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Categorical Denial: Evaluating Post-1492 Indigenous Erasure in the Paper Trail of American Archaeology

  • Lee M. Panich (a1) and Tsim D. Schneider (a2)


To understand the implications of archaeological site recording practices and associated inventories for studying Indigenous persistence after the arrival of Europeans, we examined the documentary record associated with nearly 900 archaeological sites in Marin County, California. Beginning with the first regional surveys conducted during the early 1900s and continuing into the present, the paper trail created by archaeologists reveals an enduring emphasis on precontact materials to the exclusion of more recent patterns of Indigenous occupation and land use. In assessing sites occupied by Indigenous people from the late sixteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries, we discuss how the use of multiple lines of evidence—including temporally diagnostic artifacts, chronometric dating techniques, and historical documentation—may help illuminate subtle but widespread patterns of Native presence that have been obscured by essentialist assumptions about Indigenous culture change. Our findings further reveal the shortcomings of traditional site recording systems, in which archaeologists typically categorize sites within the prehistoric-protohistoric-historic triad on the basis of commonsense decisions that conflate chronology with identity. Instead, we argue for recording practices that focus specifically on the calendric ages of occupation for any given site.

Para entender las implicaciones de las prácticas de registro e inventariación de sitios arqueológicos asociados con la persistencia indígena después de la llegada de los europeos, examinamos el registro documental asociado con casi 900 sitios arqueológicos en el condado de Marin, California. Comenzando con las primeras encuestas regionales realizadas a principios del siglo veinte y continuando hasta el presente, el registro creado por los arqueólogos revela un énfasis constante en los materiales precontacto y la exclusión de patrones de uso y residencia más recientes. Al evaluar los sitios ocupados por grupos indígenas desde finales del siglo dieciséis hasta mediados del siglo veinte, analizamos la manera en que el uso de múltiples líneas de evidencia (incluidos los artefactos diagnósticos, técnicas de datación cronométrica, y documentación histórica) puede contribuir a iluminar patrones sutiles pero generalizados de presencia que han sido ocultados por premisas esencialistas sobre el cambio cultural indígena. Nuestros hallazgos resaltan las deficiencias de los sistemas tradicionales de registro en los que los arqueólogos clasifican los sitios como prehistóricos, protohistóricos o históricos con base en decisiones de sentido común que mezclan la cronología con la identidad. En su lugar, abogamos por prácticas de registro centradas específicamente en las fechas calendáricas de ocupación de los sitios.


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Categorical Denial: Evaluating Post-1492 Indigenous Erasure in the Paper Trail of American Archaeology

  • Lee M. Panich (a1) and Tsim D. Schneider (a2)


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