In Search of the Old Ones: Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest

In Search of the Old Ones: Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest

4.5 10
by David Roberts

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Six hundred years ago, the Anasazi, said to be the ancestors of the Hopi, Zuni and other Pueblo peoples, left their homes in the region known as the Four Corners, where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona converge, and disappeared. They had inhabited the area for perhaps 5000 or more years. They left behind pots, weavings, tools, monuments, human remains and, above all, their astounding cliff ``palaces,'' containing apartments of as many as 20 rooms each. Many of these are still viable but so fragile that, in the national park lands where most are located, they are closed to the public. Roberts (Once They Moved Like the Wind) has spent 20 years exploring the region, and he recounts the history of the discoveries, the appalling thefts of artifacts, the cave paintings and his own transcendent experiences in stumbling upon some vestige of this lost civilization. His awe at the region's beauty, with its sheer cliffs, canyons and mesas, and at the testaments to an unknown culture will be contagious for readers. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
YATravel back 1000 years or more as Roberts weaves his way through the canyons of the Southwest, exploring sites once inhabited by the "ancient ones," now commonly referred to as the Anasazi. Perhaps no other group raises as much speculation, for they've left behind a legacy of basket-making, pottery, and well-constructed homes in the sandstone cliffs of the canyons, yet have left no substantive clues as to what caused their disappearance. Through the author's travels, readers learn of the problems of land management in the West; the dilemma of the National Park Service to preserve, restore, or maintain these sites as they stretch pinched budgets; the importance of the provenance of a found object; and the glory of the petroglyphs. Young people who hike or rock climb will be intrigued as they discover that the cut-out hand-and-toe trails that enabled the Anasazi to scramble up the cliffsides are still usable today. The anger felt by the author over the loss of thousands of sites to Lake Powell after building the Glen Canyon Dam is as obvious as his reverence for these unknown people and their culture. The book goes far beyond travel writing and will entice young people to continue their reading about these mysterious people, ponder the tantalizing clues left behind in their clifftop and mesa dwellings.Pam Spencer, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Donna Seaman
Roberts presented a judicious history of the Apache wars in "Once They Moved Like the Wind" (1993); here he chronicles the search for clues to the mystery of the Anasazi's abandonment of their extraordinary cliff dwellings some 700 years ago. Roberts blends accounts of his hiking adventures in the glorious canyon country of the Southwest with a chronicle of Anglos of the nineteenth century who shared his passion for studying the elusive Anasazi, especially the cowboy-archaeologist Richard Wetherell. Then, as he compares the discoveries of Wetherell and his peers with more recent revelations, Roberts considers the complex ethical questions raised by the inevitably intrusive work of archaeologists and anthropologists. He also discusses the huge increase in tourism, which has necessitated restricted access to most Anasazi sites. This paradox of high interest and low ingress reflects the contrast between the romanticized view many outsiders have of the Anasazi and evidence that indicates a far more brutal, or, frankly, simply more human, way of life.
Kirkus Reviews
A stirring excursion into the worlds of ancient Native America and modern archaeology.

Roberts (Once They Moved Like the Wind: Cochise, Geronimo, and the Apache Wars, 1993, etc.), a devotee of all things southwestern, here turns his attention to the culture of the Anasazi, who once inhabited the Colorado Plateau and whose modern descendants are the Hopi Indians of Arizona. Anglo archaeologists, Roberts writes, have been puzzling over the Anasazi for more than a century, trying to determine the environmental and cultural factors that caused Anasazi society to collapse 700 years ago. He takes the reader on a closely annotated tour of some enduring controversies in the historical record, among them the haunting question of whether the Anasazi committed acts of cannibalism in conjunction with warfare. Roberts has a fondness for iconoclastic views; he argues, for instance, that amateur archaeologist Richard Wetherill, who discovered famous Anasazi sites like Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde and who is generally regarded as little more than a tomb-robber, was a better interpreter of the Anasazi than he is given credit for today; many of his supposed misdeeds of analysis, Roberts asserts, are the fault of "museum staffs who later mishandled his collections." He is also a partisan of the contemporary archaeologist Stephen Lekson, who maintains that Anasazi kivas—pit structures long thought to have had a ceremonial function—may have had only a domestic purpose. Readers with little interest in the minutiae of prehistoric research will find Roberts's account of a descent into the little explored and appropriately named Mystery Canyon more exciting, but the book is full of the excitement of discovery at every turn.

"For all the pitiless rigor of that desert land," Roberts writes, "the Anasazi Southwest forms the most compelling landscape I know of in the world." He honors that landscape and its former inhabitants with this adventurous book.

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Simon & Schuster
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6.39(w) x 9.57(h) x 1.14(d)

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