Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts
In a sense, my fascination with possible pre-Columbian transoceanic contacts began with my parents’ reading aloud Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 true-adventure account Kon-Tiki. More definitively, my interest was fostered by my Johns Hopkins professor George F. Carter, a controversial scholar of that topic and of early humans in the Western Hemisphere (about whom I wrote a biographical article in 2007). I read Carter’s copy of Heyerdahl’s massive scholarly book American Indians in the Pacific.
While at UC Davis but based on a paper written for one of Carter’s classes, I was invited to participate in a session that Heyerdahl was organizing for the 1966 International Congress of Americanists in Mar del Plata, Argentina; there, I finally met the man who had started me on my path, as well as many prominent scholars. Coming and going, I visited most of the countries of South America.
The ICA publication had included material on the blowgun, shared between Southeast Asia and the Americas. I elaborated on that material and published substantial articles on the forms and distributions of the weapon in 1970 and 1991. As a consequence of these papers, colleagues at professional meetings often humorously pretended to puff darts in my direction.
In 1967, I met some notable diffusionists at a Columbia University conference. The following year, I was invited to present at Society for American Archaeology sessions on the transoceanic-contacts question. There, I met most of the additional major players in the controversy, and my mainly methodological contribution became Chapter 1 in Man across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts (1971).
Jesse D. Jennings asked me to write the final chapter for a 1978 compendium text he was editing, Ancient Native Americans. My piece covered the whole range of possible transatlantic and transpacific interinfluences. A revised version appeared in 1983, in Ancient North Americans and Ancient South Americans.
In 1980, I made a round-the-world journey and gave a paper at the International Geographical Union conference in Tokyo, on color-directional symbolism, which is manifested in both Eurasia and North America.
John L. Sorenson, a diffusionist anthropologist at Brigham Young University, arranged for me to be a 1992 University Forum Assembly speaker at that institution, which included a major lecture (later, published) before an audience of some two thousand.
I became interested in the nature and global distributions of certain traditional dyestuffs and of resist-dyeing, and during the 1990s put out articles on those topics with the New England Antiquities Research Association. During the same period, I also enjoyed the joint annual meeting of the Institute for the Study of American Cultures, on whose board I served, and The Epigraphic Society, of which I later became Vice President.
In 1992, I organized a special session in Carter’s honor at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. In 2005, I was invited to deliver the inaugural George F. Carter Distinguished Professor Lecture at the Texas A&M University’s Geography Department; the talk was on transoceanic contacts.
In 1995, I organized another diffusionist session, at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference. This led to the creation of Pre-Columbiana: A Journal of Long-Distance Contacts, which I continue to edit, and a contract to write a book on the contacts question. Following various impediments, that book has now been released by the University of Alabama Press. Its title is Ancient Ocean Crossings: Reconsidering the Case for Contacts with the Americas before Columbus (2017). More books are in the making. I also contribute much of the content of Pre-Columbiana.
In recent years, I have become interested in what genetics can tell us about ancient movements of people, twice presenting at the invitational International Science Conference. The periodic invitational Paths across the Pacific meetings in Sitka have also led to welcome cross-disciplinary acquaintanceships.