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Chapter IV:

Early Scientific Archeology

The distinction between professional and lay interest in prehistoric remains is vague for the years before American archeology emerged as a scientific discipline. The initial inclination even of Henry W. Henshaw, the naturalist who first recorded cliff dwellings on the West Fork, had been to dig as Lieutenant Sands did with a knife and fingers. Henshaw dug for skeletons as ranchers along the Mimbres River also did not too long afterwards. [16]

In 1878 a fifteen-page circular [17] was published by the Smithsonian and thousands of copies were distributed in an effort to mitigate the isolated and disconnected nature of archeological work occurring. [18] It outlined standardized techniques of recording data and also solicited the contribution of specimens that had been so documented. The long-range goal of the circular was to produce "an exhaustive work upon our North American antiquities." From the upper Gila area, a collection was sent and a correspondence begun that same year by Lt. Henry Metcalf, a local rancher who had explored Greenwood Cave on a tributary of the Gila River. [19] The following year, H. H. Rusby, a botanist from New Jersey who had come west "in search of botanical novelties" and to investigate natural history and archeology in New Mexico also made a collection of relics for the National Museum from Greenwood Cave, between jobs and before his departure for Mexico. [20]

The disparate backgrounds of Lieutenant Metcalf and Rusby and the incidental nature of their collections—only part of the soldier's went to the National Museum, for example—underscores the essentially random character of archeological data that was being sent east for preservation, display, and study.

In 1879, the year following the Smithsonian circular, systematic archeological research finally began in the American Southwest. The Bureau of American Ethnology was established, with John Wesley Powell as its chief, and such scientific societies as the Archaeological Institute of America were organized. Powell immediately dispatched a group of ethnologists to an area that he had visited during his own explorations of the Colorado River: the western pueblos of the Southwest, including Zuni. A junior member of that expedition was 22-year-old Frank H. Cushing, who stayed at Zuni for five unanticipated years, assimilating himself into the tribe—a novel and professionally unsanctioned venture in the years before Malinowski staked his tent and his reputation in a village of South Sea Islanders and formalized the precept of participant observation.

Meanwhile the Archaeological Institute of America asked the renowned anthropologist Henry Lewis Morgan to develop a plan of research. Shortly afterwards, his protege, Adolph F. Bandelier was hired to survey ruins in the Southwest. Older and less flamboyant than Cushing, Bandelier was still equally intrepid, and he spent five years, usually on foot, wandering about the still dangerous territories of New Mexico and Arizona in search of ruins, armed only with a steel yardstick, a pen, and paper.

For years after the initial work of Cushing and Bandelier, Southwestern archeological activity was guided by techniques of ethnological analogy, direct historical approach, and the unilineal theories of cultural evolution expounded by Henry Lewis Morgan. According to these theories all of the Southwestern pueblos would represent a single level of culture and would be essentially identical. One effect of these theories and methods of research, especially when combined with ethnocentric attitudes about architectural scale and technique, was to concentrate later archeological expeditionary work in the Four Corners area, where the largest abandoned cliff dwellings and pueblos occurred—not far from still occupied pueblos that could be studied as explanatory models. Unfortunately, with most research taking place in the northern part of the state, the archeology of the upper Gila River was essentially neglected for nearly half a century.

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Last Updated: 23-Apr-2001