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Lugo took Rebecca to meet Marcel the next morning. He wondered all the way there how things might have been different between them. But by the time they arrived at the campus, he still had not sorted out his thoughts about Rebecca. It had occurred to him that since the decision was not his anyway, he might as well just let it be. They turned the corner of the hallway and Lugo knocked gently at the door. They were beckoned to enter.
Marcel’s office looked like a small storage room in a disorganized museum - artifacts of all kinds, sizes, shapes, eras, periods, locales and materials, occupied every flat space, often several layers deep and most of the vertical surfaces as well. It was the repository of a lifetime of collecting and ran the gamut from the exquisitely flaked clovis points, dug in the dry desert of the Hopi state, to carved and painted wooden masks of the Klamath, masks being created even now, for use in ceremonies born millennia ago. Lugo’s favorite was a pipe in the shape of a beaver, carved from a piece of soapstone. It had inlaid bone for the teeth and pearls for the eyes and fashioned so that the beaver was sitting, tail thrust forward to act as the mouthpiece, the body reclining in an almost comical pose. Lugo had always hoped, unrealistically, that Marcel would bestow it on him some day.
Marcel was not sure how old it was. Like most of the collection, someone else had dug it and the details of its genesis were forever lost. From the fact that the pearls were not freshwater pearls he surmised that it could not be older than two thousand years and was most likely from the period of the early mound builders. That it was said to have been found in the land of the Houdneshaunee, near the Mohawk Valley, was consistent with the style - but would have required trade links from the lower Mississippi region to account for the pearls. Hence, the outer limit on how old it was.
Or so he thought.
The “science” of archeology was one that did not naturally arise in a culture that made no real distinction of time in a way that various periods in the past would be set apart from others - as though they had no real connection. For the People the very structure of time did not nourish that type of thought. And, moreover, it mattered little “when” an object harkened from, as all the “past” was merely an integral part of the present - or at least the cycle that one was experiencing in his own physical life. But five hundred seasons of contact with the Others had its effect on the Culture and Marcel found himself comfortable thinking in linear temporal concepts - at least at work.
Such manner of thought was a useful tool.
Upon hearing the knock at his door, Marcel rose from where he was sitting cross legged on a large mat - which was also a find. A colleague who swore it was Anisazi had sold it to him. It looked old enough, but its excellent condition carried with it doubts as to it’s real age. He treasured it more for the quality of its design and workmanship than any antiquity it lay claim to, and spent many hours, deep in thought, hunkered on this mat.
“Lugo” he exclaimed in greeting “Have you deciphered the omen yet. I cannot get that bird out of my thoughts. Maybe we should seek a vision”
Marcel knew this would get a rise from Lugo, who put less stock in visions than did more traditional People.
“On second thought, I see you have already found a vision. And brought her here, too. I am in your debt”
Rebecca felt her cheeks warm as she blushed a bit at the comment - even as she recognized it for the blather it was - but with her dark skin no one noticed.
“Marcel, this is Rebecca Topanah., a good friend. For some reason she has asked to introduce you. I had always thought her to be sensible and have good judgment, but here we are.”
“Rebecca.” Marcel said the name slowly, ignoring Lugo’s feeble gibe. “Perhaps you will seek a vision with me. Your name suggests that.”
“Perhaps.” she replied. “But my parents would be more likely than I, since it is they who selected the name.”
In one of the most unlikely cultural connections ever, across five thousand miles and several thousand years, there were, among the People, those who honored prophecy and vision. And many of the People had found the repeated occurrences of prophesy and fulfillment of prophesy, in the lives of the ancient Hebrews fascinating. When the Iberians, at about the time of the beginning of the Contact period, had finished throwing the Moors out of their land, they then expelled the Jews. Not a few of them found a welcome among the People. No other realm of Europe would admit them. In the “New World” they were too few to be a political or military threat, and made no attempt to convert the People to their own beliefs - or to impose their culture on that which welcomed them - and they flourished there. Many had ended up in Cahokia where the People found them to be useful in dealings with the Others. And they were excellent traders. The parallels of the role of prophesies, to the Hebrew culture, and the importance of visions to the People, drew the interest of many. There had even been conversions to Judaism among the People. Rebecca’s parents, though not converts, had selected her name under this persistent influence.
“Come in and I will make a place for you to sit. I really must make more of an effort to neatness.” he said as he started to clear a chair of its overburden of artifacts.
“Thank you.” replied Lugo.
“Not you, Lugo.” exclaimed Marcel. “You may stand, as you always do when you come here. Your guest doesn’t have to suffer discomfort, though.”
“You needn’t make a fuss. I will not take up much of your time.”
Demonstrating one of her hallmark characteristics, Rebecca got right to the point.
“I have asked to meet you because you’re the leading authority on the pre-Contact contacts. I am trying to establish just when smallpox and several other diseases were introduced to the Land. I thought perhaps you could shed some light on that.
“Perhaps you have been misled. I have never made a study of that” responded Marcel. “I have always been more focused on the transition to the widespread use of iron that occurred. But I might be able to give you some facts. I have always found facts to be useful.”
“Watch out, Rebecca,” interposed Lugo. “Some of Marcel’s facts come out of that pipe you see on his desk”
Picking up the pipe, Marcel said “Some day, Lugo, you will learn to stop limiting yourself. Free up your mind. See the world as it really is. Not just the easy part that comes unbidden to your eyes just because you opened them on getting out of bed. Don’t scorn facts revealed from visions. They are why you and I are not speaking English, or French, for that matter, today.”
“Mais, je parle français and so do you Marcel” Lugo responded in French, with the emphasis on the last word.
“But we do not have to, do we” laughed Marcel in Algonkin.
“What facts are those” asked Rebecca, intentionally using the classic Algonkin. She was beginning to doubt that Lugo and Marcel were as friendly as she had thought. But it seemed that Marcel was just playing on Lugo’s total absence of any sense of the mystical, a trait she was well aware of in him.
“It would seem, from all the sites that have been examined, there was a steady increase in population across the continent. At least, with reference to such adjustments as climate change and available food resources. This increase is pervasive both in time and place.”
He paused to rummage around in the debris pile on his desk, finally coming up with a small pouch, from which he filled the infamous pipe. Looking directly at Lugo he started to light it from a wooden match - an Otherish device of great utility.
“Just taba’cú. No visions today. Eh, Lugo?”
Lugo did not respond, other than to make a face, displaying a combination of exasperation and annoyance.
“How does that fact help me”
Blowing a perfect smoke ring in Lugo’s general direction, Marcel continued.
“The increase was constant - except for one period. Both before and after that period there is the same rate of growth. And I emphasize rate. But for a time, there was a severe drop off in population numbers that cannot be explained climatically or any other way, for that matter. At least no natural explanation. Not drought or famine or war”
Rebecca began to believe that her trip to see Marcel might just pay off.
“When was this drop off?’ she asked.
“Where” replied Marcel.
“Not where. When?”
“No. You misunderstand. I know you said when, but the when of this is related to the where. It did not happen all at once or everywhere at the same time.” He paused.
“And in some places it happened more than once.”
That was a surprise to her.
“Since it is my theory that these diseases were a result of the earliest pre-contacts I am most interested in the regions along the coast. That makes sense, doesn’t it?” she asked.
She knew it did and knew that Marcel would know this as well, but she felt he intentionally set her up for the ‘ where and when’ matter, and it bothered her just a bit. But if Lugo could handle Marcel’s potshots and verbal traps, so would she. While not wanting to annoy him in return, she did want Marcel to feel less inclined to try that again. Rebecca was not fond of this kind of less than serious attitude in professional matters, but she was not sure what approach to take with Marcel. So she did nothing.
“I will tell you that the earliest known decline, and it was a sharp one, coincided with the beginnings of significant iron smelting. My friend Lugo thinks this trick of iron was obtained from the Others. It is possible that smelting is not what they brought.”
“Just how severe was the decline?”
“Some villages disappeared entirely. At least as functioning units. There were always interchanges among villages, so even where the physical record shows us the remains of a village that cannot be dated past a certain point, that doesn’t prove either an extinction of the people or even that there was a disease. It merely proves...not proves, but rather discloses, that a village was no longer a social unit functioning past a certain time at a certain place. The reasons must be worked out”
“How certain is this evidence?” asked Rebecca.
“The evidence is 100% certain. The scholars who study it are merely guessing.”
Once again, the word tricks.
“What is your guess?”
“About what. The causes?”
“Yes, the causes. That is what I am interested in.” She almost snapped the last at him. With a bit more control she continued.
“Are there explanations in the archeological record of this decline?”
“Actually, there are. Abandonment of villages goes on even today. Outside our fine cities, there is a constant process of movement. Of building and tearing down. Fields cease to nuture crops, weather patterns change. Cycles repeat. To say that the cause of any particular decline in population was the result of disease introduced by contact with the Others is to speculate. Unless there are distinguishing features of a decline.” He paused to relight the pipe. Somehow, Rebecca just knew that there would be distinguishing features - made known to her if she were patient.
“It might be the case, especially in those villages near the coast, or at times and places where contact is documented. And there is a lot of material in legends of the great diseases. But one could just as easily make out a case for disease among the crops, or the game in an area, to explain an abandoned village. And even if disease did cause the People to die, the source of the disease would be hard to pinpoint.”
Rebecca sensed that Marcel knew a lot more than he was telling her, and once again she felt annoyance that he would play this game. He was a scholar, after all. They were all scholars. She decided to play to his ego. That usually worked with men.
“You said something about iron smelting. I really would like to learn more about that” she almost gushed. It was a behavior alien to her.
“Well, yes. Yes, of course.” Marcel visibly brightened at the mention of his favorite topic. “It is almost certain that the People began to make significant use of iron about one thousand years ago. Tree ring dating has become quite accurate for some areas and remains of ironworks have been dated. In some instances there are trees still alive now that grew then and the records is quite precise.”
“ Of course, all we can be certain of is the age of the wood,” interjected Lugo. He felt a bit left out and knew this was a safe comment, at least scientifically.
“But logically we can assume a site to date from the same age as its wooden structures.” continued Marcel. “It certainly cannot be older than its parts.”
“Don’t you mean younger? asked Rebecca, who wished Marcel would stay on the topic and she glared at Lugo for his transgression. What he had to say was interesting but it was all tangential to her goal.
“Couldn’t wood be reused?”
“No. I mean older. The tree must be alive in order to lay down the ring pattern used to date it. If we see a particular pattern we know the tree could not have been cut down and used prior to that date. Of course, if a particular structure were repaired from time to time, the dating becomes ambiguous, not for the wood but for the structure. Using certain techniques, this confusion can be minimized.”
“What about the connection between the declines and the smelting?” she insisted, regretting her question and the diversion it caused, but determined to see it through to the end.
“Oh. That. Yes, there was a pattern of decline in population at the same time and place we have earliest evidence of smelting. There has even been some speculation that the smelting process caused the declines. In the area along the coast, of course. Most notably in the area of the Beothunks. While the markers on the ruler are quite coarse and far apart, we can measure a pattern of declining population at that time. “
He once again paused - not to light his pipe but for emphasis. “Here it comes” thought Rebecca.
Go on, please” she implored. The suspense was as bad as the game playing.
“Only a man of my genius would have seen this. Did see it, in fact.” Unlike most of the People, Marcel was not adverse to self promotion. In matters of personal bravery, integrity, or skill and courage, such displays were a part of the culture - these traits were highly regarded. But Marcel had taken self-pride to new areas and new dimensions. That he would, from time to time, make a self-deprecating remark, was all that made it bearable. That and the fact that he was a very likeable person.
“Spread out from the coast, it did. No surprise there. The real surprise is that it followed two overlapping patterns. This made the evidence impossible to analyze. Except, I did!”
“The first pattern was almost like ripples in a pond. The other pattern seemed to be more like cracks spreading on ice.”
Marcel was proud of his clever double water metaphor. Marcel often found it easier to grasp a concept if it could be expressed in natural terms. He rarely was unable to find a natural phenomena to illustrate a concept.
“What do you mean, cracks spreading on ice.”
“Did you never try to walk on the ice. In the fall, just after the first freeze.” His thoughts flashed to his youth when, on a dare, he tried to cross the great river. He had ended that adventure hopping from floe to floe. It had not occurred to his youthful inexperience that the moving water under the ice would stir and spin the broken fragments.
“Where I lived, there was never a freeze”
Rebecca had been born in Cahokia, but raised in the part of the mainland known as “the Calusa”, after the People who lived there, or Bimini, an even more ancient name. It was sometimes referred to as “The Squash”, because that is what it looked like on the map, and it was also a major supplier of food to the People, squash being a principal food crop. The Iberians called it Florida, apparently being quite impressed with its flowers. She spent long summers in Cahokia with her family, but wintered in the southern lands..
“Too bad. Changes in season are only meaningful when there actually are changes. Anyway, when ice cracks, it sends runners in many directions. These then widen to open the water between the parts and they drift. The population declines spread like that.”
“What do you make of that, Rebecca?”
After a short pause to collect her thoughts, Rebecca surprised Marcel.
“The great diseases were not transmitted unless between People. Not like the black disease of the southwest and its mice. Did the ‘ cracks’ follow any pattern - at least any pattern you would recognize?”
“Wonderful! They almost seem to follow the historical trading pathways.”
“What does it mean to you, Marcel. I mean ... about the question of the source of disease?”
“It means nothing to me. I have not thought about it.”
“Could you make a guess?”
“I could, but you can guess as well as I can. But, you should know, by the time the decline had reached the Mississippis, there was already an increase beginning on the coast. The rebound was quite dramatic. Now, this is not really a guess, since I do not guess. But I do not attribute the decline to any environmental phenomena, or condition, nor do I think it had anything to do with warfare, crop failure or a die off of game. The rebound was just too swift.”
“So that would mean the resources to sustain an increasing population were still in place”
“It would seem so. Does that mean anything to you?”
“Only disease.” She was suddenly sure of it.
“Perhaps. When the population in ancient Anisazi collapsed, it never came back up to its historical maximum. But they declined without benefit of smelting, or any other contact. Draw your own conclusions.”
Rebecca was thrilled, to say the least. And infuriated. Here were the answers to one of the most important questions of the People’s past and this man, tied up with his search for iron, had never given it any thought. Once he figured it out. Were it not for her relation with Lugo, this meeting might never have occurred and who knows how long it would have been before the knowledge was rediscovered. She owed Lugo one for this - even if it was not really his doing. Rebecca’s eyes wandered across the debris strewn desk. Her gaze came to rest on a cemi - a stone Marcel was using it as a paper weight - approximately six inches in length.The surface of the stone, muddy red with minute flecks of black evenly dusted in - bore minute scibed lines and smoothly rounded depressions - but she could not make any sense of the shape.
“Marcel, tell me about this” she said as she picked it up. The stone felt almost warm to her touch and its smooth, beautifully proportioned, segments melded into her grip as though it knew she had picked it up. “It is remarkable.”
“I should make you guess what it is. But I will give you a clue. It is the head of beast of burden.” He reached out, took it from her grasp and rotated it ninety degrees. “You were misled because it only makes a good paper weight when I lay it on its back.”
“Where did it come from?” She took it back and turned it over several times in her hands, trying to see the image.
“I would tell you . . . but it would only mis-lead you. It is interesting that your eye settled on that particular piece as it is one a pair I consider the most fascinating of all my collection.”
“So mislead me.”
“It is a carved head of a llama.”
“Then it is Quecha?”
“No. At least it is not from Tawantinsuyu but there is a connection.”
“Where did it come from?” Rebecca thought he must be teasing her because llama lived only in the Collao, the high plain of the southern mountains.
“It is from Cacibajagua.”
Rebecca was astonished.
“How can this be from the Black Cave. That is no where near the Tawantinsuyu.”
“You are correct. It is from Wai`tukubuli. And it is one of two that I have that I believe were carved by the same artist. At least the stone is identical.” He turned to a shelf behind him and unerringly reached into the clutter to retrieve a second cemi. It was roughly the same size and the color was identical.
“Here, look. See where the red is streaked with the white.” Rebecca looked closely and could see a narrow vein of white crystal-like material running from the center of the cemi to end at its edge. She nodded.
“Now. Look at this other stone.”
“I see the same white veining.”
“There is another reason I believe them to come from the same hand . . ..”
Rebecca interrupted “They do look similar. The styles of each . . .”
“True, but that would be too easy. It is their meaning that convinced me they were of a pair.”
“And what is the meaning of a llama headed cemi from Wai`tukubuli., and this other one that looks like an old man with a face for a belly, squatting?”
Marcel paused. “Yes. I see what you mean. Sort of what I look like some mornings.” They both laughed - it was such a ridiculous image.
“The ‘ llama head’, as you call it, is proof that the original inhabitants of the Islands came from the east of the southern continent. From the Collas - not from the Shingu.”
“And just where does it say that?” Rebecca was beginning to believe Marcel was just teasing her.
“It does not say this directly. You have to interrogate the cemi. Ask the right questions.” He placed the two stones side by side and, with the pointed end of a small, feathered dart - another piece of Marcel’s accumulated debris - he gestured.
“See here? This part here, on the very top. What does it look like to you?”
“A cone?”
“Almost. It is a representation of a volcano. Keep in mind that the imagery is very broadly drawn and must also be very broadly interpreted. These stones will not tell us the day these People left or their names. Just that they fled the destruction of a volcano.”
Marcel paused as he pondered who these people really were. He had possessed these stones for many years and had often taken them out just to gaze at them. But he could never see through them to the dim reaches they represented.
“There are volcanoes on several of the islands themselves. Couldn’t this just be a memento of a much shorter trip?”
“It could. But it’s not. Look here” he said, pointing to the cemi.
“This is a representation of the Pole Star. It shows they were guided over water. That, and the fish-like image of the face.”
“Marcel, this can’t mean what you think. The Pole Star is not visible from below the equator. Someone in Tawantinsuyu would not use the Pole Star to navigate.”
“That is what I thought, at first. But, then it occurred to me that they would not have needed to follow the Pole Star until they were at a point where it is clearly visible. They didn’t put to sea until they ran out of land. And that” he said with great emphasis “is north of the equator.”
“That does not rule out a short trip between two islands, Marcel.”
“Maybe not. But this does.”
He turned the stone over in his hand so the flattened bottom was upmost. There, carved in thin, but deep, lines was an outline. Marcel slowly rotated the stone to bring the outline into its proper, north- south, alignment. Rebecca actually gasped when she recognized the design to be a map of the twin lakes of Titicaca and Poopo and the nearby holy city of Pacariqtambo. The shape of the lake, with its three large lobes and the Island of the Sun was well known to all the People now, just as was the Thunderbird and the Quetzlcoatal. But there was just no way that design could have been known to the Taino centuries ago, when the cemi was carved, unless Marcel was right.
“You seem surprised, Rebecca. I was convinced as soon as I realized the other one was the head of a llama.”
Rebecca decided that Marcel probably knew much more about many things than he let on.


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