Alice Beck Kehoe - About

About

Kehoe has studied many aspects of Native America and is a strong believer in the theoretical link between the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC) (of the Native southeastern U.S.) and Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America). Her principal area of interest is the archaeology and cultures of the northwestern plains of the U.S. While searching for an ethnographic research topic for her dissertation, she happened upon the Saskatchewan Dakota New Tidings Ghost Dance. Kehoe has worked many years with the Blackfoot or Niitsitapi Nation, an Algonquian Native American group of Browning, Montana, with whom she visits each year to study their history and culture. She has studied Native American spiritual healers ("medicine people") and worked with Piakwutch, "an elderly deeply respected Cree man who served his Saskatchewan Cree community..." <2000:60>. She has also worked among Native Americans of Bolivia at Lake Titicaca, where she chewed coca leaves with Native women of the region <2000:70>. Her interest in pre-Columbian transoceanic contacts led to her meeting Richard Nielsen, who asked her to advise on archeological aspects while testing the Kensington Runestone of Minnesota, which Kehoe is satisfied was indeed not a 19th century hoax but rather actual runic writing by members of a Scandinavian voyage to North America in the 14th century.

The Kensington Runestone convinced Kehoe of a different North American history than what we've been taught for decades, and, in her own words, she has "continued to try to push the continental glacier of mainstream American archaeology to melt" (Kehoe, 2007, personal communication). She states:

It has been conventional to treat American history as if it were identical with United States history. Such a myopic view cuts students off from the context in which the United States developed, a larger history that will not go away. America's history begins some fourteen thousand years ago ... Invading Europeans met no wilderness, but landscapes and resources rendered through millennia of human actions" <2002:1>.

In her many years of teaching and writing, Kehoe has emphasized the importance of critical thinking in looking at anthropology, archaeology, and history, particularly as it pertains to Native America. She speaks of the "limited and biased archaeological record" (2007:personal communication) of the Americas and of how many archaeologists were molded by preconceptions of ancient Amerindians having been "savage" or "primitive" and incapable of having "real" civilizations in European terms. Kehoe minces few words in her distaste for such tunnel-visioned attitudes, stating, for example, "...the massive mounds of the Midwest, most of them larger than any prehistoric mounds in Europe, could not be accommodated in a scenario of virgin wilderness inhabited by Men-Brutes..." <1998:164> and "The history of American archaeology ... is a remarkable example of post-hoc objectification of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. From its inception, American archaeology has been politically charged, legitimating domination of North America by capitalists imbued with British bourgeois culture" <1998:xi>.

Kehoe emphasizes that, from these stale and false notions of ancient Native American history, much has been missed in the archaeological record of the Americas that is only just now coming to light. This history is now being reinterpreted through the new knowledge and understanding of peoples who built towns and even cities (e.g. Cahokia) of pyramidal mounds and other forms of monumental architecture surrounding huge ceremonial plazas. For instance, in examining the most recently discovered archaeological evidence of Cahokia, Kehoe suggests that this largest known center of Mississippian culture should best be termed a state. She argues that the Mississippian, often called "mound-building," culture had close trade and communication links with civilizations of Mesoamerica (Mayas, Aztecs, their predecessors and contemporaries) and that this link is readily apparent from the archaeological record. She argues that trans-Gulf contact between the Mississippi Valley and Mesoamerica was quite likely, with communication and trade occurring either on foot, by canoe, or both, leading to clear similarities in the culture, religion, and art of the SECC, Midwest, and Mesoamerica (Kehoe 2005 Wind Jewels and Paddling Gods: The Mississippian Southeast in the Postclassic Mesoamerican World. In Gulf Coast Archaeology, the Southeastern United States and Mexico, ed. Nancy Marie White. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. Pp. 260-280).

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