Title Reviewed:
An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual

Author Reviewed:
Robert L. Hall

Jennifer S. H. Brown


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 95, Issue 4, pp 393-394

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

An Archaeology of the Soul: North American Indian Belief and Ritual. By Robert L. Hall. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997. Pp. xiv, 222. Illustrations, notes, references, index. Clothbound, $49.95; paperbound, $24.95).

Robert Hall's fascinating and provocative book is the sort of work that indulges in speculation and creatively crosses disciplinary boundaries. Although the book is written by an archaeologist with a deep knowledge of native North American cultural history, nonspe-cialists can read it with great interest, even if not equipped to fully grasp all the fine points. The title effectively expresses Hall's late-career turn "away from conventional field archaeology toward a more humanistic, noninvasive archaeology emphasizing Native American spirituality" (p. x). The fact that his maternal ancestors include Mohicans, Menominees, and Ottawas grounds the book in a personal sense of connection to his materials and enhances its expressive as well as its scholarly quality.

To do "noninvasive archaeology" is to work with museum and documentary collections. The archaeologist "reads" them as one would read texts: to elucidate the stories that they can tell. One can do amazing things with what lies in museums, archives, and libraries, or is embedded in native languages and vocabularies, without having to dig and destroy more sites, or remove still more heirlooms from native communities. This is Hall's moral and methodological double message: take seriously and analyze deeply what is already at hand.

The content of the book is remarkably rich. Hall's starting point is the Calumet ceremony or the rites surrounding the pipe and the long pipestem. He analyzes meanings through archaeological, historical, and linguistic studies and comparisons across North America. In nineteen chapters, Hall shows how the ceremony is intertwined with mourning, consolation, adoption, reincarnation, ideas surrounding spirit bundles, soul release, cosmogony, and sacrifice, particularly the Skiri Pawnee Morning Star sacrifice, in which Hall also finds relationships with Mesoamerican cosmology. He argues that cultural diffusion and integration of motifs and artifacts into various communities across the continent are very old and pervasive processes in native North America. In short, the spread of modern powwow dances or other contemporary observances has analogues going back two or three thousand years.

The work is handsomely presented and printed, with numerous linecuts and diagrams. Readers would benefit if the illustrations and their titles were listed at the front. Given their importance, they deserve as much. The book could have used some further editing to reduce repetition and enhance clarity. But it is a creative and path-breaking contribution worthy of attention from all readers interested in native North American history and culture.

JENNIFER S. H. BROWN, professor of history at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, is director of the Centre for Rupert's Land Studies. Her latest book, coedited with Elizabeth Vibert, is Reading Beyond Words: Contexts for Native History (1996).

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.