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When many people think of the oldest non-interrupted active democratic government in the world they think of the United States. However, there exists a democratic nation of people that existed between 300-1,000 years before the U.S. This article goes over the government of the Iroquois Confederacy and the 3 different dates for their creation.
Today there are 3 theories for the date of the creation of the Iroquois League. The first date is between 1350-1450 and was positioned by western anthropologists. The second date is on August 31st, 1142 during a solar eclipse that passed over Iroquois land. The third date is much earlier, sometime between 400 AD-700 AD when corn became a uniting factor in the Iroquois Confederacy.
The debate surrounding the foundation of the Iroquois League/Confederacy is fascinating. Long before the British or French colonists came to the Americas the Iroquois had created a fully functioning society with rich levels of trade, culture, and history.
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Without further ado, here are the 3 different dates for the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy.
Western Anthropologists Date Foundation Of The Iroquois Confederacy To 1350-1450
The first western accounts come regarding the Iroquois Confederacy come from missionary and scout reports from both French and English colonists.
Anthropologists have taken these reports and applied several methodologies to create reports that date the foundation of the Iroquois Confederacy to around 1450.
These anthropological reports are largely based on carbon dated artifacts along with fortification dates. According to the Iroquois Confederacy the great peacemaker unified the five great nations surrounding the southern great lakes.
As such anthropologists looked at the dates of fortifications stating. Using this methodology then logic would dictate that when the tribes stopped building fortifications in the interior of the confederacy then that would be around the date of formation for the Iroquois League.
However, using this methodology provides a major problem for dating the age of the confederacy. Even though they were unified this did not mean the villages would immediately get rid of their walled fortifications.
Today historians using this methodology for dating the Iroquois Confederacy admit that it might have been significantly older to around 1350 instead. A 2008 article titled “Retrospecting the Origins of the League of the Iroquois” states that modern anthropological evidence dictates the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy might be as early as 1350.
As such the first date for the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy would be between 1350-1450 when anthropological evidence states that warfare was no longer commonplace between the nations.
Some Historians Date The Foundation Of The Iroquois Confederacy To August 31st, 1142
Another date given for the foundation of the Iroquois Confederacy was several hundred years earlier on August 31st, 1142.
The reason for this much earlier date is for two reasons. First, when western anthropologists were interviewing Iroquois people they only interviewed men. This is a common occurrence in western society as lineage follows the fathers line.
However, in Iroquois society it is the opposite. Mothers pass on lineage and oral history traditions to their daughters. In oral history the Iroquois Confederacy is significantly older.
The second reason for the earlier date of 1142 comes directly from the tale of the foundation of the Iroquois Confederacy. The foundation of the Iroquois Confederacy was marked with a “dark spot appearing in the sky.” This dark spot would move across the sky and mark the coming of the great peace.
There is only one total solar eclipse that passed over Iroquois territory. This was in August of 1142.
As we can see using data we can retrace this moment in history to demonstrate that a total solar eclipse did happen in August of 1142. According to oral history passed down over generations this eclipse marked the foundation of the Iroquois confederacy.
As such the date of August, 1142 remains one of the dates for the foundation of the Iroquois Confederacy. Even though this date predates the original estimate by nearly 300 years there exists a far older one.
Economic Historians Date The Foundation Of The Iroquois Confederacy To Between 400-700 AD
The final date for the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy comes much earlier. In the foundational stories of the Iroquois people there exists claims that a corn coincided with the development of the Iroquois.
Modern ethnobotanists date the arrival of corn to the lands of the Iroquois to around 100 BC. Over a period of a couple centuries the Iroquois people would start to dominate corn production in their area.
According to economic historians this could mean that the Iroquois people had to form the confederacy earlier than previously thought to protect corn production.
If corn was introduced to the Iroquois nations as early as the first century BC then its possible that early archeological evidence might demonstrate the foundation of the Iroquois Confederacy to as early as the 4th century AD.
While this is a new and emerging theory, if true this would mean that the Iroquois Confederacy is the world’s oldest continually operating democratic government of around 1,700 years old!
As such one of the dates for the foundation of the Iroquois Confederacy would be between 400-700 AD.
There you have it; an entire article going over the Iroquois Confederacy and the 3 dates for their formation.
Native American history remains a fascinating subject of research. For nearly 200 years historians have discredited their oral history as credible history. However, in the past 30 years science has demonstrated across the Americas that oral history might be accurate. Prospective graduate students will find substantial research opportunities in the history of Native Americans.
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