A Southwest Archaeology reading list..

I will probably never own a “digital reader” or “wireless reading device”.  I love books too much to ever consider trading in the feel of  a real one in my hands for the technological convenience of having hundreds of books downloaded onto an impersonal, cold plastic/glass shell: no pages to turn, no way to actually write notes in the margins (yes, despite my dependence on the computer I still remember how to/enjoy writing).  I know, there are digital reader fans out there that feel about their devices the same way gun owners feel about their Winchesters–you’ll have to pry them out of their cold, dead fingers.  It’s fine.  If you love technology and have developed a fondness for your device, then more power to you.  I’ll stick to my old school, outdated pages, printed with real ink, on real paper, taking up real space on my desk–lots of space. 

Speaking of old school, I’ve recently added a new book to my collection.  Actually it’s a very old book that I’ve been searching for, for months!  I tracked down a reasonably priced copy via Amazon, via a used book seller in Wisconsin and it is now a prized possession: Papers of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University Volume XXI: Archaeology of Alkali Ridge, Southeastern Utah With a Review of the Prehistory of the Mesa Verde Division of the San Juan and Some Observations on Archaeological Systematics by John Otis Brew (Hardcover – 1946).

Small "cliff dwelling" on Alkali Ridge

While not exactly “light” reading, this report on the findings of the Peabody Museum’s Southeastern Utah Expedition of 1931, 1932 and 1933, complete with photos, gives a detailed (and very interesting) account of three field season’s worth of research on Alkali Ridge in San Juan County, Utah.  Brew’s work on Alkali Ridge helped define the early Pueblo periods of the northern San Juan region.  While many theories and opinions on the prehistory of this area have changed since the Alkali Ridge report was published, Brew’s work still stands out as groundbreaking.  Being recognized as the “type” location of the Pueblo II period, Alkali Ridge was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964. 

Looking across Alkali Ridge to a large "rubble mound"/village site

In 1996 I spent several weeks conducting an archaeological surface survey as part of an gas/oil testing program on Alkali Ridge.  At the time I had little idea in whose footsteps I was following, how significant a role in defining the area’s prehistory the previous research there had played.   Many of the sites we revisited/updated were significant not only for the information they could provide in regards to prehistory, but by the mere fact of who had identified and documented them in the first place!   I try to get back there when I can, preferably before the gnats hatch out, to explore and revisit my favorite sites.  Now, with my copy of the “Peabody Museum Papers Vol XXI” in hand, I can go back and locate Brew’s field campsite and daydream about being part of that expedition in 1931..

For some more current and up-to-date reading on the prehistory of the Four Corners region, I have a few favorites:

A History of the Ancient Southwest, by Stephen H. Lekson:  You absolutely need this one if you have any interest in the prehistoric Anasazi, Hohokom and/or Mogollon cultures.   This is not some dry, academic text book.  It is quite readable and thought provoking.  I think it hands out more than a few challenges to several long-held traditional theories on the ancient southwest. 

Chaco and After in the Northern San Juan, by Catherine M. Cameron:  Documenting several years’ worth of excavation and field research at the Bluff Great House, a Chaco “outlier” located in Bluff, Utah on the north side of the San Juan river, this is another interesting and informative read.  If you would like to gain a better understanding of just how extensive Chaco’s influence across the southwest was, read this book!   

Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest, by Steven A. LeBlanc: It’s good to challenge preconceived notions every now and then.  Leblanc does this very well with this book.  You don’t have to agree with everything he writes, but it is never a bad thing to at least consider alternative theories and explanations.

Sandstone Spine: Seeking the Anasazi on the First Traverse of the Comb Ridge, by David Roberts: I put this on my list because it’s simply a fun read.  Roberts, together with friends Vaughn Hadenfeldt and Greg Child decided to backpack the 100 mile spine of Comb Ridge in SE Utah.  This book chronicles their trek, something that is on my list of things to do, detailing their experiences along the way.

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2 Responses to A Southwest Archaeology reading list..

  1. Danny Adams says:

    I’m getting ready to write a James Michener-esque epic historical novel about Arizona, and Stephen Lekson’s book above forms the core of my archaeological research for the prehistoric stories. I even wrote a blog about it that ended up with me sending Dr. Lekson a fan letter: http://madwriter.livejournal.com/834283.html .

    LeBlanc’s book is also sitting on the shelf beside my writing desk. :) I hadn’t heard of the other two, though I’ll be writing about 12th century Chaco as well. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. You are most welcome! Happy reading.

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