Friday, July 13, 2007

House of Rain

Earlier this week I caught an interview on NPR with Colorado author Craig Childs on the subject of his recent book on the prehistoric Southwest, House of Rain. I read it back in February and really enjoyed it.

I worked in the Southwest while in graduate school, but haven't worked in that part of the country for many years. I find the archaeology there fascinating, but don't have the time to go to conferences about it or really keep up with the literature. Though Childs is not a professional archaeologist, he is an intelligent man who has talked with many experts (some old colleagues of mine) in putting together this book for a general audience. It served much the same function for me as 1491 did when it came out in 2005: it provided a quick run-down of new developments in the research that I wouldn't have had time to pull together myself.

There's lots of good stuff in there about the relationships of site locations and landscape and astronomical phenomena. The prehistoric road system in New Mexico tied to Chaco Canyon has been well known for years, and I learned in this book that a similar road system, not related to Chaco, has recently been discovered in southeast Utah. I'd recommend it to anyone.

I was somewhat surprised last week to see a letter from several senior researchers in the Society for American Archaeology's "Archaeological Record" blasting Childs for an excerpt from the book published in "Natural History" magazine. Sorry I have no link to this. Much of their ire seems to stem from his continued use of the term "Anasazi" for prehistoric peoples of the northern Southwest, which in recent years has been mostly replaced in professional literature by "Ancestral Pueblo" or "Prehistoric Pueblo". Anasazi is derived from a Navajo word. The Navajo are a non-Puebloan people with a history of fractious relationships with the Pueblos. The word translates roughly as "ancestors of our enemies" and Pueblo people say they find it insulting. I won't argue with that, but it's not worth ditching a good book over.

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