Paradigms of the Past: The Story of Missouri Archaeology

By Vehik, Susan | Plains Anthropologist, August 1997 | Go to article overview

Paradigms of the Past: The Story of Missouri Archaeology


Vehik, Susan, Plains Anthropologist


Paradigms of the Past: The Story of Missouri Archaeology. By MICHAEL J. O'BRIEN. University of Missouri Press, Columbia. 1996. xxviii + 561 pp., figures, index. $29.00 (paper, ISBN 0-8262-1019-8).

Histories of archaeology reflect what the writer thinks is important or wants to talk about. What distinguishes this book is that the history is of a state's archaeology set within a framework of national issues.

In the introduction the author argues that there are two types of archaeology: interpretation and explanation. The latter is preferred and is best accomplished through Darwinian evolutionary theory. The rest of the chapter discusses archaeological systematics, cultural traditions, and chronological systems. A very brief synopsis of Missouri's prehistoric sequence is also provided.

The second chapter covers archaeology before 1880. Three topics are stressed. One is the issue of who built the New World mounds. Second is amateur scientific societies and their involvement in mound excavation Third is the issue of the antiquity of human presence in North America. Archaeological remains from Missouri have prominent roles in these national topics. Most of the results are classed as interpretive.

The period 1881-1910 forms the third chapter. This period sees the development of more formal research design, survey, excavation, analysis, and reporting procedures that form the foundation for modern archaeology. Especially prominent questions are, again, the identity of the mound builders and the antiquity of humans in the New World. Missouri archaeology figures in the answers to these questions. The bulk of the research is classified as interpretive and speculative.

The fourth chapter encompasses the period 1911-1940. The main issues are the growth of empiricism and development of typology and time/space systematics. Culture history construction is also important. Missouri sites and data have roles in national debates, but the leadership does not come from Missouri archaeologists.

Systematics dominate the fifth chapter and the period 1941-1960. Missouri archaeologists are not in the forefront of these issues, but rather are end users (or misusers). Chapman's Osage/Missouri Indian research begins during this time and provides a subtheme to the remainder of the volume. Federally sponsored archaeology becomes important and Missouri has numerous projects, with a select few discussed. Those projects selected reappear in later chapters, mostly as examples of the benefits of explanation over interpretation.

The sixth chapter, covering the period 19611976, is entitled "Salvage Archaeology and the Emergence of Environmental Archaeology." It is also the period of the "New Archaeology." The New Archaeology has little influence on Missouri. Archaeology in Missouri remains inductive and lacking in problem orientation Many national issues of the time are seen as passing by Missouri archaeologists. What does develop, through Ray Wood's work and influence, is an interdisciplinary approach to studying human-natural environmental relations. …

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