On the Ethnology and Archæology of North America

The Journal of the Ethnological Society of London,
new series, vol. i., 1869, pp.218-22I.

Scientific Memoirs III

(Address of the President, delivered April 13th, 1869.)

[432] THE broad physical features of the American continent may be described in a few words. Near its western coast a range of mountains runs nearly north and south from the Arctic Ocean to Cape Horn, interrupted only by the low ground of the Isthmus of Panama; while, in the Andes, its peaks reach heights surpassed only by the greatest elevations of the Himalayan range. Westward of this range, the general slope of the continent is steep and rapid to the Pacific eastward, it is slow and gradual, giving rise to vast and, usually, fertile plains, bounded by the North and South Atlantic Oceans. But, in both North and South America, each plain is interrupted towards the east by mountain-ranges of a secondary importance, the Apalachians in the north, and the Brazilian mountains in the south.

Vast rivers, separated only by very low watersheds, drain the plains of the two divisions of the American continent—some running to the north, as the Mackenzie and the Orinoko; some to the east, as the St. Lawrence and the Amazons; and others trending more southwardly, as the Mississippi and the Rio de la Plata. By these rivers almost all parts of the American plains are rendered easily accessible from the east and north coasts; while, on the other hand, there are, in most regions, considerable obstacles to migration from the west coast eastwards into those plains.

On the eastern coast, the greater part of America is separated from the nearest land by a wide ocean, containing but very few islands, and [431] these altogether in the Old-World side of the middle of the Atlantic. Only in the extreme north do the Shetlands, the Faroe inlands, and Iceland present a widely interrupted chain of stations between Western Europe and Greenland. On the western side, not only is the greater part of the coast of America separated by many hundred miles of sea from the nearest Polynesian islands, but the ordinary course of the trade winds is against navigation from the west. Still more than on the eastern side, however, are the obstacles to immigration removed on the north-west coast; not only is the Strait of Behring very narrow, but far to the south of it, in a much milder climate, the chain of the Aleutian islands offers an almost continuous bridge between Asia and America, over which immigrants could readily pass to a region which is separated from the eastern plain only by the low and easily traversed northern extremity of the great backbone of the continent.

Thus, supposing the American continent to have been peopled at a period subsequent to that at which it had attained its present form and relations to the Old World, it is vastly more probable that it was stocked with men from Northern Asia than from any other region.

But it is quite as reasonable to adopt a different supposition. From the Mexican frontier to the Arctic Ocean the fauna of North America abounds in species representing, if not identical with, those of Europe and Asia; while, at the same time, it presents an admixture of forms of a totally different and especially American character. South of the Mexican frontier the purely American groups increase in, number and variety as the Old-World forms disappear; and the fauna of the vast region which stretches from Mexico to Cape Horn is as peculiar as that of Australia.

During the glacial epoch the greater part of North America shared the fate of Northern Asia and Europe, having been covered with ice, and partly submerged; and its present animal population is, without doubt, the result of migration subsequent to that period, in large part from the Old World, and in less degree from the region south of Mexico, or "Austro-Columbia." The Austro-Columbian fauna, as a whole, therefore existed antecedently to the glacial epoch. Did man form part of that fauna? To this profoundly interesting question no positive answer can be given; but the discovery of human remains associated with extinct animals in the caves of Brazil by Lund, lends some colour to the supposition that he may have done so. Assuming the supposition to be correct, we should have to look in the human population of America, as in the fauna generally, for an indigenous or Austro-Columbian element and an immigrant, or "Arctogeal," element.

[434] Following out this hint, it certainly appears that notwithstanding their general similarity in hair and complexion, two widely different forms are distinguishable among the native races of America, namely the Esquimaux, in the extreme north and the Patagonians in the heart of South America. The Esquimaux are short of stature and are extremely dolichocephalic; the Patagonians, on the contrary, are among the tallest of men, and are eminently brachycephalic.

The resemblance in habit, and in the nature of their weapons and tools, between the Esquimaux, and the prehistoric races who roamed over the north of Europe during the glacial epoch has led to an ethnological identification of the latter with the former. However much there may be to be said in favour of this hypothesis, it must be recollected that it rests on a very unsafe foundation, so long as we know nothing, or next to nothing, of the structural peculiarities of the prehistoric people. If it should be correct, however, the Esquimaux will represent in American ethnology the bison and the beaver among lower mammals, as immigrant Old-World elements.

Do the brachycephali of the South represent the indigenous or Austro-Columbian element of American ethnology? Certain considerations appear to be in favour of that hypothesis. All we know of the most ancient civilized inhabitants of America, the mound-builders of the Mississippi valley, tends to show that they were strongly marked brachycephali; while, on the other hand, the great majority of the Red Indians of North America (including, I am inclined to believe, those of the west coast) are naturally pronounced dolichocephali; and dolichocephalic tribes are met with on the coasts of northern South America and in Fuegia.

Is it possible that the brachycephali of South America are the remains of the preglacial population of Austro-Columbia, and that the dolichocephali are partly unmixed immigrants, and partly result from the intermixture of the primitive with an immigrant population? If this be admitted, I should be disposed further to ask, may not the Esquimaux population represent the northern immigrants, and the Red Indians the mixed race between them and the Austro-Columbians? Further, I think it may be well to keep in view the notion of the affinity between the Guaranis and the Guanches, which seems to have taken strong hold of the mind of Retzius, together with the possibility of a migration from North Africa and the Canaries westward to America.

It is easy to suggest such problems as these, but quite impossible, in the present state of our knowledge, to solve them.

Whatever may have been the origin of the primitive population of [435] America, the conditions which gave rise to the development of a high state of civilization seem to have been the same in the New World as in the Old. The fertile valley of the Nile and the shores of the Mediterranean determined the locality of the earliest great civilized communities of the Old World. In the Mexican Gulf, sheltered by the great breakwater of the West-India Islands, and artificially warmed by the equatorial current, America has her Mediterranean, and, in the Mississippi, her Nile. And here, unknown ages before Columbus, native agriculture converted the maize and the potato into the staple food of a numerous population, invented cocoa, chocolate, and pulque in place of tea, coffee, and wine, applied cotton to the uses of flax and silk, reared massive works in hewn and sculptured stone (the equals of which, like the hieroglyphic symbols with which they are covered, must be sought in ancient Egypt), and organized a complex and peculiar system of social organization.



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Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden