Re: Early Amerind assimilation (Was: Re: Romans in the New World?)

Mary Beth Williams (
31 Jul 1996 11:24:30 GMT

In <DvEECJ.sG@CritPath.Org> aawest@CritPath.Org (Anthony West) writes:
>In article <4tjoff$> Beth Williams) writes:
>>I did notice in another post that you listed your AB in anthro. from
>>Chicago... I can only assume that you never took a course with Jane
>>Buikstra while there?
>Never heard of her. Perhaps not my time period. Redfield, the
>young McKim Marriott. South Asian concentration. My physical
>anthro was paleo-oriented.

Gee, you must be older than I thought, since Jane spent over twenty
years between Chicago and Northwestern (as of last year, she ironically
occupies the Lewis Binford (heard of him?) chair at New Mexico) and
directed the UChicago/Northwestern field program at the Center for
American Archaeology for much of that time. But then, as you stated
your concentration was South Asia, I take it that you're unfamiliar
with even the most famous Americanists.

>>How exactly do you think we bioarchaeologists work? Dump a couple of
>>boxes of unprovenienced bones (white or otherwise) from *various
>>curators collections* and *Name that Characteristic*? The work may
>>be *undoable*, but whoever undertook it would be laughed out of every
>>major peer meeting.
>Forensic anthropologists and paleoanthropologists have
>been "racing" as well as sexing bones for generations.
>Racing is controversial among academics, who generate
>publications thereby, but it is pretty reliable in
>police work.

I think you're missing the point... Yes, remains can be
raced/sexed/aged/analyzed for trace minerals/etc., but without
*provenience* (which I assume South Asians archaeologists also employ)
and a _statistically_significant_population, the kind of analysis you
desire is useless for determining anything other than *skeleton A =
white*, *skeleton B = black*, etc. Its no different than trying to do
interpretive archaeology with someone's undocumented coin or stamp
collection. It tells us nothing, except perhaps that sometime over the
past 500 years, whites, black and Indians lived in the Western
Hemisphere. So what?
>Are you saying that colonial-period archeologists have
>no database of white bones, but only of black and red
>bones, because they have systematically dug up only the
>latter? I think that well-curated remains from the
>period may exist here and there, for all races. If you,
>a professional, swear that they don't, I'll heed you
>and quote you.

Are you looking for a hodge-podge of white skeletons from various
places and times, or a true *population* (usually from a recorded
burial ground)? Because only the latter will give the information that
you seek. I currently know of no complete white cemetary from a
*frontier* community that is sitting on some institution's shelves, but
I'm rather certain that is not something any institution would
publically tout.

>>>>*Culturally* also runs into problems, as how does one
>>>>distinguish between cultural *diffusion* and *appropriation* by the
>>>I'm not sure one does. Did Native Mexicans "diffuse"
>>>tacos to Chi-Chi's, or did Chi-Chi's just
>>>"appropriate" them?
>>The example is simplistic and juvenile.
>No, it's mature. I'm asking about cross-cultural
>influences. You're saying I can't ask until I sort
>"diffusion" from "appropriation" first. This
>distinction may be sharp iu some cases, pointless in
>So here's a case. Mexican food. Native Mesoamerican
>kit, modified by colonial Spaniards. Recently found
>across the USA. Without a doubt, my people are too
>stupid to have independently invented the enchilada.
>They got it from somewhere else. How? So my questions
>are: (1) is this diffusion or appropriation? (2)
>Does it matter in this case? In what other cases?

Because you're initial basis for all this was to find *genetic* and
cultural indicators of, in this case, Native Mexican integration into
European society...*Diffusion* would indicate a *sharing* of
information, presumably between equals, whereas *appropriation* carries
with it an assumption of unequal power. Hence, unless you consider
forced physical integration, i.e., rape, to hold the same social and
cultural meaning as voluntary *fraternization*, you search for
*genetic* and cultural indicators is compromised. This is certainly
the case in European/African relations in North America.

>>Why assume then that there are
>>ways in which Indians *genetically* effected European/African
>>societies, if you can't prove that an *integration*, i.e., Indians
>>marrying and living, with society's blessing, with their non-Indian
>>mates, occurred on any significant level?
>Mary Beth, that's what I'm *asking*. Do you know of anybody
>who has looked into this area? I haven't found anybody who
>has explored it systematically, one way or the other.
>Apparently you haven't either. So we share an ignorance
>together, you and I.

No, the ignorance is not shared, as I'm aware that of the reasons why,
at this point, the type of analysis you want cannot be done, and hence
do not look for such pie-in-the-sky-answers, but focus instead on what,
physically and materially, we can *know*. We *know*, historically at
least, that the offspring of European and American Indians were not
accepted into *traditional* Euro-American society, at least not as
*white*. Whether or not mixed-race children were accepting as *white*
in *outliver* populations is currently not *knowable*, as we don't have
a significant understanding of white *outliver* society.

Perhaps more information is available in African-American populations,
as I recall a very good article on the influence of local Indian
pottery style and technique among slave populations in South Carolina
in McGuire and Paynter's _Archaeology of Inequality_. But I also
recall that the author concluded that the integration of technique _did
not_ automatically indicated interracial unions.

:::deleting material on *frontier*, as it really belongs in another

MB Williams
Dept. of Anthro., UMass-Amherst