The Northeastern Corner of the Southwest

n.b. We will rewrite this section as we get an opportunity.

Matthews Mt Way Chant Sandpainting three

The Hopi, Zuñi, Keres, and Jemez Pueblo people account for their origins by emergence from underground (Kirchhoff 1954; see Pueblo Texts), The Tanoan-speaking Pueblos (except Jemez) believe in emergence from underwater. The Navajo believe in emergence from underground fleeing rising water (Zolbrod 1984; see Navajo Texts), and the Jicarilla Apache believe in emergence from underground in pursuit of light (Russell 1898; Goddard 1911; see Apache Texts).

In their cosmogonic* accounts, these people recognize that living creatures are born. Our progenitors are gendered and increase occurs through reproduction (Farella 1984). The Pueblo accounts note that the people were created here, in place, in the Southwest. The Navajo accounts have some people created in the Southwest and some created in California and migrating east to Dinétah (Matthews 1883, Stephen 1930, Goddard 1933, Wheelwright 1942 Fishler 1953, O'Bryan 1956).

*cosmogonic: the creation or origin of the world or universe or the theory of the creation of the universe, contrast with cosmology - a theory or doctrine describing the natural order of the universe.


Open any anthropology or archaeology text book and you will read:

'The earliest inhabitants of America were hunters who migrated from the Asian mainland across the Bering Straits land bridge between 40,000 and 25,000 B.C.E. ' (European Voyages of Exploration: Latin America University of Calgary The Applied History Research Group)


or words to that effect. In most instances this will be followed by a map, like the one below titled, "Routes of the First Americans," from an American History textbook, showing possible routes of the migrants as they moved south into the Americas. Current Anthropological theory holds that the ancestors of Modern Native Americans migrated to the Americas from Asia in waves approximately 14-16000 years ago and possibly earlier.

Map of Beringia

That a land bridge between Asia and North America existed during the last ice age is strongly supported by geological evidence. Ocean water locked up in glacial ice lowered sea levels to the point where a corridor up to 1600km or more wide existed between Siberia and Alaska. See Paleoenvironments and Glaciation in Beringia National Science Foundation (Office of Polar Programs) and the National Park Service (Beringian Heritage Project Bering Land Bridge National Preserve)

The animation below shows that ice sheets blocked migration into N America from Asia prior to 15000 years ago leaving open the question as to how the inhabitants of older sites migrated to the Americas.

Link to Laurentian Ice animated map quicktime movie


Despite the maps and the theory presented ubiquitously in anthropological texts, there is no definitive, direct, empirical, archaeological evidence that people migrated into North and South America over a land bridge across the Bering Straits. There are no archaeological sites that we can be sure mark the movements of the earliest migrants

Supporters of the Beringia migration theory argue that melting ice and rising sea levels have flooded archaeological sites and wiped out evidence of the earliest inhabitants of the region. Granted that this explanation for the lack of evidence is correct, on the basis of the land bridge migration theory, we would still expect to find a progression of sites from north to south— from oldest sites in Alaska to youngest sites in Tierra del Fuego.  However, no empirical, archaeological evidence of such a temporal progression across the Americas has yet been discovered. Some of the oldest sites in the Americas have been found in Chile (Dillehay and Pino 1997), Venezuela, California and the Carolinas. Until recently, relatively few old sites have been found in the parts of Alaska that were not inundated by rising seas after the end of the Ice Age. (See Mochanov and Fedoseeva 1996 Dyuktai Cave. In American Beginnings: The Prehistory and Palaeoecology of Beringia) This relative lack of evidence does not invalidate the theory but it does raise a question:

Why does "Science" advance a theory in the absence of evidence as if it were established fact?

Why does Western science not acknowledge that the Navajo and the Pueblo and the Apaches, Ute and every other native group in the Americas have a account of their origins and none of them posit a migration from Asia over a land bridge?

The land bridge migration theory was first proposed by José de Acosta, S.J. in 1590 in Historia Natural y Moral de las Indias, 140 years before Danish captain Vitus Bering proved the connection of the Pacific and Arctic Oceans in 1733-43, and nearly 60 years before the strait had first been "discovered" and reported  by the Cossack explorer Dejneff  in 1648 (Dejneff 's discovery had been forgotten by the following century and the strait was "rediscovered" by Bering. See the entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia .)  José de Acosta's account was a systematic, scientific, geographic account of the Americas. However the land bridge theory he advanced was without empirical evidence and developed against a theological background. The grounding for the theory was that the inhabitants of the Americas must have been descendants of Adam and Eve and therefore there must have been a physical connection to human origins in the "Old World".

Christopher Columbus

When Columbus sailed west to search for a new way to Asia, he knew that the lands he ‘discovered’ must be on the east coast of the 'earth island'( — Eurasia + Africa) because he knew there was no other land. He called the people that he met Indios as a generic term because he knew they lived east of the Indus River. 

Despite differences between what he saw and the descriptions of earlier travelers, Columbus knew that he could not have discovered a completely new world because European cosmology held that there was only one world. 

The idea of a ‘New World’ would imply that another world, in addition to the one, god-created world, existed. That would also imply that new people, not descended from Adam and Eve existed. Either of these notions would have been heresy.  To account for the discrepancies between expectation and observation Columbus suggested that he had discovered the lost paradise containing the Garden of Eden.

Neither Columbus nor Vespucci could discover a new world. They could not discover what they could not conceive of as a possibility. For that, the European world-view had to change.

In 1507 the academy of St. Dié, Lorraine, looking at the voyages of Vespucci, Dias, de Gama, Columbus, Cabral, and Cabot, published a new cosmology in Cosmographiae Introductio which resulted in the rapid publication of a world map by Martin Waldseemüller:

Waldseemüller map jpg sid (23Mb)

The world was still one, but there was a fourth part, not a continent but an island, surrounded by water. They named it America, a feminized form of Vespucci’s name, to correspond to the feminine names Europe and Asia (Library of Congress).

By the then current Western theology — Christian, Islamic and Jewish — the history of the human race, the sons of Noah, had to be revised to account for the new discoveries. Although this new land was not connected to the old earth island, the people there, in order to be descendants of Adam and Eve, must be connected to the Old World.

The issue of whether the "Indians" were human was debated for almost 100 years. It was addressed directly by Pope Paul III early on in the May 29, 1537 papal bull Sublimus Dei (also seen as Sublimus Deus and Sublimis Deus) in which the pope declares the indigenous peoples of the Americas to be rational beings with souls, denouncing any idea to the contrary as directly inspired by Satan. He condemns Indian slavery and declares their right to liberty and property, concluding with a call for their evangelization. See papalencyclicals.net

The bull had a strong impact on the Valladolid debate which occurred 13 years later. In 1550, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, summoned the Council of the XIV to Valladolid to determine the nature of the Indians, how to christianize them, what sort of beings they were, and what their intellectual and religious capacity for receiving European civilization might be.

The Jesuit theologian Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, relying mostly on the histories of Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, argued for three hours that Indians were slaves by nature according to the definition of Aristotle. This idea supported the encomiendaro, a force labor system which turned Indians into serfs, allowed the natives to be christianized by violence and justified their enslavement for profit.

Dominican friar of Chiapas, Bartolomé de Las Casas, presented testimony for five days, arguing that the natives were like Europeans in humanity, civility, ability to learn, and artistry. Las Casas won the debate and the king abolished the encomienda but it was restored a short time later when colonists in Peru protested that they could not continue sending shipments of gold and silver without it (See Keen 1998).

By the thinking of the time, if the Indians were human, they must be descendents of Adam and Eve and must have arrive in the "New World" from the "Old". For the next several hundred years that religious idea was the driving force behind the land bridge theory.

The religious underpinnings have now been supplanted by the evolutionary argument: there is no evidence of humans having evolved in the the Americas but there is substantial evidence that humans did evolve in Sub Saharan Africa and have subsequently moved out over the earth from their African Origins. Africa is connected with Eurasia and Eurasia was connected by the Beringia land bridge to the Americas so that must have been the route that early migrants took.

An alternative set of theories — the watercraft migration theories — have people immigrating to the Americas in watercraft along the west coast, along the Atlantic sea ice, across the Pacific like the later Polynesians, and a southward migration from Australia and Tasmania, hopping Subantarctic islands and then proceeding along the coast of Antarctica to the tip of South America sometime during the last glacial maximum. All theories seek to link American Indians to "Old World" origins to reconcile their existence with Christian thought and later with evolutionary theory.

Today historical linguistics, ethnographic comparisons, archeological investigations, physical anthropology and mtDNA genetic analysis are used to verify the land bridge hypothesis.

But the question we put above remains:

Why does "Science" advance a theory in the absence of evidence or where evidence is equivocal as if it were established fact? And, why does Western science not acknowledge that the Navajo and the Pueblo, Apaches, Ute and every other native group in the Americas have an account of their origins and none of them posit a migration from Asia over a land bridge?

The answer is, essentially, culture clash. Western science fails to take the opinions of American Indians seriously. 

Different societies have different social imaginaries. The term social imaginary was coined by Charles Taylor. The social imaginary is the way our contemporaries imagine the societies they inhabit and sustain.

Taylor (2004;23) says, 

By social imaginary, I mean something much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode. I am thinking, rather, of the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations

There are important differences between social imaginary and social theory. I adopt the term imaginary (i) because my focus is on the way ordinary people "imagine" their social surroundings, and this is often not expressed in theoretical terms, but is carried in images, stories, and legends. It is also the case that (ii) theory is often the possession of a small minority, whereas what is interesting in the social imaginary is that it is shared by large groups of people, if not the whole society. Which leads to a third difference: (iii) the social imaginary is that common understanding that makes possible common practices and a widely shared sense of legitimacy.

Anthropology seeks to bridge different social imaginaries, or at its best it should do so. The origin stories for people of the Southwest (both Native American and European American) are grounded in cultural images, stories and legends. The failure of Western science to acknowledge the understanding and insight inherent in Native American origin stories — those society's social imaginaries — has been a source of conflict and friction and ultimately limits our ability to understand one another (See Deloria 1995).

Objectivism, Relativism and Pluralism

Have you ever been in a situation where there was a misunderstanding or conflict and you felt, or knew, that the resolution lay in reconciling different standpoints? When people misunderstand one another sometimes the source of that misunderstanding comes from them having different world views or perspectives — different values. We say they are coming from different places. 

If the misunderstanding is explicitly about ethical questions, there are potentially many different views. One person or group might hold that justice is the most important issue. Someone else cares most about fairness; another respect; another tolerance; or doing one's duty, or happiness, or doing the right thing, or maximizing good, or avoiding harm or maximum efficiency or following God's commands or being a good person. 

What are the sources of these different views? 

Max Weber once said,


The imposition of meaning on life is the major end and primary condition of human existence  (Weber — Science as a Vocation, 1919).


Our values, norms and the sources of meaning in our lives are part of conceptual and cultural constructions called

'horizons' by Gadamer Gadamer and Nietzsche Nietzsche


Dilthey  'worldviews' by DiltheyVidal 'genre de vie' by Vidal,


Foucault 'epistemes' by Foucault,

'forms-of-life' by Wittgenstein Wittgenstein


'constellations of absolute presuppositions' by Collingwood Collingwood


Kuhn  'paradigms' by Thomas Kuhn,

and  'character' by Alisdair MacIntyre MacIntyre 


All of these thinkers are trying to get at the ideas expressed by "social imaginary". Whatever the term we use to characterize constructions human beings impose on their world to make sense of it, we all have them. These frameworks are active processes expressed in language and forms-of-life. People use frameworks of feeling and understanding to define the world, its organization, processes and direction. These constructions define how people judge their lives and determine how full or empty their lives are. 

These constructions are our sources of identity — what Charles Taylor (1989) calls "the sources of the self." Taylor

A society's origin stories embody core principles of their social imaginary.

At different times in history and in different places in the world, social imaginaries have been based on such things as 


If we are going to successfully resolve our hypothetical ethical misunderstanding, we might force a single viewpoint on all of the participants - "I'm right, you're wrong, this is how it is". 

However, such a heavy handed approach would not respect the personal and multicultural diversity that we encounter in the world. It might well fail to preserve justice, fairness, and respect, etc. — the very values over which the people in our hypothetical disagreement are at odds.

One term for this heavy handed approach is ethnocentrism — projecting our own values and beliefs on to others without adequately taking their social imaginary into consideration — claiming one set of views (our own) is universal and therefore trumps all others. 

If we are going to avoid ethnocentrism, we need to discern the different assumptions that people are making, what it is they are trying to accomplish, what they value, their sources of meaning, and bridge the misunderstanding by finding common ground — often, a common language and ways of understanding the world, that expresses differences in comparable terms. 

Anthropology can help us do that. Learning the major theories, getting more precise definitions of terms, learning about the different ways or categories of thinking about (and living) culture helps us clarify our thoughts, understand and empathize with others, and gives us tools to help solve the difficult situations we all face.

That said, most philosophies (and most religions) maintain that there is only one truth, that two contradictory propositions cannot both be true, that all people, everywhere, at all times, if they are seeking truth, are striving toward the same ends. How can we reconcile this philosophical "monism" with personal and multicultural diversity?

Western thought has long sought universal norms that would apply forever, to everyone, in all situations: objective truth. It seeks a single objective foundation for knowledge against which all are judged (e.g., Plato's Theaeteus, Descartes' Meditations , Kant's Critiques, Rawls' Theory of Justice, Habermas' theory of communicative action). Such moral universalism insists we judge others solely by our own criteria, resulting, potentially, in an illegitimate ethnocentric projection of our values onto others. 

For the most part, Western science views culture top-down, as an expression of theory. It tries to justify systematized sets of rules through logic and consistency or coherence, looking for a single, universal, objective foundation for judgment. This objectivism almost inevitably slides into ethnocentrism as some privileged understanding of rationality is falsely legitimated by claiming for it an unwarranted universality.

However culture, as a social practice, lived from the bottom-up, goes beyond codified rules to touch our sources of meaning, clarifying for us our understanding of our selves and our lives both individually and in the many collectivities of which we are a part.

Ideally, we as social scientists want to be able to gain the clarity, precision and understanding that comes from contrasting various cultural systems. However to use this knowledge we need to know what cultures are both logically from the top down and empathetically and experientially from the bottom up — understanding them in social practice, as an integral part of all our lives and the lives of others, as well as in theory.

In social science in general, to move beyond ethnocentrism, we need to be open to changes in our own world view as we engage others in discourse to solve our mutual problems. To avoid ethnocentric prejudice we must move beyond objectivist explanations to understanding and interpretation that makes sense of agents by contrasting their self-understanding with our own. In coming to know others we expand our horizons and come to deeper understanding of our selves. This also helps us understand science's "situatedness" — the importance of geographical and historical perspective in understanding natural and human phenomena (Geertz 1983; Taylor 1985b; Marcus and Fischer 1986; Barnes and Duncan 1991).

Other societies may be incomprehensible in terms of our own frameworks and we must strive for a perspective that explains what they do and shows it to make sense to us under their description. This is not to suggest that we should solely adopt the point of view of the "other" assuming all societies are relative and cannot be compared (Winch 1964). Taylor (1985a) calls this kind of cultural relativism the "incorrigibility thesis" because describing cultures solely in their own terms rules out accounts which show them up as wrong or confused—they are incapable of being corrected or critiqued, i.e., incorrigible. Our discourses should explain what the agent is doing and they should improve upon common-sense understanding.

When judging others, how can we avoid making cross-cultural study an exercise in ethnocentric prejudice?

The answer lies in confronting other's social imaginaries while authentically being open to change in our own viewpoints. This is close to Gadamer's (1975) 'fusion of horizons'. Openness to change in theoretical stance and self-understanding of the researcher is missing from the grand totalizing theories of science — e.g., psychoanalysis, sociobiology, marxism, cultural ecology, environmental or economic determinism etc.

Our investigation should challenge both our language of self-understanding and theirs, maintaining science's own, proper, critical role. We seek a language of clearly understood contrast that compares our framework and the other's framework as alternative possibilities in relation to some human constants at work in both.

We are always in danger of seeing our ways of being as the only conceivable ones. The language of perspicuous contrast allows us to make finer distinctions, sensitive to the other's perspective. In finding this language we redescribe what we and others are doing. If done while authentically open to change in our normative viewpoints, such activity provides the flexibility to alter our own self-understanding and avoid ethnocentricity. Potentially, understanding is increased, the range of possible human expression is enlarged, we gain new tools with which to approach human problems and achieve social science as cultural critique.

 Even if we grant the desirability of contrasting social imaginaries to get a deeper understanding of one another, how does the modern researcher accomplish that fusion of horizons with historic and more problematically, prehistoric cultural others?

There is no simple or easy answer. Where we have knowledge of stories, legends and the key ideas of a society we can project those ideas back in time to their predecessors, mindful that even the most conservative societies' social imaginaries change over time. Where the stories, legends and the key ideas have been lost, our ability to extrapolate stops and we must be much more cautious in our assumptions.

The trap for modern archaeology to avoid is to ignore the knowledge of Native American societies that we do have and to reduce our theories to environmental or economic determinism. Western science knows almost nothing about the social imaginary of Paleo or Archaic peoples. The challenge for archaeologists is to build on the knowledge of the Ute, Pueblo, Navajo and Apache people striving to incorporate the insights and understanding of their descendents into our theories and interpretations of their ancestors. If we can combine this deep, rich source of knowledge with the empirical data from the field and lab our theories will be much better and our insight vastly improved.

In what ways might any of the following references be made better if they were to take into account the social imaginaries of modern Native American people regarding their own origins?

Są'a Naghái Bik'e Hózhó

Bik'e Hózhó

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