North and South America–East of the Sun

mayan-templeAt last we come to the part of the world with which most of you are probably most familiar. Or are you? The United States of America is a very young country; only a little over two hundred years old. It isn’t just politically young, it is culturally young. The vast majority of all US Citizens are immigrants who brought their culture and mythology with them from somewhere else in the world. Therefore, American culture is a hodge-podge of traditions from other countries, mingled together and seasoned with pioneer flair. In order to have a meaningful conversation about the myth and culture of North and South America we must go back much, much further to the Inca and Maya, to the Iroquois and Algonquin.

There are over 592 federally recognized Native Indian tribes in the United States alone. There are 242 located in South America. and 13 in Canada. Each of these tribes have their own culture and language. South America boasts not one, but several ancient and developed civilizations. They built cities, created writing systems, and had art. The temples of the Maya and Inca are nearly the equal of the pyramids of Egypt, and their astronomers were among the best in the world.

The Hopewell culture which pre-dated Native North American Indians by several years, are known as “the mound builders” by archaeologists who still puzzle over the giant earthen effigies they left behind.  Both the Ojibwa and the Cherokee have written, syllabic languages. The written Maya language remained one of the last great linguistic puzzles–even more difficult to crack than hieroglyphs had been due to the destruction of all their written records. The Inca could write by tying knots in rope.

And all of them, every single one, told stories–of how the world was created, and how it would end, and of what their place was.

You can read many of these stories, categorized by tribe, at Native Languages. And to see how their culture is still shaping our world, check out the stories by contemporary authors today. As always, if you have any suggestions, we’d love to add them to the list!

ob_book1Reading List

Nice Dragons Finish Last—Rachel Aaron
The Black Pearl – Scott O’Dell
The Captive – Scott O’Dell
Thunder Rolling in the Mountains–Scott O’Dell
The Dresden Files – Jim Butcher
Obsidian and Blood – Aliette de Bodard
The Loon Feather–Iolla Fuller


Katie Lynn Daniels is the author of Supervillain of the Day, and the mastermind behind Vaguely Circular. She blogs about science and things that are peripherally related to science. You can read all her posts here.


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