The Archaeology of Traditions: Agency and History before and after Columbus

By Wiley, Martha E. | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

The Archaeology of Traditions: Agency and History before and after Columbus


Wiley, Martha E., Southeastern Archaeology


The Archaeology of Traditions: Agency and History Before and After Columbus. TIMOTHY R. PAUKETAT (ed.). University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2001. xiv + 256 pp., illus., biblio., contributors, index. $24.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8130-2112-X.

Reviewed by Martha E. Wiley

This collection of articles exploring various meanings and boundaries of tradition and change stems from the symposium "Resistant Traditions and Historical Processes in Southeastern North America" held in Chicago in 1999. Editor Timothy Pauketat introduces the essays, in which the concept of tradition is dissected and examined in minute detail. The premise of the book is that traditions are not passive-that they are, in fact, malleable and negotiated constantly through interaction and daily practice.

The book proceeds in reverse chronological order, with Brian W. Thomas examining the commonly held theory that Africans brought to this country in slavery held onto their traditions in an ideological struggle to resist their owners' efforts to assimilate them. Furthering Pauketat's thesis that "tradition exists only through practice," Thomas shows how African traditions changed and grew in response to European contact.

In chapter 3, John F. Scarry looks at the Apalachee tribe and its interaction with Spanish explorers and missionaries. Scarry does a good job of illustrating how the Apalachee people, with an established sociopolitical structure and a strong economy, resisted assimilation by the Spanish by active military force and by the more passive method of continuing traditional practices, both deliberately and unintentionally.

Diana DiPaolo Loren takes us to another realm of Spanish incursion, the remote outpost of Los Adaes Presidio near the eastern border of Texas. Los Adaes was home to a diverse mix of Native Americans, Spanish and French settlers and officials, and refugee African American slaves. She incorporates fascinating examples of art, domestic artifacts, and dietary remains to illustrate the variations of native resistance to Spanish hegemony. Although I found her arguments compelling, Loren's statistics do not always substantiate her conclusions.

In chapter 5, Rebecca Saunders looks at the Altamaha pottery style as a symbol of "negotiated" traditions. Saunders looks at the Guale Indians of the lower Atlantic coast, themselves a mix of remnants of other tribes, and their interaction with the Spanish during the late sixteenth century. She makes the point that pottery drew the existing native tribes and the relocated ones together to better withstand the alien pressures of the Spanish mission system.

Cameron B. Wesson's article on the Creek and PreCreek cultures is one of the most accessible pieces in the collection, written with the lay person in mind yet fully documented and researched. Wesson builds on earlier arguments that Native Americans were much more influential in their fates than many written histories would have us believe. Rather, they often put their own stamp on imported traditions and even rejected outright so-called superior items in trade, contrary to the picture painted in many history texts.

Lynne P. Sullivan and Christopher B. Rodning look at gender traditions, power status, and architecture in southern Appalachian chiefdoms. Unlike the other authors in this book, Sullivan and Rodning examine tradition shaping within the scope of native peoples instead of in reaction to foreign influence. They do an excellent job of showing how archeology can and should contribute to the historical record, and their logical and well-substantiated narrative flows smoothly, making it a pleasure to read.

In chapter 8, Mark A. Rees confronts the polarization of science and history within the discipline of archeology. Touting the longue duree, Rees promotes the forging of a more productive link among the historical, anthropological, and scientific approaches to archeology and explores the connections between competition-driven authority and tradition at Moundville and other central Mississippi Valley sites as exemplified in their ceramics.

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