January 11, 2010

Indian mounds in P. Allen Smith Gardens

P. Allen Smith Gardens, a syndicated home and garden show, recently featured Indians. Here's what this TV show is about:

P. Allen Smith GardensP. Allen Smith Gardens is a nationally syndicated half hour show that highlights garden related travel, interviews with garden experts, recipes, and how to projects. Join me for a half hour of ideas and tips that is sure to inspire you to get out and garden!The episode in question was titled Historic and Home. I believe it originally aired a year ago on Jan. 17, 2009. The summary said this episode would "explore the glories of winter, visit some historic homes, and discuss kitchen design ideas."

"The glories of winter" apparently includes a bit about "winter solstice for American Indians of long ago." I wasn't sure how an Indian winter solstice would tie in with the home and garden theme. But I was curious to see how P. Allen Smith, who apparently is the Martha Stewart of the gardening set, would handle Indians.

A couple of promos made it sound as if the Indian segment would be substantial. It wasn't. It was only two minutes long, or shorter than a typical TV news report. And it was about as superficial as you'd expect from a home and garden show.

Here's what the segment covered:Dr. Martha Rolingson, Archeologist/Author, Toltec Mounds State Park, Scott, AR–Dr. Rolingson explains that the word solstice means “suns stands still.” The winter solstice signifies the shift toward spring and the growing season. She goes on to describe what is known about the farming practices of the inhabitants of this pre-historic site.That sounds reasonable. And you wouldn't think a segment could go too far wrong in only two minutes. But this one did. It conveyed an unmistakable feeling that Indians are nothing but primitive people of the past.

Dinosaurs and Indians

Smith starts the segment with a shot of a boy playing with toy dinosaurs. His narration goes:If you're like me, when you think "prehistoric," you're probably like this little guy and immediately think of dinosaurs. But really, prehistory is just before written history. And there are signs of this time all around us if we just take a look. Rising up out of the delta is one of the tallest remaining prehistoric American Indian mounds.Hmm. I guess people refer to pre-Columbian Indian cultures as "prehistoric." But this is misleading if not wrong.

For starters, the definition of prehistoric is:of or pertaining to the time or a period prior to recorded history: The dinosaur is a prehistoric beast.Repeat: recorded history, not written history.

What's the difference? You can record history in various ways besides writing: by carving petroglyphs, creating designs in baskets and pottery, or building monuments to gods or kings. The mounds themselves are arguably a form of recorded history.

When we use the word "prehistoric," we usually refer to an era of history. To a "time" or a "period," as the definition says. Being more specific is potentially confusing--e.g., Roman coins were found at a prehistoric British site. If dated items coexisted with the site, how can it be prehistoric?

In other words, "prehistoric" best describes humanity in general. Before people starting recording history with clay marks, the entire world was prehistoric. After that, the entire world entered the historic era.

Calling the oldest Indian cultures "prehistoric" is one thing, but I don't think I've heard anyone say "historic" Europeans met "prehistoric" Indians. Both peoples existed in historic times. European and Mesoamerican cultures both recorded these times in writing, and other Native cultures recorded them with drawings and symbols.

During Europe's Middle Ages, monks were often the only people who could read and write. Would anyone say monasteries were "historic" while illiterate towns and villages were "prehistoric"? No, probably not. Again, "prehistoric" usually applies to a broad period of time when no one was recording history, not to communities, regions, or countries without writing.

More faux pas

So the setup informs us that Indians were "prehistoric." The rest of the segment doesn't do any better.

  • Rolingson uses most of the two minutes to explain what a winter solstice is. She doesn't say anything about how or why Indians observed the solstice. We don't learn that Indian cultures were generally adept at tracking the movements of the sun and stars.

  • In the segment's closing seconds, Rolingson says the Indians' farming techniques were "very different." Based on what we've learned from "historic" Indians, she says the mound builders used digging sticks and planted their fields among trees. She doesn't elaborate, leaving the impression that the Indians farmed crudely and haphazardly.

    Without explanation, their methods do sound strange. But a digging stick is just a hoe-like implement, and mixing crops in a field helps replenish the soil. Rolingson doesn't note that Indian farmers were generally as skilled as their European counterparts.

  • Other than the farming tidbits and a couple of seconds of pottery in a display case, the segment gives no indication that the Indians had any culture. Here's what the segment could've said about them but didn't:

    Toltec Mounds Archeological State ParkThe people who built the mounds at the Toltec site had a distinct culture from other contemporary Native American groups in the Mississippi Valley. The culture is named Plum Bayou after a local waterway. The people lived in permanent villages and hamlets throughout the countryside. They built sturdy houses, farmed, gathered wild plants, fished, and hunted.

    Mound groups, such as this one, were religious and social centers for people living in the surrounding countryside. The Toltec Mounds site had a small population, made up primarily of political and religious leaders of the community and their families. This center was occupied from about 600 to 1050 A.D.
  • The segment doesn't even give the Indians a name such as "Moundbuilders." They're faceless, featureless "Native Americans" (the politically correct term it uses) from ancient (pre)history.

  • Finally, the segment doesn't link the mounds to any existing Indians. You'd never know that Indians still live and that some consider the mound builders their ancestors.

  • So P. Allen Smith Gardens ends up portraying Indians as primitive people of the past--i.e., uncivilized savages. I shouldn't be surprised, but I thought this upscale show might do better. Anyone who has money to blow on home and garden decorations can afford a primer on Indian culture and history.

    For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.

    Below:  A "very different" kind of home and garden?


    Stephen said...

    "During Europe's Middle Ages, monks were often the only people who could read and write."

    I'm afraid that's not true; the medieval Italian republics had high levels of literacy. You're using the same tactic that anti-Indian bigots employ; comparing the worst of one group to the very best of another group. For example you claim that Europe was one big feudal hell hole while Indians culture were egalitarian paradises. The problem with this lie is that Europe has had egalitarian cultures, the Norse, the Basques, the Gaels (the Manx Tynwald is one of the oldest examples of democracy on the planet) or the Italian republics; the dark ages myth is just that a myth. And then there's the issue of your racism; such as claiming that American violence is a 'white problem'.

    Rob said...

    Sigh. Since you're apparently illiterate on the subject of literacy in the Middle Ages, let's begin your education.

    Note the word "most" in the following postings. To disprove them, you'll have to prove that most people (i.e., the majority) could read and write in the Middle Ages. Good luck with that.


    Most people in medieval Europe could not read or write; the course will examine the implications of that fact for religious and intellectual life, for power relationships, and for the development of visual imagery in the period.


    Could women read and write back in the middle ages?

    Most women couldn't. Neither could most men.

    Only the people with a lot of money learned it, as there were few teachers to teach it.


    Art was used by the Church as a teaching tool. People couldn't read or write so they couldn't read the Bible. To teach the Bible stories the Church used art.


    But even though books were so hard to produce, and most people couldn't read, there were still a lot of people writing books.

    Rob said...

    I'm afraid you stupidly missed the word "often" in the passage you quoted. It's a generalization and one exception doesn't disprove it.

    But then, you've demonstrated many times that you don't know what a generalization is. For more on that subject, see Education Stephen About Generalizations.

    As I told you in Educating Tony About Genocide, I'm comparing average to average, not worst to best. Read my responses there and learn why you've lost another argument.

    My racism? That's funny coming from the guy who thinks 1.3 billion Muslims want to conquer the world. I guess it takes one to know one, bigot.

    Any claim I made about American violence is a) supported by the evidence and b) irrelevant here. Save it for a discussion about (duh) American violence.

    As usual, you have nothing to say about the posting's subject. In this case, Indian mounds in P. Allen Smith Gardens. This is yet another of your pathetic attempts to prove your superiority to me. Better luck next time, twit.

    Stephen said...

    "My racism? That's funny coming from the guy who thinks 1.3 billion Muslims want to conquer the world. I guess it takes one to know one, bigot."

    I've never said anything like that; so I'm afraid you're lying and even I had posted something like that it wouldn't count as racism, muslims do not constitute a race. Yes I am critical of islam, but I don't for one second believe the xenophobic nonsense that bigots like Robert Spencer spew about muslims wanting to 'islamicize' the west.

    "Any claim I made about American violence is a) supported by the evidence and b) irrelevant here. Save it for a discussion about (duh) American violence."

    So you really don't see anything racist about claiming that violence is a white problem?

    Rob said...

    So you think I'm lying, eh? If you insist, I'll be glad to post your bigoted statements against Muslims.

    If you don't think 1.3 billion Muslim hatemongers want to Islamicize the world, tell us what you think their goal is. To continue hating our wealth and power while they let us live in peace and prosperity?!

    I addressed your phony distinction between the religion and the people who practice it in Educating Stephen About Islam. Remind yourself how I kicked your butt on the subject.

    I carefully called you a "bigot," buddy, not a racist. I know the difference even if you don't.

    Of course, your rants against Obama and your frequent defense of white privilege have me wondering about your racial prejudice, too. But that's a matter for another day.

    Do I see anything racist about claiming that violence is a white problem? No, not when I'm generalizing.

    If you think I ever said violence is solely a white problem, quote me on it. Put up or shut up, mouth.

    Rob said...

    Here's the hard evidence of your bigotry, bigot:

    Stephen's bigotry against Muslims

    Looks like you're the only liar here, Stephen. Read it and weep.