History of the Ancient Southwest

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Overview

According to archaeologist Stephen H. Lekson, much of what we think we know about the Southwest has been compressed into conventions and classifications and orthodoxies. This book challenges and reconfigures these accepted notions by telling two parallel stories, one about the development, personalities, and institutions of Southwestern archaeology and the other about interpretations of what actually happened in the ancient past.
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Overview

According to archaeologist Stephen H. Lekson, much of what we think we know about the Southwest has been compressed into conventions and classifications and orthodoxies. This book challenges and reconfigures these accepted notions by telling two parallel stories, one about the development, personalities, and institutions of Southwestern archaeology and the other about interpretations of what actually happened in the ancient past.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781934691106
  • Publisher: School for Advanced Research Press
  • Publication date: 6/22/2009
  • Pages: 452
  • Sales rank: 460,433
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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  • Posted October 7, 2009

    A Great Overview of the Southwestern United States before Columbus

    Stephen Lekson covers a thousand years of history in the American Southwest. He writes in an engaging, entertaining style that is rarely found in academic works. And don't be fooled, this is very much an academic book.

    The author pours a career's-worth of lessons in Southwestern archaeology into a seamless narrative that tells two stories: first the history of his own specialty, and second the history, as he himself calls it, of the ancient Southwest. At the end, you feel you've read a great epic of triumph and tragedy, where life's great lessons have been taught and learned at a great price.

    When I purchased this book, I knew next to nothing about the topic. I had a burgeoning interest in archaeology and this book was a great next step, covering an area close to home and connecting the Southwest to more distant places in Mesoamerica and the Mississippi Valley. Lekson's enjoyable writing style was just an added bonus.

    However, reading Lekson's work taught me a more than I had thought it would. I didn't expect the major, unexpected shifts during the past of both the Southwest and more distant parts of the continent. Lekson also goes into quite a bit of detail about the trends that have directed American archaeology and the movers and shakers of the discipline's Southwestern branch (which revealed a great deal about how academic disciplines work generally). One of the best surprises was his explanation of recent theories--including his own--that may better explain why the Anasazi left their cliff dwellings. It wasn't all about climate, it seems. All this is woven together into a panoramic story arc that leads from tiny villages to great cities and back again.

    Lekson states in a note that he tried to write each chapter as if he didn't know what was going to happen next, so as not to ruin the suspense. He succeeds. Even though I knew the end from the beginning of the book, I was fascinated by the story of how the people got there and was eager to know what happened next. The story ends with a dramatic, larger-than-life climax and a quieter denouement that gives the modern reader a great deal to think about.

    As Lekson explains, there are multiple ways of reading the book. He confines the less-significant academic details and disputes to endnotes. You can ignore those and simply read the story. Unfortunately, some of his best lines are found in the endnotes. It seems a shame to miss them completely, so you can do as I did and read them all. Or you could go the opposite way and just read the final chapter, where he kindly summarizes the story for you in plain English.

    My only complaint is that the book is difficult at first for outsiders, whom he makes clear are part of his audience. There were a few maps and charts that I referred to again and again as I tried to sort out the various cultures, periods and places covered in the book. I could have used a couple of additional tools: a modern map, complete with place names like Hopi and the Salt River; and some sort of a glossary that explained all the academic references that a lifelong specialist takes for granted.

    It was not easy at the beginning, but it was well worth the effort. Lekson delivered all that I had hoped for, and quite a bit more.

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