Earlier this week I quoted from John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s book the Right Nation. I was rather sidetracked by the truth or otherwise about whether Galileo was offered a chair at Harvard. However, their larger point that America is actually a rather old country is clearly true. They make the observation that:
The historical hearts of Boston and Washington feel as old many European capitals (older in some ways because they weren’t bombed in World War II).
I’d add to Philadelphia and Charleston to the list of American cities that often feel like old European cities. However, if you want to see really old buildings in America, you don’t look to the European settlements on the East Coast. Rather you look inland to the impressive Native American buildings that still stand. These are the oldest buildings in America are more than a millennium old. The Cahokia Mounds were first occupied in 600 CE and there are Peublo dwellings in New Mexico dating back to 750 CE.
These grand aged buildings are remnants of equally venerable civilizations. I use that word in a deliberately old-fashioned sense as the opposite of ‘primitive’ because the people who inhabited America before Colmbus were a lot more advanced than they are normally given credit for.
Many of us have grown up with images of the hooting, hollering “red man” dancing around the camp fire by his tee-pee and sharpening his tomahawk for scalping the “white man”. These images have been spoon-fed to us by TV shows (e.g. Looney Tunes), sports teams (e.g. Redskins), and wild tales from USA folklore.
In reality, Native Americans were quite advanced. They had built towns. They played organized team sports. They excelled in hunting and fishing. They had somewhat democratic government structures. In farming they were experts. Women often held prominent roles in their society. They had medicine which they shared with the Europeans. They had sophisticated religion and theology which were a key part of their society. Cleanliness was important to them: in fact, they were more clean than the Europeans for whom bathing and clean clothes were not all that important. Their culture was centered on toleration and freedom. They avoided conflict when possible and abhorred devastating war. They had a sophisticated language. Monetary currency and economic systems were also present in their society.
America is a land with a long history. A great deal of time has passed since Europeans began settling and much longer still since humans first came their. And of course, young countries’ don’t have buildings that were standing in the time of Muhammed and Charlemagne.