The United States of America: A Study of the American Commonwealth, Its Natural Resources, People, Industries, Manufactures, Commerce, and Its Work in Literature, Science, Education, and Self-Government

By Nathaniel Southgate Shaler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV. THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS.

ORIGIN OF THE INDIANS.

EVER since the discovery of America and the first acquaintance by Europeans with the peoples inhabiting its continents, the problem of the origin of those peoples has been discussed, but without solution. It was long regarded as a postulate that in some manner they immigrated from the Eastern hemisphere, but the various explanations of the supposed migrations have been as numerous as they have proved to be unsatisfactory and mutually destructive.

Theories that the American Indians came from Norway or from Lapland have been as violently pressed and opposed as those contending that they came from Ireland or from Iceland. Equally forcible and equally weak are the arguments for a passage from Asia across Bering Strait, whether before or after the supposed land connection, across the northern Pacific Ocean in junks from Japan or China, or across the southern Pacific in catamarans from Australia or the Polynesian Islands. The system of currents in the Atlantic would accelerate the voyages of colonists from its eastern shores; and when that ocean has seemed too broad for this prehistoric navigation, a suppositive island called Atlantis has been provided as a midway station for rest on the crossing. Thus the imagined ancestors of North American Indians have been found among the Jews, Phoenicians, Scandinavians, Irish, Welsh, Carthaginians, Egyptians, Tartars, Hindus, Malays, Polynesians, Chinese, and Japanese -- indeed, among almost all divisions of mankind. Once the "lost ten tribes" of Israel were favorites in the genealogic tournament, but lately the tendency among ethnographers who busy themselves on this problem is to accept an ancient Turanian immigration.

The archæologic evidence that man has existed in America for a very long period is conclusive; and it is now believed, contrary to the views at one time upheld by a school of writers, that

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