IN SEARCH OF THE OLD ONES: Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest by David Roberts

IN SEARCH OF THE OLD ONES: Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A stirring excursion into the worlds of ancient Native America and modern archaeology. Roberts (Once They Moved Like the Wind: Cochise, Geronimo, and the Apache Wars, 1993, etc.), a devotee of all things southwestern, here turns his attention to the culture of the Anasazi, who once inhabited the Colorado Plateau and whose modern descendants are the Hopi Indians of Arizona. Anglo archaeologists, Roberts writes, have been puzzling over the Anasazi for more than a century, trying to determine the environmental and cultural factors that caused Anasazi society to collapse 700 years ago. He takes the reader on a closely annotated tour of some enduring controversies in the historical record, among them the haunting question of whether the Anasazi committed acts of cannibalism in conjunction with warfare. Roberts has a fondness for iconoclastic views; he argues, for instance, that amateur archaeologist Richard Wetherill, who discovered famous Anasazi sites like Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde and who is generally regarded as little more than a tomb-robber, was a better interpreter of the Anasazi than he is given credit for today; many of his supposed misdeeds of analysis, Roberts asserts, are the fault of ""museum staffs who later mishandled his collections."" He is also a partisan of the contemporary archaeologist Stephen Lekson, who maintains that Anasazi kivas--pit structures long thought to have had a ceremonial function--may have had only a domestic purpose. Readers with little interest in the minutiae of prehistoric research will find Roberts's account of a descent into the little explored and appropriately named Mystery Canyon more exciting, but the book is full of the excitement of discovery at every turn. ""For all the pitiless rigor of that desert land,"" Roberts writes, ""the Anasazi Southwest forms the most compelling landscape I know of in the world."" He honors that landscape and its former inhabitants with this adventurous book.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster