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Sins of the Shovel

Looting, Murder, and the Evolution of American Archaeology

An incisive history of early American archaeology—from reckless looting to professional science—and the field’s unfinished efforts to make amends today.

American archaeology was forever scarred by an 1893 business proposition between cowboy-turned-excavator Richard Wetherill and socialites-turned-antiquarians Fred and Talbot Hyde. Wetherill had stumbled upon Mesa Verde’s spectacular cliff dwellings and started selling artifacts, but with the Hydes’ money behind him, well—there’s no telling what they might discover. Thus begins the Hyde Exploring Expedition, a nine-year venture into Utah’s Grand Gulch and New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon that—coupled with other less-restrained looters—so devastates Indigenous cultural sites across the American Southwest that Congress passes first-of-their-kind regulations to stop the carnage. As the money dries up, tensions rise, and a once-profitable enterprise disintegrates, setting the stage for a tragic murder.

Sins of the Shovel is a story of adventure and business gone wrong and how archaeologists today grapple with this complex heritage. Through the story of the Hyde Exploring Expedition, practicing archaeologist Rachel Morgan uncovers the uncomfortable links between commodity culture, contemporary ethics, and the broader political forces that perpetuate destructive behavior today. The result is an unsparing and even-handed assessment of American archaeology’s sins, past and present, and how the field is working toward atonement.

Table of Contents

1 A Palace in the Sky
2 The Robber Baron
3 All the World’s a Fair
4 Toward the Grand Gulch
5 Whence and Whither
6 Bonito, 1895
7 Cacao and Turquoise
8 Return to the Grand Gulch
9 The Trade
10 Digging Deeper
11 Death by Committee
12 Anni Horribiles
13 All’s Fair . . . St. Louis, 1904
14 An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities
15 The Race for Rainbow Bridge
16 “On the Borderland of Hell”
17 Where the Red Rocks Run Under
18 Back to the Gulch, Again
19 New Deal, New Archaeology
20 From Potsherds to Process
21 The Grand Gulch under Fire
22 People without Names
23 Repatriation
24 The Past

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