke Welsh (or Cornish.) It's all ideological, of course: in the late Sixteenth Century, it was fashionable to defend English projects to plant colonies on the east coast of North America with references to Prince Madoc, and ever since, mad antiquarians have pronounced that this or that Indian tribe is descended from these lost Welshmen, on the grounds that they use various Welsh words.

But. . . the sailors of the fishery were from the West of England, and many of them did speak Cornish. And if whispers of Teotihuacan could come down the forest trails, why not a young man, perhaps with a ready smile and a good singing voice.

(Or if that's too impractical for you, check out Horace Kephart's Camping and Woodcraft for the story of the man who broke his axe at the haft, removed the wood from the bit by burning it out, retempered the axehead by caking it in clay and baking it in the fire until red hot, and then made a new haft with his knife. I think a young man with that kind of handiness might be able to make his way in an world of trade hatchets.) 

This does not go as far as it might to explain why the plantations of New England were successful in a way that those of Latin America were not. But that's because I've focussed so far on the cosmetology question, and explained, at oh-so-endless length, where the genes came from. The capital is an issue, too. So I'll end by pointing out how Iceland was settled. Not on the basis of a grand national plan to build an empire, but on the basis that young men were expendable, while the yearling cattle left at the end of a fishing season were not. And so the young men were left, and, in the case of Iceland at least, some young women, too. 

 There is a long century of failed European colonies in North America between 1500 and 1621, of which Roanoke is only the most famous. It coincides with the era in which colonists tried to settle people. After the New England fishery was established, the issue was capital, in the form of livestock. From there, everything flowed on smoothly enough.  The English colonies succeeded because their plantations succeeded.

There is, finally, the part of this story that is not recap. A link to the story of Didrik Pining brings us, all too briefly to "claims of pre-Columbian contact." This part isn't as romantic as Phoenician and Roman voyagers, but it does require a leap. We have to accept that the pump began to work, no doubt on a much smaller load, not in 1500, but in 1450. Or even earlier, if we allow Greenland a place in the story. Will a few ships, every few years, work? Do we need them? The explosion of activity, far away on the Middle Mississipp, suggests that we do. Perhaps a trickle of goods, coming down the portages from the Gulf of St. Lawrence far away, will will be enough to trigger clamorous rivalry if they are rare and precious enough. If there is a shift, from a Hudson Valley route to a St. Lawrence route, perhaps there is even something more to the story of Aztalan (Wisconsin.)


  1. Graydon has made a good point over on Google+ about studies not showing a substantial genetic component of Indian ancestry in white New Englanders.

    This is a good point and may be dispositive of my speculation, but I don't think we've got to the point where my towering cloud castle of pure logic can be set aside.

    Genetic testing for Native American ancestry is serious bit of forensic genealogy these days. Some people are narcissists, some people are curious --and some American First Nations have blood quantum rules, because the situation wasn't racially fraught enough already.

    DNA on the main helix is . . problematic. As small populations are easily washed out, and you are left with something close to alchemy. Worse, it is the resort of everyone who can't get definitive results, as see below. That leaves room for wishful thinking and . . other things.

    Sarah may have uncovered Lascar ancestors, here. But it's also possible that the business is a bit dodgy.

    Definitive results can come from mitochondrial DNA, which is passed exclusively in the maternal line and so is cloned from mother to daughter, and DNA on Y chromosomes, which clones from father to son. Both can wash out, if mothers have only sons, or if fathes have only daughters. Small ancestral populations will be lost over time in this way.

    Famously, rigorous statistical analysis has reduced confirmed Native American ancestry to a small group of genetic profiles. None, as far as I know, are exclusively Western Hemisphere, but some are otherwise only found in East Asia, so close enough. Where these appear in a white New Englander's ancestry, you have your smoking gun. (You also have the raw material to report Native American ancestry in Icelanders and southwestern English.)

    Also, people get around.

    Brian Sykes is a big name in the field, so when his tests show "no Native American ancestry" in New Englanders, it is a big deal. It becomes less of a big deal when you realise that he only tested 25 people for DNA USA.

    So I guess that's where we are? Waiting for Big Science to put a million New Englanders under the scope?

  2. Neat recap.

    Curiously enough, right after reading this I came across an article touching on the genetics of the Dorset culture, painting a rather different picture (with a bunch of citations to follow up on...)

    "The archaeological record of the North American Arctic documents a transformation beginning around a thousand years ago and associated with the Thule cultural complex. The Thule culture advanced into a North American Arctic occupied by the descendants of previous migrations , referred to as Paleoeskimos and culturally represented by the Saqqaq and Dorset technological complexes [41] . Genome - wide data from a ~4,000 year old Saqqaq culture individual in Greenland — the first genome - wide data set from an ancient human — was interpreted as showing that the Saqqaq population went extinct in North Ameri ca , since the Saqqaq genome was most similar to present - day Koryak and Chukchi on the e astern side of the Bering strait in clustering analyses [42] . Genome - wide analysis of additional samples from the Early Dorset and Middle Dorset cultures — along with Thule individuals — confirmed the picture of distinct ancestry in Paleoeskimos, and a population break associated with the Thule that led directly to present - day Inuit populations [ 43] . " -

  3. This, however, you might like better - although it's a self-selected sample of doubtful representativeness, and the Western concentration is not necessarily what your model predicts:

    "We find that many self-reported European Americans, predominantly those living west of the Mississippi River, carry Native American ancestry (Figure 3B). We estimate that European Americans who carry at least 2% Native American ancestry are found most frequently in Louisiana, North Dakota, and other states in the West. Using a less stringent threshold of 1%, our estimates suggest that as many as 8% of individuals from Louisiana and upward of 3% of individuals from some states in the West and Southwest carry Native American ancestry (Figure S7)... Fitting a model of European and Native American admixture followed later by African admixture, we find the best fit with initial Native American and European admixture about 12 generations ago and subsequent African gene flow about 4 generations ago... The ratio between X chromosome and genome-wide Native American ancestry estimates in European Americans shows greater Native American female and higher European male ancestry contributions (Tables 1 and S4)."

    1. Thanks for that, Lameen. As for the western distribution, that's because North America is tipped east to west, and the loose stones roll until they hit the Pacific. Or the Black Hills, as it turns out. . .

      On a more serious note, the peak of European emigration to North America, when you're going to not only have "four grandparents from Europe," but who were probably on the same boat, came in the steam age, from c. 1880 to 1920. This migration was funnelled mainly into the eastern cities --I will now subcontract the rest of this sentence to a crazed St. Jean Baptistist.

      The tricky part remains one of discovering the contours of the original settlement, and establishing whether the race fraud that I strain to discern in the silences between the lines is a real thing.

      Oddly enough, the Arctic, where we really do seem to have the Dorset "disappearing," and of little or no old Norse contribution to the genetics of the Inuit --but plenty of post-1720 European admixture-- is the clearest things come to confirming my wild speculation.

      Specifically, as the archaeologists lament, the Dorsets were throughout very efficient and orderly in disposing of their dead. Bodies are not found where they would be expected to die in some kind of extinction crisis --in the homes. Wherever the Dorsets went, they took time to clean up after themselves.

      Which, to me, is support for the common sense thesis that they did what the historic Inuit did when the Greenland missions arrived, which is to gather round thesem as the nucleii of permanent settlements, from which they could continue to hunt seasonally, but also take advantage of trade opportunities.

      Of course, Ari the Wise says in the Book of the Icelanders that the settlement region was uninhabited when Erik arrived, but remains were found there of the "kind of Skraelings who now inhabit Greenland and Vinland." But it's not hard to find plenty of other examples of claims from here and there (Hawaii and Ireland come to mind) that forerunner people left those enigmatic buildings and tools.

      Now we just need to find characteristic Dorset, as opposed to generic Native American, markers in Icelandic populations. . . (It would also be nice to find that the Cabots and the Lodges --but not the Mathers-- have apical Native American ancestors, but I don't think this kind of research is up for that kind of detail.)