Excavating Nauvoo: The Mormons and the Rise of Historical Archaeology in America

During a recent coordination meeting, an archaeologist employed by the state of Utah tried to explain how the science of archaeology can help Native Americans to know their history. In response, one of the Native American participants exclaimed, “We already know our history!” This statement sheds light on tensions that arise when reconstructing the past. To those living in a postmodern world, history can serve many purposes and many masters; for this particular Native American, the oral history that had been passed down generationally to her presented her past in a context and form with which she was accustomed and comfortable. Her past was a fact, not a story to be interpreted and reinterpreted.

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