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date: 08 May 2021

(p. vii) Preface

(p. vii) Preface

This volume was conceived as more than simply a comprehensive overview of the archaeology of North America. The goal from the outset was twofold. On the one hand, the book needed to track the big cultural-historical patterns of past North American people through time. Doing so provides a foundation on which researchers, students, and laypeople might build in the future. On the other hand, I wanted the book to do more, to engage some of the key theoretical issues of relevance to constructing a general understanding of human experience on earth. Specific chapters do this by investigating historical moments, places, and people that enable an understanding of why the past happened the way that it did.

The twofold purpose of this volume is achieved in three sections. The first section is short, comprising three papers that lay out some of the theoretical and ethical issues of North American archaeology today. The second section is longer, made up of six chapters that examine issues understandable only at a pan-continental scale. These range from a consideration of transcontinental historical processes during the Spanish mission period (D. H. Thomas) to attempts to clarify Mesoamerica’s relationship to the people of North America (R. Hall, P. Peregrine, and S. Lekson), to a synthetic statement about indigenous plant foods (D. Pearsall), to explanations of how Paleolithic native people came to inhabit the continent (N. Waguespack and D. Anderson). As a set, they reveal how development of regions and localities must always be undergirded by larger considerations.

Regional studies are featured in the book’s third section, by far the largest. Each of the 44 articles in this third part of the volume focuses on one of the continent’s cultural and physiographic areas: the Arctic, Subarctic, Northwest Coast, Interior Plateau, Great Basin, California, Southwest/Northern Mexico, Great Plains, and Eastern Woodlands (further subdivided into the Northeast, Midwest, Midsouth, and Southeast). For present purposes, the cultural and physiographic areas are combined to produce six subsections. Each of the areal subdivisions is opened by a paper (by R. Park, J. Erlandson and T. Braje, C. Chapdelaine, G. Gibbon, G. Milner, and B. Mills) that in some way presages the subsequent chapter discussions of that areal subdivision.

The physiographic and cultural divisions used to carve up section 3 are, of course, somewhat arbitrary, the result of a century and a half of archaeological study (1) constrained by international borders, (2) influenced by old-fashioned notions of culture, and (3) informed by research that is intensive in some areas and scant to none existent in others. Not everything that should be included in a book such as this has been covered. Indeed, much of the archaeology currently under way in (p. viii) North America is of historic period peoples other than Native North Americans. However, for practical reasons this book is limited to the indigenous past beginning in the far north and stopping just south of the Mexican border. Other Oxford handbooks are dedicated to Mesoamerica and northern Mexico and the Arctic, among other world areas and theoretical topics, including general volumes on world archaeology and material-culture studies.

Timothy R. Pauketat