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Muckle Ch.4.doc

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ANTH 3650
Edward Hedican

Muckle Chapter 4 Summary: Studying Population, Languages, and Cultures in North America as They Were at AD 1500 • Although Europeans had been in the north-east part of the continent before this time, their impact on the populations, languages, and cultures of the indigenous peoples had been largely insignificant beyond their local areas Population at AD 1500 • Certain kinds of subsistence strategies, settlement patterns, and social and political institutions, for example, only make sense if populations are within a specific size range • One of the things that many of the early researchers failed to consider was that many populations suffered significant decline through diseases brought by Euro- peans long before they encountered Europeans themselves, with these diseases spreading through contact between infected and non-infected indigenous groups • One of the most well-known scholars focusing on North American indigenous popu- lations is indigenous demographer Russell Thornton, who suggests that the pop- ulation at about AD 1500 was approximately 7 million • The major approaches to estimating population rely on research from ecology, eth- nohistory, ethnography, archaeology and biological anthropology • Most estimates use a combination of different approaches • Ecological research involves determining the carrying capacity of a locality, which requires a reconstruction of the environment before estimating population • Central problem with this approach is that while it allows inferences about how many people the environment could have supported, it does not necessarily prove how many people actually lived there • Ethnohistoric research on the population at AD 1500 involves examining the written documents detailing these populations, which were created mostly by Europeans; these include letters, journals, and government reports • Often provide valuable information but can have limited use for the many areas of the continent where population loss was significant • Most indigenous groups in North America reached their lowest population numbers during the 1800’s and early 1900’s • Researchers calculate the rate of decline over the time the records started being kept and then use the same rate to go back to AD 1500 • Problem with this technique is that it is impossible to know whether the rate of de- cline was steady • Ethnographic research often takes into account the oral traditions of indigenous peoples in regard to past populations, but these are of limited value without phys- ical evidence • Archaeologists use several different methods for reconstructing population size • Primary method used involves making inferences based on habitation dwellings, in- cluding the total number of dwellings, size of rooms and number of rooms • Archaeologists generally use ethnographic analogy to support their inferences • Archaeologists also use the content and size of refuse deposits to make inferences about populations size, but these are less reliable conclusions than those using habitation dwellings Indigenous Languages at AD 1500 • Almost all anthropologists working firsthand with indigenous peoples have recog- nized the value of learning the language of those they seek to study • Language is but one kind of communication system • Language may be broadly defined as a set of rules governing speech, which in ad- dition to vocabulary include grammar and syntax • Other forms of communication include gestures, signals, rock art, and the creations and use of other kinds of symbols • Despite the problems with estimating the number of languages, it is widely accept- ed that there were about 400 distinct languages being spoken in North America around AD 1500 and possibly more • Many are endangered; these languages have very few speakers remaining and their documentation is incomplete • Linguists can compare differences in languages and then using assumptions about the rate of language change, draw inferences about how many hundreds or thou- sands of years the speakers of the same language have been isolated from each other • One of the implications is that the substantial differences in languages may reflect multiple migrations to and within North America during the prehistoric period Studying Traditional Lifeways • Traditional lifeways is usually used to refer to a group’s cultural patterns as they ex- isted at AD 1500 or otherwise immediately before the arrival of Europeans • Lifeways include all aspects of culture including those related to the economic, so- cial, political and ideological spheres of culture • Many traditional lifeways have persisted through the historic period to contemporary times • The principal method of anthropological research into tradition lifeways has been recall ethnography • It was rarely made explicit, it was mostly recall ethnography that Franz Boas and other anthropologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were practicing, re- sulting in the many ethnographies written during that period • The basic technique consisted of ethnographers working closely with one of more elders or other people in a group who were knowledgeable about that group’s life in the past • Potential probl
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