In this chapter theauthor discusses his views from a plane while traveling to a Bolivian provincenear the Brazilian Border. The Beni, Mann writes, is a nearly flat area thatfor almost half the year deals with rains and snowmelts that shift the landswhile the rest of the year the lush green landscape faces a desert-like state.This remote plain had drawn the attention of Mann and his companions,archaeologists Clark Erickson and William Balée.
The goal of these men is tochallenge the conventional notions of many past and present archaeologist as tohow life was experienced for the inhabitants of the Americas. The idea that NativeAmerican Indians resided in small, remote groups with such minute impacts ontheir environment for all pre-Columbian history was one of preposterousideology. They, along with an increasing number of researchers, believe thatthe Western hemisphere has been inhabited by complex societies long before whatwas previously concluded. This contrast did not bode well with scholars wholong-believed in the views of Native American Groups as Allan R. Holmberg hadportrayed them in his published account on the Sirionó people as “culturallybackwards” with haphazard lifestyles and little in the way of culture orcomplexity. Mann explains thatHolmberg’s beliefs that the people and land they occupied had no history werecomplete misinterpretation of his findings. Due to widespread epidemics ofsmallpox and influenza as well as political upheaval in the country it can besaid that Holmberg’s research on the Native population recordings of aculturally impoverished group but that of refugees attempting to escape from aworse fate.Mann discusses thatas new technology is developed and additional research is conducted his knowledgeof the earliest inhabitants and their migration into North and South Americandrastically changes from the understandings presented to him over the decades.
Prior knowledge of cultures can be occasionally proven false with the influx ofnew methods presented to us over decades of advanced research. Milner,George R. “A Heavily Forested and Thinly Peopled Land.” The Moundbuilders: Ancient Peoples of Eastern North America.London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2004.
Print. In this chapter,George Milner describes the diverse landscape that had once blanketed theentirety of North America. What now ranges from bustling cities to richfarmlands, North America was home to dense forest with only the highest peaks,open plains and the occasional settlement were visible through the thickcanopy.
The varying climates across this large continent gave way to anassortment of wildlife from coast to coast.Although to theexplorers this land seemed untouched by mankind, it was home to generations ofNative Americans who were able to heighten the productivity of the land onwhich they lived. These various tribes gave way to a plethora of cultures thatutilized their resources to grow crops and hunt local wildlife.Early excavations ofEastern North America focused on the mounds and burials sites the early NativeAmericans left behind. Such excavations called into question the possibility ofa separate race of people, the moundbuilders.
There were multiple theories asto the origin of these people but not much thought was given as to why thesesites were no longer built. Since WWII, archaeology began to focus on thesemounds to make room for buildings and dams, a effort known as “salvagearchaeology” or Cultural Resource Management. Since its conception, CRM hasallowed for more complete analysis and excavation of these sites expanding ourknowledge of the people and culture that constructed them.Today, ourunderstanding of these groups and their lives are not only a result of thegreater quantity of excavations, but the increasing diversity of the remainsbeing unearthed. With time, the push behind mound excavations began to stemfrom the interest in the human remains located within. Through the study ofthese skeletons, scientists have been able to learn more about the past peoplethrough their health and nutritional intake.
Through the information collectedarchaeologists are bound to make numerous breakthroughs in extracting newknowledge from artifacts. Pauketat,Timothy R. “Questioning the Past in North America.
” The Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology. Ed. Timothy R.Pauketat. New York City: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pages.
3-17. Print. In this chapter,Timothy Pauketat focuses his writing on the histories of indigenous NorthAmericans and finding the relevance of American archaeology and answer whythings throughout history happen the way they do.
In North American archaeology,there are multiple viewpoints that influence how stories are told about thiscontinent. One being just-the-fact researchers and the other being big-picturethinkers.The author describeshis visit to two excavation sites that demonstrated these approaches and the individualsthat ran the operations, researchers whose influence shaped how informationabout the sites were transferred to others. At the just-the-facts site, any bigpicture questions regarding the site and its past inhabitance were greeted withlittle information. By contrast, the big-picture site was wholly dedicated tothe narrative where so much depth was given to the residence of the site thatit began to seem a bit too fantastical.
Separately, these approaches facecomplications in uncovering the truth, but when used together they can allowarchaeologist to obtain fundamental truth to the indigenous cultures.Within archaeologythere are scientific theories and models that allow for the transfer ofknowledge from large-scale models to smaller-scale practices. Our biggestissues involving North American archaeology lie within the relationships betweenthese scales. For example, the author mentions how the effects of a local historyalways matters, but their effects on large-scale practices make them even more relevantto historical knowledge. Pauketatdemonstrates that to reveal new knowledge of the past we must question manythings.
Hold questions as to the truths that are presented to us, to the rightsand authority North American Archaeologists have to interpret past experiencesof Native Americans, the heritage of sites and how we maintain distinctionbetween history and prehistory, and our approach to understandings of pasthistories. In closing, Pauketatexplained that this field of archaeology is defined by those who wish tounderstand the relationships among natural and cultural encounters of allkinds. Those shaping the big problems we face are part of the big-picture aswell as just-the-facts. Watkins,Joe. “Bone Lickers, Grave Diggers, and other Unsavory Characters:Archaeologists, Archaeological Cultures, and the Disconnect from Native Peoples.”The Oxford Handbook of North AmericanArchaeology. Ed.
Timothy R. Pauketat. New York City: Oxford UniversityPress, 2012.
Pages 28-35. Print. In this chapter,Watkins discusses that even with increasing interactions between North AmericanIndians and archaeologists, there has historically been a significantseparation between the two.
Watkins uses his understandings to evaluatesarchaeology’s relevance, value, validity, and contemporary relationships in anattempt to bridge the gap between the scientific and cultural variations inuncovering the past.Americanarchaeologists have been intertwined with the “disappearing” cultures of theNative populations for the past couple centuries. The goal for most of thosestudies was to rescue information on tribal groups before the culture wentextinct and data scarce. Archaeologistsaccumulated lists of traits of excavated materials to interweave with that ofsimilar objects of other sites. Such generalized similarities tended to be usedto group the regional cultures and histories together creating a “watered down”version of what was, in actuality a wide-range of sophisticated cultures.
The use of groupingtraits into early archaeological classification system such as the onedeveloped by W.C. McKern were to categorize select manifestations intoever-increasing categories of shared similarities.
These classification systemscreated “archaeological cultures” that were thought to be distinct from oneanother by artifacts uncovered, but this systems poor grasp on the chronologyof the cultures led to the ineptness of it, although the concept lingers withincontemporary thoughts on the archaeological record. Due to the waysarchaeological cultures drift about academia and other texts there continue toseparate people and culture from heritage. To many, archaeologyrepresents an exciting glimpse into early civilizations, or even a quest for adeeper understanding of our cultural pasts, nevertheless many tribal groupsconsiderate an intrusion of their heritage and desecration to their ideology.
Most Native Americans believe they have an strong understanding of theirhistories through storytelling that has been passed down since the beginning oftime while archaeologist believe the “scientific” story is more important thanthe role of the cultural one. Not all Native tribal groups reject the view ofthe archaeology, some have even gone as far as take over functions aspreservation officers to control and manage their cultural birthrights. The author believesthat regardless of the uneasy “truce” between Native Americans and members ofthe scientific community, there is a growing relationship that will continue asboth sides maintain a balance between the scientific and culturalunderstandings.