Planet Earth

When History & Identity Collide

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorNov 7, 2009 2:38 AM


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I recently wrote two stories for Archaeology magazine about the clash of history, science, and culture in the American Southwest. The main piece in the Nov/Dec issue juxtaposes Navajo claims to famous prehistoric sites, such as Chaco Canyon, with new archaeological data. This latest material evidence reinforces the strong scientific consensus that the Navajo didn't arrive in the Southwest until sometime in the 1500s. The accompanying web-only piece illustrates how Navajo oral history deeply shapes the views and beliefs of Taft Blackhorse, a Navajo archaeologist who I spent time with while reporting on these stories. I will say that I grew quite fond of Taft and his colleague, John Stein. They were generous hosts and there's a part of me rooting for them to continue their maverick ways and quixotic quest. That said, I have no doubt that many archaeologists will be shaking their heads in disbelief at some of the statements they make. Combined, the two stories reveal an interesting dilemma for archaeologists who strive to reconcile data-driven science with information gleaned from a culture's oral tradition. I'll have more to say on all this shortly, as I suspect others will offer their own commentary, some who I know have already read the print story. I look forward to a spirited exchange. One final thought: while writing these stories, I was reminded of something I once read in an essay by geographer D.W. Meinig, in this classic book:

Any landscape is composed not only of what lies before our eyes, but what lies in our heads.

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