Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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The cliff houses at Betatakin in northeastern Arizona were built in A.D. 1267 and abandoned by 1300. (Courtesy David Grant Noble)

For more than 40 years, David Grant Noble has been using a camera to capture the meaning and emotion of the archaeological sites of the American Southwest. In the Places of the Spirits (School for Advanced Research Press, $60.00 cloth, $30.00 paper) is a collection of very fine black-and-white photographs with accompanying text that offers an intimate view of these ruins.

The book is divided into two parts. The first treats archaeological sites, including the ruins of Kiet Siel and Canyon de Chelly, as well as a variety of rock art sites, as artistic subjects. These are not the typical sun-bleached shots of the ancient Southwest, but are rather a tonal investigation of ruins and artifacts best examined slowly. Noble's accompanying text offers a blended narrative that touches on the archaeology, ethnography, and spiritual experience of the areas. The tone, again, is quiet.

In the book's second part Noble's photographs bring us closer to the present with shots of archaeologists excavating the remains of Pueblo Grande, an enormous site that was in the path of a new expressway being constructed in Phoenix in 1990. Noble documented the excavations, but also became fascinated with the modern people living in the parks and on abandoned pieces of land that were about to be paved. The book moves naturally from past to present, but I couldn't help wishing for more photographs of the excavations. Noble's work succeeds, however, because he is equally comfortable working in both worlds.