Saturday, 23 July 2016

Pre-Columbian North America

There are two ways to enter a North America unaffected by white men:

(i) travel far enough back in time;

(ii) travel sideways into a timeline where Europeans never crossed the Atlantic.

(i) Poul Anderson's Time Patrol series;
Anderson's There Will Be Time;
SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998);
many others.

(ii) Stirling's Conquistador.

Consequently, we should find some similarities between Stirling's Island... and Conquistador.

In Island..., the disclosure of the temporal transition is gradual. First, everything is as it should be. Ian Arnstein arrives at Nantucket by ferry but no one is contemplating a journey through time. Then strange electrical activity covers the sky. When the activity ceases, people start to notice that the sky is not as it should be in March 1998 A.D. There is radio silence except for contact with one nearby ship. Aerial surveillance  reveals that:

sea currents are disturbed;
nearly extinct whales are present in large numbers;
Cape Cod has neither roads nor houses;
dense forest grows to the water;
near the shore are a few people with crude shelters and log canoes.

When the astronomer, Doreen Rosenthal, explains to the pilot and a Coast Guard in the plane, we are not told what she says. At this point in a film, the camera would pull back to outside the plane so that we would merely see her speaking through a window - but we would be beginning to realize what had happened.

Some of the differences we realize we should have anticipated:

"The air was not only warm, it was fresh like nothing he'd ever smelled. Closer to the huts it wasn't as pleasant; evidently whoever lived there had never heard of latrines." (p. 26)

Where ancient Native Americans unhygienic? I suppose we don't know. Will these "Indians" suffer the same fate as those in Conquistador?


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Commenting on your last sentence. I will say only, because of what actually happened in our timeline, is that ACCIDENTS like introduced diseases killed off far, far more Indians than war ever did. We saw how even the common cold was a plague as bad as the Black Death to the Indians in CONQUISTADOR. The reason is simple, thousands of years of isolation from the rest of the human race had made American Indians more prone to succumb to diseases that Europe, Asia, and Africa had built up some resistance to.


    1. Also, the aboriginal populations of the Americas were the descendants of very small founding populations. Small groups, no more than a few thousand and possibly only a few hundred, spread into the Americas in the last glacial period, then expanded very rapidly into the uninhabited continents, and this happened fairly recently in biological terms (somewhere between 15K and 20K years ago, probably.)

      Hence they had less genetic variety than Eurasian populations, and much less than African ones -- human genetic variability is greatest in Africa, where our species came from.

      Reduced genetic variation makes populations more susceptible to new epidemic diseases.

    2. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      Many thanks for commenting. I had not known that, about the reduced genetic variability of the Indians making them more susceptible to the diseases plaguing the rest of the world. A very interesting point.

      Which, of course, is why, if we ever get off this rock in a serious way, human colonies on other worlds will need wide genetic variability.

      Sean M. Brooks

  2. Sean,
    Yes, it was the diseases that I had in mind in the case of CONQUISTADOR.

    1. Kaor, Paul!

      I also had the real world example of how, during the conquest of Mexico by Hernando Cortes, smallpox devastated, probably fatally, the Aztecs. And this despite Cortes trying to PREVENT smallpox from infecting the Indians.


  3. And North America in 1492 CE looked different from the same continent in 1250 BCE. Three thousand years is a very long time! In that interval, agriculture spread north to the climatic limits of maize -- roughly the St. Lawrence Valley -- and Amerindian populations and technologies increased vastly. The New England forests the Nantucketers see would look quite different before long centuries of shifting agriculture and fire-management of the landscape.

    1. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      Many thanks for making very interesting comments. I can see how, despite isolation from the rest of the world, the American Indian WOULD make technological and agricultural advances. And THEN the accidental introduction by the Nantucketers of mumps and the common cold would abort and reverse this process.