The Beginnings of Anthropological Archaeology in the North American Southwest: From Thomas Jefferson to the Pecos Conference

Article excerpt

This special monograph issue of Journal of the Southwest presents a developmental history of anthropological archaeology in the North American Southwest within the context of western American exploration, the rise of Americanist anthropology, and the larger cultural milieu in which they took place. Our time frame is roughly 1780 to 1950, although that boundary is permeable. As vehicles for our discussion, we will focus on certain anthropological and archaeological issues, the intellectual and sociocultural factors underlying and giving rise to them, and research agendas developed to resolve them.

We define anthropology as a systematic worldwide inquiry into the origins, commensurability, and ranges of variation of human physical types, societies, cultures, and languages, past and present. For our purposes, anthropology subsumes ethnology as that field of study was defined in America and Europe from its inception in about 1840 until about 1880-90. In accord with Americanist anthropology, we define archaeology as one of its subfields, centrally concerned with the culture histories and processes of the past. (1)

By North American Southwest we refer both to a cultural-geographical area and a point of view. The anthropological Southwest is defined in terms of indigenous cultural traditions, rather than political boundaries; thus, it includes portions of both the present-day United States and Mexico. The cultural-geographical definition used here was articulated by Charles Lummis (1893, 1989), longtime promoter of anthropological study in, and tourist visits to, his romanticized vision of "the Southwest" (discussed later). Lummis's definition is similar to that of Erik Reed (1951: 428): the "Greater Southwest" extends from "Durango [Mexico] to Durango [Colorado] and from Las Vegas [New Mexico] to Las Vegas [Nevada]." By point of view we mean both a vaguely bounded area of land--a "region"--as seen from the East; that is, from the intellectual centers of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., and a series of layered cultural constructs--geographical, sociopolitical, literary, artistic, and anthropological--collectively seen as "the Southwest" (Byrkit 1992; Dilworth 1996; Fowler 2000; Howard and Pardue 1996). Mexican scholars refer to the region as the Greater Northwest, the Mexican American Southwest, or the Gran Chichimeca, as seen from Mexico City and the perspective of the preconquest civilizations of Mesoamerica. (2) Since our concern is with the "view from" the eastern United States, we use the term the Southwest in Lummis's sense.

The Southwest is especially important in the history of systematic exploration and research by federally and institutionally sponsored individuals and teams in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Southwestern anthropological "record," indeed most of its initial natural history and natural sciences records, were created by exploration and survey parties, most of them originating in the East. Walter Taylor's (1954: 566) quip that Southwestern archaeology suffers from an "expedition attitude" is apropos. Once local or territorial institutions of archaeology were formed in the Southwest, their values and goals at first contrasted with the anthropological objectives being articulated in eastern universities.

The Southwest also is a region on and in which some broad anthropological and historical controversies, begun elsewhere, came to be focused. Some of these were reformulated into "cutting-edge" anthropological questions applicable beyond the bounds of the Southwest, and research methods were developed to answer them, a process that is still ongoing.


Anthropology arose within two contexts. The first was the encounter between Europeans and indigenous peoples in the New World and other colonial areas and the attempts by the former to categorize, understand, and "manage" the latter. …