Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Arthur Caswell Parker (18811955) grew up in a prominent Seneca Indian family whose members had been sources for Lewis Henry Morgan, one of the first anthropologists to study the Iroquois. Throughout Parker's life as an archaeologist, museum curator, Indian advocate, and first president of the Society for American Archaeology, he struggled to establish his identity as both an Indian and a scientist, foreshadowing the dilemmas of indigenous archaeology today.

Inheriting the Past: The Making of Arthur C. Parker and Indigenous Archaeology (University of Arizona Press, $49.95 cloth, $24.95 paper), by Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, an archaeologist and curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, reveals Parker as a complex individual. He thoroughly accepted Morgan's ideas that Indians should be assimilated into white culture, a popularly held belief in the early 20th century. Parker promoted Indian causes throughout his life, but he also held beliefs that would be sharply at odds with those of modern indigenous archaeologists: He believed that science was the only path to truth, and that race was a biological reality. He dug countless graves to acquire museum specimens because he regarded Indian spiritual concerns as superstitions that could rightly be ignored. He sometimes expressed racist and eugenicist ideas. Nevertheless, in both his writings and museum exhibits, he strove to record a true and humanistic picture of Iroquoian culture. Parker is a curious forerunner for the more inclusive, indigenous archaeology we seek today. Nevertheless, his life story proves that a divide between Indians and archaeologists is not inevitable, while demonstrating how archaeologists are influenced by their times and personal experiences.