Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilizations

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9780029173077: Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilizations

Most people do not know that for 5000 years, until as recently as the 18th century, the Ohio and Mississippi valleys were home to well organized, highly advanced civilizations. American Indians built huge geometrical structures to precisely related dimensions across distances of hundreds of miles. They lived in cities such as Balbansha, near present-day New Orleans, that were filled with carefully planned buildings, plazas, and streets. And they walked on highways like the Great Hope Road, a causeway for religious pilgrims that was begun in the 13th century. In describing their discovery by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers, this book holds a mirror to distant and recent ancestors, as well as to deeply ingrained misconceptions about the past of the American continent.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Kennedy, director of the National Park Service, does better in exposing the prejudices of whites who came across the monuments of prehistoric America than in elucidating the mysteries embodied in these New World Stonehenges. An estimated 30 million Native Americans died of European or African diseases during the century following the conquistadors' appearance in the Western Hemisphere. They left behind significant traces of sophisticated cities, roads, and burial grounds in Memphis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and elsewhere in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys. Later explorers and soldiers beheld these relics--which included bits of antiquities, earthen mounds and various geometrical shapes carved into the landscape--with wonder, confusion, and obtuseness. Kennedy (Rediscovering America, 1990, etc.) perceptively analyzes how attempts to preserve and interpret Native American arts and architecture often foundered on the ingrained prejudices of even supposedly enlightened whites. (Thomas Jefferson, for example, was slow to shed his belief that Indians were incapable of architectural achievement.) Jeffersonians and Jacksonians found it easier to deprive Native Americans of land if they could deny that the Indians had a culture worth saving. They failed to follow the lead of such respectful figures as Jefferson's Treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin, described by Kennedy as "the first American statesman to employ the evidence of ancient American architecture to justify exertions to redeem the Republic from racial prejudice." The American mania for development, combined with dismissive scholarship that credited Indian achievements to fair-skinned "Welshmen" who supposedly discovered North America in the Middle Ages, led to a cavalier attitude toward Native American artifacts. By 1948, 90% of the earthen Indian architecture noted in a Smithsonian report 100 years earlier had been lost. Best read as an exploration of colliding cultures rather than an examination of the riddles left behind by Native American builders. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal:

Kennedy, an architectural historian and director of the National Park Service, examines how certain of the Founding Fathers-particularly Washington, Jefferson, and Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin-set out to create a nation free from the prejudices and superstitions of Europe and how they became aware that they missed a great opportunity in the West. He uses their reactions to the mound architecture of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys as the filter for their views on the status of Native Americans and blacks. He also reviews the rationales others used in explaining away the mounds and considers why the mounds were built in the first place. Solidly grounded in archaeological and historical sources, this book requires some effort on the part of the reader to follow Kennedy's argument; it will be most useful to those already well versed in early American history and archaeology. Recom-mended for specialists.
Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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