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The Groundwork of 
American Archaeology 





institute of America 








I Reprinted from the AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST, Vol. 10, No. 4, Oct. -Dec., 1908] 


In American Archeology man in the cultural process is the unit 
of investigation. This establishes the limits of the science. Its sub- 
ject matter lies mainly in the prehistoric period, but this must be 
studied in the light of auxiliary sciences which have for their field of 
investigation the living people. It necessitates the study of all phe- 
nomena that will add to our knowledge of the intellectual attainments 
of the native American races or illustrate the evolution of their cul- 
ture. It aims at a reconstruction and interpretation of the order of 
civilization existing in America before the Caucasian occupancy. 

Nowhere had these races attained to the art of literary expression, 
though in Central America they were verging upon it. The record 
of their progress must be sought, first, in the remains of their mate- 
rial possessions ; second, in survivals of their intellectual achieve- 
ments written and unwritten, and, third, in the recorded observations 
of eye-witnesses to scenes and events of the historic period. Their 
arts afforded a means of lasting self-portraiture. These display the 
common abilities and common beliefs of the people and reflect the 
racial progress. They illustrate the gradual conquest of mind over 
natural forces and materials. Architectural and industrial remains 
illustrate the evolution of the social order. Sculptural and pictorial 
remains display the stages of development of the esthetic sense, and, 
through the symbolism in which they are expressed, embody the 
common conceptions of things spiritual, the early phases of the 
upreach of mind, the first efforts to enlist the aid of supernatural 
beings in short, all the primitive methods of attacking the funda- 
mental problems of existence. While entirely racial at this stage, 
results in individuation are foreshadowed. In primitive arts we 
have the mirror of the racial mind. 

There are also recoverable remains of the intellectual possessions 
of the ancient Americans in the form of survivals of archaic cere- 


592 AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIS7 [N. s., 10, 1908 

monies, rituals, and traditions of living tribes. These are vital to 
the understanding of the life and history of the people, and because 
they reflect the inventional, esthetic, societary, and sophic processes 
through which the highest cultural achievements of the past were 
reached, they furnish keys to the interpretation of conventional 
modes of expression. For the same reasons it often becomes neces- 
sary to investigate the history and structure of languages among 
living tribes situated in such proximity to ancient cultures that his- 
torical relationships may be suspected. For information on ques- 
tions of racial affinity, the aid of somatology may be invoked. How- 
ever, our province is mainly the study of cultural phenomena and 

The history of any surviving group of native American people 
may be divided broadly into two epochs. The first represents a vast 
reach of time, during which the autochthonic character of the race 
was unfolded, a period of racial isolation, of unadulterated culture. 
The second begins when the group is touched by outside racial in- 
fluences. This represents at most a period of four centuries, its 
beginning depending upon the time when Caucasian influence pene- 
trated the group in question. Until the racial isolation w r as broken 
by the coming of the Spaniards, bringing in new industrial methods, 
new incitements to activity, and new ideals of achievement, the simple 
ethnic mind had not been an object of contemplation to itself. Un- 
conscious of its limitations or of its status in culture, because ignor- 
ant of any other, its expressions in the form of arts, ceremonies, and 
symbolism were perfectly naive. With the coming of the Spaniards 
a period of racial self-consciousness began. The simple process of 
unfoldment of culture gave place to the complex phenomena of 
ethnic mind acted upon for the first time by external stimuli of a 
most violent sort, and thus suddenly aroused to consciousness of 
its own operations and limitations. The quality of mind developed 
under such conditions is radically different from that developed under 
the influence of a definite natural environment only. There was 
immediate selection of esthetic, industrial, societary, and religious 
elements from the conquering race. Arts, industries, and social 
conditions underwent vital modifications. The ancient social and 
religious order was broken down and reorganized along new lines. 


Ceremonies disintegrated with the passing of the clans in which they 
were developed. Primitive ritual took on numerous aspects of 
Christian worship which immediately resulted in the corruption of 
symbolism. The term acculturation, an adding to culture, describes 
the process that resulted in the present condition of the American 

The study of the phenomena of this epoch is more complex 
than that of the earlier period. The process of separating the re- 
cently acquired from autochthonous elements is laborious, and the 
chances of error numerous. Traditionary episodes, ceremonies, 
rituals, and symbolism must be subjected to critical analysis. How- 
ever, there is a valuable residuum of facts of archaic culture result- 
ing from the sifting. 

The study of prehistoric archeology presents less complexity. 
Definite external surroundings give rise to definite efforts of the 
human mind to utilize, to overcome, and to account for them. The 
result is certain activities, the dynamic expression of the cultural 
process. The study of this process in the stage prior to the intru- 
sion of any foreign elements, in the light of facts which ethnology 
lends to the interpretation of archaic phenomena, is a field com- 
paratively free from the necessity of conjecture. The service which 
prehistoric archeology is capable of rendering to anthropology is 
comparable with that which paleontology renders to biology. 

In the study of the historical development of the native Ameri- 
can races, it becomes necessary to eradicate all political divisions 
and to find cultural limits instead. These coincide to some extent 
with natural boundaries giving rise to " culture areas." This term 
is used to designate a region in which some dominant type of cul- 
tural phenomena prevails to the subordination of all other types. 
Such an area is the so-called Pueblo region in the southwestern 
part of the United States. Numerous areas of this character are 
more or less clearly defined from Alaska to Central America. 

All information that we possess at the present time tends to 
establish the fundamental unity of the American race and points to 
an evolution from lower to higher civilization. The time element 
in this process is by no means constant. The gap between the 
lowest and the highest ethnic groups might have been closed by a 


generation or two of influence under favorable surroundings, or it 
might have required many centuries in the absence of such stimuli. 
In the flowing of populations that prevailed in prehistoric as in his- 
toric times, groups were segregated from parent stocks, carrying 
with them the ancient traditions, and as a result of isolation new 
and distinct seats of population arose, flourished, swarmed, and 
degenerated. While there were no means of storing up knowledge 
such as we possess, yet in the form of tradition it was transferred, 
replanted, and engrafted to such an extent that it may reasonably 
be doubted if any vital possession of the ancient races of America 
has passed into total oblivion. 

It is necessary to investigate the fundamental causes of these 
specializations in culture, to ascertain and follow the direction of 
waves that flowed out to occupy new localities and influence other 
communities. The determination of affinities between widely sepa- 
rated regions requires long and laborious study of fixed remains in 
the field as well as of the movable antiquities to be found in the 
museums of the world, and together with the no less important 
investigation of the religious and social traditions which survived 
the shock of the conquest, calls for the correlated activities of many 
students and institutions. 

Another important line of research in American Archeology is 
that of archive work. The records of those who had the oppor- 
tunity to observe the native races at the beginning of the period of 
acculturation through contact with the intrusive race are of such 
a character as to be of great service. Voluminous as has been the 
publication of historical works on aboriginal America, there are yet 
archives of great extent in Mexico and Spain which have never 
passed under the eye of the historian. It cannot be doubted that 
much valuable material relating to the early historic period awaits 
discovery. The present time seems particularly opportune for 
undertaking the examination of the unpublished material in the 
Archives of the Indies and for the reexamination of much that has 
been published in the past. In the early literature on America 
there is little that comes up to present-day standards of historical 
research. There is now great need for a reexamination, in the light 
of present-day ethnological knowledge and by the critical methods 


of modern historical research, of source material that has been much 
used in the past in historical and archeological interpretations. It 
is not. sufficient that the archives be explored and unpublished docu- 
ments correctly copied and given to the public. Discriminating 
analysis and critical comparison are necessary, if the truth about 
ancient America is ever to be recorded. It must be remembered 
that these are not the records of trained scholars seeking to make 
known actual facts. They are, on the contrary, the accounts ot 
untrained observers biased by the excitement of conquest and moved 
to exaggeration by the desire to influence royal and ecclesiastical 
action at home. 

The first task of the archeologist is to rescue the material and 
intellectual remains of the people whose history he is seeking to 
restore. It can never be hoped that a continuous record will be 
recovered, but the greater the amount of material secured the more 
nearly complete can it be made. But archeological research is 
more than the recovery and study of material. As history is not 
only a recital of events but an inquiry into their genesis, it is im- 
perative to investigate and describe all phenomena upon which such 
events are conditioned. Therefore it is the belief of the writer that 
physiographic conditions are essentially correlative with facts ot 
culture, that physical and psychic causes are to be held in the 
closest possible relation if we are to correctly interpret the intel- 
lectual remains of the native races of America, whether in the form 
of myth, ritual, and symbolism of plains and desert tribes, or in 
architectural, sculptural, pictorial, and glyphic remains of the 
Mexican and Central American civilizations. 



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