Naturalist and NPR commentator Childs (Soul of Nowhere, 2002, etc.) chronicles his research trips following in the footsteps of a native population that flourished, then mysteriously disappeared, in pre-Columbian America.
His subject: the Anasazi, ancestors of today’s Hopi. These Southwestern hunters and farmers lived in some of North America’s most unforgiving terrain, blisteringly hot and dauntingly arid, yet they developed a rich culture that survived hundreds of years and multiple migrations. The author travels along those migratory routes, pursuing the Anasazi over a period of years with many different companions, including his wife, infant son and stepfather, as well as various archaeologists and a few modern-day desert-rats. He battles fire, infernal summer temperatures, brutal winter cold and wind. Water tends to be either absent or overabundant; at one point, he allows a flash flood to transport him, sans clothes, downstream to his destination. He begins at Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico and meanders through Colorado, Utah, Arizona and northwest Mexico, where his quest ends in a recently plowed field choked with potsherds hundreds of years old. The author has interviewed (and frequently traveled with) numerous authorities on the pottery, geology, architecture and agriculture of these enigmatic people. His text is rich in geographical and archaeological detail about raising corn, breeding macaws, beheading turkeys and more. Childs considers conventional thinking, then weighs in with his own theories, earned the old-fashioned way, by walking tough terrain to sites untouched for centuries. Evoking these places where people ground corn, procreated, celebrated and slaughtered one another, he displays surpassing curiosity and profound reverence.
An original, eloquent account of an intellectual and archaeological odyssey.