This study by Clinton Edwards is by far the best and most systematic treatment of ancient Andean boating which has been undertaken. The subject is an important one, because many hypotheses, both of diffusion and of independent invention, depend on its results. Edwards’ review of the early colonial literature seems to be both exhaustive and definitive, and I feel that he has settled a number of questions which have long been the subject of debate. He shows convincingly that sails were used aboriginally on the balsa rafts of Guayaquil, and that these sails were not square-rigged or standard European lateen-rigged, but were rather triangular sheets lashed to curved, two-piece masts of a non-European type. He shows, too, that craft capable of long sea voyages (sailing rafts and dugout canoes) were in use only on the Colombian, Ecuadorian, and northernmost Peruvian coast, not along the main part of the Peruvian coast which is associated with the ancient pre-Inca civilizations.
The only “evidence” for prehistoric sailing rafts south of Sechura consists of certain large wooden artifacts from the southern coast of Peru which have been interpreted as centerboards. Edwards (pp. 110-112) joins Max Uhle and John H. Rowe in recognizing the possibility that these specimens were functional or ceremonial agricultural implements. I have had opportunity to examine them and found that the lower edges of all of them were polished and splintered in a manner which suggested digging rather than use as raft centerboards. By demonstrating that sailing rafts were restricted to Ecuador and to Peru north of Sechura and by reporting on the difficulty of beating southward against the prevailing southeasterly winds (p. 75), Edwards gives us a partial explanation for the enigmatic cultural barrier which separated Ecuador from the Peruvian civilizations throughout most of prehistoric times. The same evidence, taken in conjunction with the Colombian-Northern Ecuadorian distribution of dugout canoes, helps us to understand the relative abundance of Mesoamerican cultural traits in ancient Ecuador and their relative rarity in ancient Peru.
I am reluctant to carp at a study so thorough and illuminating as this one. The reader may be advised, however, to beware of Edwards’ age-area reconstructions. Inferences of this sort were abandoned long ago in anthropology because they have so often been refuted by archaeological evidence. Another fallacy—though one found only rarely in Edwards’ paper—is that cultural traits found historically in both the New and Old Worlds are (1) the product of diffusion, and (2) of Old World origin. Even if we grant diffusion without archaeological evidence to control the time factor, I find it difficult to see why the point of origin must always be in the Old World. Were the American Indians so uninventive that they could not create something of interest to the people of Asia?