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Book Reviews

Discover the insights and opinions of readers like you, where diverse perspectives illuminate the literary landscapes of the titles we hold dear.

Edited by Stephen E. Nash and Erin L. Baxter

This volume presents the proceedings from the 16th Southwest Seminar of 2018, a biennial conference that focuses on the latest developments in Southwestern archaeology.  It consists of 20 chapters that are organized into four sections that examine recent research on a more specific topic.

The first section deals with Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. In late 2016, President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect 1.3 million acres of public land that are rich in ancient ruins and of great spiritual significance to a number of Indigenous tribes in the Southwest. A year later, President Donald Trump sought to reduce the monument by 1.1 million acres. In this section, six archaeologists and Native Americans make the case for the larger monument using tribal histories and scientific research. In 2021, President Joe Biden restored the monument to its original size.

The second section examines dating methods and results in the Southwest, presenting novel technologies and problems with various systems, including tree rings, carbon 14, and archaeo-magnetic techniques. The pitfalls of sampling biases in otherwise reliable dating sequences are thoroughly examined. The chapters in the third section make the case for increased use of existing collections, including archives and artifacts, for archaeological research. These authors demonstrate how existing collections can provide invaluable information when skillfully utilized. As field excavations become more expensive and difficult, research is bound to move toward work on existing collections and archives. New technologies are making it possible to gain important new information from collections long thought to have given up their secrets.

Plains-Pueblo interactions is the topic of the fourth section. A subject that is both obvious and little studied, the authors make a strong case that the study of Plains-Pueblo interaction is in need of analysis, interpretation, and explanation.

Pushing Boundaries in Southwestern Archaeology is an important addition to the field.

Even though it has been extensively studied, much remains to be learned and this volume gives the reader the most up-to-date information available.

University Press of Colorado, 2023; 440 pgs., illus., $75 cloth, $60 ebook;

Edited by Glen E. Rice, Arleyn W. Simon, and Chris Loendorf

Vapaki: Ancestral O’Odham Platform Mounds of the Sonoran Desert

Between about A.D. 1075 and 1450, the Hohokam of southern Arizona built lots of platform mounds, mainly along the Gila and Salt Rivers where they practiced extensive irrigation agriculture.  Much of Hohokam territory is now covered by modern-day Phoenix, Tucson, and smaller communities. The platform mounds were earthen structures built up to form a flat, elevated surface. They were monuments that were associated with large public rooms where people gathered for ritual and civic purposes. They varied greatly from place to place and some had household rooms, plazas, towers, pillars, shrines, astronomical alignments, cooking facilities, and/or granaries. Many were enclosed by a large earthen wall that formed a compound that appears to have been a sacred space. Archaeologists have identified 94 platform mounds in Arizona, although many have been damaged or destroyed by looters, development, and modern agriculture. Their large number and their full purpose remain an enigma.

This volume brings together 26 scholars writing 15 essays on various aspects of these mounds seeking new insights into their origins, functions, importance to the community, and their cessation of use after some 400 years. Over the past 30 years, archaeologists have intensified their study of these platform mounds, and they have also gained new insights from modern O’Odham people, the descendants of the Hohokam. Oral histories tell of a civil war that destroyed the purpose of the mounds around A.D. 1450. Clearly the monumental platform mounds were of great significance to the entire region as they evolved over time.  Their sudden demise only adds to the problem.

The authors of these essays have a wide range of perspectives and often come to significantly different conclusions. This variety is a strength of this volume as it gives the reader a range of views to consider. Vapaki (the modern O’Odham word for platform mound) is an important addition to the study of Hohokam culture. It is well-organized and amply illustrated. The authors develop the most recent information to push their interpretations of the purpose of platform mounds and the role they played in Hohokam culture.

University of Utah Press, 2023; 294 pgs., illus., $80 cloth, $64 ebook;

By Geoffrey M. Smith

The Warner Valley lies in the northwestern Great Basin where Nevada, California, and Oregon meet. Some 17,000 years ago, near the end of the Pleistocene, the valley was covered by a deep lake. As it receded, it cut numerous rock shelters into the cliffs of Steamboat Point and Little Steamboat Point. By at least 13,000 years ago, humans were using the changing lake shores for seasonal encampments. The rock shelters were also being used for more intense occupations. The valley was used intermittently for the next 10,000 years as the lake gradually disappeared and the valley became a desert environment.

This volume reports on three field seasons in the valley along with another five years of laboratory analysis by the University of Nevada, Reno under the leadership of Geoffrey Smith, a professor of archaeology. The result is a record of some 10,000 years of human occupation including open-air sites, lithic technology, plant and animal foods, and bone and shell artifacts. Using a multidisciplinary approach, Smith and his colleagues were able to track both the environmental and cultural record and how they interacted over this long period of time.

In the Shadow of the Steamboat is a fascinating case study of archaeological research using the latest techniques to study a 10-millennia period in a changing environment.

University of Alabama Press, 2023; 232 pgs., illus., $450 cloth or ebook;

By Warren C. Riess

Studying the Princess Carolina: Anatomy of the Ship That Held Up Wall Street

In 1982, archaeologists conducting a pre-construction excavation in lower Manhattan’s financial district discovered the remains of an 18th century sailing ship. They called in nautical archaeologists including Warren Riess of the University of Maine and the author of this volume.  Given only one month to extract the ship’s remains, a large crew recorded and recovered much of the remains of the ship, which they tentatively identified as the Princess Carolina, built in Charleston in 1817. It was scuttled in the 1850s.

For the next 30 years Riess and his colleagues analyzed the ship’s remains and conducted historical research to try to determine the ship’s origins. This volume presents the analysis of the vessel’s design and construction, which allowed the team to build a scale model of the ship. It is an important addition to the study of early 19th century ship building, and it provides insights about commerce and transportation of the era. It is richly illustrated with 19 photographs and 29 line drawings that allow the reader to understand how the ship was built.

Texas A & M University Press, 2023; 136 pgs., illus., $52 cloth;