The Ancient Architecture of America

New York: Bartlett and Welford, 1849

The origins of American archaeology are far from a stately and orderly affair. The discovery of the remains of ancient civilizations in Egypt in the 1800s sparked enormous interest in similar remains all over the world, this was especially true in the case of ruins, those most visible of past cultures lost to the sands of time. Such ancient structures were often seen to challenge received versions of history – especially if that history was a Biblical one, based on a chronology which did not allow for spans of time much earlier than 4000 B. C. – and so early American archaeology was populated by a whole host of avid theorists anxious to explain how parts of the world recently thought to be forever uncivilized could have had enormous structures dating from before the days of Adam and Eve.

America – by which authors meant either North, Central, or South America – was no exception. America was frequently thought of by Europeans as being “the new world,” and historically populated only by “savages,” native tribes with no visible evidence of “higher” civilization such as large-scale architecture. With the discovery of the ruins of the Inca, Aztec, and Mayan empires in the early 1800s, much of this changed: historians and early archaeologists suddenly had to explain how such a situation could have existed. This was especially pressing since one of the dominant architectural forms focused on by archaeologists of early America was the pyramid; to interested observers currently fascinated by Egyptian pyramids, such a connection between Egypt and America seemed hardly coincidence. Pyramids, then, became objects of study across continents, cultures, and time itself: to study one in one location was to study others in others. Egyptian archaeology thus often overlapped with American archaeology, and more than a few rather remarkable claims were made. “Ancient Architecture of America” is a case in point.



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