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Book Reviews

Discover the insights and opinions of readers like you, where diverse perspectives illuminate the literary landscapes of the titles we hold dear.

First Peoples of Great Salt Lake: A Cultural Landscape from Nevada to Wyoming

By Steven R. Simms

This fascinating study covers the area of Great Salt Lake and the much larger and earlier Lake Bonneville, a region that includes large parts of Utah, Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming. Lake Bonneville was roughly the size of Lake Michigan, and it reached its peak during the last Ice Age some 17,500 years ago; it covered more than 10 times the area of present day Great Salt Lake. Lake Bonneville shrank into Great Salt Lake and more or less stabilized in size around the time the first Natives appeared on its shores about 13,500 years ago and probably much earlier. This is the story of about 675 generations of Indigenous people, how they shaped the environment and changed over time.

Author Steven Simms is professor emeritus of anthropology at Utah State University and a leading scholar of the archaeology of the Great Basin. In the opening pages, Simms challenges three myths associated with the region—first, that Indigenous people were timeless, changeless children of Nature; second, that America was sparsely populated; and third, that Native Americans were too primitive and too few to have had a role in shaping the places where they lived. As the cultural and natural landscape evolved, the Native people changed as well, easily adapting to new challenges.

Taking a landscape approach, Simms implies the importance of place—a kind of geographic determinism—and how where you live shapes how you live. He traces changing environments, climates, and peoples as the desert landscape changed over time. Successive Native cultures adapted and often dominated this changing environment from the first settlers, Paleo-Indian hunter gatherers, and the Archaic Period where people began to live in seasonal settlements with primitive agriculture to the Fremont that introduced corn agriculture and the Utes and Shoshone who mastered horses to expand their universe.

This volume is well-written in understandable language for a general audience. It is lavishly illustrated with 81 maps, photos, and drawings. It is an indispensable addition to the literature of the Great Basin and the Great Salt Lake region. —Mark Michel

University of Utah Press, 2023; 242 pgs., illus. $35 paper;

The History and Archaeology of Fort Ouiatenon: 300 Years in the Making

By Misty M. Jackson, H. Kory Cooper, and David M. Hovde

Fort Ouiatenon, a French fur trading post, was founded on the Wabash River in present day northwestern Indiana in 1717. It flourished under French rule until their defeat by the British in the French and Indian War (1754-63). Under British management relations with the Native Americans, trade declined, although 900 Europeans and Natives were reported to live there in 1778. After the American Revolution, the fort continued its decline. By 1791, it was abandoned and the location lost.

In the 1870s “several silver crosses and a silver disc inscribed with the arms of France”  were discovered near Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, along the Wabash River. This discovery led to a determined search for the location of the fort by successive historical societies in Tippecanoe County. In 1928, eight acres were acquired to preserve what was perceived to be the site of Fort Ouiatenon. A blockhouse was reconstructed at the new preserve.

Alas, by the 1960s it was becoming increasingly clear that the preserve was in the wrong place. Field studies at a site a mile west of the preserve were turning up artifacts associated with French forts and Native settlements. In 1968, archaeological excavations under the leadership of the Glenn Black Laboratory at Indiana University seemed to validate the actual location of the fort.  Subsequent excavations by Purdue University, Indiana University, Michigan State University, and the University of Southern Indiana confirmed the location. A full 20 acres containing the French fort was acquired and protected in 1972 by the Tippecanoe County Historical Society.

Archival materials are sparse, but they suggested the French fort was surrounded by three native villages—the Wea, Kickapoo, and Mascouten—containing numerous structures and more than 1,000 Native people in the French period. Archaeologists using the latest remote sensing technology located the likely sites of these villages outside the fort. Beginning in 2013, the Tippecanoe County Historical Society, The Archaeological Conservancy, and the Roy Whistler Foundation began to purchase the Native village areas. To date, 216 acres have been acquired and permanently preserved.

Fort Ouiatenon is a very important part of French colonial America. This volume tells the story of the fort and the European and Native American people who made it so significant. It is also the story of the fort’s abandonment, loss, and rediscovery and details how dedicated advocates brought interested people and organizations together to acquire and permanently preserve the remains of the French fort and the Indigenous villages surrounding it. It is the story of a great preservation success. New developments are certain to come. —Mark Michel

Purdue University Press, 2024; 368 pgs., illus., $50 paper, $100 cloth;

Mogollon Communal Spaces and Places in the American Southwest

Edited by Robert J. Stokes, Katherine A. Dungan, and Jakob W. Sedig

The Mogollon region of the American Southwest contains a large number of prehistoric sites in southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and northern Chihuahua. It includes the Mimbres Culture, Highland Mogollon, and Casas Grandes, and spans a period of about A.D. 200 to 1450. The Mogollon share some characteristics of the nearby Hohokam and Ancestral Puebloan, but are markedly different.

This volume examines Mogollon communal spaces: architectural and non-architectural spaces used by groups of people larger than a single household to engage in public and/or non-public ritual, religious, and socio-political activities. Twenty-five scholars contribute 15 essays on various aspects of Mogollon communal space, ranging from great kivas to ceremonial precincts and communal architecture. The most distinctive of these spaces are great kivas—very large, circular underground structures used for specialized ceremonial purposes. Great kivas from a number of Mogollon cultures and time periods are examined.

This book reports on recent research in the Mogollon region, one of the most interesting cultural areas in the Southwest. It provides the reader with the most up-to-date information available and is a must read for students of the Mogollon culture. —Mark Michel

University of Utah Press, 2023; 304 pgs., illus. $75 cloth, $60 ebook; UofUpress,com

Apalachicola Valley Archaeology: Prehistory through the Middle Woodland Period, Volume 1

By Nancy Marie White

The Apalachicola River Valley spans into portions of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida and includes the river basins of the Apalachicola River, the lower Chattahoochee, and many other rivers. It stretches from hardwood bottomland forests in Georgia and Alabama all the way to the Apalachicola and St. Joseph bays in the Gulf of Mexico. The archaeology of the Apalachicola Valley is as vast and varied as the ecosystems it includes, and this volume is where one should start for either a general knowledge or a deep dive into the fascinating archaeology of this region. 

With her years of experience, Professor of Anthropology Nancy Marie White at the University of Florida—who is a recent recipient of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference’s Lifetime Achievement Award—begins this volume with a literature review, followed by discussions of the earliest occupations of Florida. It traces pre-contact peoples and their environment, tools, lifeways, and art through the Middle Woodland Period (A.D. 700). At last, this fascinating region has a complete synthesis of its archaeology by a researcher who has devoted her career to studying, promoting, and preserving it. —Jessica Crawford

University of Alabama Press, 2024; 354 pgs., illus., $40 paper;