Found in 14 comments on Hacker News
noworld · 2023-01-09 · Original thread
I think a lot of this is from 1491:

It's been a while since I read it but IIRC, the theory is that some of the pigs the Spanish brought with them got loose and went wild, but brought the flu with them. As wild boar spread so did the disease.

vonnik · 2020-12-29 · Original thread
Anyone curious about how the Amazon evolved as a worked landscape (like the grain fields of Europe), should read Charles C Mann's books 1491 and 1493. What the developed world sees as an untouched wilderness threatened by development was actually, in many places, a place where large indigenous communities found ways to make the jungle bear more life-sustaining food ... while still appearing to be a jungle.

inglor_cz · 2020-11-21 · Original thread
1491 and 1493 are two great books by the same author, delving deep into those topics. I enjoyed every line, and there was a lot of them :-)

crazygringo · 2019-11-20 · Original thread
> "...would have been even more powerful in centuries past, when 30 to 60 million bison roamed North America. “They would have been everywhere,” says Matthew Kauffman...”

Interestingly, current scientific evidence suggests that this was not at all the "natural state" of North America, and that it was actually a temporary ecological imbalance lasting for a couple centuries after smallpox and other diseases wiped out ~95% of Native Americans after contact from the Europeans -- and suddenly the bison went essentially "unchecked".

Obviously this doesn't change the evil of their almost-extinction or the need for bison as a proper balance -- just that the gigantic hordes of bison that Europeans first witnessed likely isn't the right baseline either.

See "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus" for a highly readable account of evidence on both sides from 2006.


robohoe · 2019-01-23 · Original thread
I’m currently reading it. It’s mind blowing to see that there were peoples in Americas further than 13k years ago.

For those looking to read it, make sure to get the 400-some page version of this book. There is a similarly named book aimed at grade school kids.

coldshower · 2016-12-22 · Original thread
I just finished recommending 1491 by Charles Mann in a previous thread, and I'll do so again here:

Surprising how innovative and densely populated the people of ancient americas were back then.

justinator · 2016-08-27 · Original thread
There's a lot of compelling theories in the book, 1491 [0] about how forests were modified in ways in which I elude to, and how the population of the Americas was much, much higher than just 50 million, and how the were civilization much earlier than what we had first thought.

If we just take east coast of Maryland, where the author grew up, the first explorers talk about villages that interconnected across the coastline, Chestnut and walnut trees everywhere, and established hunting grounds. Burning was an immensely useful tool to do this. Everyone had a fire starter.

Later on, early settlers saw something drastically different - a dying off population from diseases brought by Europeans that they had no defense towards. And that is why our estimates on the population of the Americas, and the level of which they modified the land could be really off.


NelsonMinar · 2013-08-26 · Original thread
The book _1491_ is a great read to learn more about what the Americas were like before the European arrival. Recent archaeology is finding that the societies in the Americas were way more complex and interconnected than most of us understand.
zeteo · 2013-04-26 · Original thread
This article is full of misconceptions. Let's address a few of the most egregious ones.

>there are billions of stars and planets in our galaxy and billions of galaxies. Humans are rather bad at fully understanding such large numbers.

There's no obstacle to working with large numbers once you understand powers and logarithms (i.e. pre-calc). Very smart people have looked at the Drake equation and it yields a very wide range of values [1].

>Christopher Columbus first landing on North America (not a good event for native Americans)

The main reason Europeans were able to take over America was disease. The Aztec effort to kick out the Spanish was hampered by smallpox [2], and colonization of North America had to wait for over a century before the native population was sufficiently depleted by disease to stop offering resistance. [3] Needless to say, disease worked unintentionally and because both sides were the same species.

> So, screw it, all movie alien races invented artificial gravity.

Or, you know, maybe they built ships with rotating crew habitats that simulate gravity by centrifugal force. (I belive 2001 does a pretty good job of showing the concept.)

> If getting humans to another star system is a 100 on some "technology ability scale", we're a 2 which is not comparatively far ahead of say, poodles - who are probably at a 1.

First off, poodles are at a zero. Second, if 10% of world GDP was dedicated to building an interstellar, multi-generation ark, we pretty much have the technology to do it right now. The technological problem is to reduce the cost to the point where the political will to do it can be summoned (probably around 0.01% of GDP).

>Maybe they want to trade with us. Well, yeah, right. If you've gotten this far it's obvious we have no tech that would interest them.


>How many years before we have a brain interface to Google? You'd know everything.

We already have Google in our pockets. But instantly finding any quote by Darwin doesn't mean I understand the theory of evolution.



[3] See timeline in


rdl · 2012-11-09 · Original thread
What happened, from what I've read, is that initial contact put enough European disease into the population that the population and society collapsed; it was thus much easier for Europeans settling here to win.

The Amazon was, allegedly, basically a garden at one point -- the natives the Spanish eventually encountered were just broken remains of a much larger civilization which had been successful and then disappeared.

zeteo · 2011-10-14 · Original thread
The must-read book for the context is 1491, by Charles C. Mann [1]. The main point is that pre-Columbian America was much more densely populated than previously thought, with the Native Americans managing a good deal of the ecosystem. European contact brought in diseases (mainly smallpox) that killed off the vast majority of the inhabitants, with momentous consequences for the ecosystem (e.g. the extreme proliferation of bison and passenger pigeon). But really read the book, it's very well written, based on the latest research, and quite enlightening.


yummyfajitas · 2009-01-01 · Original thread
That article appears to be a shorter version of his book. The book is well worth the $10.85 you'll spend on it.

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