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Re: AZTLAN list: who are the "American Isolationists"?

In article <5ea0dd$bvr$1@trends.ca> yuku@mail.trends.ca (Yuri Kuchinsky) writes:
>Peter van Rossum (pmv100@psu.edu) wrote:
>: The question is whether these similarities are due to diffusion, or are 
>: similarities due to coincidence and/or the need to solve common problems.  
>: Before I would be willing to accept that some of them are due to diffusion I 
>: would want to see artifacts documenting this transoceanic contact.
>So are you claiming that no amount of "non-archaeological" evidence will
>ever persuade you that there was contact? Strange. You really need that
>"artifact" in hand before you believe? 

Yuri, I am an archaeologist (or at least one in training).  It is obvious to 
all participants involved in discussions of culture contact that the most 
definite proof of such contacts can come from the archaeological record by 
finding a verifiable foreign object in a secure location outside of its place 
of manufacture.  Is it so surprising then that I should like to see such an 
object before I am willing to conclude that contacts took place?

>Talking about a high standard of proof...

You may think this is an inordinately high standard of proof, I do not.  When 
an archaeological hypothesis can be completely proven by the mere finding of 
a single artifact or site I don't think it is unfair to ask for such evidence.
If you knew me you would know that this is the exact same criteria to which
I have subjected the "earliest peopling of the New World" hypotheses.  I want
actual, verifiable sites with secure early dates before I am willing to 
conclusively accept that the earliest dates have to be pushed back.

People are notoriously capable of creating tangled webs of argumentation which
seem to support a given theory.  Our brains search for patterning constantly,
sometimes we think we have found a pattern even when objective study indicates
we have not.  When I see such arguments I'm willing to say "well sounds 
possible, but does it have the facts to verify it?"  In the case of 
Precolumbian Indian maize I do not think it has such facts (I explain why in 
other posts).

>Here's some stuff about calendrics coming from the guy whose research is
>key in this area. 
>[begin quote]
>I have done a great deal of work on Mesoamerican and Eurasian
>parallels in calendar system. These parallels fall entirely in the
>realm of partial systemic correspondences. Of the day-names of the
>Mesoamerican calendar, all have parallels in one of four Eurasian
>systems, three of which are attested in northern India. (p. 119)
>[end quote]

Yup, I've read a number of Kelley's articles.  While there are definitely
areas of similarity it is also true that there are areas of difference.  With
Kelley's arguments it comes down to a basic which do you think is more likely,
coincidental correspondence or intellectual diffusion.  I see no solid, 
objective way to evaluate which is more likely so in my opinion much of an 
individual's conclusions will be based on their subjective impression of which 
is more likely. This is not a concrete proof that Kelley is correct or wrong 
when he hypothesizes diffusion.  If I knew for certain that the cultures in 
question had contacted one another then I'd be willing to side with the 
diffusion possibility. Without such evidence I chalk it up as another possible 
but unverified hypothesis.

>: It's not meant to be an ad hominem attack.  The fact is that you have 
>: regularly mischaracterized archaeologists as claiming that transoceanic 
>: contacts were impossible,
>So are the Aztlan folk saying that it is possible and should be 
>discussed? You know, Peter, they provided the best proof of what I said 
>that I could think of...

I don't give a rats a** about how people in Aztlan dealt with you.  As has
been pointed out it's a private list (kind of like a club) maybe they just
don't want to get e-mail on this topic on a daily basis.  So they don't
want you in their club, who cares start your own.

>: instead of acknowledging that they disagree with 
>: transoceanic contacts based on a general lack of findings to support such an 
>: hypothesis.  
>Do they want to see some recent findings? Really?

Problem is Yuri, for many of us you have not presented anything new.  I was
aware of most of the cases you cited long ago, I have little doubt that many
readers of Aztlan fall into the same category.  As far as I'm concerned every
one of the cases you've cited falls into the possible but unsubstantiated
category (some more likely than others, some with very little chance).  People 
have often cited specific research which explains why we feel this way.  

With what you've cited so far we could go round and round forever, however, 
many of them can be easily settled by the finding of a single artifact or site.
Until these are found they will remain in the possible but unsubstantiated
category in my opinion.  It may well be that readers on Aztlan feel the same
way and do not wish to just keep rehashing the same arguments (especially 
through receiving an even greater volume of e-mail) - that's their perogative.

>: How would you feel if I consistently claimed "all diffusionists think
>New : World peoples were a bunch of ignorant savages who couldn't have
>figured out : how to build pyramids, practice agriculture, etc. 
>But this IS the usual assumption about diffusionists. Myself, I'm not a 
>diffusionist, BTW. I don't like these labels. I consider myself an 
>historian who looks at the evidence objectively. That's all.

Good I don't like labels either, that's why I try to stay away from them. 
Regardless of what you believe are the motivations of other archs. regarding
transoceanic contacts, I think I have repeatedly demonstrated that I consider
such contacts possible but unproven and I've often explicitely given research
to back my opinion.  I would therefore, appreciate it if you refrain from
characterizing me as an isolationist who doesn't believe contacts were possible
since this is a mischaracterization of my beliefs.

>[begin quote]
>. It is not surprising that scholars whose training was
>based on this premise -- often explicit, but even more often
>implicit -- are not willing to give up this view without
>exceptionally good evidence. (p. 104)

But note that even Kelley admits that skeptics would be willing to change 
their opinion in the face of "exceptionally good evidence."  My general
feeling is that the same cannot be said of most diffusionists, since
their views often are not falsifiable (e.g. I can never prove that maize
didn't arrive in India prior to the 16th century).


>So you see, Peter, this is how the critics of the prevailing paradigm are 
>silenced. This is how things are.

This is not how things are, at least not for many of us.  Otherwise why
would I spend my time tracking down and citing research which contradicts
the transoceanic viewpoint?  Why not just make the erroneous claim that
you are a racist (the only one of us who has used such a term is you)?

>But with the recent research about maize arrival to India before Columbus,
>the tables are reversed. Now it is the people who reject such a
>possibility out hand who are minimizing the creativity of the American
>Native, and the contribution of American cultures to the world at large. 

Untrue, all some of are saying is that the case still remains unproven.
All I need is one securely dated cob to change my opinion, how about you?

>The Isolationists on Aztlan-l must bear their Eurocentric burden now, IMO. 

Now you're doing just what you claim to dislike about the tactics of some
of your critics.  Such name calling doesn't get us anywhere it merely incites
people to retort with equal vituperation.

Peter van Rossum