Histories of Southeastern Archaeology

By Beaman, Thomas E., Jr. | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Histories of Southeastern Archaeology


Beaman, Thomas E., Jr., Southeastern Archaeology


Histories of Southeastern Archaeology. SHANNON TUSHINGHAM, JANE HILL, and CHARLES H. McNUTT (eds.). University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, 2002. xxi + 384 pp., illus., biblio., index. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8173-1139-4.

Reviewed by Thomas E. Beaman Jr.

Based on the 1999 SEAC symposium of the same name, Histories of Southeastern Archaeology is a published collection in honor of Charles H. McNutt, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology jat the University of Memphis, Tennessee, upon his retirement from the classroom.

Conceived and organized by his former graduate students Shannon Tushingham and Jane Hill, this ambitious volume assembles a truly impressive roster of senior scholars whose work has largely defined Southeastern archaeology over the past half century. Unlike a traditional festschrift, the central focus is not McNutt or his academic contributions but a reflexive overview of the development of professional archaeology within the region. The result is a unique publication that presents numerous historical, topical, and personal perspectives on the archaeological heritage of the Southeast.

Following a brief précis by McNutt, in which he offers a short and humorous retrospective of his professional development and career, and an introduction by Tushingham and Hill on the history of the session and publication, the volume is divided into three primary sections: 'Topics" (chapters 1-5), "States" (chapters 6-19), and a "Commentary" (chapter 20).

The first section, 'Topics," reflects on five subjects that are thematic to more than one state. In the first chapter, McNutt offers select passages transcribed from Ann Ramenofsky's videotaped conversations with William Haag and George Quimby on the boom of Southeastern archaeology created by federal programs during the Great Depression. While the selected passages are topically suitable and set an appropriate tone for the entire volume, this chapter offers a tantalizing taste of what those conversations contain and certainly leave the reader wanting more. Perhaps in the future this transcript will be published in its entirety. David Brose thoughtfully explores the historical relationship between museums and archaeology in the region. Despite ever-evolving paradigms in both fields, museums collected and curated valuable data. They also continue to address public curiosity about archaeology and extinct cultures. James A. Brown discusses substantive contributions toward understanding regional ceremonial complexes, which over the past half century led to an overall change in perception of these complexes as a significant culture achievement of southeastern natives, not as remnants of an anonymous cult. While offering personal perspectives on their own professional development, Stanley South and Kathleen Deagan discuss the evolution of historical archaeology in the Southeast. Their essay well illustrates that many historic subjects initially explored in the 1930s (e.g., mission sites, routes of early explorers, cultural contact and exchange) endure along with new topical and analytical emphases, as does the anthropological paradigm for historic sites investigations. The final chapter of this section by Roger Saucier emphasizes how geomorphology and archaeology have worked together over the past half century in the lower Mississippi River Valley to better understand land forms, natural processes, and past human occupation and use.

"States," the second section and the largest portion of the volume, is devoted to the individual histories of 14 states. Beginning in Missouri, Stephen Williams "ruminates" over an impressive and extensive history of activity in the southeastern region of the state that reaches back well into the nineteenth century, concluding with his personal thematic synopsis of the last 50 years. Hester Davis presents a century worth of activity in Arkansas, with specific attention to public involvement and professional programs developed during her lengthy tenure as Arkansas' State Archaeologist.

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