Reading old archaeology scholarship…

In perfect alignment with Kohl’s assertion that settler-colonial archaeology will focus more on natural history and with Fabian’s theory of allochronism and temporal manipulation, the scholarship from the 1930s is largely written from a “natural history” perspective. Albert Reagan’s 1933 article, “Indian Pictures in Ashley and Dry Fork Valleys, in Northeastern Utah,” published in Art and Archaeology Magazine, provides a strong example of the kind of language used to describe American Indian excavation sites at the time:

On the rock walls of this region ancient man left hundreds of groups of 

rock-pictures which not only show considerable art in their make-up but are also more or less decipherable. Furthermore, through their being superimposed over each other and their being drawn in almost life size, the different cultures which occupied the region before the days of the present Utes can be readily determined, and then by placing these in their succession and correlating them with the house remains that dot the section, the age of these cultures can also be approximately estimated…the basket-makers were the first people of the scene. They pictures themselves in square-shouldered (or slightly round-shouldered) drawings and as wearing their hair in side bobs or side-locks, or as cut a little below the ears and occasionally held in place with a hair band. Some of their other drawings are of animals and hunting scenes” (Reagan 202).

Although this excerpt is somewhat scholastically dry and not particularly complicated in its syntax or ideas, there is much to be parsed in this brief, seemingly straightforward account. Starting at the beginning, the phrase “ancient man” is the first of many problematic instances which confirm the article as an example of “the literature of dominance.” Referring to Native people from the past as “ancient man” both emphasizes their existence in distant past and employs “natural history” rhetoric to other them in a way that implies they were fundamentally different from other human beings,  and not because of the historical moment in which they lived. They are depicted as belonging almost to another species, as not quite human. The group singular “man” evokes the language of scientists watching animals: the elephant is the largest land mammal on earth. Here, elephant singular actually means elephant plural, but the singular use indicates lack of individuality, that, if there are differences between specific elephants, then the differences are minor and unimportant because what is of scientific interest are the shared traits that make all elephants elephants. In the article the sameness is what’s important, the sameness is what dehumanizes past Indians and what separates historical nativeness from contemporary whiteness. 

Similarly, the description of an entire population as “basket-makers” trivializes and simplifies the culture into a homogenous soup of unvarying production; it emphasizes the exact dehumanizing sameness as the group singular did at the beginning. Later in the passage when the Native people’s hair styles are described in meticulous, objectifying detail, the mention of their pictures of animals is, in comparison, brief and far less thorough. Perhaps, to allow them narrative space in which they are subject observing and studying object, rather than objects themselves, is too risky in its inherent threat to the articles scientific “natural history” approach. 

The language used to figure the artwork is also peculiarly judgmental. The pictures are described as “more or less decipherable,” which is ridiculous given that a) it’s a vague unacademic assessment that fails to mean anything, and b) “deciphering” implies an established structure of meaning which, although potentially confusing, has enough consistency that when an interpretation is reached it is obviously the correct one. Perhaps Reagan or the archaeologists are more learned than they seem, but at no point was an advanced enough familiarity with this culture conveyed that “decipher” could be considered an appropriate characterization of their praxis. This phrase also directly follows the potential-compliment “considerable art,” as though the effort were more impressive than the product, an assessments that’s only conceivable purpose is condescension as it adds no relevance to the scholarly discourse. This penchant for condescension and paternalistic language show’s how important it is, to this rhetoric, that white researchers remain, at all times, unimpressed, a parent (to return to a previous conceit) kindly finding something to complement in their kindergardener’s art project. In a similar vein, it is worth noting that the “house remains”–actual architectural ruins–merely “dot” the site, as though they Utes’ architectural accomplishments are completely insignificant, when in fact they provided the most significant information about dating and time estimations for the materials found.

To finish up this examination, the one mention of contemporary Native presence, “the Utes” must be addressed. Their brief appearance is more unsettling that anything else. If the excavation is, indeed, occurring on the land they currently occupy, then what is their relationship to the material remains, the artifacts, the art work? If they live there and yet the site’s wealth of physical history is intact, then have the not consciously preserved it? Why are they not considered curators? Why aren’t they important for gathering information?  Furthermore, how long have they lived there? If they’ve been there all along, are they not the same people, just culturally evolved and changed with time? 

This last question also resonates with another moment in the article where the most recent rock pictures are “found drawn over the rock writings of the three previous cultures, thus showing beyond question that they are the latest in the time scale” (Reagan 203). First, of the two synonymous phrases “most recent” and “latest,” the selection of the one that evokes an increasingly aging timeline, rather than one that approaches, or is relative to, the present is yet another example of the relegation of Native people to the past. Second, cultures do not usually experience death, do not suddenly cease to exist, unless violence enters into the equation. The perception of “three” distinct “previous cultures” paints an alternate reality in which cultural evolution occurs when one group of people replaces another. Although the approximate times in which these cultures existed is supposedly known, those dates are never mentioned. It seems possible that there is temporal overlap being elided, in order to create an illusion of staccato cultural progression, laying a narrative groundwork for understanding Western culture’s invasion of North America and the ascension of the United States’ national body as a natural and precedented occurrence. To allow Native people a narrative presence in which dynamic, fluid cultural evolution occurs, is also to allow them access to futurity, a right which would threaten the subjectivity of white scholars with coeval experience, and which explicitly counters values of manifest manners and the United State’s ongoing project of Indian erasure.

What I’ve Been Reading: Toward A Social History of Archaeology

A while ago when I reading El-Haj, there was one thing that really interested me that I forgot to mention. She referred to archaeology as an national Israeli “hobby,” which reminded me of American archaeology’s more casual beginnings.

Patterson has a whole chapter on the professionalization of archaeology, which really did begin as just a pastime–good old digging in the dirt. Although the development of American archaeology’s professional status happened practically simultaneously with archaeology’s increasing popularity (at the turn of the 20th century), I still have this strong impression that its less formal beginnings informs the current national discourse. It seems to connect up with that idea of Indian artifacts always being available and that intense delight and finding something like a pottery shard, beads, or an arrow head. It feels like a free for all, like an equal opportunity kind of deal.

More on topic though, Patterson argues that the professionalization of archaeology ultimately produced some of the most harmful archaeological discourse that we now know and love. Professional archaeologists at the end of the 19th century, for example, had highly specific definitions of civilization and culture, definitions that often excluded Native Histories and bolstered the rhetoric of manifest destiny by ‘scientifically’ providing evidence for the superiority of white Americans over people of  other races.

Sigh.

This is all so depressing and it’s reminding me of that essay I read a while ago that essentially claimed it was impossible to decolonize inherently terrible institutions. Oh well. Archaeology is boring any way, I say we just toss it.

The Infamous Indian Camp Scene

So this is the passage that got me off on this archaeology kick, I figured it’s time to discuss it here:  

“At last they went down into a the little hollow where the Indians had camped…there were ashes where Indian camp fires had been. There were holes in the ground where tent-poles had been driven. Bones were scattered where Indian dogs had gnawed them…Tracks of big moccasins and smaller moccasins were everywhere, and tracks of little bare toes…Pa read the tracks for Laura and Mary. He showed them tracks of two middle-sized moccasins by the edge of the camp fire’s ashes. An Indian woman had squatted there. She wore a leather skirt with fringes; the tiny marks of the fringe were in the dust. The track of her toes inside the moccasins was deeper than the track of her heels, because she had leaned forward to stir something cooking in a pot on the fire” (1).

The temporality of this scene is intensely complex. It is my conceit that the the nationalist feelings that Wilder evokes would be familiar to readers at the time of the novel’s publication, because they are heavily embedded within the historical context of New Deal archaeology.  But for the time in which the scene historically takes place, her description of the Indian camp creates anachronistic sentiment; archaeology had not yet attained widespread popularity in the 1800s. The temporal issues of the scene are also spacial in nature, not only because of the archaeology’s conception of an obviously physical history, but because Anglo-American manipulation of Indian time and temporality is always about gaining, preserving, or justifying property ownership and white occupation of native land. Throughout U.S history, attitudes towards Native people have changed in response to border shifts and land acquisition. Wilder’s startling and very resonant choice of the word, “squatted” to describe the Native woman’s presence comes very much out of the time period where, in order to ideologically resolve U.S. claims to Indian land, it was prevalent to conceive of Indian people as occupying a temporality without a future, a temporality without consistent cause and effect. Returning to the historical notion that Native land was wasted, that Indian people did not know who to best use, or take care of, their land, that they had no ability to make large-scale agricultural changes or create any longterm, or even short-term, temporal impact, it is important to realize just how out of place and time, culturally, an archaeological excavation is. At the time of Osage removal, it was very important to Anglo-American interest that Native people be conceived as lacking in temporal vigor, unable to keep up with American futurity, and lagging in past because of their fundamental inability to progress by making lasting environment impact. A Native archaeological site, by definition, threatens this paradigm because it studies enduring material evidence of human life.

When Wilder imposes one onto the time period of the other, the temporal implications are intricate and difficult to unpack. The recent departure of Indians from what was a temporary camp is obvious. The faint “tiny marks” of a leather “fringe [are] in the dust” still, fresh and undisturbed by wind or animal. The posture of the “Indian woman [who] squatted there” is also still perceptible from the depth and position of her moccasin tracks. The Indian camp is newly abandoned and the few instances of visible impact are delicately fragile and temporary. And yet the details fitting together like a puzzle to create a picture of another culture, the soft contemplative tone, and the literally concave depression of the camp all evoke the national feeling associated with an archaeological dig, an investigation into a very distant past. The land has not yet been stolen and the archaeological conception of Native temporality, in which Indians exist only in imagined antiquity, cannot do the work of justifying the actual moment of land seizure. Wilder wants to maintain the narrative relegation of all Indians to an ancient era contemporary to the novel’s publication. But she also needs to emphasize the Osage’s wastefulness of the land and the camp’s lack of far-reaching temporal impact. The camp needs to be both infinitely old and infinitely new/primitive simultaneously in order to carry the political and idealogical weight Wilder has entrusted to it. The second half of the scene signals yet more temporal complexity:

“Something bright blue glittered in the dust. She picked it up, and it was a beautiful blue bead. Laura shouted with joy. Then Mary saw a red bead, and Laura saw a green one, and they forgot everything but beads. Pa helped them look. They found white beads and brown beads, and more and more red and blue beads. All that afternoon they hunted for beads in the dust of the Indian camp…they looked all the ground over carefully. When they couldn’t find any more, it was almost sunset” (2).

The shift of interest towards the beads marks a shift in temporality as well. Unlike with the other material artifacts, Pa does not play the anthropologist, does not provide a meticulously detailed image of the person/or people who handled them. Relatedly, part of the archaeological sentiment conjured by the tone in the first half of the scene comes from the stillness of the images. While the moccasin tracks indicate movement, the direction or speed of that movement, which certainly Pa is smart enough to discern, is never mentioned. The imaged of the women in a leather fringed-skirt is also static. She leans forward, unshifting and maintaining the same ratio of heel to toe pressure long enough to leave the trace of her exact posture. At her most lively, she stirs the contents of pot. The beads, in sharp contrast, appear suddenly dropped, scattered across the camp in a way strongly suggestive of movement. Is it their too obvious recent motion then that excludes them from a distant antiquity? Do they belong to the other narrative of native temporality, one that has not future or causal relationship to space? Their role as souvenirs for the girls would seem to exclude them from that notion of temporality as well. That temporality emphasizes inadequate native labor and a general failing to keep up with onward progressing Western futurity. The problem is that the beads are actually too nice. The girls are delighted with them and clearly intend to keep them for future use. 

Is it possible that the beads have somehow skirted temporal imprisonment, representing abundant production and Indian futurity? While perhaps not relegated to the past, their ominous unquestioned origin indicates that, while of Indian make, the beads’ futurity cannot be so easily equated with their crafter’s futurity. The scattering alludes to a sudden panicked flight, so perhaps the beads are the remainder of a violent act. 

If Wilder’s envisioned archaeological excavation of a recently abandoned Indian camp is read alongside Fabian as an example of allochronistic shaping of object and subject, then Pa’s role as wise anthropological subject is evident. He is the leader and teacher of a pedagogical exercise for Laura and Mary in how to feel and construct temporal distance between themselves and Native America. More than any clear picture of the past, what the girls dig up at the Indian camp is their future as white subjects. The beads, however, are still a temporal anomaly. If Pa is so well versed in allochronistic temporal imprisonment of Indian lives and culture, why does he not “read” the beads as he did the tracks, creating static image narratives for the girls to consume as fledgling anthropological subjects, themselves? What is overtly coeval is also what is excluded from allochronistic manipulation. Of the similarities between White’s poem and Wilder’s scene, the most striking one is the “strand of turquoise beads” in contrast to the “beautiful blue bead” that “glittered in the dust.” If the beads intertextually symbolize death, then it is wonder why Pa would not be able to adequately objectify an Indian body. But, returning to a previous question, what if the beads, in their ominous dispersal, actually mark violent death? Violence and war are, at their most obvious level, shared narrative; violence is, by necessity coeval for the parties involved. Pa’s inability to conjure and objectify a potential human agent in the bead’s narrative suggests an coeval experience which does not flatter Pa’s gentle paternal nature or inspire confidence that he does “not believe,” as he says, “that the only good Indian [is] a dead Indian” (3).

In that many of what are initially perceived moments of anachronism actually signal closer investigation for allochronistic temporal constructions, then some of the original temporal congestion in the sans Fabian reading of the Indian camp scene can now be cleared. To read for historical anachronism is boggling. Wilder describes the scene in a tone that evokes archaeological sentiment and which harkens nostalgically back to an imagined frozen antiquity. She not only inserts an anachronism of Indian presence, falsely characterizing it as existing only in the past, she also inserts that anachronism anachronistically as the predominant understand of Native people at the time was they existed futureless temporal narrative, stripped of causality and personal agency for affecting any long term impact, including enduring material culture for later archaeological objectification. Wilder’s layering of two forms of colonial temporality, also erases, somewhat ironically, part of the history of historical erasure of Native people, revealing a frenetic and dizzying system of revision and narrative manipulation that, perhaps unintentionally, begins a meta discourse on the history of historiography. 

However, if anthropological, rather than historical, praxis is prioritized in understanding the scene, then a less convoluted logic of sentiment emerges as a interpretive guiding principle. The depiction of the camp as both old and new shows a reasoned trajectory of Laura’s white American futurity. The distant past to which Native people are often banished in one several narrative methods of temporal imprisonment is not relative; it is always the same amount long ago from the present even as the present becomes past and moves into the future. The Native people relegated as distanced object to this hyper-constructed allochronism are especially prone to a fetishistic archaeological gaze. But just as this process objectifies Indians, it subjectifies the individual white American agents of expansionism. Expansion, the physical embodiment of Western notions of progress and futurity, is thus instantiated in Laura as she is taught to acquire to personhood through the temporal imprisonment and dehumanization of American Indians. At the abandoned camp, she becomes, by juxtaposition, a subject of Anglo-American narrative in the presence of a newly introduced object. The way in which she is taught to observe as an archaeologist is paired with another, more contemporary, more ethnographic, less historical (but no less objectifying) method of looking. 

While Laura is encouraged to view native presence as ancient, she is also encouraged to view it as barely enduring. “The tiny marks of fringe” left in the campground dust fit perfectly into this allochronism of a “weak” and less causal temporality. This particular temporality is conceived of as slow and lethargic. Anglo-American temporality, especially Western futurity, is linked closely with the notion of meaningful, continuously improving cultural progress. Native culture relegated to this slower temporality is figured as stagnant, but not completely dissipated, almost hovering in its inefficient motion. This notion of lingering inactive presence contributes a haunted feeling to the Indian camp and further supports the reading of the space as one of recent death and violence. Laura’s delight in the beads is then much more sinister. As she participates in pedagogical play, learning her inheritance of Western futurity, what she relishes most are the abundant tiny souvenirs, each marking the pointed lack of Native futurity in the predominant white-bolstering narrative of the United States. The dead Indian, the specter presence of the person or people to whom the beads belonged and who anthropologist Pa cannot speak of, exists as structural narrative support at the center of United States’ expansionist and nationalist rhetoric.  

The beads, though as a mark for coevalness are also a mark for the overt violence against American Indians by white Americans in order to construct and maintain the United States’ national body.

(1) Wilder, Laura Ingalls, and Garth Williams. Little House on the Prairie. Newly illustrated, uniform ed. New York: Harper & Bros., 1953., 174-176.

(2) Ibid., 177-178.

(3) Ibid., 303.

What I’ve Been Reading: Archaeology and the Postcolonial Critique

The past two days I’ve been reading this book of essays entitled Archaeology and the Postcolonial Critique and edited by Matthew Liebmann and Uzma Rizvi.

One essay I found interesting, though not particularly relevant to my research, was “Indigenous and Postcolonial Archaeologies” by Robert Preucel and Craig Cipolla. The major focus of the article is archaeology controlled by indigenous peoples as a means of combatting and remedying oppressive colonial archaeological practices (like taking human remains and not repatriating them). The authors propose several “decolonizing methodologies” which include groups of indigenous people collaborating with professional archaeologists, indigenous archaeologists excavating their own cultural sites, and reinventing archaeological praxis to reflect more authentic, traditional cultural values and philosophies (one example of this is a Maori archaeologist who insists that “research should set out to make a positive difference for those researched).

Another essay I liked was “Heterogenous Encounters: Colonial Histories and Archaeological Experiences” by PraVeena Gullapalli. It’s also somewhat more relevant to my work. The essay’s main concern,  though-provokingly resonant with the other essay I’ve summarized, is whether or not archaeology can be decolonized. Gullapalli writes:

“A consistent critique has been that european investigations into the past and present were fundamentally shaped by the exigencies of rationalizing and maintaining power. Consequently, the historical and anthropological narratives created under those circumstances cannot be divorced from issues of power and dominations and were, in many cases, in the service of reinforcing those power relations in favor of the colonizers.”

This made me think really hard about the particular history of archaeology in the U.S. and the nation-building goals it has always served. I’m not sure how North American archaeology could be decolonized and reclaimed for native people. The very nature of archaeological praxis in the U.S. concerns the manipulation of American Indian temporal narrative, turning them in to ancient or dead characters in a story that ends necessarily in the triumph of colonialism. Well, from where I’m sitting (my carrell), North American archaeology seems pretty irredeemable to me.

The Perceived Ubiquity of American Indian Artifacts

Recently, in the library, I found a 1932 book entitled Children of the Great Sprit by Frances Somers and Florence Crannell Means. It’s a teacher’s guide, meant to be “A Course on the American Indians For Primary Children.” It’s unsurprisingly super racist, but that’s not the interesting part. There is this really strange moment in the text where the authors suggest, among a dozen other education “activities,” that the children engage in “collecting Indian objects.” The full excerpt reads:

“No matter what tribe is being studied, the observation of articles of Indian workmanship offers a good way of initiating and strengthening the course. The leader may be able to borrow from friends, from the public school, from a museum, of from the mission board. It is best to display only a few articles at first. These will almost certainly suggest to the children others which might bring in from week to week. When everything must be labeled and carefully handled and kept track or, training in responsibility results.”

The authors are presuming the constant availability of Native American artifacts, which is not only unrealistic and strangely delusional, but also paints a very haunting picture of America as a mass grave, the whole country resembling the strewn out insides of one of those excavated mounds. What I  realized was even weirder, though, was that the cultural narrative surfacing in that quote is actually pretty familiar to me. When confronted with it as a school assignment, I’m instantly skeptical, but without the rigid prescription of needing to go and find something on demand, it dawned on me that this is a totally pervasive narrative and one that I have been exposed to my whole life. I have this image, I don’t know where from, multiple places I’m guessing, of a child finding an arrow head in the woods. And it’s such a delightful pseudo-memory, that youthful archaeological discovery, I take immense pleasure from it. I suspect it’s a trope older than the New Deal archaeological boom, but I’m not positive and it would be pretty cool if it’s origins are the Great Depression excavations in popular culture.

Also, I just realized, that’s exactly what happens in that scene in Little House on The Prairie when Laura and her sister find the beads at the abandoned Indian camp site. It’s that very same pleasure, too. I have a highly relevant analysis of that scene that I’ll post sometime soon. It’s what inspired this project, so it is super duper on point.

Mound Builders

The mound builders were a native American people, made up of many tribes, but culturally  related to one another (1). They were a Mississippian people (2) and there distributed over a wide geographic region including the modern day states of Mississippi, Ohio, Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, New York, and many of the Gulf States (3). Their vast civilization existed from 700 A.D. to 1700 A.D., and they there are most well known for building their mysterious massive earth  mounds, hollow on the inside and sometimes, though not always, home to the dead (4).

The largest, and most archaeologically excavated, of the mound builder sites, are the ruins of what must have been a very great metropolis, Cahokia (5). Mound sites made up a huge number of the New Deal excavations and it was during that time period that the United States acquired much of its collection of American Indian human remains, the majority which still belongs to the Smithsonian.

Also, of note, for many, many years American archaeologists believed that the mounds were to sophisticated to have been built by native peoples and it was believed that a non-Indian race of people, speculated to be one of the Ten Lost Tribes, vikings, or of Asian origin, built the mounds and were then the victims of genocide at the hand’s of violent American Indian tribes (6). That’s kind of so insane a theory I don’t even know what to do with it. Furthermore, I feel like I’m seeing the most obvious analysis of that historical belief as horrendously, overtly racist, and am, perhaps, blinded by weird confused rage to any other more nuance or interesting interpretation. The most thoughtful idea I have is just that this historical attitude definitely would have fit neatly into the predominant narrative of White colonists taming and civilizing the wild native America.

 

 

Cahokia!

 

 

(1) Silverberg, Robert. Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archaeology of a Myth.. Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1968., 227

(2) Ibid., 226.

(3) Shetrone, H. C.. The Mound Builders.. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1930., 27.

(4) Silverberg, Mound Builders, 227.

(5) Young, Biloine W., and Melvin L. Fowler. Cahokia, the Great Native American Metropolis. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000., ix.

(6) Patterson, Social History, 28.

New Deal Archaeology

Okay, so I promised I’d provide some historical background. Here it goes! 

During the 19-teens in the United States, archaeology, as a way of interacting with the past for entertainment rather than scholastic purposes, began to experience a rise in public interest. Several publications, including short lived (1914-1934) Art and Archaeology Magazine, dedicated to archaeology, art history, and natural history were founded during this time. With the great depression of the 1930s and with that FDR’s New Deal, the steadily rising interest in archaeology experienced a massive boom. The Works Progress Administration, in addition to half a dozen other “alphabet soup” agencies, employed millions of people throughout the Great Depression, many of which worked on the excavations of archaeological sties across the continental United States (1). New Deal funding poured into American Archaeology (2) and the growing number of excavations lead to a number of changes within the field, most notably increased professionalization (3).

While it is true that early colonial sites were excavated during this time, many more of the archaeological excavations were of American Indian sites (4). For a people whose relatively recent history contained relocation, removal, and genocide, whose contemporary existence was (and continues to be) systematically erased or ignored, and whose lives and culture are consistently relegated to the past, this sudden Anglo-American interest in Native American history was, needless to say, complicated and fraught for American Indian people. Anglo-American archaeologists and U.S. government officials cared, unsurprisingly, very little about Native claims to the land being excavated or the artifacts uncovered in the excavations. In keeping with the nation’s long history of violent land acquisition, white Americans felt fully justified in their right to occupy, and make decisions about, the newly unearthed Indian ruins. In The Land of Prehistory, Kehoe asserts that the indiscriminate archaeological excavation of Native sites by white archaeologists is an extension the Manifest Destiny rhetoric of the mid-19th century (5).

 The growing excitement over archaeological digs dovetailed with newly spirited nationalist sentiment. White Americans felt proud of what they conceived of as their past, of what they considered an American history all for them and for the construction of their collective and individual national identities. In his essay, “Nationalism and Archaeology: On the Constructions of Nations and the Reconstructions of the Remote Past,” anthropologist Philip Kohl theorizes that, given archaeology’s importance to national identity, nations with similar histories will produce archaeological research with similar scholarly focuses and attitudes towards the material. He writes that:

“the construction of a national identity for a nation of immigrants…typically has been associated with the adoption of universal evolutionary/natural historical perspective on its prehistoric past and on its still-surviving indigenous peoples. Prehistory becomes part of nature, and its makers may at first go unrecognized…romanticized as noble or denigrated as savages…conceptualized as different and less than the civilized European immigrants, who have a real history forged in the Western tradition” (6).

I’m going to get all casual for a second, here. The way I always best understand this particular anti-Indian, racist narrative is by imagining the U.S. as a Western parent towards their metaphorical Western child, whom they are raising and watching grow up. In this scenario, the child is born a helpless unsocialized animal, an object of nature. This is the land’s infant native stage. After European contact, nature–American Indian Civilization–is tamed, civilized, and improved into mature Western futurity/adulthood. White Americans are thus encouraged to look fetishistically back on the wild, exotic, unconquered, “prehistorical” North American, appreciate how much Western expansionism has accomplished, and give themselves a congratulatory pat on the back as though their previously moody, now well-behaved teenager had just graduated from high school.

I also think this metaphor has practical benefits in terms of thinking about the way children are encourage to play Indian but also expected to grow out of it. In that sense, every American child is slated to develop their national identity on a trajectory that serves as a microcosm of the really horrible and oppressive colonial narrative history for the U.S.

(1) Means, Shovel Ready, 7. Means, Shovel Ready, 7.

(2) Ibid.

(3) Patterson, Thomas C.. Toward A Social History of Archaeology in the United States. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1995. 75.

(4) Means, Shovel Ready, 13-14.

(5) Kehoe, Prehistory, xi.

(6) Kohl, Philip L.. “NATIONALISM AND ARCHAEOLOGY: On The Constructions Of Nations And The Reconstructions Of The Remote Past.” Annual Review of Anthropology: 223-246. 233.