"This book is unique in the literature of New World archeology...its publication will mark a real increase in intellectual acuity, properly conceived research programs, and effectively executed excavation...The intellectual rigor with which Flannery approaches his subject is hard to match. Even more remarkable is the degree to which the book is a work of literature."
--Donald W. Lathrap, SCIENCE
A continuing dialogue on methods and goals between the Real Mesoamerican Archaeologist, the Great Synthesizer, and the Skeptical Graduate Student ties together chapters on methods and results in the archeology of Formative Mesoamerica to create a book that is as much about archeologists and archeology as about the culture they study. The dialogue, based on some of the real events of the last two decades in Mesoamerica, shows the Real Mesoamerica Archeologist's zest for life and archaeology, but also his suspicion of new methods and statistics, his love of operating by the seat of his pants; the Great Synthesizer's ability to see the forest, but also his humorlessness and addiction to mathematical techniques. The chapters explore analytical procedures for sampling and studying cultures, and test them on data from Formative Mesoamerica, so that the book also presents a model of Early Formative society based on substantive data, and subject to testing and refinementin the future. Starting from the activity area, and moving through the house, barrio, village, and region to the interregional level, the volume questions and probes archeological methods, presuppositions, and attitudes, and at the same time lays the basis for comprehensive understanding of Mesoamerican society. It finds that all too often what archeologists actually do in the field bears little relation to what they want to do, or claim that they are doing. From this standpoint, it critically evaluates techniques for excavation, sampling of sites and regions, and stylistic analysis, as well as such theoretical factors of explanation as population pressure, trade, and religion. Since the three figures in the dialogue form facets of every archeologist's personality, this iconoclastic book is not for those who take themselves too seriously. But anyone devoted to the goal of understanding Mesoamerica, or ancient civilizations generally, will welcome its asking of fundamental, if sometimes uncomfortable and embarrassing, questions. The book's attempt to heal the generation gap between the 'old' and the 'new' archeology will make it required reading for both generations of Mesoamerican and other archeologists, and its rare combination of scholarly objectivity, humor, and love for the field will do much to promote the survival of an endangered species-the archeologist as a complete and sometimes larger-than-life human being.
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