Fictions of American Prehistory: Indians, Archeology, and National Origin Myths

Fictions of American Prehistory: Indians, Archeology, and National Origin Myths American Literature ing stories about continental prehistory. On the one hand, there were theories that the Americas had been visited by Canaanites and Israelites, by disciples of Christ, by Celts, by Vikings, by ancient Egyptians, and by any number of other civilizations, both real and imagined. On the other hand, there was an equal certainty about a first discovery in 1492. Although apparently mutually exclusive, in fact both versions converged in their harmful consequences for Native peoples. Because the second scenario is still so much a part of what U.S. students learn in high school, I need to begin by acknowledging that the image of Native peoples as primitives ‘‘outside historical time’’ has a long and authoritative lineage. It began with Columbus, of course, but gained even wider currency in the sixteenth century when Bartolomé de las Casas chronicled the Spanish conquest of Mexico and South America. In a series of works that were subsequently translated into most of the languages of Europe, las Casas ‘‘describ[es] the [Native peoples] as having lived since the Flood behind the ‘locked doors of the Ocean Sea,’ doors which Columbus had been the first to unlock.’’ 2 The Spanish priest’s first-hand accounts http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png American Literature Duke University Press

Fictions of American Prehistory: Indians, Archeology, and National Origin Myths

American Literature, Volume 75 (4) – Dec 1, 2003

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2003 by Duke University Press
ISSN
0002-9831
eISSN
1527-2117
DOI
10.1215/00029831-75-4-693
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

American Literature ing stories about continental prehistory. On the one hand, there were theories that the Americas had been visited by Canaanites and Israelites, by disciples of Christ, by Celts, by Vikings, by ancient Egyptians, and by any number of other civilizations, both real and imagined. On the other hand, there was an equal certainty about a first discovery in 1492. Although apparently mutually exclusive, in fact both versions converged in their harmful consequences for Native peoples. Because the second scenario is still so much a part of what U.S. students learn in high school, I need to begin by acknowledging that the image of Native peoples as primitives ‘‘outside historical time’’ has a long and authoritative lineage. It began with Columbus, of course, but gained even wider currency in the sixteenth century when Bartolomé de las Casas chronicled the Spanish conquest of Mexico and South America. In a series of works that were subsequently translated into most of the languages of Europe, las Casas ‘‘describ[es] the [Native peoples] as having lived since the Flood behind the ‘locked doors of the Ocean Sea,’ doors which Columbus had been the first to unlock.’’ 2 The Spanish priest’s first-hand accounts

Journal

American LiteratureDuke University Press

Published: Dec 1, 2003

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