Every year my friend from college, Sprague Cheshire, a bodybuilding maven, comes to visit me and makes me go to the Arnold in Columbus with him. This year since the Arnold was canceled for coronavirus, we went to see the serpent mound which I had never visited. There in the gift shop, I bought a book, “1491”, as in the year before Columbus “discovered” America, (2005, Knopf) by Charles Mann. It is amazing.
There is good evidence, although it is difficult to be definitive about the numbers, that diseases introduced by Europeans, smallpox, measles and who knows what else, wiped out 95% of all the Indians so fast that it was not noticed by the post Columbus colonizers. They thought that the few Indians they found living in thick woods where they were presumed to have been living lightly on the natural environment forever, were all there ever were. That puts the coronavirus pandemic in perspective. That Indian holocaust was way more catastrophic even than the 1918 Spanish flu, (that really should have been called the American flu because it started in an army base in Kansas) that killed 50 million people worldwide. Who knows what coronavirus will be like for American Indians but there might be evidence that people with type O blood, which is what 100% of American Indians have, could be protected to some extent against this new pandemic. (1)
Another amazing fact I learned from Charles Mann’s book is that corn, or maize as it is known in the rest of the English speaking world, was invented by Mesoamerican Indians, precursors to the Mayans, thousands of years ago. This is incredible because the only known related plant is inedible. How could they have done it before genetic engineering? Maize is a man-made freak that would go extinct immediately if humans disappeared because the seeds cannot escape naturally from the husk in order to germinate. Corn delivers many more calories per acre than any other food crop, although potatoes and manioc (AKA casava), also Indian inventions, come close. Today maize provides 75% of all the calories eaten in the world. Remember that before vitamins and minerals and proteins we need calories to stay alive. Although corn is much maligned by the toxic food environment bandwagon, it is a life-giving miracle bestowed on us by the Indians. Whoever invented it should get a Nobel Prize.
Lots of other facts, mythology and debate about the Indians are fascinating. “1491” gets seven thumbs up in my estimation.
John DiTraglia M.D. is a Pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by e-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org or phone-354-6605.