Ancient America in Notes on American Archaeology

Library of Alexandria
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Publisher
Library of Alexandria
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Published on
Dec 31, 1872
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Pages
299
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ISBN
9781465511508
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Language
English
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Writing the history of American archaeology, especially concerning eighteenth and nineteenth-century arguments, is not always as straightforward or simple as it might seem. Archaeology's trajectory from an avocation, to a semi-profession, to a specialized, self-conscious profession was anything but a linear progression. The development of American archaeology was an organic and untidy process, which emerged from the intellectual tradition of antiquarianism and closely allied itself with the natural sciences throughout the nineteenth century--especially geology and the debate about the origins and identity of indigenous mound-building cultures of the eastern United States.

Terry A. Barnhart examines how American archaeology developed within an eclectic set of interests and equally varied settings. He argues that fundamental problems are deeply embedded in secondary literature relating to the nineteenth-century debate about "Mound Builders" and "American Indians." Some issues are perceptual, others contextual, and still others basic errors of fact. Adding to the problem are semantic and contextual considerations arising from the accommodating, indiscriminate, and problematic use of the term "race" as a synonym for tribe, nation, and race proper--a concept and construct that does not, in all instances, translate into current understandings and usages. American Antiquities uses this early discourse on the mounds to frame perennial anthropological problems relating to human origins and antiquity in North America.

Relic Hunters is a study of the complex relationship between the people of 19th century America with the material antiquities of North America's indigenous past. As scholars struggled to explain their existence, farmers in Ohio were plowing up arrowheads, building their houses atop burial mounds, and developing their own ideas about antiquity. They experienced the new country as a "place with history" reflected in material traces that became important touch points for scientific knowledge, but for American cultural identity as well. Relic Hunters traces the encounter with American antiquities from 1812 to 1879. This encompasses the period when archaeology took root in the United States: it also spans the "deep settlement" of the Midwest and sectional strife both before and after the Civil War. At the center of the story is the first iconic find of American archaeology, known as "the Kentucky Mummy." Discovered deep in a cavern, this dessicated burial became the subject of scholarly competition, traveling exhibitions, and even poetry. The book uses the theme of the Kentucky Mummy to structure the broader story of the public and American antiquities, a tour that leads through rural museums, mound excavations, lecture tours, shady deals, and ultimately into the famous attic of the Smithsonian Institution. Ultimately, Relic Hunters is a story of the American landscape, and of the role of archaeology in shaping that place. Derived from letters, memoranda, and reports found in more than a dozen archives, this is a unique account of a critical encounter that shaped local and national identity in ways that are only now being explored.
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