I spend a lot of time thinking about the dawn of high civilization and the evolution of human thought and the world’s wisdom traditions. I think the ancient Americas are one of the biggest keyholes through which we can peer into the distant past. Here’s why.
High civilization clearly diffused from its nexus in the Indus Valley (China, India, Pakistan). Recent studies of the Denisovans from Siberia (contemporaries of the ancestors of the Neanderthal) are showing that they may be the geniuses where it all started. Denisovan DNA is found in Southeast Asians and, as we know, they sailed around populating polynesia, and the Americas.
Since North America was under ice until relatively recently, its interior probably wasnt peopled until tens of thousands of years ago, but when it was, its emigrants brought with them their ancient ways and were left relatively alone with them until just a few hundred years ago. There aren’t layers and layers of modern civilization built over them as there were in regions that were populated since the beginning of man. There is still a LOT of wilderness in western North America and it was well used by the natives.
Artifacts and raw native environments are easy to find, see, and study, especially in the Southwest, because of the arid environment. All the threads are there, waiting for us to trace them into the past. I love following those threads and finding their sources in ancient civilizations over the oceans. They teach us about society, why we think the way we do, and ultimately what it means to be human.