The Native American Empire?

Discussion in 'History' started by Ayodhya, Jan 12, 2007.

  1. Ayodhya Registered Senior Member

    Across the majority of the world, there have been empires on each continent except what we know today as the USA. Why is that?

    Why did the Native Americans not create an empire similar to other cultures?
    Here are some suggestions:

    1) The religion of the Native Americans did not allow them to exploit the land as per the necessary resources of an empire.

    2) The resources needed were not available.

    3) They did not have the technology to make use of the resources if they were available.

    4) Among the several hundred tribes, one was not able to gain dominance over the other to create an empire.

    5) Their detachment from the rest of the world kept them away from international invasions (which reduced the need for a progressive advancement in weaponry and other defensive measures), ideas, etc.

    Agree or disagree?
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  3. RoyLennigan Registered Senior Member

    i would say that their nomadic nature is a big reason.

    native americans were among the very last groups of humans on earth to settle down in one area. they traveled from asia to n. america and in some cases all the way down to the farthest tip of s. america. they were still traveling (as a whole tribe, not just hunters) following their roaming food source while people in europe were creating massive empires.

    it was this lifestyle that was all they knew, and it worked well enough, agreed with their beliefs (or perhaps their beliefs agreed with it) so they kept it.

    but there were some native tribes that began empires, such as the inca and mayans.
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  5. mathman Valued Senior Member

    There were empires, Aztecs and predecessors in Mexico, and Incas in Peru.
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The only continent that never had an empire is Australia.

    The USA is not a continent. North America is a continent. And North America was home to one of the world's six original civilizations. The Aztecs were the last keepers of it but before them it was the Maya and Olmec people.

    The first wave of immigrants from Asia came over about 14000BCE and they established two civilizations, one in Mexico and one in South America. But they did get a late start compared to the rest of the world, neither of those civilizations existed before about 1000BCE. Mesopotamian civilization began around 8000BCE. Egypt, India and China were just a couple of thousand years later.

    The aboriginal people in what is now the USA had just shown the first stirrings of civilization. There are ruins of towns in Missouri and elsewhere. And in Colorado they carved a town out of the cliff faces.

    If the Christian destroyers had not arrived from Europe there's no telling what would have happened. The people north of the Rio Grande might have developed their own civilization. Or the Aztecs might just have expanded northward and assimilated them.

    Or the Buddhist missionaries from China might have made it all the way over here.
  8. maxzuk Registered Senior Member

    I think it had a lot to do with the extreme weather and conditions in what is now the US and Canada.

    On the West Coast there were earthquakes and volcanoes.

    The Mid-West is known as Tornado Alley.

    The East Coast is ripped with Hurricanes.

    In the North you have terrible winters – that includes all of Canada.

    I believe that the North American Indians were to busy just surviving
    to build any permanent structures that would be needed to qualify them as
    a Empire.
  9. maxzuk Registered Senior Member

    I know of no native inhabitants of Antarctica.
  10. SkinWalker Archaeology / Anthropology Moderator

    Moderator note: I removed the racial nonsense about IQ of non-Europeans from this thread. The topic is about complex civilization on the North American continent. Lets stick to that topic and avoid the racist comments.
  11. SkinWalker Archaeology / Anthropology Moderator

    That is a common misconception, I think, about Native Americans. There were, of course, several major empires and civilizations that developed complexity in both North and South America. I could go into a lot of detail, but I'll try to be brief and just hit some highlights. One of the most significant examples of complex civilization in North America is the Hopewell culture, which had elites, public architecture, complex and efficient trade relations with distant cultures (as far as Mesoamerica), etc.

    Permit me to comment on the points you raised:

    This, too, is a common misconception. Native Americans from the Inuit to the Inca revered the natural world and had religions that Robert Bellah would have described as archaic or perhaps even primitive since they don't generally separate the sacred from the profane/secular. However, there is plenty of archaeological evidence that various indigenous cultures extensively exploited their environments, even to the point of species extinction and deforestation. The Maya, for instance, depleted large quantities of forest in their construction of monumental architecture, resulting in significant erosion and subsequent agricultural failures at various sites.

    This is a very astute observation and many of the resources that were available around the Mediterranean world simply didn't exist. Notably absent was the draft animal. In the Near East, the wild ass was domesticated and horses were brought in rather early from the East, just at around the time they began to develop agriculturally. In addition, ovicaprids and bovids (sheep, goats and cows) were ultimately developed from their wild progenitors that were found in the Near East. The only animal that comes close in the Americas is the Llama, found in the South American highlands. Mesoamerica and North America had no animal that could be domesticated.

    Many peoples in the North American continent's Great Plains region probably found no reason to develop strategies of subsistence that went beyond foraging since they could follow buffalo and make seasonal moves, sustaining their life ways without significant problem. Most complex cultures (all that I can think of off the top of my head) developed as a result of agriculture. But with agriculture comes both a price and an advantage. Engaging in full-time agriculture means being sedentary year round and putting overtime in working your fields or raising your animals (or both). Foragers have a lot of flexibility and a lot of time on their hands. The forager works far less than the agriculturalist each day. So the move from foraging to sedentism has to have a significant motivator.

    In the Near East, it was probably the environment. As conditions grew wetter following the last glacial maximum, the climate became more favorable to hunting and gathering food resources, but this also made it favorable for population increases. Foragers during this period were socially affected since nearly every eco-zone was occupied, pressuring them into semi-sedentary lifeways with reduced mobility. The wetter conditions made sedentism a favorable and practical lifeway since there was less need to move periodically to find food. Once they began growing crops like wheat and barley, people had to stay and manage them. Increased populations also meant that you were likely to start bumping into other people.

    The pressures in the Levant around 10,000 - 7,000 BCE were similar to those experienced in the Americas just a few thousand years ago. But you have to remember, people didn't start filtering into the Americas until about the time that agriculture was beginning to occur in the Levant. Populations in the Americas didn't get large enough to create demographic problems until about 5,000 and 3,500 years ago when macrobands of up to 100 people emerged as did new domesticates of like the bottle gourd and crooked-neck squash. But these early domesticates weren't for food, they were for creating containers for water, since people were living in highlands, away from fresh water sources.

    The earliest domesticates for food were chilies and squash and Maize didn't appear in any significant quantities until about 3,500 - 2,300 years ago, making it a relative late-comer. But once it took off, it spread everywhere in the Americas since the corn plant was able to adapt to a variety of environments.

    Okay... I'm rambling. Sorry

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    True enough. But necessity being the mother of invention, this probably would have been developed eventually if the right resources presented themselves. Many are quick to note that the wheel is conspicuously absent in most Native American (North and South) cultures, but what would have pulled a cart? In fact, there are wheeled toys found in the archaeological record, but the lack of draft animals meant that people would have needed to pull wheeled vehicles. No chariots because they're useless. This also created a reason why cultures didn't trade large quantities of goods and also a good reason why no single empire evolved to dominate in the manner that the Greek, Roman, Hittite, Egyptian or Byzantine empires did. To move an army, one must bring food to feed it. The empires I just mentioned did this with draft animals. In the Americas, it was done with porters. Imagine the number of porters one would need to move an army several days journey to occupy or attack another state: not only would you need food for the soldier, but for the porter as well.

    This might be one of the reasons that the Empires that did emerge didn't grow beyond regions that were about a day's journey (or so) across.

    For the reasons mentioned above, but several did gain significant dominance in their immediate regions and there is evidence that these kingdoms or small empires interacted and traded with one another. The Maya, for instance, were clearly in contact with the Teotihuacanoes many miles away.

    I would say that the "rest of the world" had several thousand years jump on developing their civilizations and technologies (and diseases). It isn't that the cultures of the Americas were less intelligent or necessarily had less reason to "advance," but more to do with the demographic pressures and resources that were available.

    I think its easy to succumb to a Euro-centric bias that "civilized" equates to technology and writing, when this is clearly not the case when foraging societies, both past and present, are examined closely.
  12. Ayodhya Registered Senior Member

    SkinWalker -

    Woah! Thanks!

    A few questions more:
    1) What were the names and accomplishments of these empires that flourished but are now considered settlements at best?

    2) Setting aside the Central American cultures, what about the religious impact of Native American tribes on the environment (such as Cherokee, Navajo,etc.)?

    Still, after reading all of that, allow me the chance to clarify your position into a succinct list as to why Native Americans did not develop large-scale empires such as those in the Mediterranean and Middle East:

    1) Domestication of animals - Native Americans did not have the animal labor needed to transport food over wide parts of land despite, according to you, their invention of the wheel.

    2) Lack of resources that were predominately present in the Mediterranean.

    As a last question, have you read any published materials involving Native American empires?
  13. Oniw17 ascetic, sage, diogenes, bum? Valued Senior Member

    And what might the good ones be?
  14. Prince_James Plutarch (Mickey's Dog) Registered Senior Member

  15. SkinWalker Archaeology / Anthropology Moderator

    Start a new thread on a different topic. Reinstate them yourself. Direct all other questions and feedback via PM or the Site Feedback forum.
  16. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It's been hypothesized that goats, like pigs, cats, and dogs, domesticated themselves. Humans are slobs and the garbage around our camps must have seemed like heaven to a scavenger.
    It is curious that no one domesticated bison, since it's being done today. And don't forget the caribou: It is the same species as the reindeer, which has been domesticated for ages.
    "Civilization" means "the building of cities," nothing more and nothing less. "Technology" is "the invention of tools and the ways of using them." People use both words wrong. Tools need not be physical artifacts. Language was a technology, arguably the one that made it possible to migrate out of Africa. Agriculture and animal husbandry were technologies. As you say, they both made possible and required the creation of permanent settlements, the precursor to cities. The essence of cities was learning to live in harmony and cooperation with strangers, since villages were basically large extended family groups. This required the overriding of our pack-social instinct with learned and reasoned behavior, something that is possible (arguably) only in humans because of our massive forebrain. Writing is also a technology. It appears to have originated in commerce, as economic transactions between strangers required record keeping.
  17. Kendall ......................... ..... Registered Senior Member

    The difference in civilizations is probally(well I would think mainly) due to the area of land in the tropical region, during the last ice age the tropical region was smaller and the cold regions grew so civilization was more confined to the tropical region, the tropical region in the old world is huge and in america its small.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2007
  18. kyuris Registered Member

    Given the circumstances of their geographical location native america did not have access to other cultures.

    Given that, many empires did in fact exist in the Americas, some that rivaled those in other parts of the world. Many of the more prevalent and well known cultures were in mexico (which is part of N. America) and south america. what little information we have left from before the Columbia invasion, indicates that many of those Empires stem from civilizations of the north; and that they were infacy forced to migrate south due to political pressures.

    There is less information than what many historians would like, but this is due to a few factors. For one, during the rein of Montezuma (I believe it was Montezuma) under pressure of his adviser had all literature from before his ascension to power, destroyed. That coupled with The catholic churches burning of all native american books, and destruction of hundreds of native american temples, has left a huge whole in pre-colonization history.

    What we DO know about the empires that did exist is that, they were amazingly advanced given their means. they succeeded in creating MASSIVE monumental structures, with out the use of the wheel, and with out metal. Many of their methods we can NOT replicate, even today.

    Agriculturally, evidence points to them being able to produce food at more than twice the rate of any civilization, that existed During the same periods.

    One of the reasons empires were so successful on other continents was that they were able to assimilate knowledge from other parts of the world.

    Smelting did NOT originate in Europe, but one of the reasons the Roman empire was able to achieve the power it had, was due to its use of metals.
    Gunpowder originated in Asia. Point being the aggregation of knowledge is how many empires came to be.

    All other parts of the world also had access to horses, and large domesticated beast, such as cattle or elephants.

    The american empires may not have existed before the european empires, but they were developing at an astonishing rate.

    Just before Europeans arrived, the american population was devastated, by illness and was beginning to recover, when smallpox was brought over from across the Atlantic.

    with a dwindling population due to the spread of disease and never having faced cavalry on the battle field, many of the native american empires were extinguished adn/or integrated into a "European" way of life.
  19. GeoffP Caput gerat lupinum Valued Senior Member

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and speculate

    6) Their implicit, though unspoken, recognition of the ongoing ethical imbalance of large empire building and the inherent power imbalances that accrue to the expansionist multi-national state.
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    In what is now the eastern United States, the Agricultural Revolution had happened, so they were already in the Neolithic Era (the Late Stone Age), living in permanent farming villages. They had even established trading networks, which were the precursors to civilization.

    The reasons they hadn't gone farther and faster surely include:
    • The north-south axis of the Western Hemisphere. Agricultural advances in the Asia-North Africa continuum were spurred by its east-west orientation, which allows crops and herds to be shared with the next tribe. In a north-south orientation, animals and plants that can thrive in one region don't do so well when moved into a different climate zone.
    • The poverty of grains. The only important grain in the New World was corn, which is nutritionally almost worthless compared to the wheat, rice and other grains in the Old World. The Olmecs and Incas managed to overcome this deficiency and build civilizations, albeit a few thousand years later than their African and Asian counterparts. But the people north of the Rio Grande were not able to overcome this protein deficiency; this and the other hemisphere-wide issues held them back.
    When the Christian occupiers arrived, there were distinct signs of cultural progress in northeastern North America. There was even one tribe in which women had full political equality. If they had been left alone, the people in that region would surely have invented civilization before long.

    North America north of the Rio Grande had so many impediments to civilization that the Olmec/Maya/Aztecs never even sent out exploring parties to conquer the people who lived there.
  21. gmilam Valued Senior Member

  22. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    An empire is a large, geographically extensive and ethnically diverse group of individual states under the rule of a monarch or (sometimes) an oligarchy. A state is a large community with a political organization managed by a government. Residents of a state live in harmony and cooperation with total strangers and its government has multiple levels, which means it must be at least at the size and technological level of a city.

    The people of the Four Corners region had barely undergone the Neolithic Revolution, permanently settled in agricultural villages. They had no settlements the size of a city and their large buildings were clearly for ceremony rather than commerce or government.

    Based on these parameters, they don't quite qualify as a civilization, much less an empire.
  23. quadraphonics Bloodthirsty Barbarian Valued Senior Member

    You clearly don't know what you're talking about there. The Pueblo civilization had many cities, with thousands of inhabitants and wide-ranging trade and commerce - including extensive road networks - and buildings which remained the largest in North America until the 19th century (!!).

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