Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2010


Published in Great Plains Research 20.1 (Spring 2010): 141.


Copyright 2010 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Used by permission.


Archaeology is often described as detective work. In this detailed exploration of the High Plains of Colorado and New Mexico, archaeologist Lawrence Loendorf proves as adept as Sherlock Holmes in bringing diverse and often surprising clues to bear on understanding the who, when, where, and why of ancient rock carvings and paintings. From climate change to cultural migrations to landscape, Loendorf carefully reconstructs the contexts, cultural and physical, in which long-ago and not-so-long-ago American Indians created this complex array of images.

The twin joys of archaeology are discovery and the challenge of filling in missing pieces of history. The former requires patience, training, a discerning eye, and sometimes dumb luck. The latter requires the researcher to traverse the humanities-science divide, calling on scientific techniques along with the knowledge of the lifeways and oral traditions of Indigenous people. The archaeologist’s detective kit includes chemistry and physics, anthropology, geology, mythology, psychology, zoology, and art history.