Giving Doug Muir's "Bronze Age New World" Another Look


I'm looking at a map of major active volcanoes in Central America:

I'm also looking at sources of obsidian by the Mesoamericans:

The sources of obsidian in Guatemala are very near the active volcanoes that are there. That should mean that obsidian could be found along some of the volcanic fields around the other volcanoes. As such, it looks like the *Arawaks might start investigating sources of crude obsidian tools around Costa Rica. They follow larger and larger sources until they arrive at Lake Nicaragua, and hey, they are the best seamen in the world, so no reason not to build boats there, and at Lake Managua, to ship obsidian as far south as possible where it could be shipped over the mountains and to the Caribbean. Its tough work, but its not an operation that a couple thousand slaves could handle.

From the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, the *Arawaks take a couple of their lake-boats out onto the Pacific Ocean. Its only fifteen, twenty miles away. And then the fun begins. When obsidian stops being a strategic resource, you'll have a ton of *Arawaks left on the Pacific, developing a unique culture. And the mountains and jungles might keep the epidemic from killing this new culture, and economic disruption won't be much of a problem either.


EDIT: Looks like I'm going to have to scrap or significantly change this idea. Just found a source concerning obsidian in Central America:

Obsidian. Various surveys helped us to conclude that there are no geological outcrops of obsidian (black volcanic glass used for cutting tools) in either Nicaragua or Costa Rica. Obsidian is formed under volcanic conditions, it is true, but the right kind of volcanism does not occur in Greater Nicoya to be able to produce obsidian. We established that through trade the nearest sources were on the Honduran/Nicaraguan border and in Guatemala. Most obsidian was traded into Greater Nicoya already formed into knives, scrapers, or projectiles, probably to reduce the bulk and weight that had to be transported. We determined that while heavy grinding stones were made from local igneous rocks, that finer grained rocks used to make projectile points and wood and hide-working tools from local stone were manufactured from locally and regionally available metamorphic rocks such as jasper and chalcedony.

Its from this page.

The nearest sources were on the Honduran/Nicaraguan border, okay. There was also a major source in San Luis, Honduras. Luckily, there is the San Juan river which leads straight from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean, I was stupid not to notice it. Its a big river, and in OTL steamships used to navigate up and down it, so there's no reason why the *Arawak ships couldn't use them. They slave and explore, and find Lake Nicaragua, on which the west bank there are much more advanced peoples, living in towns and with a modest amount of Mayan agriculture. They also have obsidian tools, traded from the north. They conquer these people, set up a few colonies, but they still need more obsidian. So they build boats twenty miles from Lake Nicaragua, on the Pacific shoreline, and venture up to the Gulf of Fonseca, where there's a lot more obsidian. The entrepreneurs that courageously pull off this stunt have few numbers and few resources, so at first they are traders rather than conquerers. The obsidian is brought from Honduran volcanic fields close to the Gulf of Fonseca to *Arawak double-hulled canoes, which sail to a small colony/trade-post near OTL San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. That is hauled overland by slaves to *Rivas and *San Jorge, put on *Arawak ships which cross Lake Nicaragua to the San Juan River, and then to a colony on the mouth of the river. From there, raw obsidian is shipped north along the Honduras coastline, then on a four/five-day blue-water journey to Jamaica or Cuba, where in the larger *Arawak towns they are fashioned into blades, arrowheads, spearheads, and dartheads for atlatls. Most of the obsidian found in Honduras was pretty small in comparison to other sources, so I think *Arawak obsidian weaponry will focus on bow and arrows and atlatls instead of long obsidian blades and wickedly jagged spearheads.

Until the *Arawaks get bronze, their warriors will probably carry stone-axes and stone mauls, though the leader of commander might be rich enough to have a long obsidian blade or macahuitl, stolen from the Mayans or bought at high price from Pacific shores. A few will have atlatls, most will have slings and bow and arrows. They release their long-range projectiles en masse at a settlement they wish to raid, during the evening maybe when stealth attacks are the best. Maybe they can figure out how to light their arrows. They keep volleys going while groups of two and three spread out stealthily around the village, armed with hand-to-hand weapons and atlatls. They use their atlatls a few times to take out any natives that group up together to mount a defense, or perhaps state-supplied warriors that could be there at the time. When everyone is screaming and fleeing, everyone comes in with their hand-to-hand weapons and chase out those who remain in their homes. They then loot and pillage, burning down buildings once they get what they want. They don't carry too much back to their boats, only expensive items and tools, food and so forth. If there are healthy individuals that they are able to corner, they bind their hands with woven grass cords and take them as slaves. The slaves must do the little paddling necessary if they want to eat, while the *Arawaks keep their blades out just in case. They never take more slaves than there are crewmembers, and quickly sell them in *Arawak cities where they can be better managed. If a slave exhibits good behavior, learns the language quickly, the *Arawaks treat them as indentured servants, even family, and eventually they are released. There is some scorn against non-ethnic *Arawak, but if you have enough tattoos, no one will look twice, so freedmen can rise to become normal citizens of the *Arawak civilization. If there are other freed slaves from their former nation, they join and live together, help buy out other slaves that are from their area. Some become sailors and pirates themselves, eventually returning home. After a couple of generations, populations that were slaved heavily are changing not just because of new pressures, but because ex-slaves are returning to their homelands and giving their people new technologies and tricks. They might even adopt enough of the common *Arawak language and culture that they become regarded as *Arawaks themselves and thus become slavers, rather than the slaved. *Arawaks have to search further and further north and west to find new slave populations.

Of course, to many nations will be advanced enough to avoid cultural-linguistic assimilation, and thus become favored targets of *Arawak piracy and slaving.
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Luckily, there is the San Juan river which leads straight from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean, I was stupid not to notice it. Its a big river, and in OTL steamships used to navigate up and down it, so there's no reason why the *Arawak ships couldn't use them.

From Google Books, "Report of the Nicaragua canal commission, 1897-1899", p. 364, you'd need a portage arounds the rapids at Castillo (in OTL they built a short tramway). The San Juan falls 6 feet in 2000 feet there, across boulders and rocks, which would make the rapids Class II - III (Difficult or Expert), and is also too shallow for steamers except during high floods.
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Alright, I think I'm tired of waiting for approval... let's start planning this revamped timeline. Who wants to join the Central Committee or whatever it may be called? Those who join should be active creators and editors of the timeline. We'll vote to approve one another's creations.

The first question... should we move back the development of the *Arawak navigational package to 1 CE or so, instead of 500 CE?

I'm imagining huge dugout canoes with smaller dugout outriggers, steering with large carved wooden paddles and rowed by smaller ones, with large square leaf-plaited sails that are complementary rather than the main driving force (they can't tack very well at all), but they make up for the material by having bowlines and as advanced rigging as you can get with woven grass cords. That model lasts for say, five hundred years, before fine-tuning produces true double-hulled catamarans with bowsprits and large square cotton sails. Oh, and during the entire time huge war-canoe-galleys are used for short-range raiding and heavy-weight loads. All this requires large first-growth trees from the Orinoco basin.

From 1 CE to 500 CE, most *Arawaks largely stay to the shoreline and can sail only 100 kilometers a day. However, by 500 CE, catamarans made with emphasis on the sails allows *Arawak sailors to travel a good 250 kilometers a day. They could probably make blue-water voyages up to two-weeks long, though most would probably like to get back to land after a week out of sight. Gourds and ceramic pots (tied down, of course) are filled with water for these voyages, and dried fruit, fish and meat are brought in abundance.

Do the Arawaks reach Bermuda? I guess that's plausible, at the very height of their civilization. Do they reach the Old World? No way, that was very implausible in my opinion. Interesting, but ultimately without little effect and not possible. If the *Arawaks took a straight line eastwards, that's a three thousand mile blue-water journey to the Canary Islands. What captain is going to sail two weeks eastward into the endless expanse of ocean, when he knows that every day spent going east is another one that will need to be spent returning? They'd be absolutely mad to do something like that. It should be noted that the Polynesians at their height never sailed such a distance without hitting a few ports along the way, not even to Easter Island. Its out of the question of plausibility.

What do you guys think?


Mad Bad Rabbit said:
From Google Books, "Report of the Nicaragua canal commission, 1897-1899", p. 364, you'd need a portage arounds the rapids at Castillo (in OTL they built a short tramway). The San Juan falls 6 feet in 2000 feet there, across boulders and rocks, which would make the rapids Class II - III (Difficult or Expert), and is also too shallow for steamers except during high floods.

Good find. Hmmm... I don't think that's a deterrent enough, though it does give hostile natives quite an advantageous. The *Arawaks might only try this after they'd depopulated the area quite a bit.


Please feel free to make suggestions... as soon as we form a committee we can vote on all this.

For three hundred years between about 1 and 300 CE, the navigational package spreads between the various *Arawak tribes. There's trading, then raiding, warfare along the Orinoco, the Lesser Antilles, and as far as Lake Maracaibo. The trade and new fishing fleets make up for the violence. At the end of this formative period, the *Arawak culture has matured and developed. They are aggressive, expansionistic, proud and competitive. The caciques largely respect and cooperate with one another, and if an exception-to-the-rule doesn't, they are replaced by coalitions created by the rest. The position is passed to whomever the cacique choses, when he grows to a certain 'age of retirement', though its usually to a relative. As caciques are obliged to have ten, twenty, thirty wives, there's usually many sons that jockey for that position, and when they aren't chosen, they are encouraged to recover their honor by taking to the seas in large catamarans. Some don't, of those that do, some die, of those that live, some bring back a large amount of slaves from another territory and live as wealthy plantation-owners, and of those that do not return, they set themselves up as colonists of other lands, or become raiders. Expansion of the *Arawak civilization is thus left to the aristocracy, at least nominally. On the seas, everything is meritocratic. You are of noble lineage as long as you can maintain leadership of the ship you were given by your relative cacique, and mutinies commonly allow for social mobility. Thus, on the ocean are the only opportunities to rise through the classes. For the lower classes, they can hope to lead successful mutinies, or loot and slave enough to become plantation-owners, or colonists. This cultural package thus allows for rapid and relatively stable expansion.

By about 300 CE, the *Arawaks are colonizing Puerto Rico, the Colombian coastline, and are building smaller trading and slaving posts up the Central American coastline and throughout the Greater Antilles.

The *Arawaks begin raiding the more advanced civilizations such as the Mayans and the Mesoamericans by 400 CE, where they recognize they aren't the greatest people on the face of the world. They start picking up technology during each tacit raid, but many also tell of horrible stories being butchered with obsidian weapons, and of the fantastic amount of men the Mesoamericans are able to put into battle, and with such organization! Around this time a rather intelligent *Arawak captain steals the cotton plant from Mesoamerican shores and takes it back with a load of slaves in order to create a unique crop on his forthcoming plantation. Within a hundred years, huge cotton sails are replacing the smaller plaited leaf sails, and drastically changing how fast and far *Arawak ships can travel.

By 500 CE, the *Arawaks are fully dominant in Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and the eastern half of Cuba, as well as along the coastline of South America from OTL Colon, Panama to OTL Georgetown, Guyana, and sailing catamarans now enable the *Arawaks to become more than just the occasional nuisance of the Caribbean... while they can't quite penetrate the obsidian-rich Mesoamerican states, they do step up the frequency of their raids, burning fields and slaving as covertly as they can in the more weakly-held areas. They also start slaving and trading throughout the Gulf of Mexico, they start hitting Florida and Atlantic coastline as far as South Carolina. No colonizing though, beyond a distant port near OTL Baton Rouge and near OTL Jacksonville that serve *Arawak ships and trade with the natives... they aren't done with Cuba yet at this point.

Between 500 and 600 CE the *Arawaks conquer the Lake Nicaragua peoples for their obsidian tools, and ever-more crazed for obsidian, a few entrepreneurs build ships on the Pacific coastline in order to reach obsidian in Honduras. More and more obsidian weapons slowly allow the *Arawaks to seriously threaten and damage the Mesoamericans. By about 600 CE the *Arawaks are fully dominant throughout Cuba, also in Jamaica and the Bahamas, and agriculture is being adopted more and more. Mesoamerican crops and tools are stolen more and more, allowing the *Arawaks to achieve their level of sophistication. There is a total of four to five million people in the lands their civilization occupies, a significant but not majority of the population consisting of slaves.
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Very nice! Adding that extra time may be instrumental. That time back the Antilles were not colonized by the Arawaks yet, so the civilization would be centered on the mainland.

I was asking my girlfriend about the canoes, and square sails would be the best ones to build to sail on the Caribbean; the square sail works better on strong winds and from direct wind (either from slent or biased), and guess what? The Caribbean has plenty of those.

Central Comittee for Bronze Age New World sure sounds nice:cool:
As BANW was one of my favourite SHWI timelines from back in the day, I was initially skeptical about this project but you guys seem to be heading into intriguing directions. And the potential of &-made maps for the project is spasm-worthy.


Economics of Old-Growth Forests

One of the reasons the *Arawaks collapsed by the early 14th century in the first version of Bronze Age New World was because they had deforested their old-growth forests. They need large, old trees to make their catamarans and war-canoes. Was this just a back of the envelope estimation by Doug M? Here, I will provide more of an analysis on the rate of deforestation.

First of all, where would the *Arawaks get their wood? I'm guessing the forests along the coastline of Venezuela, and throughout the Orinoco watershed, in other words, almost the entirety of the modern country of Venezuela. They could also find large trees in Central America from Nicaragua down, and also up and down the Amazon River where there's a limitless supply of old-growth trees, at any rate of consumption a Neolithic civilization needs. However, I'm assuming that the wood coming out of the Orinoco is key... the *Arawaks don't face hostile natives and long shipping distances in their homeland, they just float the huge logs downriver to the coastline where their shipbuilding industry is located, and they make all their incredibly huge dugoats there. Once it can be paddled, its very easy to get a new hull to any island in the Caribbean if its towed by a catamaran, and so any city can order up a few new hulls with which to create new ships out of.

But how many ships do the *Arawak need to build, every year? I make a lot of guesses, but its better than nothing. Ships are used for fishing, trading, and slaving. We'll start with slaving.

Slaves will constitute about 10% of the population of the *Arawak civilization until about 500 CE, when new cotton sails and fine-tuned navigation technology will allow the slave population to double to 20%. In the earliest days, when there are no more than 500,000 *Arawaks throughout the Lesser Antilles and along the shore of Venezuela, that means only 50,000 slaves. Slaves have a higher death rate, and they don't usually work longer than a decade, so let's say the average slave lasts five years. This means that every year the *Arawak need to capture 10,000 new slaves.

*Arawak boats at this point depend more heavily on rowing, so I took a look at Viking longships and determined that for the typical 20-meter long canoe+outrigger, there needed to be 40 people rowing, though it could carry 60. This means that 20 slaves could be taken per voyage. With a quota of 10,000 new slaves every year, that means that about 500 slave raids need to be conducted every year.

I did some more calculations... slave ships could at this point could only sail for about a week before they needed to start getting back. This allows them to hit locations 700 kilometers from the Venezuelan coastline and the Lesser Antilles: they hit Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, the Guyanas, the Colombian coastline and Panama. A week of rowing out, a week of slaving and looting, a week rowing back. They sell their captured slaves, and then the crew waits a good four weeks before setting out again, on average of course. This means that every seven weeks an *Arawak ship can launch a new slave raid, but they can't sail at all times of the year, as there are periods of bad weather. So, I'm guessing a slave ship can conduct four successful slave raids a year.

To meet a quota of 500 total slave raids a year, with ships being able to make 4 successful slave raids a year each, usually, that means there needs to be a total of 125 slave-ships plying the seas in this initial period of the *Arawak civilization.

What about merchant ships? Trade ships will likely just follow a route from Lake Maracaibo along the Venezuelan coastline, jaunting towards the Orinoco, and then up the Lesser Antilles, then back. That's about 2000 kilometers. Sailing time will be about 20 days for every circuit taken. If a merchant stops, oh, every 200 kilometers to trade, waiting at the port for about three days, that's 30 days of business. Thus, a merchant can make a successful circuit every 50 days. But there's a lot more ports than he can hit every circuit, about fifty major centers in all. That means five merchant-ships every 50 days to keep trade moving smoothly. That's seven times a year. However, the *Arawaks would probably depend on a trade-ship hitting their port every two weeks, which means we'll need to quadruple that number. Now there's forty merchant ships... let's add half again as many for competition and to reach more distant locales on a less-frequent basis. 65 merchant ships, then?

Fishing boats... the *Arawaks will get a third to half of all their food from the sea. Each canoe+outrigger could carry about 2000 pounds of fish, but how long does that take, using only nets? I'm thinking that every *Arawak will eat about a pound of fish a day, so that means every day 1,000,000 pounds of fish need to be brought in... about 500 tons a day, which means (and I'm rounding down) a good 150,000 tons of fish a year. Not bad for an entire Neolithic civilization, considering modern humans bring in 100 million tons every year. I'm not thinking about shoreline and river fishing, of course, so let's lower that number to 100,000 tons of fish a year. How many ships to bring that in?

I have nothing to go off of, but considering that Peter brought in 153 fish in Biblical times, let's say that most fishing boats can catch a good 200 fish after a hard day's labor, and most fish are a good 10 pounds, meaning that every day an *Arawak ship can go out and catch as much as they can hold, 2000 pounds. However, bad decisions and luck means that on an average day, only 1000 pounds can be caught, so some *Arawak ships stay out two or three days. There's also problem of bad weather where fishermen must stay in, and times when the fishermen want to stay in their village to laze around in a hammock or at a barbecue. This means that every *Arawak ship usually only brings in 90,000 pounds of fish throughout the course of the year. That leads to a figure of 2200 fishing ships at one time.

Let's add all those ships together... and round up to 2500 ships can be found somewhere in the early *Arawak civilization at any one time, either docked or out at sea.

But how long do wooden ships last?

It turns out that wooden ships stay in good shape for about 15 years, though some if well-kept can last 75 years. The Neolithic *Arawaks will tend to keep their ships, however treasured, in bad shape due to the lack of good tools. 10% of all ships will last 75 years on average, the rest will last 15 years on average. There also need to be more ships built than is required, as some ships are accidentally destroyed by natives or bad weather every year. So let's say that in this initial period, a good 150 *Arawak outrigger-canoes need to be built a year. Oh wait, don't forget war-canoes! They'll be used less than normal outriggered-canoes, especially in this early period, so only 180 ships need to be built every year.

Each ship, at this point, only needs one old-growth tree, as the outriggers aren't additional hulls, yet, just smaller younger-growth trees. How many adequate old-growth trees per hectare? I'm purely guessing, but let's say that every 5 hectares a good tree can be found. This means every year 900 hectares of forested land must be investigated (5*180), and all old-growth trees are cut down with stone axes and various other techniques.

Before we start thinking about how many hectares of suitable forested land in Venezuela there are, we have to think about our next point in the graph: 600 CE when all *Arawak lands are settled and sailing catamarans now dominate the seas. That changes a lot.

As of 600 CE, the *Arawaks have about 4 million in population, and 800,000 of those are slaves. They need to capture 150,000 slaves a year. With sails, they don't need many rowers, this means they can take 30 slaves per trip. This means every year the *Arawaks must launch 5,000 expeditions. They also can sail more than 5000 kilometers out, without following coastlines now, in order to find adequate targets for slave-raids. Slaves are taken from as far north as the Carolinas, as far south as Natal, and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Less travel time means that slave-ships can launch more than eight slave-raids a year, on average. This gives us an *Arawak slaving fleet 600 catamarans in all.

Merchants? There are more ports to keep in contact with, and more coastline to sail. The average merchant ship has a circuit that involves 30 days of sailing, and 120 days or more of trading at about 40 different locations. This means most traders make one or two circuits a year. Compared to our earlier version of merchant-ships, we'll now need a good 200 in order to keep trade moving smoothly.

Fish? With 4 million *Arawaks to feed instead of 500,000, that means we should double our fishing fleet about three times over. However, we are forgetting that we now have double-hulled catamarans that have sails, meaning less people to crew each fishing ship, less weight, more of a load of fish. Larger nets, too, probably, maybe made out of cotton. So I'm going to say we need only two-thirds the number we would need otherwise... that gives us 11,700 fishing ships total. Add it up with the rest and we get a clean 12,500 *Arawak ships plying the waves at any one time. 800 of these will need to be built every year to keep up those numbers, each with two old-growth trees.

War canoes are still being made, about 200 a year, each taking up only one large old-growth tree. This means that every year, the *Arawaks need to cut down 1800 new old-growth trees. I bet they can't wait for bronze axes! Those slaves are probably being worked to death.

But I'm not looking at labor requirements right now, as I probably should. How many slaves will be needed in Venezuela to cut down all those trees every year? Let's talk about that later, I want to know how long it takes, assuming the demand can be met, until Venezuela is stripped of enough of its old-growth trees to cause an economic crisis in the *Arawak civilization. 5 hectares per old-growth tree. By 600 CE, 9000 hectares will need to be cleared per year.

The average amount of hectares stripped of old-growth trees per year between 1 and 600 CE will thus be the average between 900 and 9000 hectares. That's 4950 hectares a year for 600 years. 2.97 million hectares total. I know that in the year 1960, about 70% of Venezuela was forested, before serious logging began, so let's say that 80% of Venezuela was forested by 1 CE, or at least with the kind of forests we need.

That's means 70 million hectares was available for deforesting in 1 CE. Over the next 600 years, without accounting for regrowth, only 3 million hectares are completely depleted of old-growth trees for the building of blue-water ships. I'm assuming smaller canoes and wooden structures do not require old-growth trees. Dang! Was I wrong to say that every 5 hectares there would be a suitable old-growth tree? Well... I guess we haven't looked at further deforestation.

By 1100 CE, I am supposing that the carrying capacity for the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the coastline of Venezuela and Colombia, for an agricultural civilization are being met. They don't have the population density of the Mayans in the 15th century, which was 43 people per square kilometer. But islands like Puerto Rico and Jamaica have about 36 people per square kilometer. Cuba and the Bahamas, on the other hand, have a population density of 21-22 people per sq. km. After this point, the *Arawaks begin living on the Malthusian edge... thankfully, I'm making the *Arawaks less anti-agricultural, so that they can support these populations.

There's a slave population of 3 million among the *Arawaks, half of their numbers. The two combine for a total of 9 million living on the Antilles and various colonies on the mainland. Slaves are kept on average 10 years by this point, as their labor is more and more important... which means that every year the *Arawaks need to bring in 300,000 slaves. Dang! That is a lot. I wonder if I should stretch that 10-year sentence a little further. Anyway, supposing we stick to that number, there's about 7,500 slave raids a year, and 925 slave-catamarans.

Merchant-ships? 300 or so. Fishing fleet? Double it and then some. We get 27,500 *Arawak ships total. 1750 must be built every year, along with 1000 war-canoes, bringing a consumption rate of 4500 first-growth trees a year, which is 22,500 hectares a year. *whew* Hey, with larger building project, let's just push that to 23,000 hectares so that averaging will be easier.

Between 600 and 1100 CE, the average rate of consumption every year will be the average of 9000 hectares and 23000... 16000 hectares a year, for 500 years. That's 8 million hectares of first-growth trees.

Which means that between 1 CE and 1100 CE, without accounting for regrowth in Venezuela along the Orinoco River, there's still 59 million hectares of old-growth trees to go around. 59 million hectares! If the *Arawaks keep doing what they are doing, they won't run out until the 37th century! I'm not supposing they have what it takes to wipe it clean... but that is a significant resource there!

Are there any other conditions I should think about? Maybe its not 5 hectares to every suitable old-growth tree, maybe its 10 or even 20, I really can't find any statistics on that. Maybe only half of the forests in Venezuela are close enough to the Orinoco in order to be scouted? Perhaps hostile natives become a problem? Where's the silver bullet, here guys? Do the *Arawaks just keep on building as many huge double-hulled dugouts as they please?

Thanks for your time!
- Hnau
Brilliant, Hnau! Just some thoughts:

1) moving the center of the civilization to Venezuela coasts will mean that there isn't a limit on resources on the horizon, as it would have with a civilization based on the Greater Antilles.

2) I don't know exactly the various vegetation zones in Venezuela, Panama and the Antilles, but remember that in Lake Maracaibo there is a desert, La Guajira. If I remember corectly, Lake Maracaibo itself is mangrove-y on its coasts. Also, I don't know about the Orinoco Llanos and old growth trees; need to check on that.

3) Also, I think we have to see which trees would make good hulls; it needs to be the right density without being to light and prone to breaking; not being too porous also needs to be taken in mind.
I've seen mention of Columbus and his expeditions here, but what might happen with any Norse exploration?

If there are trading civilizations in the Chesapeake region and the Great Lakes, could their also be settled peoples in the Maritimes when the Norse might be sailing through?


If there are trading civilizations in the Chesapeake region and the Great Lakes, could their also be settled peoples in the Maritimes when the Norse might be sailing through?
Doug Muir said that the people of the Maritimes are changed very little if at all, technologically. If anything, the Norse will face more natives, with better weaponry, so I think they'll follow the schedule pretty well in abandoning their Vinland venture.

Ampersand said:
1) moving the center of the civilization to Venezuela coasts will mean that there isn't a limit on resources on the horizon, as it would have with a civilization based on the Greater Antilles.

I'm kind of worried about making that assertion... I mean, the Venezuela coastline was never settled that much by pre-Columbian people. I'm guessing about a million *Arawaks live in Venezuela by 600 CE, and by 1100 CE they've doubled that amount with agriculture to two million... however, while in 600 CE the Venezuelan coastline is is just as important as, say, Hispaniola, by 1100 CE the center of the civilization has gravitated towards the middle of the Caribbean, and Cuba and Hispaniola are regarded as the rich center of the civilization, not Venezuela.

Ampersand said:
3) Also, I think we have to see which trees would make good hulls; it needs to be the right density without being to light and prone to breaking; not being too porous also needs to be taken in mind.

The Haida used large douglas firs for their huge dugoat canoes, so I'm trying to find tropical versions of that. Still, few sites are going to tell me their regular occurence per hectare, unfortunately. What I am looking at right now is the Longleaf Pine, which was used extensively in shipbuilding, also used for resin and turpentine. Before the Europeans came, adult Longleaf Pines covered the coastline from East Texas to Virginia, and trees grew to a diameter of 1.2 meters and a height of 47 meters, easily thick enough for the dugouts the *Arawaks want to make and tall enough to make an entire catamaran out of.

So here's an entirely new source of wood! Let's say the *Arawaks will only march 10 miles inland to find wood, and that they log in the Carolinas and East Texas only half as much... most of the logging operations are in Florida for this kind of wood. That's about 2200 square miles of land, approx. 575,000 hectares. Let's add that to our pool.

Bombacopsis is an adequate tree, adults can grow to a height of 30 meters, and they have a diameters of at least a meter, which makes them perfect for building dugouts. Its found in Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Panama, but how many, exactly? There's no way of knowing.

Brazil nut trees are perfect for the *Arawaks ship-building. They grow in the banks of large rivers, such as the Orinoco, Rio Negro, and the Amazon. They grow to a height of 30 to 45 meters, very straight for more than half of its height, and 1 to 2 meters in diameter, perfect thickness. It is a native of the Guianas, Venezuela, eastern Colombia, Brazil, and in Peru and Bolivia.

Instead of saying 80% of Venezuela's land area is suitable forest, let me figure out a different number. How about, ten miles on either side of the main Orinoco River up to the Venezuelan border (a little more than half-way towards its headwaters), and ten miles inland from the Venezuelan coast? That 10.6 million hectares. Combined with the Longleaf Pine reserves, that comes out to just barely more than 11 million hectares... the same number that will be cut down by 1100 CE after more than a thousand years of logging. Sure there will be a lot of regrowth, and logging along the Amazon... but that effectively gives us the plausibility we need to say that sometime after 1100 CE, the *Arawaks will face crippling deforestation that will mean less and less ships built every year, more and more slaves to head deeper into the woods, but less ships to catch slaves, which means slaves are kept for longer periods, which means more slave revolts, and there's less merchant ships so there's less bronze tools circulating... and... and... basically, once the *Arawak shipbuilding industry starts to collapse, the rest of their civilization collapses.

Now, when do we want them to collapse?
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I was thinking more of hardwood hulls and less pinewood, so more wild cashew trees (Anacardium excelsum), which can grow up to 70m and was used for dugout canoes OTL, and apamate (Tabebuia rosea), maybe with mahogany, if it reaches the desired diameter. Most of these trees would be found on Arawak lands, but it seems that Venezuela itself hasn't that much forests to take these trees, as most of it is covered by grass fields.


Oh, right, wild cashew trees, those'll probably be used extensively (though it'd take forever to cut one down with stone axes), especially for the war-canoes. Still, I'm finding it extremely hard to figure out how many trees of each type was available in *Arawak lands. It seems a definite answer is impossible. With the numbers I've come up with, though, I think its plausible that we set the collapse at any point after the year 1100.


Doug M. said:
Such impatience!

Ah, sorry there Doug, since it seems like you had been gone for a month, I was thinking you'd never show. I guess I spoke too soon. :)
I'm fine with it. I do have some general thoughts.

The BANW was a moderated TL that ran on soc.history.what-if for about three years, from around 2002 to 2005 or so. I gather moderated TLs are fairly common now, but back in 2002 it was a new idea.

There was an editor-in-chief (me) and a bunch of volunteer contributors, of whom Mike Ralls, Will Baird, and Tzintzuntzan were the most energetic. In order to preserve continuity, all posts were submitted first to the editor. I'd edit them and send them back, and the writer would post them. This is why the TL, despite having seven or eight different authors, has a high degree of continuity and (I think) a certain consistency of approach and style.

The BANW was inevitably open-ended. There was no stopping point; contributors wrote on whatever they pleased, when they pleased, and stopped when they had finished an arc or lost interest. Several large arcs did get completed -- the Fall of the Tlon is my personal favorite. Some others were left undone. Eventually, contributors moved on.

And so did I. I had no kids when the BANW started; I have four now. I really enjoyed being conductor of the BANW orchestra, but I don't think I could take on that job again.

That said, I'm really flattered by this revival, and would like to contribute in some small way. More in a bit.

Doug M.


Fantastic, Doug. Thanks for the permission!

What do you think about the new research that has come in from books like 1491, how might that effect your scenario? And what do you think about our decision to move the POD back and change it a bit? To sum up, all that we have posited is that:

- We want *Arawak outriggers by ~1 CE, and full sailing catamarans by ~500 CE when they rip off cotton and cloth-making from the Mayans and Mesoamericans.

- We want bronze developed by about 850 CE, a hundred years earlier than in the original.

- More and earlier contact between Mesoamericans and the Tawantinsuya.

- A lot more activity in the Amazon, and all of North America, due to more stimulus-diffusion and contact. Rather than each Bronze Age civilization being buffered from one another by a large amount of space, we see them rubbing shoulders a lot more.


Man, I've been typing a lot lately, a lot that I don't think the average reader needs to absorb. Let me try to post a synopsis of what we have so far. I'm trying to write this in the style of the original installments of BANW.


It's around the time Jesus Christ is growing up and the *Arawaks have spread into many of the islands of the Lesser Antilles with normal dugout canoes. They had began the settlement of Barbados by 400 BCE and over hundreds of years bold voyagers continued to canoe their way over the seas to find new islands to claim. The son of a cacique is supposed to launch an expedition northwards, but this prince faces a nasty gambit of intrigue: his brothers have arranged for him to captain the shortest dugout canoe. He's a smart guy though, really smart, and he knows that if he doesn't figure something out, he'll slow up the rest of the canoes and bring shame to himself... and he's desperately trying to be named heir to his father. The intrepid young prince looks around the whole village for a longer canoe, a bigger paddle, anything that might help him out. In the end he finds a few oversized paddles and a small, gimpy dugout that is even shorter than the one he's stuck with. He'll show them though. He is able to bind the two dugouts together using the paddles he's found and some woven grass. The rest of his crew finds it hilarious, they won't get in that. But the prince calls together a group of children from the shore, they paddle out a ways and, unlike most canoes that children play in, this one looks extremely stable.

When the prince and his crew arrive at Montserrat, they are the first to pull up onto the sand, and what's better, they brought much more food and water than the rest, and they aren't as tired. It isn't long before everyone in that tribe begins using this new invention, and when the prince ascends as the new cacique, he instructs every dugout canoe to be bound with another for more stability, carrying capacity, and speed.

That's just the beginning. In a few generations the outrigger is everywhere among the *Arawaks, doubling their sailing-range and allowing them to trade and fish in areas they've never been before. The huge dugout canoes are no longer horribly unstable, either, so it is worth it to spend a few days cutting down those huge trees along the Orinoco.

For three hundred years these ideas spread among the *Arawaks and a few neighbouring peoples that will get gobbled up. Now, twice as much labor is needed to build a canoe+outrigger, you need to fell two trees, and with the huge, long hulls becoming popular, that quadruples the amount of labor. Slaves, never a large part of *Arawak culture, are the answer to this problem, and the new outriggers provide a way to get them. The *Arawaks become more war-like as slaving and slave-owning becomes a bigger part of their life, and the new tensions create conflict among the *Arawaks themselves. There's a lot of raiding and warring.

By the 4th century CE, Constantine I is given a vision of a cross and hears a voice from the heavens, but the *Arawaks have finally left their Formative Period. There is a rapid drive to colonize the Greater Antilles, beginning with Puerto Rico, whose inhabitants are extremely depopulated due to extensive slaving. The *Arawak caciques don't fight between themselves as much any more, there is a sense of nationalism throughout the islands. They encounter the Mayans for the first time and there are *Arawak slaving and trading posts up and down Central America and on Cuba.

As the Roman Empire collapses completely in the 400s, on the other hemisphere the *Arawaks are building their own, as raids become more and more frequent against the Mayan city-states and Teotihuacan Empire. *Arawak slavers and pirates operate by stealth, hitting poorly-defended agricultural areas, burning crops and taking slaves. A lot of the new slaves wear cotton tunics, and one even had experience growing the stuff. The *Arawaks knew of cotton, but nothing like this. This is Mexican cotton, a superior species compared to the kind that grows wild in the Amazonian region. The plant is taken to Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, and pretty soon all *Arawak women are wearing carmine-dyed cotton skirts, while the men hoist large, square painted cotton sails onto their masts, where once there were only plaited leaves or, even worse, woven animal skins.

The result of this new development, of cotton sails, is dramatic. Where once the *Arawaks followed coastlines to their destinations, now they could voyage into the ocean and cover nearly 250 kilometers a day. They can also pull more weight, so they switch to double-hulled catamarans. They use woven grass to make bowlines. This, of course, means two monster trees per boat, and cotton plantations don't pick themselves, so their civilization requires more and more slaves.

New technology brings new problems as well as new solutions: by the 6th century, the *Arawaks are slaving, raiding and trading throughout the Gulf of Mexico, up to the Carolinas, and down to Brazil. Yet, the Mesoamericans remain a nuisance, especially since *Arawaks can't compete with their obsidian weapons. Luckily, a few entrepreneurs journey up the San Juan River to Lake Nicaragua, where they conquer the local chiefdoms, steal all their obsidian, then launch ships on the Pacific coastline, where they are able to establish trade links in Honduras with the southern Mayan cities. Eventually, these far-flung *Arawak adventurers have enough slaves to quarry their own obsidian, and the rest of the civilization profits immensely by being able to manufacture obsidian darts for their atlatls, obsidian arrowheads, spearheads, shields, and daggers. They don't have as much as the Mayans do, but it levels the playing field enough.

The Teotihuacan Empire topples a few decades earlier due to the pressures of the *Arawaks, and during their collapse the *Arawaks profit exceedingly by stealing crops, technologies, new tools, and a lot of slaves. They've by this time colonized their way up to the Bahamas and Cuba, and they have small colonies around the Mississippi River, northern Florida, the Amazon River, and elsewhere. The *Arawak civilization holds about four million, slaves and freemen, and it dominates the Caribbean basin.
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Well, it looks like you're spinning an alt-ATL. Which is fine; I'm happy to see the BANW get picked up and played with!

That said, there were reasons the BANW looked the way it did; we argued over our choices a fair bit, often by e-mail, before posting.

- We want *Arawak outriggers by ~1 CE, and full sailing catamarans by ~500 CE when they rip off cotton and cloth-making from the Mayans and Mesoamericans.

Why so fast?

-- Note that OTL, the oar-sail transition was usually quite slow. In Northern Europe, for instance, sails didn't show up until the early Dark Ages -- the Angles and Saxons rowed across the Channel -- even though they'd been exposed to Roman sailing ships.

Here's a snippet of our discussion from 2001:

I think it would be fascinating to sit down and try to design an alternative Neolithic navigation package. The Northwest Indians were on their way to one in OTL -- they had some startlingly large canoes, and regularly took them far out of sight of land.

Hmm, let's see. My guess is that the *Arawaks wouldn't be quite as good at navigation per se -- fewer stretches of open water to cross, as you say. [Caribbean compared to Pacific]

Double-hulled canoes, like the Polynesians; it's a fairly easy and obvious model (though AFAIK no Indians ever came up with it, and for that matter Europeans and Chinese avoided it too). Instead of the Polynesian wishbone sails, though, let's give 'em the Viking Big-Ass Square Sail model. That should be interesting.

Let's give them a sharp bowsprit on the canoe, and bowlines (which the Vikings never had). And, just to be weird, a bowsail. Very large ships have two sails, like the Polynesians... but since they've never figured out the lateen rig, it's just one smaller square sail on a mizzen. Not terribly efficient, but a modest step forward.

Burn-shape-scrape dugouts for the hulls -- Native Americans will reach the Bronze Age in this TL, but not until after the *Arawak civilization has collapsed. Woven leather cords for rigging. (What kind of leather? Seal, when they can get it.) A big steering oar.

That's a long range trade-and-exploration ship. For short range travel (and for inter-island raids), monster canoes paddled by guys with oars... a cross between a NW Indian canoe and an Anglo-Saxon oar-ship.
Feel free to play around with that, but keep in mind that the *Arawaks shouldn't advance too fast -- they were already, we thought, near the bleeding edge of probability.

- We want bronze developed by about 850 CE, a hundred years earlier than in the original.

- More and earlier contact between Mesoamericans and the Tawantinsuya.

- A lot more activity in the Amazon, and all of North America, due to more stimulus-diffusion and contact. Rather than each Bronze Age civilization being buffered from one another by a large amount of space, we see them rubbing shoulders a lot more.

We saw the New World civilizational centers as being very roughly analagous to the ones of the Old World around, say, 1500 BCE. So, you had Egypt - the Tigris/Euphrates - India - China all with cities, domestic animals, wheels, writing and bronze, but contact between them was rather limited. Later they'd interact more, especially the first two, but for a long time there wasn't much coming and going except a trickle of long-distance trade. Each center thus showed an interesting mixture of copying, stimulus-diffusion, faint influences, and completely original local innovations.

The biggest difference was that, in the beginning, all but the Incas were influenced directly by the *Arawaks. There's no Old World analogy to this, but we liked the idea of having a seagoing ancestor culture, now (mostly) extinct. One minor recurring theme in this TL was giving material for later generations of historical cranks to get excited over; thus, the *Arawaks would be seen as Atlantis, or the lost tribes of Israel who took to the sea, or a lost shipload of Saint Brendan's monks, or the ancestors of the Welsh, or, well, Atlantis.

The conquistadors encountering a postapocalyptic civilization: that actually happened OTL, in the Marianas Islands in the Pacific. Around the time the Europeans were starting to build cathedrals, the islands held a highly advanced, urban Neolithic culture. It collapsed a century or two before Columbus; when Magellan arrived, he found a starveling ragged people, eager to steal iron tools and even the nails from his wooden ships. I lived in the Marianas for some years, so I really wanted to incorporate that.

Note that -- _pace_ Jared Diamond -- there are many ways to collapse a society quite thoroughly besides resource exhaustion. Diamond doesn't mention the Marianas Chamorros at all, because they don't really fit his model: what research has been done (not much) suggests that they hadn't deforested the islands. It looks more like they were near the Malthusian edge, and then Something Bad Happened, and when the dust had settled 90% of them were dead.

I'm inclined to think the *Arawak collapse was overdetermined. Keep in mind that, while we've given them an interesting navigational package, these guys are still pretty primitive. They'll accomplish some amazing things, but they're not true empire builders. You can tweak that if you like, but keep in mind that they have no writing, no metal, no domestic animals and a very limited agricultural package.

This is not to be negative! Just sayin'. Part of the fun of BANW was that we didn't want too much handwaving. Cultures would rise, cultures would fall, history would roll along.

Anyway, as noted, I may be in and out. Pray carry on. I'll be watching with interest.


Doug M.