Saturday, February 27, 2016

Leif Ericsson has much to answer for

this is written in man in a high castle style, a dobule blind what-if so be warned

You can ask ourselves the counterfactual: had the Norse not come to the Americas or had they simply gone to war with the the indigenous population would it have made any difference for what happened next? Would the natives have done better? Or worse?

Tonight, I submit to you the natives would have been better off had the Norse either been expelled or left. This is a controversial subject, I know and this will inflame opinions for both sides of the classical seminal counterfactual debate.


While the Norse did, in fact, pass on metallurgy, they offered little more: most were not literate at this time and their other technologies were not so far removed from the indigenous populations. Their use of barley did spread but only to a degree.

Metallurgy did help the native peoples, to be sure. In independent clashes, the Europeans often did lose. The native cultures had also started using metal tools for agriculture and stone working and these did cause a florescence of a sort.

However. The cost was enormous!

By having sufficient trade and contacts with Europe to support the violent Norse population from being wiped out or driven off, there was sufficient epidemiological flow as well: disease follows trade. And this caused repeated population crashes in North America, later in Mesoamerica and, finally, in South America.

The spotted plagues, what we now know to be measles and smallpox, spread through North America starting in around 1000. This spread so wildly and rapidly across the native populations of North America, it wiped out 75% of the population. Cahokia and the ancestral Puebloan civilizations collapsed outright. The Classical Period of MesoAmerica was book ended by these plagues and there is a strong chronological argument these plagues caused the crash of those civilizations. Even the Andean civilizations received some impact by losing their trade with MesoAmerica. The Americas were far, far more connected by trade than post colonial societies thought.

Without being brought back over again, local variants echoed against across the New World continents a century and change later, when the droughts began to hit during the Medieval Warm Period. The diseases seem to have sprung from the survivors of the Ancestral Puebloans and spread once more. The population crash was not as terrible, but still a horrifying 50% of the population would die again.

The Norse continued their slow expansion in this time frame and it was slow. There was a mere 1,000 Norse in North America by 1350. Yet the trade was enough to bring with them the next devastating plague: the Black Death.

In Europe, 50% of people died. Indeed, the Norse in North America would actually be devastated and drop down to 300 individuals. It helped wipe out sufficient Greenland Norse they would emigrate to the North America proper where life was easier and bring the total population back up to 500 by 1380.

However, for the indigenous populations, this disease was worse. It spread across the continent and took root to become endemic: mice in North America became a persistent reservoir. The first wave would kill 80% of the population again. The endemic nature meant that the disease would break out again and again, damping down the population recovery and disrupt political structures.

The indigenous population would only reach to 20% of what it had been at its height by the time the Iberians crossed to the New World at the end of the 15th century. Their expansion was inevitable: they were attempting to by pass their enemies, the Muslim nations, that stymied their trade. The knowledge of the New World, based on distorted Norse tales, led them to believe there was a Southern Passage through the Caribbean to China. Indeed, they thought the Norse had been to China from the tall tales relayed back.

Once the Iberians were here, the rest was history. The different factions would via for different parts of the Americas. And with the resources flowing back, the other European nations colonized the rest of the Americas. There was little resistance after all: the plagues knocked down all but the smallest tribes and those often inherited vast riches from those before, making the Iberians pillage rapaciously. And bring their own diseases as well.

No, it would have been better had the Iberians came first. They would not have arrived until after Granada fell in the 1480s. The other Europeans would not follow as quickly. This, in turn, would have allowed for the indigenous cultures to snap back and recover from disease. One wave would be better than the repeated ones. And definitely better than the Southwest becoming a plague zone that would burp up disease repeatedly, bringing back down those who had just risen from their knees.

Colleagues, I submit to you, it would have been far, far better for the Native Americans, the First Nations, the Indigenous Tribes to have not had the Norse come and establish their colonies on the eastern coast of North America. Had they not, the natives might have had a chance.

Leif Ericsson has much to answer for.

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