Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A History of the Ancient Southwest - Lekson (Non-Fiction)

I've never really been big into non-fiction.  Not because I don't see it as good art, not even because I don't find it interesting, but because I love fiction so much.  Reading takes time, and every book you read is a billion books you didn't.

How then, you might foolishly ask, did this particular non-fiction work end up on this blog?  Once upon a time I had to choose a class last-minute when I realize something I had already registered for wasn't going to work with my schedule.  My choices were very, very limited.  I ended up taking a 5000 level archeology class that--for whatever reason--had no prerequisites.  (This is equivalent to a 500 level class at most universities.)  I could probably write several pages on what a trip it was for me, a non-archeology major, to take this class and how hard it kicked my butt, but I'll spare you.  The important thing here is that I read a book called "A History of the Ancient Southwest", which, as it turned out, was one of the most fascinating and illuminating books I have ever laid my hands on.

Stephen Lekson is a wonderful writer, with a natural story-teller's finesse and an infectious sense of humor.  You might find it hard to believe that a book with such a dry-sounding title could be funny, or even engaging, but he makes it work.  The text reveals that even the title is a kind of tongue-in-cheek joke about archeologists.   It doesn't read like a textbook, but like a very informative narrative, or rather, set of narratives.

If you are into paradigm shifts--and who isn't?--this book will interest you.  It is written in such a way as to be accessible to the non-scholar as well as to Lekson's colleagues.  Your understanding of the Native American populations in ancient northern Mexico and the south-western United States will be shaken, expanded, and turned on its head.  Both from that class and from this book I learned very interesting things about this time period and area, as well as about all of the pre-Columbian Americas.

Some of the ruins in Chaco Canyon, an integral city in the book's narrative.

Perhaps you are not convinced that you, too, will be interested, but I'll bet you're wrong.  Allow me to posit just a few of the tidbits gleaned from the material.  We often hear of the genocide that took place when "the white man" came to the Americas--and certainly no one is trying to overlook the inhumanity involved in the treatment of Native Americans--but did you know that the vast majority of these deaths were inevitable?

Archeological evidence now (very strongly) suggests that the Native American population was much, much larger than has been widely believed in the past.  There may have been as many as twelve million people living in America at the time of European contact.  The diseases that the white man unknowingly brought then swept through the American continents much faster than any explorer could, taking out somewhere in the vicinity of 80-90% of the population long before any white man set foot into the inner-land areas.

This means that for later (more western) contact, seventy years or more may have passed between the epidemic and European contact with specific "tribes" (a term which is becoming increasingly nebulous in regards to ancient peoples).  What the white man saw when they got further into the continent were not the very advanced societies that preceded contact, but the tattered, shredded remains of those societies.

I could go on, but really, Lekson says it better.  Go on and discover some of the beautiful mystery that is the ancient Southwest, including the Chaco Meridian!  Tally-ho!


- MA 12.18.2012


  1. "Go on and discover some of the beautiful mystery that is the ancient Southwest, including the Chaco Meridian!"

    b-but... this is an expensive textbook we're talking about here... ;__;

  2. This blog is mainly for rich bored people. ;)