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Friday, February 15th, 2008

Time Event
11:41p
Interesting ...
Regular readers of my journal have probably wondered when I was going to post another book review. I've gotten backed up, but I'm hoping to get three reviews done this weekend and get caught up to where I am reading-wise! As always, you can "follow along" with what I've been reading over on LibraryThing, as I post each book to the collection there as soon as I get done with it ... while this review is nearly 3 weeks late!

I picked up this book at the Newberry Library Book Fair a year or so back ... and it's relatively old, being an 1971 edition, which must have been one of the very early books to have an ISBN. C.W. Ceram's The First American: A Story of North American Archaeology is an interesting book, taking a look at the archaeology of North America, from its earliest glimmerings (interestingly, notably started by Thomas Jefferson), though reasonably recent (given its vintage) digs.

The First American is a bit of an odd duck, in that it focuses more on the people than on the sites, so it's at times more a string of mini-biographies of various adventurers, explorers, and archaeologists than a survey of the studies themselves. The book is divided into five "books", with "Book One" beginning with the first European inroads into the Americas, with the Vikings, Columbus, and various myths that the gold-crazed Spaniards were chasing down. Much of the focus of the book is on the Southwest, and this begins here. The second book deals with the evolving science of Archaeology, with tree-ring dating and the eventual carbon-14 and other high-tech techniques, featuring the stories of the researchers who developed them. Book Three focuses almost exclusively with the time-lines of the Southwestern cultures, and Book Four looking at the mound-building cultures of the Midwest. Book Five pulls in all sorts of "extra bits", looking at very early traces of man in America, development of point technology for the hunt, looking at the mysterious ruins of Gallina Canyon, tracing various early human finds from assorted sites, a recital of the Bering crossing model, and a look at "the last aboriginal man" in California.

Now, I've read quite a bit in the area of Southwestern archaeology, and had visited many of the ruins discussed in this book ... and I rarely find a trace of something fascinating that I had not previously gotten wind of OR was able to track down ... but this was the case with the chapter on University of New Mexico professor Frank C. Hibben's work in the years running up to WW2 in the Gallinas Canyon where "they found no fewer than 500 [stone towers] in an area of perhaps thirty-five by fifty miles". They named (out of convenience) the people who built these towers the "Gallinas People", who all appeared to have be massacred somewhere around 1250AD, and seem to have indications of having been transplants to the Southwest from the Mississippian culture.

I was, understandably, interested in seeing some pictures of these cut-stone towers (which researchers on the site had described as looking quite like something out of medieval Europe), but could find nearly NO trace of these anywhere, or even mention of the work done there; this despite Hibben publishing a piece in the Saturday Evening Post (then having a 3,500,000 circulation) in 1944 called "The Mystery of the Stone Towers". Digging through Amazon shows that there is a mention of them in four archaeology/anthropology text books, but with this: "We are much in need of more information on Gallina towers, of which but few have been excavated and even fewer hitherto reported in any detail." being the typical extent of those! Childress mentions these in one of his "Lost Cities" books, but only in passing. Even a National Geographic piece deals with the massacre but has NO PHOTOS of the towers, just of a skull.

Needless to say, this made an impression on me, and it's something that I hope to be able to dig up more information about. I can't believe that several years of field work in the 40's has only left the one trace of an article from a popular national weekly!

Anyway, The First American is an interesting look at the archaeology of North America through a bit of an odd filter, but has a lot of good stuff (especially "back stories" on how some of the more famous ruins were "discovered"), so you might want to pick up a copy. Obviously, this hardcover is long out of print, but "good" copies can be had for as little as 1¢ (plus S&H), and "like new" copies go for as little as $6.50 ... not bad for a book pushing 40 years old!


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