ELUSIVE TREASURE: The Story of Early Archaeologists in the Americas by Brian Fagan

ELUSIVE TREASURE: The Story of Early Archaeologists in the Americas

Email this review


They searched for gold and disdained the Indians: amplifying the story of Spanish exploration, Western encroachment, and Mesoamerican ruins that most people left behind in elementary school, Fagan turns the treasure hunt into a discovery of cultures--by amateur enthusiasts, flamboyant quacks, and, late in the 19th century, the first trained archaeologists. As Fagan is quick to point out, this is a distillation of previous studies, and it has little style or intellectual pith to commend it; but the material is inherently fascinating and the illustrations--a historian's hoard of contemporary depictions, artifacts, and site photos--supply the brio that the text lacks. Three groups of remains are focal: the earthen burial mounds scattered across the Midwest and South, long taken to be the work of a vanished race (whether the Lost Tribes of Israel or Atlanteans) since ""such savages"" as the Indians could never have built them; the southwestern pueblos, originally mistaken for the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola; and the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan and Central America which--fortunately for Fagan's narrative--attracted the sedulous romantic John Lloyd Stephens and his artistfriend Frederick Catherwood. Their long route to the Yucatan--via Stephens' chance discovery, in a book of lithographs, of Petra's ruins, Catherwood's similar introduction to Mayan Palenque--makes for several chapters of exciting reading, extended by Stephens' awed descriptions and Catherwood's limpid pictures. It is, altogether, a book to go on from--by visiting the Ohio mounds, by pursuing Stephens and Catherwood in situ (aided by the source notes for each chapter). And Fagan's plea for a responsible preservation policy should reach a newly enlarged constituency.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Scribners