Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2000


Published in Great Plains Research 10 (Spring 2000). Copyright © 2000 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


The Land of Prehistory is a comprehensive-indeed, encyclopedic - and insightful introduction to the history of Americanist archaeology. Well written and comprehensible to both lay and professional readers, it traces North American archaeology from its European foundations through such contemporary themes as the new archaeology, postmodernism, and NAGPRA (though, curiously, only paying lip service to gender studies). It will be a useful, if often controversial, textbook for courses in introductory archaeology, the history of archaeology, and for seminars in archaeological method and history.

It is impossible to deal adequately with the volume's richness of detail: bare listings must suffice where a review article would be far more appropriate. Chapter 1 begins with the pre-Darwinian foundations of archaeology, and the next two chapters focus on Daniel Wilson's early model of prehistory as a prelude to explicating American prehistory, the subject of chapter 4. In chapter 5 the positivists of the new American frontier lead us on to the new archaeology, its philosophy, and weaknesses, the subjects of chapters 6 through 8. It is unfortunate that chapter 9, on how mainstream archaeologists dealt with Cahokia, ends with speculation out of character with the book's rigor. Chapter 10 is a review of Louis Henry Morgan's impact on American anthropologist; chapter 11 focuses on the refusal of Americanists to accept contacts across salt water despite compelling evidence to the contrary. The final chapter offers perspectives on a wide variety of current themes and problems.