arma-, armaka 'ruined site'

Luis Gonzalez-Reimann reimann at UCLINK.BERKELEY.EDU
Fri Apr 3 01:13:06 UTC 1998

At 09:01 AM 4/2/98 -800, Paul Kekai Manansala wrote:

>But then you have civilizations like those in Mesoamerica and Ponape
>which vanish due to geological/climatic change.

Which Mesoamerican civilization are you referring to?

I have always thought that a comparison between the demise of the IVC and
the decline (not vanishing) of the Mayas of Mesoamerica could be fruitful
and stimulating.  Our present knowledge attributes the decline of the Mayas
to several factors, including depletion of natural resources (partly due to
agricultural techniques) and warfare between different Maya city-states.
The arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century dealt the final blow, but it
is quite clear that, by then, the civilization was in decline, and many
cities had already been abandoned and swallowed up by the jungle (or, maybe,
I should say the rain forest).

But, after the Spanish conquest, the Mayans didn't disappear.  They were
conquered and acculturated, and Spanish became the dominant language, but
the Mayans remained in the area.  Several Mayan languages survive today, and
Christianity was syncretized with previous religious traditions.  (All of
this also applies to other cultures in Mesoamerica and the Andean region of
South America).

In a different area of Mesoamerica, the Teotihuacan culture, an impressive,
huge urban center that includes the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon
(so-called), was already in ruins by the time the Aztecs entered the scene
and built an empire that subdued most other groups and imposed their own
language (Nahuatl).  The Aztecs themselves were, soon after, conquered by
the Spanish who then imposed the Spanish language.

There is an interesting contrast between the study of pre-Columbian America
and ancient India.  For pre-Columbian America there is very little literary
evidence, both because many texts (the codices) were destroyed and also
because there was no writing system.  Neither was there an oral tradition of
textual transmission resembling the Indian one.  On the other hand, there is
a seemingly endless supply of archaeological remains.  Even today, new
cities are being discovered, and sealed tombs opened up.
The result is that knowledge of pre-Columbian cultures depends heavily on
archaeology.  The linguistic study of pre-Columbian families of languages, I
must add, is in its infancy, compared to the study of Indo-European.

In India, on the other hand, it is only recently that archaeology has come
more to the forefront, and this has very much to do with the IVC.  Ancient
Indian history has been studied largely through the impressive amount of
textual evidence we have, and through linguistics.

So here we have, in a sense, two extremes of the spectrum: In Mesoamerica
there is plenty of archaeological information, but little textual evidence,
while linguistics still has a lot of ground to cover (the Mayan glyphs, by
the way, have been deciphered only recently).  In India, we have a large
amount of textual evidence, while archaeology is only recently becoming more
important, and linguistical studies have gone a long way (although there is,
obviously, much more to be done).

This could serve as a reminder that linguistics and archaeology are both
very important. The problem is not the data itself, but how we interpret it.

Luis Gonzalez-Reimann
University of California, Berkeley

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