Book Review: Chaco Canyon: Archaeology and Archaeologists, by Robert H. Lister

(Originally posted on Amazon 8/28/2010)

chaco canyon

Those who are hoping for an overview of the Anasazi and the ruins they left behind in Chaco Canyon may be a little disappointed with this book. To begin with, the book is not so much a discussion of the archeology and anthropology of the Chaco Canyon remains, as it is a history of the various archeological digs that have taken place there. Beginning with their discovery in the late 19th century, this volume chronicles the major expeditions up to 1980 in fair detail – outlining not only what each group found, but the techniques they used, the formation of these expeditions, and even some discussion of their trials and tribulations. While this book might appeal to those who would like to know more about the process of archeological discovery or are interested in the history of a little-known area of 20th century archeology, as an overview of the Anasazi remains the book is sometimes frustratingly inadequate.

To be sure, the history of the Anasazi is discussed. Efforts are made to explain how major discoveries fit in the context of the ancient Southwest, and there is one long chapter offered summing up a general overview of the entire Chaco Canyon region. But yet, the emphasis on the book is still less on the archeology and more on the archeologists, which may limit its appeal.

Another problem is that the book, while still printed and sold at many outlets (one can readily find it in the bookstores at most National Park visitor centers in the Southwest), is a tad out of date. Its original publication was 1981, and it has not been updated even though that was almost 30 years ago. Since that time there have been considerable changes in our understanding of Anasazi and early Pueblo culture, as well as break-throughs in technology which have shed new light. It would have been nice to see some of this discussed.

Chaco Canyon: Archeology and Archeologists is illustrated with many black-and-white photographs, culled from expeditions and hard-to-find publications, as well as many maps of individual archeological sites. There is also an extensive appendix listing each known archeological site and (at least, as of around 1981) what is known about them individually. The writing is clear and concise, and for those interested in archeology, reasonably entertaining. Overall the book is an adequate, if dated, introduction to the archeology of Chaco Canyon, though individuals looking for more scientific and anthropological substance on the subject may find it somewhat lacking.

3 Stars out of 5 Stars

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