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Ethnohistory 51.1 (2004) 187-189

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The Settlement of the Americas. By Thomas D. Dillehay. (New York, Basic Books, 2000. xxi + 371 pp., acknowledgments, preface, appendix, glossary, notes, index, maps. $27.50 hardcover.)

The first Americans to enter the New World at the end of the Pleistocene were embarking on a great adventure, and it is with the same courage and spirit that the author sets out to trace the path of their journey. Just as the Pleistocene landscape made the travels of the first Americans full of practical dangers, Dillehay must now traverse the snares and pitfalls of archaeological interpretation. The result is a successful tour of the new facts and old fancies of what is one of the most provocative periods in New World prehistory.

Dillehay is a leading authority on Paleoindian research in the Americas, and his explorations of the early occupation at Monte Verde, Chile, have reshaped our paradigm of the peopling of the New World (Dillehay 1989–97). As stated in the preface, the goal of this book is to tell the story of the peopling of the New World and the difficulty of interpreting the archaeological record. Dillehay does an excellent job, navigating through decades of some of the most heated debates in American archaeology with a cool and evenhanded discussion that almost makes them disappear. Although the book is an excellent blend of data and interpretation, readers should not be misled by its title. This book is not about the Americas as a whole. It focuses specifically on early humans in South America with virtually no treatment of Paleoindian occupation in either North or Central America. The logic seems to be that settlement of the Americas was not complete until South America was inhabited. While one can not [End Page 187] fault the logic of this approach, I kept wishing that the author would have included more discussion of areas to the north.

Without question the strength of this volume is its comprehensive treatment of Paleoindian research in continental South America. The problems with synthesizing this research are legion. Although there has been a significant amount of investigation on this topic, the results tend to be either unevenly published or available primarily in Spanish or Portuguese. While this should not be viewed as an impediment to scholarly research, many North American scholars have failed to pay attention to much of the interesting research in Latin America. Moreover, because most excavated materials are curated in their host countries, stratigraphic collections cannot be examined easily by North American researchers. It is here that Dillehay's thirty years of close interaction with Latin American colleagues pays huge dividends. He presents a comprehensive overview of the archaeological record that identifies the most important and best dated Paleoindian sites across the continent. This discussion is an invaluable contribution that all archaeologists interested in South America should read.

For Dillehay, most of the problems surrounding our interpretations of early humans in the Americas stem from a faulty application of the Clovis paradigm onto the entire continent. The error here is what he calls the use of a type-society approach in which Clovis-style fluted projectile points were viewed as cultural markers for migrating populations rather than as technological features that spread through culture contact and adaptations to specific environments. South America's early cultures are varied and include three distinct technological traditions: a uniface tradition, a bifacial tradition, and a ground-stone hunting tradition. The distribution of these tool traditions corresponds to the exploitation of different types of resources. Whereas bifacial traditions relate to large-animal hunting, the widespread use of unifacial tools reflects the more systemic exploitation of forest environments by relatively sedentary populations. For the author, one of the problems of Paleoindian research has been that archaeologists overemphasize the hunting of large herbivores. Not only do many Paleoindian sites lack megafauna, but most early humans in South America appear to have relied heavily on small game and a broad spectrum of plant exploitation that is more typical of later Archaic period adaptation.

Dillehay posits that the first human populations arrived in...


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pp. 187-189
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Archived 2004
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