A History of the Ancient Southwest

Stephen H. Lekson

A History of the Ancient SouthwestA History of the Ancient SouthwestA History of the Ancient Southwest

The rather sedate title of Steve Lekson’s new book belies both his exciting and controversial “big picture” analysis of the ancient Southwest and his vivid, witty, and thoroughly compelling writing style. “Orthodoxies, shiny from years of handling, slip through fingers and fall through screens like gizzard stones. We can work without them,” he observes as he takes readers on a spellbinding journey challenging familiar and accepted notions about this well-researched region that has fascinated archaeologists for more than a century.

“Steve is possibly the best writer in Southwest archaeology,” said David Phillips, curator of archaeology at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, in a recent New York Times article by George Johnson. “Our academic writing has this inherent gift of taking something interesting and making it dull and boring. And Steve doesn’t have that problem. He thinks outside the box, and the rest of us comb through his ideas.” Having said that, Phillips added quickly that he strongly disagrees with Lekson’s theory that the ancient Puebloans at Chaco Canyon used the 108th meridian of longitude to align their principal settlements, only one controversial aspect of the sweeping synthesis presented in this new volume. Lekson knows his ideas may be disturbing—he added this caveat to his earlier book on the Chaco meridian: “If you are a practicing Southwestern archaeologist with hypertension problems, stop. Read something safe.”

For more courageous readers, A History of the Ancient Southwest offers two parallel stories, one about the development, personalities, and institutions of Southwestern archaeology and the other about interpretations of what actually happened in the ancient past. “In Southwestern archaeology, a mind like Steve Lekson’s comes along once in a generation,” said reviewer David Roberts. “This is his magnum opus—a high wire act that strings hundreds of bold ideas into a dazzling new synthesis.”

Find out more about A History of the Ancient Southwest by visiting the SAR website (opens in new browser window).

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