From the Archives: Review of the Lost City of Z by David Grann

 Note:  The recent release of the film version of The Lost City of Z suggests that reposting this 2013 Fieldnotes review of the book is timely.   Although the book has been around for a while, if you really care about possible spoilers, and you haven’t seen the movie, you may want to avoid this review at this time.  You may want to just catch the movie instead or add this excellent book to your summer reading list (David Grann’s new book is Killers of the Flower Moon:  The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI).

The Lost City of Z by David Grann (Vintage Departures/Vintage Books, 2009) is the story of the British explorer Percy Fawcett, who spent much of the early 20th century exploring and mapping the Amazon Basin.  The City of Z is the name Fawcett used to refer to a mysterious, undiscovered ancient city he believed to exist in the Amazon basin.  He endeavored to find the City of Z just as Machu Picchu and the cities of the Maya had been found by earlier generations of explorers.  In the later years of his career, he made its discovery his only truly satisfying objective. 

Fawcett in a sense was born late:  he was a Victorian-vintage explorer in a post-Victorian age when singular adventurers were being replaced by exploration teams, expensive technology, publicity hounds, and professionals such as academics in the emerging fields of anthropology and archaeology.  This kind of competition pushed Fawcett to extremes of daring and exposure to danger.  He is thought of by some as a model for the Indiana Jones archetypal character of modern popular culture.  He was strong and determined, and in middle-age he finally disappeared forever in the Amazon forest while looking for the City of Z.  In the book the reader learns this quite early, and this big mystery is what much of the story is about.

The book covers the sensation Fawcett’s disappearance caused, the numerous expeditions that went looking for him (leading to more lost explorers), and the nature of facts about native cultures that may have given rise to the theory of a mysterious, lost, indigenous civilization located in the Amazon rain forest.   This theory is now more resonant with fact but nuanced by actual cultural history than it was in Fawcett’s day. 

With regard to the basis in fact for such a theory, The Lost City of Z harmonizes well with information about ancient South America in Charles C. Mann’s 1491, and brings to attention the Amazonian research of modern-day archaeologists such as Michael Heckenberger and someone who was a dear friend of many Northeastern U. S. archaeologists (including me), the late Jim Petersen.  In his account of this research, Grann visits Heckenberger in native Amazonia and brings us closer it seems to where Fawcett went and what he was looking for.  Fawcett or his remains were never found, and expeditions (some ill-fated) continue periodically to search for evidence of him.  For maximum effect, read The Lost City of Z when you come home from a hot day in the woods. 

Statewide Archaeology Meetings and Conference in Lake George, New York, April 21-23, 2017

The Spring 2017 meeting of the New York Archaeological Council (NYAC) will be held at the Fort William Henry Hotel and Conference Center in Lake George on Friday afternoon, April 21.  The business meeting is from 1-3, followed by a most interesting program (3-5 PM):  From Screen to Screen (get it?):  Growing Your Archaeology Community with Video.  A Workshop on Video Production and Distribution for Archaeologists. Rumor has it that this may also include the kick-off of a competition for a prize-winning video.  The main points, however (and the real reason to attend) involve using video to enhance social media visibility and connect with the broad community of people interested in archaeology.   

The New York State Archaeological Association (NYSAA) annual conference will be held at the same venue all day Saturday and on Sunday morning.  Yes, the March for Science is on Saturday, and it’s Earth Day too, but this will all work out.  Believe me.  Archaeologists will be sciencing (to use Leslie White’s old expression) one way or the other, or possibly both.  Despair not if you are marching on Saturday:  one of the highlights of the program is the Sunday morning session of papers by New York State Museum archaeologists.  

I am also partial to the session I am in on Saturday afternoon, because I am in this session with my good friends Ellie McDowell-Loudan and Adam Luscier, and some other great researchers and presenters.  I am looking forward to the Saturday afternoon presentations by Tom Weinman on the excavation of prehistoric sites on Lake George, Kurt Jordan on marine shell from historic Seneca sites, and Joshua Kwoka on Late Woodland communities of practice.  Joshua is working on this with a Funk Foundation grant (as a reminder, Funk Foundation grant applications are due on April 30.).   

As far as I am concerned, a Saturday morning paper not to miss is Lucy Johnson et al’s summary of Professor Johnson’s research in the Shawungunk Mountains, 2006-2016.  I have immensely enjoyed the earlier presentations leading up to this one.  Overall, the program is diverse, and everyone should find something of great interest here (for example, Joe Zarzynski’s and Brigid Shaw’s search for clues to the history of a French and Indian War naval vessel, first thing Saturday morning).    

As a preview, the abstract of my paper “Revisiting the Archaic Period in New York State” reports that I will follow up on this subject:

Information concerning the Archaic period in New York State has grown considerably over the years.  Scholarly issues have as well.  Recently I have reviewed the literature on the Archaic period in New York to update the state of knowledge as it has developed since the publication of Ritchie’s Archaeology of New York State.  The present paper is a short version of this review, providing brief descriptions of (1) environmental dynamics such as Early to Mid-Holocene climate-change, sea-level rise, lake-basin inundation, and flood-plain stabilization; (2) implications of these for inland migration and encounter; and (3) historical and cultural processes involving material culture traditions and community formation.  Special attention is given to possible ethnogenesis during the Frontenac and River phases, and the possibility of Late Archaic village organization.

Wish me luck with this.  I’m working on it.  There is a lot more about the upcoming conference including the schedule and abstracts on the New York State Archaeology website.

The Funk Foundation’s New Grant Cycle

We are happy to announce that The Robert E. Funk Memorial Archaeology Foundation, Inc. is now accepting proposals for grants for research into New York State archaeology.  Grant applications must be received by April 30, 2017.  The grant applications will be reviewed by the Funk Foundation Board of Directors in a competitive process with award decisions made by June 15, 2017.  Further information including the grant application forms and guidelines may be found on the Funk Foundation website.  If you have any questions, please email Funk Foundation President Ed Curtin at, or call Ed at (518) 884-7102.

The 2017 grants are for amounts in the range of $1,000.00-$2,500.00.  They are ideal to assist parts of stand-alone research projects or studies that are parts of larger projects.  For example, Funk Foundation grants have been made to support a range of services such as faunal analysis, radiocarbon dating, petrographic slides, lithic analysis, and remote sensing.

Field Techs Needed

Curtin Archaeological Consulting, Inc. is seeking local field techs for Phase 1 work in Saratoga County, New York through the week of December 26.  Work is starting Monday. Please email resumes in word or pdf format to  If you've recently submitted a resume, please email us with your availability. 

Meadow Coldon discovers evidence of cryoturbation, January 2016

Meadow Coldon discovers evidence of cryoturbation, January 2016

Field Techs Needed

Curtin Archaeological Consulting, Inc. is seeking local field techs for Phase 1 work in Saratoga County, New York.  Work is starting immediately and will go for 2 weeks with the potential for additional work beyond. Please email resumes in word or pdf format to  If you've recently submitted a resume, please email us with your availability.

The Vampire Skeleton: A Scary Seneca Iroquois Story

In western culture the passing of October into November has long been regarded as a spooky time.  Insufficiently tempered with the Christian commemoration of saints, Halloween was thought of as a time when a door opens between this world and the one where ghosts and malevolent spirits linger.  In the ancient Irish calendar, November 1 was the first day of winter, and in historic times Europeans found the winter a good time to tell ghost stories.  For the historic Iroquois people of upstate New York, this late fall-early winter period was a time for harvesting deer from the forest, and then retreating to the longhouse for warmth, food, family, friendship, and story-telling.

Spooky tree (Photo by Ed Curtin)

Spooky tree (Photo by Ed Curtin)

A long time ago, when the world was a very different place, the Iroquois of the Seneca tribe lived in great clearings that they made in the forests south of Lake Ontario.  Their longhouses were clustered in villages protected by strong stockades built to keep out any evil that might emerge from the woods.  In the summer the sun smiled upon the fields of corn, beans and squash that the women grew in the clearing between the stockade wall and the forest’s edge.  In the fall people told the story of the hunters who pursued the great bear in the sky, and how when the hunters killed the sky bear, his blood flowing to earth, colored the leaves of the trees red.  As winter came on, people ventured into the forest to hunt deer for food, hides, and the bones they made into tools when the snow was deep and people stayed by the fires in the longhouses.

But going into the forest to hunt was dangerous.  Bears and panthers lived in the woods, and when meeting a man or woman in the forest, it was difficult to know whether this was a human being or an evil spirit in a person’s form.  Despite this, people went into the forest to hunt every fall when it got cold and the snow threatened to fall.  A few people even lived in lodges in the woods.  However, one problem with people who lived in the woods was that the world was beset by evil caused by witches and wizards, even cannibals.  Dwellings in the woods were good places for them to work their dark acts without detection.

For example, the great Hiawatha, who later helped the Peacemaker convey the word of the Great Peace of the Longhouse, once was a horrid, ill-kempt cannibal who lived alone in a lodge in the woods.  Finding him there, the Peacemaker climbed the roof and peered through the smoke-hole.  At that moment, Hiawatha put a pot of water on the hearth to cook a meal.  Looking into the pot, Hiawatha saw the Peacemaker’s reflection in the water and thought it was his own.  It was the image of a good man with a rational mind:  a man who could think straight, listen well, communicate, and find agreement with others.  Thinking this was how he now was, Hiawatha was converted from his evil ways and became the Peacemaker’s companion and spokesman.  But that is a different story.

One year late in the fall, when the leaves were mostly down, a man and woman put their young daughter into her cradleboard and packing food and blankets, went into the woods to hunt.  They journeyed to the hunting ground where a friendly, helpful old man lived, hosting hunters and other visitors.  However, there was a problem at the old man’s lodge because some of the visitors disappeared or mysteriously died.  Nonetheless, it was a warm, welcoming place to stay in this hunting ground.  And so the couple and child went there.

The snow fell early during their trip, and the swirling wind piled it up.  The couple and child arrived at the old man’s lodge at night after struggling through drifts in the moonlight.  The husband called for the old man, but there was no answer.  Entering the lodge, they left the door open so the moon would light the interior.  Their eyes became accustomed to the dim light and then they noticed a platform against the opposite wall.  It had a long bark box on it.  Crossing the floor and peering into the bark box, they found the old man.  He apparently had built the box to crawl into and die.  Now he reposed like a man sleeping, but he had turned into a frightening skeleton!

The man and woman were cold and hungry, and decided to build a fire in the lodge, eat, and sleep before leaving in the morning.  After supper the fire died low while the man and woman slept on two sides of the fire place.  The baby cuddled with her mother.  In this haunted atmosphere the woman dreamed of ghosts, wizards, and witches.  Waking from her troubled sleep, the woman thought she heard a sound, like an owl crunching a mouse.  She looked around.  The firelight was low, but she could see a figure crouched near her husband.  It was the old man’s skeleton chewing her husband’s neck and face!

The woman was terrified, but quickly planned her escape.  Pretending to speak to her husband she said “Our daughter is thirsty.  I will take her down to the stream and get her a little drink.”  And she gathered the girl in a blanket and quickly went out the door.

Now the woman fled through the woods, holding the little girl close.  Soon she heard a loud howl from the lodge.  The vampire skeleton cried “The woman has deceived me!” and she could hear its running feet stomping through the snow and cracking dead wood.

The vampire skeleton yelled “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!” and the woman could hear it getting closer.  She wrapped the blanket on a broken tree trunk so that it looked like a person.  This slowed the vampire skeleton down.  It ripped through the blanket.  It tore the blanket to pieces, looking for blood.  It looked for the woman’s body, but didn’t find it.  Then the woman heard the vampire skeleton yell “The woman has deceived me!” followed by the sound of the monster crashing through the woods.

The vampire skeleton shouted “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo” and closed the distance.  The woman was terrified but still fought to escape.  She tore off her robe and hung it to look like a person.  And then she ran on as fast as she could.  Again, the vampire skeleton stopped, tore up the garment looking for blood, searched for the bodies, and cried “The woman has deceived me!”  She heard it call “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!” and break branches as it ran through the woods.

The woman and daughter were almost caught, but dawn lightened the sky and the woman saw that there was a village stockade straight ahead.  She burst into the clearing calling loudly for help.  The men of the village came out of the stockade with their clubs, saved the woman and baby, wrapped them in warm blankets, and told them that they were brave.  The vampire skeleton, blood on its teeth, glowered from the forest’s edge with burning-red eye sockets.  Then it turned and left, following its bony footprints through the snow.

After hearing the woman’s story, the chief said that people were wrong about the helpful old man in the forest lodge.  He had been an evil wizard, and dying, had become the vampire skeleton.  This was a great threat that they needed to end.  The chief instructed the men to dance in order to keep evil away, so they danced from morning until dusk.  When night fell they gathered their clubs and followed the winding, moonlit forest path to the house of the vampire skeleton.

They entered the lodge and found the vampire skeleton asleep in the bark box.  They lit a fire in the hearth.  Then the chief addressed the vampire skeleton formally:  “We have come to discuss with you the problem that evil is overcoming good in this world.  We need to act to restore the proper balance.”  Then some of the men closed the box with a great sheet of bark and tied it shut.

The men piled firewood around the bark box and set it afire.  They stood outside the lodge while the fire blazed, soon enflaming the entire structure.  The fire and smoke grew higher.  The men could hear the vampire skeleton crash the box to the floor and shout in excitement “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!”, “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!”  The flames roared and towered.

After a while, the lodge began to collapse as the fire died down.  The men felt joy that they had stopped the threat of the vampire skeleton.  Then, as the timbers and bark of the lodge parted with a loud whoosh!, a great owl flew out and disappeared into the woods.

Forever after this the Seneca refused to put the dead in boxes above ground, but buried them in the earth to keep them from rising and bothering the living.

This is a Seneca story that has been told and retold.  No doubt details have changed with the telling (as they have with this telling).  In the old days it would be a good thing to draw this tale out, prolonging story-time in front of the fire on a winter’s night.  The tellings of the story I read before recounting it are listed in the references below:

Sources for The Vampire Skeleton:
Bruchac, Joseph
1985   Iroquois Stories:  Heroes and Heroines, Monsters and Magic.  The Crossing Press, Trumansburg, New York.

Hewitt, J. N. B. and Jeremiah Curtin
1918   Seneca Myths, Fiction and Folktales.  Annual Report 32, Bureau of American Ethnology, Washington.

Parker, Arthur C.
1923   Seneca Myths and Folk Tales.  Buffalo Historical Society, Buffalo, New York.

Wallace, Anthony F. C.
1969   The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca.  Vintage Books, New York.

For more on the hunt of the Sky Bear (a tale told in the stars of the Big Dipper), see “Iroquois Star Lore:  What Does It Mean?”  In At the Font of the Marvelous by Anthony Wonderley (2009, Syracuse University Press).

For more on the story of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, see The White Roots of Peace by Paul A. W. Wallace (1946, University of Pennsylvania Press).

Myth, Memory, History, Encounter: Fall Commemorations

October 9 is Leif Erikson Day.  It has been since 1964 when congress approved it and President Johnson proclaimed it (it is a federal “observance”, not a federal holiday).  Leif Erikson Day usually passes relatively unnoticed where I live in New York State, although I imagine things are a bit different in Minnesota and other places around the upper Midwest.  In New York State, Columbus Day is a bigger deal than Leif Erikson day.  It is a bank-holiday with parades through the streets in some cities.  Originally October 12, it is now celebrated on a designated Monday in October (This year it was the day after Leif Erikson Day).  In this part of the country, Columbus Day is long-recognized as a commemoration of Italian-American heritage.  

Also in New York, we could have Henry Hudson Day, or we could make the whole month of September Henry Hudson Month.  So far, New York has missed this opportunity to draw people into the beautiful Hudson Valley every September.  It would be one more reason to have a destination with beautiful scenery, historic homes and sites (including a number of colonial-era military sites), brilliant fall foliage, red ripe apples, sweet apple cider, tasty cider doughnuts, New York Giants football…oh wait.  The Giants play in New Jersey.  

We do not have Henry Hudson Day in New York, nor do we have Champlain Day (a large part of northeastern New York used to be part of New France).  In 2009, New York State noticed (but barely) the 400th anniversary of Hudson and Champlain first arriving in its modern territory.  The historical context did not go unnoticed by scholars, however, and this context has been examined from different directions by James Bradley in Before Albany and David Hackett Fisher in Champlain’s Dream (Fisher paid special attention to Champlain’s march deep into central New York to attack an Iroquois stronghold). 

Leif Erikson’s voyage to Helluland, Markland, and Vineland ca AD 1000 is considered by many people of European descent (except for some of the Irish) to be the first voyage from Europe to America.  Since the 1870s, this has been promoted as the discovery of America, although America was discovered long before Leif Erikson by the ancestors of the people who drove the Vikings out.  The Vikings called the American and Greenland natives Skraelings, not knowing their actual names.  This first period of encounter was hostile; European and Native American languages probably remained mutually unintelligible, except for war cries emphasizing volleys of arrows, raised shields, and brandished swords.

Photograph of the largest original Viking building in L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. Photo by Clinton Pierce (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph of the largest original Viking building in L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. Photo by Clinton Pierce (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The longer story of the Viking voyages can be found in certain Icelandic sagas, notably the Greenlander’s Saga and Eric the Red’s Saga.  But these sources were not originally written as histories.  They were oral histories passed down through the generations for 200-300 years before they were committed to parchment.  And they don’t quite tell the same story.  They differ on issues such as:  Did Leif Erikson sail from Greenland on a voyage of exploration?  Or was he blown off course on a return trip from Norway, missing his father’s Greenland home and arriving at the treeless, stony coast of Helluland before turning south?  Did another Viking named Bjarni Herjolfsson glimpse America before Leif?  If so, why didn’t Bjarni stop and do a little exploring for some of the things that attracted his successors (grapes according to the sagas; also wood, bog iron, butternuts…yes apparently butternuts, which got transported from a temperate clime to the boreal Viking settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows).  History can be a bit murky, even while the mythology is widely known and long-established.

In case you are wondering, why is October 9 Leif Erikson Day?  Is October 9 when Leif the Lucky landed in Vinland?  Was the date selected to compete head-to-head with Columbus Day, October 12?  To answer the first question, no one knows, but the fall season may be plausible because according to the story, the grapes were ripe.  To answer the second question, it seems a coincidence.  October 9 was selected because it was the landmark date in 1825 when the first organized Norwegian immigration to the United States arrived.  Leif Erikson Day had a Scandinavian-American incentive, and therein lies most of its significance as a holiday.  

Columbus Day commemorates Columbus’s discovery of the Americas (specifically his landing in the Bahamas).  While in New York there is a strong demonstration of Italian-American pride on this day, Columbus’s discovery is also a significant historic event for people of Spanish descent.  Indeed, Columbus’s identity has been contested and speculated upon historically.  Was he a Genoese Italian, or was he Spanish?  What about the recurring theory that he was secretly Spanish of Jewish descent; and that his search across the Atlantic was for a new home for Jews driven out for refusing to convert to Catholicism (Forced conversion, expulsion, or death was Spain’s Jewish policy during Columbus’s lifetime).  When it comes to his identity, it has been difficult for non-specialists to sort Columbus’s history from his myth, although it seems to me that the most widely accepted conclusion is that he was from Genoa.  

When it comes to Columbus’ story of discovery, the myths and history are also entangled.  Did Columbus discover that the world is round, or was this more widely assumed during his lifetime?  In his early seafaring life, did he visit Ireland and hear the story of St. Brendan’s voyage to lands across the western ocean?  Did he travel to Iceland, and if so, what did he learn there?  Did he ever know that the lands he found were not the Indies, Japan, etc.?  Or did he know it but deny it?  I am not trying to debunk anything about Columbus, but I am pointing out that history is often a story in search of documentation, while mythology lingers around, always appealing to our belief systems.

Columbus’s story also is notable because it signals the adverse effect of European contact with the millions of American Indian inhabitants of the New World.  Millions died from European diseases, warfare, and maltreatment.  European culture of the era was warlike, violent, and to use a 21st century word, entitled.  This part of Columbus’s life is the better-documented part.  After discovering San Salvador and returning to Spain a success, Columbus made return voyages.  He became a colonial governor in the New World, and had a direct hand in attacks upon, and enslavement of the natives (of Haiti in particular).  He wasn’t the only cruel conquistador to invade or govern in the New World.  He seems rather typical.  Although millions of individuals died, many American indigenous nations ultimately survived this and all the rest of colonialism.  At the moment I write, in the week that began with Columbus Day, Columbus’s discovery cannot be remembered without the growing awareness of an alternative commemoration honoring native history and resilience:  Indigenous People’s Day.

Henry Hudson's ship Halve Maen in the Hudson River

Henry Hudson's ship Halve Maen in the Hudson River

The Northeastern U.S. has its own colonial history.  As I mentioned, in New York we could have Henry Hudson Day, but we do not.  If we did it would be in September, and we would have to choose a day based on where Hudson was in his journey up the fjord-like, tidal Hudson River (which the colonial Dutch called the North River, and the indigenous Mohicans called “the waters that are never still”).  At the end of his trip up the river, Hudson was treated to dinner by the Mohicans who lived in the vicinity of Castleton, Schodack, and Bethlehem, located on the river just south of the City of Albany.  The Mohicans’ discovery of Hudson and his ship, the Halfmoon was long preserved in oral history, much like Leif Erikson’s voyage to Vinland was preserved in Icelandic oral history.  And like Leif’s saga, the Mohican story was eventually written down in a later generation of tribal historians.  The record of the transmission of the story over time is chronicled in Shirley Dunn’s book The Mohicans and Their Land, 1609-1730.  The value of oral history in this eventually written history cannot go unrecognized, and this history seems less murky (or embellished) than the sagas of Leif Erikson’s discovery, or some of the historically-contested aspects Christopher Columbus’ mythology.  

These are the pieces of the story Dunn has gathered together in Chapter 1 of her book:  A Dutch account of 1649 (forty years after the event) recorded that Mohicans who remembered the first sighting of Hudson’s ship thought it was possibly a fish, or a “monster of the sea”.  To Adrian Van der Donck, who lived in the New Netherland colony in the 1640s, the Mohicans seemed to have been surprised by the appearance of Hudson’s ship.  Van der Donck’s legalistic point was that no Europeans could have preceded the Dutch in the Hudson Valley, or the Mohicans would have remembered it, and would not have been so surprised.  In this, he cites the authority of oral history by saying “There are Indians in this country who remember a hundred years”; that is, in his view at least, the authority of memory stretched back 100 years.

Or longer, as it turns out; speaking to a conference in 1754 (some 140 years after the event), the Mohican orator Hendrick Aupamut said much the same thing about one of his forefathers’ first encountering Hudson’s Half Moon.  As he walked out of the village that day he saw something on the river which he took “for a great fish.”   Aupamut also repeated other memories that Mohicans had stated to Europeans before:   that the Dutch crew of the first encounter would not sail up as far as Albany, but would return in a year to explore farther.  Aupaumut related that when the Dutch returned, the Mohicans invited them into the river flats that would become the original Albany, showed them the geography of this gift; and, remarking that the Europeans were small in number, protected them from possible Indian enemies while telling them they would grow quite numerous in this land.  Dunn described that these kinds of details were communally remembered, compared, and kept as a coherent history in recurrent tribal conferences.  

A few years after the 1754 speech, Aupaumut and another Mohican man (both educated in John Sergeant’s school in Stockbridge, Massachusetts) wrote the Mohican history of the first encounter.  Although some of the originally written narrative has been lost, some has been preserved by being transcribed directly into other histories.  Aupaumut’s role in committing the Mohican oral history to paper was recalled by a later Mohican orator, John Quinney, in his July 4, 1854 speech at Reidsville, Albany County, New York.  During a season that otherwise focuses so closely on the Euroamerican story, and that has become so important to celebrating ethnic origin and achievement to many Americans of European descent, it seems fitting to provide some information on a preserved, indigenous, historical perspective. 

Announcing a Great New Publication in Archaeology

Northeast Anthropology Numbers 83-84 Honors Albert A. Dekin, Jr. with Northeastern Archaeology Articles on Landscape, Scale, and Technology

Numbers 83-84 of the journal Northeast Anthropology is a single, integrated, guest-edited volume titled Archaeological Landscapes:  Scale, Technology and Emerging Approaches.  It is guest-edited by Nina M. Versaggi, Laurie E. Miroff, and Edward V. Curtin.  

That’s right.  I’m announcing a book that I helped to edit.  However, one cannot respectably review one’s own publication, not even nowadays.  Mindful of this, what I offer here is purely archaeology news, not a book review.  My bias as a reporter is that I think this book is great.

    Archaeological Landscapes is first and foremost a Festschrift for the late Al Dekin, who was one of the most important archaeological mentors in the Northeast.  Al had many students, including a cadre of Binghamton University graduate students learning and working in Cultural Resource Management (CRM).  The themes of Landscape, Scale, and Technology were dear to him.  These three themes therefore were easily located when we looked for a title for Al’s Festschrift.  In one way or another, they have guided each contribution.  They substantially informed Al’s teaching, his mentoring, and his well-organized approach to applied archaeological research in the vast universe of CRM, which was an impressively undisciplined discipline at its inception.  

The authors of the articles are Al’s students plus some co-authors.  They are long-time friends of mine, except for the couple of co-authors I don’t know (However, they are just friends I haven’t met yet).  In order of appearance, the authors are:

File Sep 21, 3 44 32 PM.jpeg

•    William Andrefsky, Jr.
•    Susan C. Prezzano
•    Daniel Cassedy
•    Edward V. Curtin
•    Nina M. Versaggi and Samuel M. Kudrle
•    Francis P. McManamon
•    Laurie E. Miroff
•    Doug Harris and Paul A. Robinson
•    Victor T. Mastone, Craig Brown, and Christopher V. Maio
•    John J. Knoerl
•    Robert Quiggle and Matthew Kirk

Within the rubrics of landscape, scale, and technology, several articles consider ancient hunter-gatherers, and several of these focus on the Archaic period.  Dan Cassedy interestingly analyzes how a shifting Archaic settlement location responded to the growth and expansion of the Mohawk River floodplain, underscoring the importance of a refined historical sequence to understanding place.  Generally speaking, several articles that consider either the Archaic, later pre-contact, or early historic periods tease out details of archaeological history, often touching on implicit native thinking (including memories, beliefs, or traditions from deep in the past) that recognize sites or landscapes as important (even sacred) because they are historical (i.e., histories made places important, revisited, revered, transformed).  This conceptualization of place contrasts with (although doesn’t necessarily exclude) an older idea that sites and landscapes were important because it was easy to find food there.  

Moreover, Susan Prezzano considers the importance of present-day Archaic period archaeological discoveries to non-Indian residents of her study area with respect to recognizing the “intrinsic value of the natural environment.”  The importance of the past to the present emerges in several other articles, including the articles on historic battlefields.     

Technology looms in this volume in ways ranging from lithic technological analysis, to the emergence or coalescence of Archaic period technological traditions, the development of historic Adirondack industries, and some wonderful GIS applications.  The technology theme thus includes studying old technology and using emergent technology. 

Often, specific archaeological sites are considered within larger, sometimes extensive, landscape perspectives.  Meanwhile, the several analyses of historic battlefields are explicitly landscape-scaled.  In addition, Frank McManamon, who pioneered a site-less, landscape approach to archaeological survey and data interpretation on Cape Cod in the 1980s, revisits that and subsequent work, while relating how digital technology has improved information sharing and the potential for effective public outreach.  

Although this is a volume focused on the Northeast, do not despair if you grow tired of reading about the Northeast.  Bill Andrefsky’s view of landscape structure, human agency and evolutionary process takes in a southeastern Oregon study area, while John Knoerl’s general perspective of battlefield analysis and preservation emerges in specific Virginia contexts.  So if you plunge right into reading about Frontenac Island or Cape Cod, move on to the Mohawk or Susquehanna valley region, and then, breaking from your reverie find you need to wander, let your imagination drift south, or perhaps far to the west.  It’s all good stuff.

This informative new volume has an introduction by Nina Versaggi and Laurie Miroff, which will orient you further to its themes as well as the career of Al Dekin and his impact on students.  

Archaeological Landscapes:  Scale, Technology and Emergent Approaches, Numbers 83-84 of Northeast Anthropology is now available.  To get a copy, visit Northeast Anthropology.  

One Head, Many Hats: The Diverse Expertise of Cultural Resource Management (CRM) Archaeologists

One Head, Many Hats: The Diverse Expertise of Cultural Resource Management (CRM) Archaeologists

Recently, my friend Nina Versaggi provided a contribution to The Conversation that succinctly and beautifully offers her perspective of a career in archaeology. While Nina conveys the excitement of archaeological discovery and the importance of reconstructing the past, she also talks about the varied responsibilities and skill-sets that many American archaeologists have as cultural resource managers.  

Dena F. Dincauze: A Towering Figure in Northeastern U. S. Archaeology

Dena F. Dincauze

Dena F. Dincauze

I was saddened this morning to learn of the passing of Dena Dincauze, one of the most prominent archaeologists ever in Northeastern United States archaeology (and indeed, American archaeology).  Dena served a long career as a professor of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  I would have been one of her students if I had decided to go to UMASS instead of Binghamton for grad school (a fact she once brought up in conversation, just to remind me).  

Dena also was a past-President of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), past-editor of its journal, American Antiquity, and past-President of the Society of Professional Archeologists (SOPA:  an organization that has evolved into today’s Register of Professional Archaeologists, RPA).  She has been credited with an effort to increase the role of women in SAA administration, and with reaching out to avocational archaeologists.  Dena received the SAA Distinguished Service Award in 1997.

Often with an eye to environmental context, Dena Dincauze made substantial contributions to the study of human prehistory in the Northeast.  In addition to this, she was a very strong advocate for Cultural Resource Management (CRM) archaeology.  Her books include Cremation Cemeteries of Eastern Massachusetts (a title that could get you an odd look from the librarian when you signed it out, as I often did); The Neville Site:  8000 Thousand Years at Amoskeag, Manchester, New Hampshire (which did much to begin archaeologists’ recognition of important, very ancient, Holocene cultures in the Northeast); and the 587-page Environmental Archaeology:  Principles and Practice (which I once heard her refer to as a crowning achievement of her writing career).

Dena especially made substantial contributions to the study of the Paleoindian and Archaic periods.  In addition, she guided students into a much broader range of subjects, often including the cultures of the late prehistoric and contact periods.  This guidance and mentoring continues to significantly shape understandings of what native cultures were like in New England when they first encountered Europeans; how the contact experience affected native societies; and how New England adaptive patterns may have conditioned resilience.  Dena strove to bring New England archaeology into the national archaeological arena that often is dominated by research concerns of the mid-Continent and the Southwest.  Moreover, she was sure to bring up New England when the discussion of Northeastern archaeology was overly dominated by data (or voices) from New York.  As Ed Bell noted in his Facebook post to the Eastern States Archaeological Federation (ESAF) this morning, Dena was indeed supportive of younger generations of archaeologists.  For this, a good many are grateful.  Rest in peace, Dena.