Page:The American Indian.djvu/175

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131
SPECIAL INVENTIONS

by the tapa makers of the Pacific Islands. Then, far up on the west coast of North America, the natives shred cedar bark for weaving by beating with a similar ridged tool. We have here another very puzzling problem arising from the scattered distribution of an industrial process.

Another item of importance is astronomical knowledge and methods of reckoning time. Of the South American system we know next to nothing, but that of the Maya excites our unbounded admiration. It is a veritable mathematical puzzle of the most ingenious kind.[1] That it was based upon careful astronomical study is clear from the corrections made for the odd five days in the year. The religion of the Maya, Nahua, and Inca was largely based upon star gods and the movements of the heavenly bodies, itself implying very exact astronomical knowledge.

North of Mexico, methods of reckoning time are very crude, though apparently strongest among the Pueblo and adjacent Plains tribes. Some of the latter kept moon counts by tally sticks and scored the years by winters, but this was quite perfunctory. So far as we know, the northern limits of this influence are near the Ohio River, the whole distribution suggesting that it is a phenomenon of diffusion from the centers of higher culture.

Perhaps the next most significant topic in our list is that of weapons. Some very engaging problems center around the bow, harpoon, spear, shield, sling, ax, sword, blowgun, and defensive armor. Practically all have been made the subjects of special study. Thus, defensive armor of wood and hide has been studied by Hough, who for one thing favors a Japanese origin for North American plate armor.[2] This subject has been more exhaustively treated by Laufer[3] who demonstrates the improbability of its Japanese origin since this type of armor appears in other parts of Asia before it was known in Japan, particularly among the wilder tribes, suggesting that we may yet find a much earlier historical connection between the plate armor of the New World and the Old. Yet, while it is true that wooden armor is found only on the upper Pacific side, cotton armor was worn in Mexico

  1. Morley, 1915. I.
  2. Hough, 1893. I.
  3. Laufer, 1914. II.