Pilgrims Arrive in North America

Start Free Trial

The original inhabitants of North America made very little use of the available resources, remained largely hunter-gatherers for thousands of years after agriculture arose in other parts of the world, and had just begun to farm at the time when European colonizers arrived. How does Diamond explain this seeming paradox in Guns, Germs, and Steel? Incorporate developments in specific US regions such as California, the Mississippi River valley, and the Southeast in your answer.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In his famous book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond posits that some civilizations developed agriculture, technology, and dominance while others didn't as a result of geographic determinism, or the idea that geography impacts development. For the Americas, he discusses why the indigenous Americans relied on hunting and gathering rather than agriculture for much of its history.

In chapter 8, Apples or Indians, Diamond asks the question,

Why did agriculture never arise independently in some fertile and highly suitable areas, such as California...?

He examines the locations of the areas that did not develop agriculture and comes up with an answer—it is either due to problems with local peoples or problems with the locally available plants.

When looking at the United States, Diamond wonders why indigenous populations didn't domesticate plants like wild apples. He posits that because nomadic hunter-gatherers did not want to change their traditional way of life for one crop, it didn't happen. He thinks that if there were several wild plants that could successfully be domesticated, sedentary civilization could have occurred. But because there were few wild plants that could sustain populations in California, populations there tended to stick with hunting and gathering.

With the Mississippi River valley, Diamond mentions in chapter 8 that they started to create farming communities along the Mississippi once Mexican staples like corn, beans, and squash made their way north. Native Mississippi plants, like sumpweed, ragweed, goosefoot, and knotweed, were not advantageous to sedentary lifestyles despite nutritional content because they cause allergies and have a strong odor.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 22, 2019
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial