- The Caddos and Their Ancestors: Archaeology and the Native People of Northwest Louisiana by Jeffrey S. Girard
In The Caddos and Their Ancestors: Archaeology and the Native People of Northwest Louisiana, archaeologist Jeffrey S. Girard provides a readable and accessible history of Indians in northwestern Louisiana for a general audience. Girard presents a chronological view of the region's long history, focusing on major changes in lifeways between 11,500 b.c., with evidence of the earliest inhabitants, and the a.d. 1835 treaty that ended Caddo Indians' claims to their Louisiana homeland. The book is well organized. After the book opens with an introductory chapter on archaeological methods, data, and goals, Girard discusses the evidence in chapter 2 for Paleo-Indian and Archaic period hunters-fishers-gatherers (11,500-500 b.c.), in chapter 3, Woodland period mound builders (500 b.c.–a.d. 900), in chapters 4 and 5, Caddo Indians in the Mississippian period (a.d. 900-1700), and in chapters 6 and 7, the colonial and United States periods (a.d. 1700-1835). Examples are drawn primarily from Girard's own research, undertaken during his long career as regional archaeologist for the Louisiana Division of Archaeology. Not only do readers learn about key sites such as Conly, Fredericks, and Mounds Plantation, but they also see how this research draws together teams of archaeologists and other specialists, landowners, and representatives from state and federal agencies and descendant communities.
Clearly, Girard is a teacher as well as a researcher, as shown by his concise, accurate explanations of technologies such as radiocarbon dating and geophysical surveying. His writing is straightforward and streamlined. Citations are provided in endnotes, rather than within the text, with additional references to guide further reading. There is a glossary that defines archaeological terms. Girard's writing is often elegant, such as when he explains the importance of recording archaeological finds: "An undocumented collection of artifacts taken from the ground makes no more sense than a jumbled collection of words displaced from a book. The individual specimens, like individual words, constitute bits of information. But the story they tell relies on order and context" (p. 2).
The Caddos and Their Ancestors brings the story of northwest Louisiana's long history to a broad audience. People living in the region used the rich resources available to build vibrant and complex communities. Girard shows that "Caddo culture is a fundamental component of the heritage of the state of Louisiana" (p. 111). I recommend this book for public libraries across the region and to university libraries as well. Furthermore, I see this book as a model for my colleagues to follow. We have done the excavations, analyzed the artifacts, and written our reports and scholarly journal articles. It is time to look at the big picture and show modern readers what archaeologists have learned [End Page 409] from their research on the past. Girard accomplishes this goal with a thoughtful, well-illustrated book that I recommend to anyone interested in Caddo Indian history and the archaeology of the Red River Valley.