In the article "Fictions of American Prehistory: Indians, Archeology, and National Origin Myths," by Annette Kolodny, what are two myths that exist about the history of Native Americans before the...

In the article "Fictions of American Prehistory: Indians, Archeology, and National Origin Myths," by Annette Kolodny, what are two myths that exist about the history of Native Americans before the arrival of Columbus?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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As we are limited in access to the full article "Fictions of American Prehistory: Indians, Archeology, and National Origin Myths," by Annette Kolodny, below are a few ideas to help get you started.

In her first few paragraphs, Kolodny lists many theories about the discovery of the Americas that can really be seen as myths. Some theories state that the "Americas had been visited by Canaanites and Israelites, by disciples of Christ, by Celts, by Vikings, by ancient Egyptians, and by any number of other civilizations, both real and imagined." Another myth is the theory that the Americas were discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus. More importantly, Kolodny further notes that all the mythical theories of the discovery of the Americas prove to have "harmful consequences for Native peoples." As nothing beyond the first four paragraphs can easily be accessed online, below are explanations of the theories/myths based on other sources.

The theory that the Americas were first discovered by Semites, or Israelites, is known as the theory of Phoenician discovery of the Americas. The theory was first developed in 1783 by Ezra Stiles, president of Yale College and Congregationalist minister, who preached the theory in his "Election Sermon" ("Theory of Phoenician Discovery of the Americas"; "Dighton Rock"). The theory became popular in both the 18th and 19th centuries. Stiles theorized that the petroglyphs, or rock engravings, on the Dighton Rock were Paleo-Hebrew ("Theory of Phoenician Discovery of the Americas"). The Dighton Rock is recorded as early as 1680 as having been found in the Taunton Riverbed in Berkley, Massachusetts ("Dighton Rock"). Later in the 20th century, Cyrus H. Gordon, an American scholar in ancient languages and Near Eastern cultures, believed Paleo-Hebrew inscriptions had been found on the Bat Creek stone, a portion of a Native American burial mound excavated in Loudon County, Tennessee in 1899. It was also believed that the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone found near Los Lunas, Mexico, contained a Paleo-Hebrew petroglyph of the Ten Commandments; however, both the Bat Creek stone and the Lunas Decalogue Stone were proven to be forgeries, discounting the theory of Phoenician discovery ("Theory of Phoenician Discovery of the Americas").

We have two books written around 1200 that give an account of Leif Erikson landing in Newfoundland after having been blown off course on his way to Greenland from Norway; on Newfoundland, Leif established a Norse settlement at Vinland. Both books, the Saga of Erik the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders, chronicle different histories about the voyage to Vinland; it's in the Saga of Erik the Red that we learn Leif first saw and landed on Vinland after being blown off course on his way to Greenland, where he was sent by Norway to spread Christianity ("Leif Erikson"). Hence, based on both sagas, we can believe that Leif was the first to discover the Americas in around 1200, not Christopher Columbus much later in 1492. What's more, Einar Haugen has translated both sagas to reveal that Leif first heard about land west of Greenland from a merchant named Bjarni Herjolfsson, who saw the land when he too was blown off course on route to Greenland. While the sagas make no mention of Bjarni reporting landing on Vinland, the sagas have been translated as reporting that Leif rescued two shipwrecked men when he himself did make landfall; therefore, it cannot truly be asserted that Leif was the first to discover the Americas; rather, Bjarni was the first to see the Americas, while the two shipwrecked sailors were the first to reach landfall ("Leif Erikson"). Therefore, news that Leif Erikson settled on Newfoundland well before Christopher Columbus turns Columbus's discovery into a myth, but if others before Leif are known to see and land on Newfoundland before Leif, then the theory that Leif was the first to discover the Americas is also a myth.

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