The Sources and Authenticity of the History of the Ancient Mexicans (Classic Reprint)

The Sources and Authenticity of the History of the Ancient Mexicans (Classic Reprint)

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Excerpt from The Sources and Authenticity of the History of the Ancient Mexicans

The value of the unwritten historical legends of primitive peoples has been frequently discussed by ethnologists without any specific attitude being formulated. The legends were approved or rejected either without any reasons being advanced at all, or with the vaguest reference to their being generally accepted beliefs. As a rule most of the historical legends used by students dealt with migrations, and the general assumption seemed to be that primitive peoples remember such occurrences with fair accuracy. No proof had ever been brought forward to substantiate this feeling, yet so definitely fixed was this impression in the minds of most people that it was something of a shock when a well-known ethnologist questioned the historical value of all migration legends which could not in some manner or other be corroborated. Dr. Lowie's contention was, in brief, that since so many clearly mythological elements were to be found in these so-called historical legends, and since it could be clearly shown that definitely controlled facts, such as the introduction of the horse, for instance, had either been forgotten or hopelessly misinterpreted, no reliance of any kind was to be placed on such accounts.

It is of course only too true that in the absence of confirmatory evidence of a fairly satisfactory kind, certainty is never to be attained. If we know that Indians have forgotten occurrences that have taken place within the last two hundred years, that they have woefully misrepresented happenings of even a hundred years ago, how can we place the least faith in statements relating to migratory movements that occurred possibly five hundred years ago, or put credence in historical reconstructions of specific aspects of their culture, such as religion or social organization? There is no question but that the possibility of error will always be present to an alarming degree, and that hypotheses built upon such uncontrolled material will be extremely shaky.

It can, however, be justly claimed that a certain amount of confirmation may be obtained from internal evidence, from linguistic comparisons, and from archaeology. Given detailed knowledge of a certain culture there is frequently an inherent probability that certain facts mentioned in semi-historical legends actually took place.

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