Recalling Ancient America's Forgotten History
When Europe Was in the Dark Ages, Native Americans Were Making Sculptures in What Today Is Oklahoma
CHICAGO, May 7, 2005
For anyone who has studied the story of America, the books often emphasize how young this country is, especially compared to those countries in Europe or Asia.
But this country has an ancient history, too. And a rare exhibit at the St. Louis Museum of Art until May 30 is teaching Americans about that past.
"I had no idea that, Native American culture went back so far," said Louisa Brouwer, a high school student who saw the exhibit on a previous stop at the Art Institute of Chicago.
"When I started going through here, I was surprised to see that we had this much culture this close to home," said Jerry Harris, a tourist in Chicago.
When Europe was in the Dark Ages, American Indians were making sculptures in what today is Oklahoma. Two thousand years ago, Native Americans in what we call Tennessee carved a decorative pipe in the shape of a wolf. And centuries before Christ, they were crafting elaborate banner stones for spears in Iowa.
"That knowledge has not yet reached our schools, grade schools, high schools," said Richard Townsend, the curator at the Art Institute of Chicago who assembled the exhibit. "This isn't just Indian history. It's part of our collective human history."
While history dwells on the Aztecs of Mexico or the Incas from Peru, little attention has been paid to the lives, works and cultures of the indigenous people who once lived in America's heartland.
The suggestion in many textbooks is that there was basically no history before the Europeans arrived. But from 800 to 1300, a settlement at Cahokia, along the Mississippi River, was home to 20,000 people, making it larger than London in the same era. Ohio, Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama also were home to notable indigenous communities. Even so, few people have heard of them.
"Last year, I took an AP college-level course on world history, and none of this was brought up," said Rebecca Ressl, a high school student.
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