Men, Women, Nets, and Archaeologists
“Man is thus nothing by himself; he owes what he is to society; the greatest Metaphysician, the greatest philosopher, if he were abandoned for ten years on the Isle of Fernandez, would come back transformed into a brute, dumb and imbecile, and would know nothing in the whole of nature” (cited in Gerbi 1973:53). The Abbé Cornelius de Pauw expressed this sentiment in 1768 in his Recherches philosophiques sur les Américains ou mémoires intéressants pour servier à l’histoire de l’espèce humaine. The learned father was referring specifically to the famous story of Alexander Selkirk. Selkirk’s story is a minor though intriguing footnote in history. In 1704, while on a trip to the South Seas, Selkirk fell into an acrimonious argument with his captain. So violent was their disagreement that Selkirk asked to be released from the ship. The captain happily agreed and left him on a tiny Pacific island about 640 km (400 mi) west of Chile. Selkirk remained on the island, totally alone, for the next four years. Captain Woodes Rogers rescued him in 1709, and it was in Rogers’s autobiographical account that Europe first learned Selkirk’s compelling story As history would have it, Selkirk did not become famous because of Rogers’s literary efforts. Instead, he entered the annals of history as the main character in Robinson Crusoe, which Daniel Defoe published 10 years after Selkirk’s rescue. One of the ironies of history is that the island of Selkirk’s self-imposed exile is today named Róbinson Crusoe.
KeywordsNative People Historical Archaeologist Cultural Anthropologist Colonial Government Dismal Swamp
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