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The First Americans’ New World Roots – A Forgotten Question Reconsidered

Critical Review of the Development, Reception and Impact of Origin Concepts

Helga Gemegah

The question about the first Americans’ New World roots is seldom given attention, although there have been approaches to finding answers. These initiatives were neglected due to the dominance of ideas of external origins. In 1493 all lands west of the Azores were declared Spanish possessions according to the Bula Intercaetera. When on fictitious maps and in the literature of the 16 th century America was described as identical to or as part of Asia, connected by huge fictitious land connections, both Asia and America were considered Spanish territories. Such conjectures furthermore served to explain the presence of mankind on the American continent, which had not been mentioned in the Bible. These misleading concepts, however, made many believe that the inhabitants of the Americas were Asians and that they had brought their languages and cultures from Asia. The strong impact of these ideas led to the exclusion of the concept of the New World roots from the questionnaire of the research into the peopling of the Americas. Therefore a closer look into the development, reception and impact of fictitious ideas of origin and into the forgotten aspect of an autochthonous origin of the first Americans is presented here.
Contents: The development of ideas of origin during the 16th century – Spanish political, religious and cartographic world views as motives for the development of ideas of origin – America: A continent without life? – Van den Putte’s misleading world map: Mongolia, India, Tibet and China as part of North America – José de Acosta’s and Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza’s conjectures – The reception of ideas of origin – Alexander von Humboldt’s criticism of Spanish cartography – The impact of ideas of origin on science – The role of the 17th International Congress of Americanists 1910 in the history of science – The peopling of Asia as seen by Davidson Black and Aleš Hrdlička – The reception of Spanish ideas of origin in the 20th century – Reconsidering comparisons of Asian and American populations with regard to cultural material, genetics and linguistics and their dependence on 16th century assumptions – Thomas Jefferson’s doubts about comparisons between Asian and American languages – The peopling of the Americas as seen by James F. Cooper, Karl May and C.W. Ceram.