First Things

Thanksgiving Day is upon us, and thoughts at the Archaeology in Tennessee blog have turned to the subject of first things.  Although only a few of us Americans are carpenters, most of us are nonetheless familiar with this old saw, “Well, there’s a first time for everything.”

Nowadays, in our literature, we sometimes refer to Native Americans as the First Americans.  In doing so, we are nearly always talking about a broadly conceived ethnic group.  When North America, Central America, and South America were devoid of human occupants, an imaginary line existed on the ground surface in Alaska, the waters along the west coasts of Canada and the United States, and/or (throwing a bone to Solutrean devotees) along the coast of Virginia.  One fine Thursday afternoon, many thousands of years ago, the body of just one human being broke the vertical plane of one imaginary line and became truly the First American.  Who was that person?  What was their name?  Was it a man in a hunting party?  Was the real first American female?

Have you ever watched a group of families traveling on foot—maybe just down a very long sidewalk to a pizza parlor?  In their exuberance and playfulness, small children often surge forward in front of the adults.  Based on my own observations of human behavior across a lifetime, I would speculate that the First American might have been a surging child in a hunter-gatherer band.  Someone else would no doubt argue that it was instead an adult male scout sent out ahead of the band to locate Pleistocene megafauna, identify unusual geographic barriers, or sense danger ahead.  It may have been a woman among a group of women who surged ahead to gather plant materials.  Unless someone invents a device for time travel, we will most likely never know who crossed one of our imaginary lines first.  However, at a special time like Thanksgiving, I think it is prudent to pause for a moment, take a step back from the scurry of life, and realize that there really was a single individual with a name, thoughts, and feelings who really was the First American.  Her name, personality, and visage are forever lost in the depths of time.  Nonetheless, we can still know that she existed and remember her today.

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, I would like to kindly ask all blog visitors to consider some other American first things by watching the video clip below from the original History Channel series America: The Story of Us. Whether we are the descendants of Native Americans or descendants of other immigrant groups from somewhere else on the globe, our families have all traveled through the American birth ordeal together (sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes killing each other, sometimes oppressing each other, and sometimes embracing in love and respect).  We are at the same time both separate and bound together inextricably as one—and we have much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day, despite 5 years of severe economic hardship and the hyperpartisan divisions in Washington, D.C.

Many throughout the world, especially those who wish us ill, think we Americans must surely be down for the final 10-count this time.  Those who wish us harm should study American history carefully and remember that we are not just a bunch of uncouth cowboys and wretched refuse.  Instead, we are now, all of us, the Cowboys and Indians—and nobody takes down the Cowboys and Indians.  Watch the film clip and gather in some information on American first things:

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