This second volume of An Introduction to American Archaelogy rounds out what is likely to be the most complete treatment of its subject for many years. It is an impressive, well-illustrated document of pre-Columbian achievements which will be of great value to anyone interested in South America. The author emphasizes that the book “is intended as a telling of specific culture histories” (p. 5). Its organization and style reflect that intent, working with such notions as “culture areas” and “cultural traditions” to construct a series of interrelated regional accounts. Not all archaeologists would agree that this is the best or most up-to-date approach, but given the aim of a continent-wide survey it is perhaps the most practical one.
The first chapter briefly considers the natural environment, the physical anthropology, and the linguistics of South America. It then sets the stage for the great body of the book by discussing the division of the continent into culture areas (the scheme is broadly similar to that used by Steward in the Handbook of South American Indians). The second chapter deals with early hunting and collecting cultures of the entire continent. This discussion of the early baseline is followed by the various regional prehistories. The book closes with a summary review of “major cultural traditions” and attempts to correlate them with the several area chronologies.
The completeness, organization, and length of the book make it in many respects more suitable as a reference source than as the sort of “introductory” book to be read through from cover to cover. Its excellence as a reference is greatly enhanced by thorough documentation and a bibliography which covers most of the primary and secondary literature in English through about 1968. The introductory summaries on various areas and time periods provided in the text, combined with the illustrations, notes, and bibliography make this a good place to start in the study of almost any aspect of South American archaeology.
A volume which covers such a broad range of time and space cannot really hope to be entirely free of factual errors or please all of the specialists who have worked with the materials. This one is no exception. This reviewer, for example, finds the treatment of the beginnings of cultivation rather unfocused, and I would have liked fuller discussion of the ethnohistorical accounts of the native South American peoples at the time of the Conquest. The general-culture-areas, regional-histories scheme of organization also has some inherent limitations. The boundaries of the regions sometimes shifted through time, as the author points out. The scheme likewise tends to scatter the data pertinent to problems of multi-regional scope (agricultural origins for example), and this is only partially overcome by reference to other parts of the volume and by the repetition of information.
Professor Willey’s purpose has been to synthesize South American archaeology to date—not to break new theoretical ground. He, in fact, goes to some length to stress the descriptive rather than explanatory aim of his work, in “the belief that the substance of New World pre-Columbian history is worth knowing.” The “book is intended to be a narrative summary of what we know.” The result is a rich compendium of information, useful alike to students of South American archaeology and the general reader interested in the pre-European past. By bringing together so much of what is now known on the subject, it helps lay a solid foundation from which new departures can grow.