Documentary studies ancestors as the first scientists
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — DNA testing has spiked in the news with Elizabeth Warren, her claim of Native American heritage and the subsequent outcry of tribal nations.
In an almost ironic twist, the new documentary ‘Native America’ supports DNA evidence proving every single Native American descends from one people.
PBS started its premiere episode for the four-part series in New Mexico at the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
The introduction begins with members of the Hopi tribe participating in a sacred ceremony.
Side note: I’m always skeptical of Native American documentaries.
In my experience they seem to hyper focus on spirituality with no reason behind it like some mystical secret we are keeping from the world, spirit tales with no real world logic behind it or the narrative of a dying culture.
When the episode first started, I almost groaned because I thought ‘oh great, another one of these.’ But I was surprised and intrigued once it got going.
‘From Caves to Cosmos’ connects the ancient petroglyphs and cave paintings of America’s First Peoples to the way they kept track of the seasons and time.
The ruins found in Chaco formulate a calendar tracking the winter and summer solstice.
This same form of time keeping is found at the Caverna da Pedra Pintada, Portuguese for Painted Rock Cave, in northern Brazil.
Archaeologists Anna Roosevelt and Chris Davis join together to educate on how significant the paintings are to human evolution.
Roosevelt’s findings in the early 1990s discovered that early humans in the Western hemisphere had been present further back than what had previously been known, as far back as 13,000 years ago.
Humans during this period of time were not simply hunter-gatherers but were some of the first scientists with the understanding of the cosmic significance to their way of life.
They molded themselves with nature instead of forcing it to evolve to what best suited the people becoming expert travelers on the water, shown through the history of the Southern Californian Chumash/Tataviam people.
Not only does the episode show the relationship between pictorial and practical use of ancient Native people, it reaches out further to reveal the kinship they held with each other.
Chaco’s archaeological evidence unveiled presence of the cocoa bean, macaw feathers and other items found not domestic to the area.
Cocoa beans are found about 500 miles away from Chaco, which introduces the idea of exactly how far ancient people would travel to participate in ceremonies with other groups.
There is so much information in just the first episode but it doesn’t get lost in the details. Each time the point comes across with a fully formed story and transitions smoothly between the ancient and the modern.
Direction is addressed through a Hopi origin story and it falls into place with the significance of the six directions, the familiar cardinal ones and the not so familiar up and down.
Science and story meld perfectly when watching the episode, linking it together through interviews with Native people and scientists who have dedicated themselves to understand the history of the Americas with the incorporation of beautiful animation.
This is a series of appreciation and is for anyone of any background who wants to learn about the people who have occupied the Americas for thousands of years.
‘Native America’ is scheduled for Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. CST on PBS.
There is also streaming available with extended interviews on: www.pbs.org. The first episode is streaming until Nov. 21.