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Recreating Hopewell
edited by Douglas K. Charles & Jane E. Buikstra
University Press of Florida   2006 First ed.    ISBN# 0-8130-2898-1      cloth hardcover

This important volume is composed of papers presented at a major conference hosted by the Center for American Archaeology concerning "Perspectives on Middle Woodland In The Millennium" held in June, 2000. The conference generated many interesting papers, but at the time, there was not enough funding to publish the presentations and hold the conference. Since the presentations were groundbreaking and "out of the Middle Woodland box," the editors pressed forward with plans to later publish most, but not all, of them in one volume. This book is the result of that effort: The first such publication about Hopewell in over 25 years.

The volume is broken up into four sections that include: Hopewell in Ohio, Hopewell/Middle Woodland outside Ohio, New Approaches to Hopewell Material Culture, and Recreating Hopewell Commentaries. Within each section are publications that illuminate the topic and overall cover the work of scholars and archaeologists across Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, and Georgia. What's interesting is that what evolves is a Hopewell culture with considerable differences in culture across the states represented. We see Hopewell as a diverse culture.

Every imaginable facet of Hopewell life is examined in some detail. Settlement patterns and the use and layout of Hopewell communities are discussed at length. How communities sustained themselves, and the efficiency of Hopewell communities are also iterated with a profusion of charts, graphs and drawings. Death rituals,  lithic production, community interaction: There simply is nothing left out here, and the serious scholar of Hopewell life will find a veritable treasure chest of references to use in their work. This book will be referenced for some time to come as it considerably broadens the context of Hopewell life from what was previously understood.

If you are interested in this great, ancient American civilisation,  this book is a must-buy for your library! Recreating Hopewell sells for $75.00 and can be ordered direct from the publisher by clicking here.

reviewed by Bob Wishoff
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The Caddo Nation:
Archaeological &Ethnohistoric Perspectives

by Timothy K. Perttula
University of Texas Press    1997/2006 re-release   ISBN# 0-292-76574-6  paperback

This re-release in paperback of the The Caddo Nation is an important contribution to understanding this Indian society at the cusp of the historic period and its transformation.  It presents “…through archaeological, historical, ethnographic and archival means the nature of contact and interaction between the Caddoan Indian peoples of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas and Europeans ---especially the Spanish and French --- and the Euro-Americans.” 

First encounters with European cultures were not always from a point of weakness on behalf of the Caddoans.  The Spanish in Texas actively courted “the Kingdom of the Tejas” not only out of missionary zeal but as also as a hedge against French incursions from the east, while the French sought them out as fur trading partners.  As other Indian tribes found them to be a significant power in their own right, Europeans sought them as allies in bringing belligerent native peoples under control.  The importation of new diseases wrought disaster of epidemic proportions on the Caddoans, weakening and disrupting their culture.  Tribes pushed out from a new formed United States began competing for their territory, followed by white immigrants, until the waning remnants of this once powerful society were eventually consigned to the Indian country.

Pertulla does a fine job of mining the vast trove of documents produced by the Spanish, French and American dealings with the Caddo peoples and then reinforcing them with the growing literature of related archaeological findings. Caddo culture (actually composed of over 25 distinct groups) produced a particularly rich archaeology record including large farming communities, mounds, sophisticated mortuary practices which include grave goods, ceramics, and projectile points.  Commerce with the Spanish and French is particularly well documented, with lists of trade items and relative percentages presented to various local tribes included.  One can then find examples of these trade items turning up in burial grounds (much of the work was done before the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act) and extrapolations of what this implies in the interplay of transcultural relations.  The large number of maps, tables, graphs and site diagrams are all useful in explicating the nature of the works being described. 

Extensive discussions such as 18 dense pages on the “Implications and Consequences of European Acute Disease on Caddoan Populations” utilizing bioarchaeological and paleodemographic methodology are eye-opening not only in revealing the wide range of work done but in the number of questions that are then raised by the findings.  These trend of presenting further prospects for investigations in carried through in the final section, emphasizing that good archaeology should raise at least as many questions as it seeks to answer.

Though not a leisurely read, The Caddo Nation is a masterful integration of historic and archaeological archives, melding elements from both into a broader picture than either alone can present.   An appendix offers some insight into the significance of “changes in the frequency and occurrence of pottery types, design motifs and arrow point caches” in chronological sequencing, and a foreword by Thomas Hester touches on the importance of the work of avocational archaeologists in Caddoan research. This is a volume of real value to any reader seeking to better understand how archaeology, anthropology and archival research are brought together to broaden our understanding of the scope of the interaction between Indian and European cultures from initial encounters onward. 

The Caddo Nation is available in paperback for a web-special price of $13.37 from the University of Texas Press web site by clicking here, where you can also find a table of contents and excerpts from the preface and introduction. 

If you are interested in visiting a Caddoan mound you can visit Caddoan Mound State Historical Site in Cherokee County, Texas.  Several extensive Texas Beyond History articles on Caddoan history and archaeology can be found on the Upper Nasoni and Sha’chahdinnih  sites.

reviewed by Charles Swenson
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Sun Circles and Human Hands: 
The Southeastern Indians – Art and Industry

Edited by Emma Lila Fundaburk & Mary Douglass Fundaburk Foreman
With a new Foreward by Vernon James Knight, Jr.
University of Alabama Press   1957/2001 reprint      ISBN# 0-8173-1077-0  oversized paperback

The Mound Builders

By Henry Clyde Shetrone with a New Introduction by Bradley T. Lepper
University of Alabama Press   1930/2004 reprint       ISBN# 0-8173-8173-1  paperback

I was twelve years old and completely obsessed with the archaeology of Egypt, Greece and Rome when an uncle gifted me with copies of the original publications of these awesome books. My uncle, an avocational historian, was intent on re-focusing my interest in archaeology and these books were met with open awe on my part. I’d never realized the breadth of prehistoric American civilization!

Absolutely jam-packed with pictures, illustrations and riveting historical “first-contact” references and quotes, Sun Circles and Human Hands covers a vast area, extending westward as far as eastern Oklahoma. I do not believe, to this day, that there is any single volume of work so accessible to every audience, so easy to read and look at, so inspiring a tome about American Indians. Even today, years after reading this book, I found myself, childlike, laying on the floor, flipping randomly though the book, totally engrossed in its contents. Nothing is left out--- from pebbles and geodes, to wood artifact, flint artifacts, pottery, baskets, and all sorts of ephemeral items--- all this plus discussions of southeastern sites, travels of early visitors to the area and studies of the iconography of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. Some of the artifacts pictured in this book are available nowhere else, and thus, the book transcends time and remains a valuable resource for serious research today. 

When Henry Shetrone first published The Mound Builders in 1930, people thought that the mounds were built by a race of lost giants. Shetrone’s book was one of the first of its kind available to the public which debunked the myths and introduced us all to these ancient ancestors of modern Native Americans, who, as skilled artisans and engineers built the huge mounds and massive earthworks to live upon and defend themselves. I believe, as a twelve year old, this was the longest book (at 20 chapters and nearly 500 pages) that I had ever read, and I pored over every page! Shetrone, a self educated avocationalist eventually awarded an honorary PhD in 1944, dedicated his book “to the average man and woman who, although fully awake to the human interest in their story, lack time and opportunity for digesting the rather extensive but often unavailable literature on the subject.”This book, lacking an accurate chronological framework, nonetheless represents an amazing lifetime of study and the author’s contribution to the golden age of archaeology in Ohio. By writing for a layman audience Shetrone was strongly criticized in his time. As Bradley T. Lepper writes in his introduction, “There is an unfortunate presumption that ‘real scientists’ do science; that is, they do research and write up the results for their colleagues. They do not deign to write for the uninitiated masses. Shetrone, by doing just that, and doing it quite successfully, drew increased attention to his non-academic background, allowing self-conscious (and self-righteous) “professionals”… to dismiss his real contributions to the field. And Shetrone’s contributions were considerable.”  I appreciated Lepper’s new introduction for its biography of the author. 

I give the University of Alabama Press a standing ovation for reprinting these fantastic classics of American Archaeology and invite you to not only purchase both of these books, but to be sure to peruse the entire Classics in Southeastern Archaeology Series of reprints. Buy a copy for yourself, or treat a youngster to these classics!

Order Sun Circles and Human Hands direct from the publisher, for $29.95, by clicking here.

Order The Mound Builders direct from the publisher, for $35.00, by clicking here.

Peruse the entire Classics in Southeastern Archaeology Series! All are available here

reviewed by Bob Wishoff
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Cahokia: The Great Native American Metropolis
Biloine Whiting Young and Melvin L. Fowler 
University of Illinois Press    2000    ISBN# 0-252-06821      paperback/hardback

“Monuments anchor the present to a chain of historic events that are responsible for the current structure of reality.”(p.227)

Around  AD1000 a vast Native American city began to arise in the American Bottom east of the Mississippi River, growing in time to almost 20,000 inhabitants. It encompassed hundreds of monumental structures, the main one over a hundred feet high with a base covering 16 acres, laid out around four massive courtyards. The site had several huge ‘woodhenges’ that incorporated exacting astronomical calculations, composed of over 48 yard-thick posts.  Its stratified political and religious hierarchy exerted an influence that was felt throughout the continent, sitting in the middle of a massive trading network that spread across North America. 

By the time white men finally made their way into the area, naming it Cahokia after a tribe of the Illinois Confederacy living in the area at the time, little remained of this ancient culture but mounds, scattered pottery and occasional speculation by archaeologists.  The largest structures were ultimately saved by the very bulk of earthenwork that went into their construction, but many of the smaller other mounds were plowed over, destroyed to make way for railroads and highways, or used to fill low spots in farmer’s fields.  The expanding new metropolis of St Louis, first established over outliers of the Cahokia community, threatened to completely engulf and annihilate all signs of the city that had once been. 

The story of how the greatest pre-Columbian population center north of the Rio Grande came to be understood for what it was and rescued from oblivion is one of the truly great stories of American archaeology.  The partnership of Biloine Young and Melvin Fowler, bringing together a skillful authoress and the archaeologist primarily responsible for much of the work at Cahokia, has produced a book worthy of the story.  It is rich in detail about its rediscovery, near disappearance under interstate highways and housing developments and how the eventual recognition of Cahokia’s historic value led to its purchase by the state of Illinois for preservation, recognition as a U.S. National Historic Landmark and named as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1982.

The book starts with Fowler, working for the Illinois State Museum at the time, being called upon to investigate rumors of a highway being built through the area.  From the first paragraph Young masterfully develops the multifaceted personalities involved in Cahokia’s precarious history over the centuries, drawing upon Fowler’s firsthand experience, interviews with many of the individuals involved and a broad spectrum of background material.  It is a story of archaeologists at their work, replete with amusing anecdotes, simmering animosities and moments of serendipitous discoveries of dazzling significance.  They are shown hard at work to keep ahead of bulldozers waiting to plow under their site, trying to sump out hard dug pits filled with torrential rainfalls and slumping clays, drinking hard at local mob owned bars and struggling for the funding not only for grants but to eke out a living. The camaraderie of amateurs, local laborers, shadowy private collectors, grad students and professors working together is portrayed in a manner that makes the day to day work at the site come alive with real characters. 

But interwoven throughout is the story of the peoples who built Cahokia.  Fowler infuses a strong grasp of the archaeological importance of various features and discoveries, with a keen eye for the implication of features that are uncovered and how they contribute to our overall understanding of this flowering of the Mississippian culture, as well its demise.  The architecture, mound building processes, local artifacts, trade networks, agriculture, cosmological views and cultural implications are masterfully described at length, giving an in-depth overview of Cahokian society. 

By presenting these archaeological bits of the puzzle in the order in which they arose, the reader is able to share in the process of putting together the larger picture as it emerges.  The importance of context in interpreting even the smallest find is made clear, making even more acute the heartbreak of a photo of the massive Powell Mound being destroyed by steam shovel in 1930.  Its rich cache of grave goods and skeletons was hauled off together with the mound’s soil to fill a nearby bog because $3000 couldn’t be raised to meet the owner’s offer for a more proper excavation.  (The only hints of its contents coming when the contractor allowed two professors a few moments up in a the steam shovel’s scoop to investigate a cascade of beads and bones, all hauled off with the rest; no artifacts were ever salvaged from this mound.)  More successful excavations in the area are also described in a manner befitting their significance, full of detail and insight into the scientific method at work in deciphering their meaning. 

Young and Fowler have produced a wonderful collaboration here.  It is one of the best books out there on the subject of Cahokia, readily accessible to the lay reader, fascinating for the avocationalist and amateur archaeologist, and astute in it’s depiction of the practicing professional at work.  It is an invaluable addition to the library of anyone with an interest broadening their awareness of the complexities of pre-Columbian Native American culture.  It is available in hardcover for $55.00, but a very serviceable paperback edition of over 370 pages, complete with the maps, diagrams and many otherwise unavailable photographs, is only $24.95.  You can order it directly from the University of Illinois Press website by clicking here , where you will also find a link to the table of contents and illustrations. 

reviewed by Charles Swenson
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Archaeology of the Moundville Chiefdom
Edited by Vernon James Knight Jr. and Vincas P. Steponaitis
University of Alabama Press   2007 1st ed. (reprint of 1998 ed.)  ISBN# 0-8173-5366-7   paperback

First, a little background:
According to the official website, run by the University of Alabama, “Eight hundred years ago, Moundville was the largest city in North America.” “The Moundville site, occupied from around A.D. 1000 until A.D. 1450, is a large settlement of Mississippian culture on the Black Warrior River in central Alabama. At the time of Moundville's heaviest residential population, the community took the form of a three hundred-acre village built on a bluff overlooking the river.” The Moundville site is the second largest prehistoric community, the largest being the Cahokia site.

Originally published by the Smithsonian Institution Press, this new edition of Archaeology of the Moundville Chiefdom, brings together the latest research in this important Native American town. Nine specialists in the field come together in this volume with papers which discuss population trends, explore domestic life and subsistence practices on the river, basically weaving together a “new history” of Moundville town life.

This volume is quite interesting and a good volume for avocationals to see how broad theoretical and historical summary can be teased from bits of data (Moundville research has accumulated mass quantities of data for archaeologists to peruse).

 For example, in the chapter entitled “A New History of Moundville, we are shown how the city’s use changed from a thriving residence to become a necropolis and ceremonial center, all dependent and illustrative of the city’s political structure and the rise of a privileged social class. Though the city’s chronology sets the site’s “end” at A.D. 1450, the discussions stretch it to 1650. “Peebles has forcefully argued that Moundville’s decline as a hierarchical system antedates the expeditionary age and was in no sense a product of it, and with this position we are in general agreement.”

 The book articulates much evidence for nutritional stresses and political instabilities which brought about the collapse of the town. Also particularly of interest are papers which investigate living arrangements and daily life within Moundville—concepts such as “Goodness of Fit” and interpretation of ranked corporate subclans and how they were arrayed around “camp squares” make fascinating reads.

 Packed with maps, tables and a fine reference section, this book is a must-have for anyone interested in the Moundville site, or for those interested in the larger SECC (Southeastern Ceremonial Complex) as a whole. Quite simply, the papers contained within are written by some of the pre-emminent researchers in the field and cannot be ignored! Here is the best summary of over 30 years of research at this site.

Archaeology of the Moundville Chiefdom is available, at the publisher’s website in cloth hardback, for $45.00. This review was of the paperback edition, one that may already be out of print. Order the book direct by clicking here. 

reviewed by Bob Wishoff
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Ancient Objects and Sacred Realms
Interpretations of Mississippian Iconography

edited by F. Kent Reilly and James F. Garber
University of Texas Press   2007, 1st Edition  ISBN-13# 978-0-292-71347-5  cloth hardback

Part of the Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies, this book brings together ten essays by respected scholars in the fields of anthropology, archaeology and art historians. These essays point out the weaknesses in the current label for the body of study, namely the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC). The editors point out that while the people of the region all shared religious concepts, they comprised separate entities which included those outside of the southeastern US, and should rightly be referred to as incorporating an “interaction sphere” similar to one posited for the Olmec Heartland in Mexico. Reilly and Garber prefer the Mississippian Iconographic Interaction Sphere (MIIS) to the old SECC label.

Reilly has been hosting conferences each year for the last 15 years which focus on various iconographic MIIS topics. These conferences incorporate workshop environments where researchers break up into groups, each group concentrating on segments of the main topic. At the end of the conference, the groups gather to present their conclusions—these papers are the result of such conferences. Utilizing ethnographic knowledge and methodologies developed by Erwin Panofsky, Linda Schele and others, the art and imagery of the Mississippian cultures are systematically examined by the conferees for consistencies of imagery and form. What emerges are some surprising and groundbreaking ideas about ritual activities, cosmological vision, and ideology of North American Native Americans.

The authors find support for a set of important symbols which all groups have in common. Reilly and Garber write: “That several of these symbols consistently cross stylistic and regional boundaries over time is undoubtedly due to the fact that these symbols and motifs carry the fundamental tenets of an overarching religious system that covered the enormous geographical area that included the diverse ethnic and cultural boundaries of the then Native American Eastern United States.”

Aside from the editors, authors included in the book include well-known and respected researchers: Vincas Steponaitis, George Lankford, James Brown, David Dye, Vernon Knight, Judith Franke, and Alice Kehoe. The book contains 10 papers and covered topics, several of which include: “Some Cosmological Motifs in the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex”, “On the Identity of the Birdman within Mississippian Period Art”, and “The Great Serpent in Eastern North America”.

If you have any interest at all in the so-called “Moundbuilder” cultures of Eastern North America, you’ll want to read this important book. If you want it in hard cover, you better step on it, as it is nearly sold out (I predict it will be re-issued in paperback soon). Regularly selling for $55.00, UT Press offers a “web-special” price of $33.50, a substantial discount! Click here to order.

reviewed by Bob Wishoff

Metal of Ritual/ Metallurgy in Precontact Eastern North America
by Amelia M. Trevelyan

The University Press of Kentucky   2004, 1st Edition  ISBN# 0-8131-2272-4  cloth hardback

“Miskwabik means ‘copper’ in the Native American language of the Ojibwa tribe.” That copper was central to five major ritual manifestations in eastern North America there has never been an argument. The Old Copper Culture, the Adena, Hopewell, Copena and Southeastern Ceremonial Complex peoples all used copper but for many years scholars were unwilling to believe that Native Americans had the wit to exploit deposits of native copper. It has only been in the last three decades that techniques have been developed to source copper and in many cases, the locations of mines were closely kept secrets.

As well as exploring what the author calls "a consistent history" of copper use by Native Americans, there are also chapters exploring "Meaning and Significance in Design and Material", "Copper: Its Ceremonial Role", and also includes a comprehensive Appendix that explains, among other things, the methodology of the analysis of motifs used in copper artifacts-- an invaluable reference in itself! The Appendix also includes maps, further notes and data tables refered to in text.

One interesting observation made by the author is that artifacts made of copper from the Amercan Northwest are similar to some found in eastern North America! Trevelyan posits that the material had similar meanings to Native American across the continent, positing the copper's red color makes it easy to associate with blood, or other things red, such as salmon flesh.

Miskwabik is an incredibly interesting book on a topic rarely discussed in such depth! You'll enjoy every word of it. Miskwabik is available directly from the publisher, for $50.00 (hardback) and can be ordered by clicking here.

reviewed by Bob Wishoff

Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Chronology, Content, Context
Edited by Adam King
University of Alabama Press 2007 1st ed.  paperback  ISBN# 978-0-8173-5409-1

Thanks to the University of Alabama Press, the long awaited sequel to Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Artifacts and Analysis is at last in print.  Since the first edition, there have been many advances in the understanding of the concepts, themes, and artistic styles traditionally associated with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex. At the forefront of this new knowledge is the increased complexity of the Complex itself.  Southeastern Ceremonial Complex: Chronology, Content, Context is a masterful venue that will enlighten a mass audience to this otherwise perplexing culture.

The Editor, Adam King, and many of the leading scholars of this region contribute selections that run the gambit from premier mound sites such as Cahokia, Moundville and Etowah to the iconographical interpretations of objects.  Contributing authors include James A. Brown, who discusses the chronological implications of the bellows-shaped apron, and Vernon James Knight who writes of cult designs on pot sherds from Moundville. Adam King penned two chapters; Chapter One brings the reader up to date on Southeastern Ceremonial Complex research since the initial volume’s publication. In his second chapter King discusses Mound C and its history.

This book is a must read for the aficionado of the Southeastern Ceremonial Cult in particular, and the Mississippian Culture in general.  The contributions by the noted scholars within this volume are insightful and well written. This book is a pleasure to read: you should move this one to the top of your reading list.

Order this book directly from the publisher for $42.50, by clicking here.

reviewed by Mark Barnett

Visualizing the Sacred
Cosmic Visions, Regionalism, and the Art of the Mississippian World

Edited by George E. Lankford, F. Kent Reilly III, and James F. Garber

University of Texas Press   2011  1st edition cloth hardback   ISBN# 978-0-292-72308-5

The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, located in the Mississippi River valley as well as other areas of the eastern Woodlands of the United States is the continuing source of innovative research regarding some of North America’s most interesting and complex cultures. The scholars studying these cultures are spread across the span of America… it is difficult to coordinate all of the diverse ideas, and a synthesis of all of this knowledge is only now being understood and articulated. Much of the credit must be given to F. Kent Reilly and his innovative workshops, held annually at Center for the Arts and Symbolism of ancient America, located in the Anthropology department at Texas State University-San Marcos, Texas.

I was privileged to attend the Iconography Workshop several years ago, and was able to see firsthand how the research presented here came together. Like this volume’s predecessor, Ancient Object and Sacred Realms (also reviewed by me), also summarized the work done at these conferences. The conferences allow the authors and their colleagues to collaborate in a level of intensity not possible by other means. The conferences are creative and  hectic, with workshops lasting well into several evenings. This kind of immersion is bound to bring to light a myriad of incredible ideas, and does just that, year after satisfying year.

There is so much content within this book! Bringing archaeological, ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and iconographic perspectives to the analysis of Mississippian art, contributors from several disciplines discuss variations in symbols and motifs among major sites and regions across a wide span of time and also consider what visual symbols reveal about elite status in diverse political environments. These findings represent the first formal identification of style regions within the Mississippian Iconographic Interaction Sphere and call for a new understanding of the MIIS as a network of localized, yet interrelated religious systems that experienced both continuity and change over time.

Simply put, both volumes in this series are already classics in the field of iconographic research. If they are missing from your library, you need to order them before they are sold out! If you order the book directly from the publisher’s website, you get this $60 hardback for a third off, or only $40.20… click here to see the book’s Table of Contents, to read an excerpt, and to order!

reviewed by Bob Wishoff
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