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back to article Genetics and technology make Columbus Day a fraud

Monday's Columbus Day holiday may celebrate the first time a European "discovered" the Americas, but there’s an increasing amount of technical and genetic evidence that shows the Genoese navigator was very late to the party. The whole basis for the holiday, celebrated on the second Monday of every October, is a wee bit suspect. …

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Happy

ɟןǝɥs ǝɔı ɟo ʞunɥ

"after all, his dad had named a hunk of ice shelf Greenland to encourage settlement"

In the sagas, it's shown that the authors/storytellers had lots of humor. Yet this piece of (dis)information is repeated again and again as some sort of stated fact.

The southern part of Greenland *is* green in the summertime. Look at a map: It extends further south than Iceland, as well as the parts of Norway where many of the vikings came from.

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Not only that, there are regular finds of deep graves and the ruins of farms under ice on what is now permafrost. Permafrost is not easy to dig and nobody in their right minds would try to farm grain on it, let alone dig a six foot grave.

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Worth noting that..

The Vikings were successfully dairy farming in Greenland until climate change made it impossible...

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Anonymous Coward

Humour

"In the sagas, it's shown that the authors/storytellers had lots of humor. "

Ditto, el Reg correspondents.

Apparently, however, unlike a significant proportion of el Reg commentards.

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Yag
Trollface

worry not!

Soon, due to the global warming, Greenland should be back to its former glory...

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Alternatively

Greenland may be a corruption of the Norse 'Gruntland' - 'ground land' a term used to describe shallow inlets in Norse.

Agreed with you about the humour in the Sagas though. Lots of laughs to be had (in between the killing, the misery and the interminable sulking).

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Erm the killings were part of the humour! Need only read Shakespeare's comedy 'Hamlet'. Do not be blinded by cultural chauvinism.

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To be, or not to be.

Hm. Not to be.

*BOOM*

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Mushroom

Columbus day is really falling out of favor on this side of the pond

At least among my generation and younger, it's seen as gauche. Celebrating a slaver and mass murderer just seems... wrong somehow.

It was part of the mythology of Western European-descended primacy in this country that caused us to celebrate him, and given that the historical record is falling apart, there is very little reason to have a full Federal and bank holiday in honor of this... fine specimen of humanity.

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Pirate

Columbus Falling Out of Favor?

I wonder - if the Americas were never colonized, would the Native Americans still be living in the stone age (as they had been, unchanged, for 15,000 years)?

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Columbus did good

His arrival did allow the world's revisionist historians to focus blame for the many deaths and enslavements of the indigenous peoples on the Europeans rather than on the indigenous peoples themselves which is what they were doing to each other for millennia prior to Columbus's arrival. It allowed them to excuse their own behaviour by blaming others for the same thing.

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WTF?

titular revision

@P Saunders:

So explain to me why the indigenous population were deliberately given smallpox infected blankets then.

Here's a clue:- David Barton is not a historian.

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Europeans with firearms were also simply much better at killing people in large numbers than the natives were (we've had lots of practice). That, and the imported diseases.

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And don't forget domesticated horses for combat; that helped. The technology difference in 1000AD was appreciable. The Norse had a definite edge in sailing, metallurgy, etc. However, they didn't have enough of an edge to make a difference, given the disadvantages of being so far from their home bases. By 1492, that technological difference was HUGE, and Europe's diseases seem to have gotten nastier. (Or perhaps the colder-climate Vikings weren't carrying diseases as nasty as those to the south.)

I do like Eddie Izzard's take that if the Native Americans had reached Europe first, Europeans would have been sitting on mountains in a stupor from chocolate baked goods, while the Native American leader says "Don't worry, we have bakeries back home working 24/7 to keep them this way,"

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WTF?

@ lpopman

Columbus did not give indigenous folk small pox infested blankets as he and/or his crew ACCIDENTALLY infected the populace, not intentionally, the same way the indigenous population ACCIDENTALLY infected Columbus's people with syphilis. You must be thinking of the American settlers as they migrated westwards, intentionally wiping out the various indigenous tribes several centuries AFTER Chris landed on their shores.

Here's a clue - neither are you.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Columbus did good

What a ridiculous statement! Columbus and pals effectively committed genocide in the Caribbean before the Spanish were reined in - arguably with only limited effect - by their authorities.

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Probably. If it ain't broke...

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Black myth of Spanish cruelty

The Spanish were good at that. Read about Magellan's circumnavigation pleasure cruise (to this day, the Republic of the Philippines celebrate his killer on their currency- with good reason).

The Spanish were primus inter pares in the genocide business.

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WTF?

Re: Columbus Falling Out of Favor?

"I wonder - if the Americas were never colonized, would the Native Americans still be living in the stone age (as they had been, unchanged, for 15,000 years)?"

Stone age? Unchanged?? You've heard of the Mayan, Aztec, and Inca empires, at least, right?

I assign you remedial reading of _1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus_ by Charles C. Mann. (Not to worry, it's not an unmitigated paean to everything native Americans did before he showed up. One of my favorite bits, for instance, is the story of Hohokam as a series of newbie engineering mistakes by people who had probably seen a city before, but never actually built one.)

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@AC

Clearly you didn't understand the statement. Don't worry, lpopman didn't either.

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Pirate

Re: Columbus Falling Out of Favor?

> You've heard of the Mayan, Aztec, and Inca empires, at least, right?

Which of those empires practiced ritual infant sacrifice? You know, when they dropped a one-month old child onto a bed of burning coals and slowly roasted the child alive in order to appease the gods for a good harvest?

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Facepalm

smallpox

This is an urban myth. There is no record of the U.S. government giving smallpox blankets to Native Americans, officially or unofficially.

However, during the French and Indian War, Lord Jeffrey Amherst, commander of British forces in North America seriously considered sending infected blankets to hostile tribes. Google for "Lord Jeffrey Amherst smallpox"

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It's simple...

...Columbus had a better PR organization. Those Spanish monarchs (Fred and Isa) did a bunch to show off that they had financed the thing.

Of course the plunder that they got from the new world helped them for a while (till the 1850's I'm told), and now they need a new source of income as the taxes just aren't cutting it.

Yes, there is a Spanish influence here in California, as we have a bunch (21) of nice missions that were setup by the Spanish before they left this part of the world.

Then again, we have a Russian influence as well, those guys setup a place we call Fort Ross.

For the English, we have Drake who wandered into Drakes Bay. Sorry, no French!

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In the frozen north, people didn't celebrate the winter solstice. They feared it. They feasted because they might never see the sun again, and they did everything within their power to convince the gods to bring it back.

Ok, so maybe it was a n excuse for a piss-up, but it wasn't a celebration...

It was, however, the main festival of the north-europea pre-christian calendar. All that dancing around stone henge in the summer is a modern invention, a creation of ppeole too pansy-arsed to do it properly. The *original* pagans did it in the winter. Naked. And then they killed things. bring back that good old-time religion I say!

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Pint

Um.

"... fairy story, but that hasn’t stopped the Church..."

When has mere truth ever stood in the way of the religion business?

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Outside Context Problem

It wasn't the Spaniards' technology or guns that defeated the Mesoamerican civilisations. Consider that the Spaniards had logistical problems (they had to ferry supply trains across the Atlantic, and the fact that the Mesoamerican people knew the terrain and had the home-ground advantage. Their Jaguar and Eagle warriors with their maquahuitl swords and effective bows and arrows were more than a match for the slow-loading Spanish musketeers and cannoneers.

Motecuzoma II, the Reverend Speaker or king of the Mexica people (who we today call the Aztecs) was an expansionist tyrant who had gone to war with a neighbouring nation, the Texcalteca, at the time the Spaniards arrived. At first, the Mesoamericans thought the Spaniards were the returning god Quetzalcoatl, but their behaviour quickly disabused them of that notion, and Mexica soldiers posed a serious problem to the newly arrived Spaniards.

However, the Texcalteca were losing the war against Motecuzoma (who the Spaniards called "Montezuma") and the Mexica, and so they agreed to aid the Spaniards against their enemies. It was their assistance and inside information that made it possible for Cortes to cross inland and see the Mexica capital, Tenochtitlan, for himself. He admitted, at the time, that the power and culture of these people was too great to overcome. But there was one factor that he - and the Mexica - failed to foresee.

What really won the war for the Spaniards, and ultimately the English, was the first-world diseases they brought over - notably smallpox, great pox, bubonic plague, measles, gonorrhea and syphilis - to which the Native Americans had no immunity. Some estimates show that as many as 80% of Mesoamerican deaths in the first century of Spanish colonisation were the result of these diseases, much more so than guns and horses. The survivors were too disfigured and demoralised to fight back, and the rest is history.

Had we not brought those diseases to America, or had they been immune, history would likely have turned out very differently. While the northern tribes were largely nomadic, the Mesoamerican people were an advanced city-building civilisation technologically on par with Europe at the time. They gave us many inventions we take for granted - indoor plumbing, the flush toilet, hydroponics, the list goes on. They lacked only the wheel, rideable animals and gunpowder. Not having the wheel makes them sound more primitive than they were; but the terrain they lived in was not conducive to roads or wheeled transport anyway, as the Spaniards found to their great cost. It was only with the greatest difficulty, expense, and lots of slave labour that the colonists were able to build trafficable roads through the region over the next few centuries.

So it's interesting to think what might have been if the Mesoamericans had not succumbed to disease - if they had driven the Spaniards back into the sea. Today's America would be a very different place, and seeing what uses the Mesoamericans would have put European technology to, as China and Japan did, would have made it a more interesting, and perhaps less generic, place.

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Headmaster

I mostly agree ...

But:

1. The wheel isn't only for transport. Without the concept of the wheel, machinery is almost impossible to construct.

2. They weren't that great with metals, either, if I recall correctly. Silver and gold, sure, but their weapons were still using obsidian rather than iron.

3. Their shipbuilding capacity was rather poor, too.

All in all, while their development in certain areas was remarkable (their construction methods in particular), they were still in many important respects a backward continent, or two.

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My faviourite sign

While at the Moctezuma exhibition at the British Museum (oh dear, yet another different way to spell it...), I saw my favourite ever sign, on a really nicely carved huge stone eagle. It had a big hole in its back, and it looked to me like the fitting for the base of a temple pillar. The sign read, "this hole is for the human hearts." Yum. Gotta love a bit of human sacrifice.

The Mexica had a really interesting social organisation - and were equally/more advanced than the Europeans in some ways. They were getting a much better diet too. I got my recipe for chilli beef in tortillas while researching an essay on the subject. But even if they'd kicked Cortes out, and not succumbed to disease, I'm not sure result would have been hugely different. At this time Europe was developing incredibly fast compared to the rest of the world - and didn't take long to catch/pass and then massively overtake China, India and the Ottoman Empire. Although a later conquest might have meant that more of the historical record could have survived (the Spanish destroyed most of what they could find), and researching essays would be less frustrating...

There used to be a heart icon, which would have been perfect for this post. And I can't even use the Reg grave stone icon to complain that it's gone either. Bugger.

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The Amerind technology was some 5000 years behind that of Europe.

Not mentioned in these posts is the role of a woman known as Malinche and also sometimes called "Malintzin" or Mallinali. An Aztec slave, she spoke both Maya and Nahuatl, and acted as an intermediary between Cortes and the Aztecs. Reviled in Mexico today as a traitor to her race, I suspect she sought revenge on the Aztecs, and saw the Spanish as the instrument of that revenge.

Says something about those lovely Aztecs...

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@That Awful Puppy

(Love the handle, BTW)

Whilst there were some important technological gaps, in context, they weren't that large.

With the vast amounts of slave laboor in use, the call for machinery was limited - and indeed, the Spanish didn't have a whole lot of machinery of their own to call upon - making this a moot point.

Obsidian is a fine, even superior, material for weapons in many uses, and doesn't call for a replacement until confronted with alternative technologies. Against the Spaniards, it was quite adequate - Spanish armor was less than comprehensive.

Being at the recieving end, shipbuilding was hardly a necessary war-fighting technology. dugout canoes were quite satisfactory for their needs on the inland and costal waters.

Politically speaking, the city-states of mesoamerica were every bit as sophisticated as you'd have found in Italy at the time. It would be more appropriate to think of the Spanish as a monkey wrench in the works, than as a world-beating force; they failed to fit local models in a way that caused the gears of society to jam. Add to that the devestating effects of depopulation, and you've got history.

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Meh

before Carthage...

There is a little linguistic evidence to suggest the parent group of Carthage, the Phonecians, made it to what is now the NE USA. European legends speak of blessed Isles of the dead to the west, which might be a vague memory of good hunting. Or just a funeral story, except why would an unknown place be a great place ?

No-one else going to mention 1490 and the Chinese too ?

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FAIL

Since you are being pedantic about Columbus Day, can I be pedantic about your usage of the word decimated ?

Decimated has a very precise meaning. It means the culling or loss of 1 in 10. Deriving from a Roman punishment for a legion deemed to have acted in a cowardly manner. The punishment was the execution of every 10th man in the legion.

If the indigenous peoples of America, north and south, had only been decimated, then I think they would have been comparatively overjoyed and would today probably still be the dominant races on those continents. They were not decimated, they were exterminated in vast numbers. Some to extinction.

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Anonymous Coward

That may have been its origin, but it has now evolved to mean more.

Or do you speak in latin all the time?

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Ru
Trollface

And what of the sort of person who is keen to viciously split infinitives?

Clearly it all started going wrong when middle english was transitioning to modern english. Bring back 'hw', I say.

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Alien

You missed at least one story: Portuguese may have landed in Brazil well before Columbus, but kept it secret for political reasons. There's no direct evidence of that but several indirect clues, so I'd say it's one more theory in "plausible but unlikely" category.

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Stop

What about the Welsh?

For all you Madeleine L'Engle fans:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madoc

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Boffin

pedantry

not Iain Banks, he uses Iain M. Banks for science fiction

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WTF?

"The kind of trees needed to build the Viking ships weren’t found on Iceland"

When I was over there I was quite categorically told they were and that the reason the place is largely devoid of trees of any size now is that the Vikings cut 'em all down to, er, build ships with.

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Anything between 25 and 40% of Iceland was once forested, mostly with birch. It was felled as you said, not just for timber for construction; but to make room for pasture and to fuel household fires which had to burn year round.

The long planks needed for shipbuilding mostly came from Norway and the UK.

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Wrong boat

That's a longship; Ericson (or Leifr Eiríksson if you want to be accurate) would have used a knarr - a shorter, dumpier, much more sturdy vessel to make the crossing.

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Anonymous Coward

I guess Columbus is one of the first western civilisation approved of discoverers to be near enough to be honoured with finding the Americas. Someone had to take the blame in the history books.

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How appropriate...

...that the guy who gets the fame and the holiday named after him was the skilled publicist and entrepreneur, not the guy who actually pulled off the accomplishment.

It's the American way.

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Not only that...

He was working on a flawed business model based on dodgy figures -- he underestimated the size of the Earth. You know when he was reportedly told by the pope that he'd fall off the edge? It's not true. It's more likely the papal astronomer pointed out that the world was much bigger (based on the ancient Greek calculations) and that he'd be out of food long before reaching the Indies....

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"It's the American way."

...To celebrate a dead European huckster.

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Soultreans?

Didn't I used to watch them on TV?

Reading back history on this plan means that we should quit July 4--which liberated those obnoxious Americans to expand across the mountains, and deferred the abolition of slavery by 25 years or so--Veterans/Armistice Day, which simply led to the failed post-war settlement and a deadlier round II--etc., etc.

Or you could simply chill out, sleep in, and rake your lawn.

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Coat

what about Russia, China, and Japan ?

I don't know if anyone noticed but America isn't one-sided (although politically one could be forgiven for thinking so) it also has a west coast and there's a string of islands leading back to Russia's east side and then to Japan and China. I'm sure that at some point in the last 5000 years, whether accidentally or deliberately, at least one Russian/Chinese/Japanese person must've made the journey !

The whole Columbus story seems a bit 911 !!

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