1491, 1493, and Greek Gods

New Revelations About America

A common idea taught about the Indians (and, yes, it appears when you can’t simply refer to their tribe, most prefer that term to “American Indian,” especially those in South and Central America) is that they lived in such harmony with the land, that they trod so lightly upon it, that the landscape showed hardly any sign of their passing. This is, after all, what we were shown in Disney’s Pocahontas and James Cameron’s more recent Avatar, isn’t it?  

Many of us were also brought up to believe that there really weren’t that many Indians around anyway.  They were subsistence societies. There certainly were no cities comparable to those in Europe at the time. And especially not in places like the Amazon or Boliva.

We were taught that the Indians traveled here by walking to America across the Bering Strait land bridge that stretched from Russia to Alaska during the ice age around 10,000 BC. When they arrived, the proceeded to eat a tremendous amount of meat, killing off all the mega fauna like mammoths.

We were taught other things. But it appears that many of these things have recently been shown to be false. Sometimes dramatically so.

For example, the Indians transformed their landscapes, tens of thousands of square miles of it, very often through burning, but also through other ingenious ways.

There were far more Indians in 1491 than most folks know. Recent research suggests that Central Mexico was the most densely populated place on earth at the time, “with more than twice as many people per square mile than China or India.” The total population of the Americas in 1491, by some estimates, was between 90-112 million people, meaning that MORE people lived in the Americas than in Europe.

Finally, it appears that the Indians were here twenty to thirty thousand years ago. They were here when Europe north of Paris was still uninhabitable and mostly covered by glaciers!

Charles Mann describes these and a number of other fascinating findings in his book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. He relays the information in such an engaging style that I found myself picking the book up at every chance. When I was finished, I wanted more.

Luckily, in 1493: Uncovering The New World Columbus Created Mann continues his history lesson. Except instead of focusing on the surprising things we’ve learned about the Indians in the last two decades, he focuses on the surprising impacts, both biological and financial, of linking the Western and Eastern hemispheres together. It’s the biggest event in the world, Mann suggests, since the dinosaurs died. Mann suggests that Columbus didn’t discover a new world–his voyage created one.

The first part of the book examines the effect of the exchanges across the Atlantic (microbes  and tobacco). The next part focuses on the effect of the exchanges across the Pacific (silk, corn, and pirates). The third part shows the role of the exchange in the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions (potatoes, guano, and rubber).  The final part examines the consequences of the huge shift in populations caused by the Atlantic slave trade (Maroons, mixed-marriages, and freedom). As with 1492, the insights are both surprising and fascinating.

If you like history, if you liked Guns, Germs, & Steel, then I think you will love these two books.

EDIT: I just ran across a fabulous Doug Fabrizio Radio West interview with Charles Mann about 1493 called  The World Columbus Created.  Listen and enjoy!

Divine Yogurt

For years eating a serving of sweetened yogurt was like eating a box of Milk Duds (20 grams of sugar) or a Milky Way candy bar (35 grams of sugar). Yes, the sweetened yogurts have that much sugar. The only way to avoid eating literally like a kid in a candy store was to purchase plain yogurt and add some fruit or a squirt of honey. And, no, I will not consider eating yogurt sweetened with Splenda or Nutrasweet.  Artificial sweeteners make me gag. As far as I’m concerned, they are abominations that ruin the taste of everything they touch.

So for many years I enjoyed my mix of plain yogurt and various add-ins. However, to my joy, I recently discovered a sweetened yogurt with only 15 grams of sugar (about as much as you find in a large banana) that tastes divine. It’s sweetened with real sugar and honey. And the mouth feel is sooooooo smooth. I’m sure this is because, unlike all the other yogurt manufacturers, these guys realized that, duh, fat actually makes things taste good and isn’t the  evil thing we’ve made it out to be. In just two bites it became my favorite sweetened yogurt. It’s called The Greek Gods Traditional Greek Yogurt. I’ve found another version—the vanilla honey—that only has 5 grams of sugar.

Be aware that despite its name, this yogurt does NOT have the high protein content of other Greek style yogurts such as Brown Cow Greek Yogurt with 23 grams. Furthermore, not all the flavors have the low sugar content. Their blueberry and strawberry flavors, for example, have 35 grams. So check the labels first, and then treat yourself to yogurt that will have you savoring every bite.

When I eat yogurt, it will still mostly be the plain Greek style with mixers. But when I want a special treat, you know I’ll be getting some from The Greek Gods.

EDIT: 9/6/12 I now feel like Jerry Seinfeld in the episode when they found out the fat free frozen yogurt really wasn’t fat free. All the other yogurts I was looking at had serving sizes of 1 cup. The Greek Gods folks thought 1/2 a cup was the right size. That means that this super amazing low sugar yogurt had 30 grams of sugar per serving! It’s like eating a Snickers! I’m so disillusioned. Alas.

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