Oral History, Gordon Ekholm, Side 2, Part 1, Winter-Spring 1971, William C. Sturtevant Papers


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Gordon Ekholm: Yeah, this is more or less I suppose the way that I'll be speaking at about this level.
Shirley Gorenstein: Okay.
[SILENCE]

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Gordon Ekholm: Just testing again, get voice level
Shirley Gorenstein: [[inaudible]]

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Shirley Gorenstein: Once more
Gordon Ekholm: Just testing, see what our voice sounds like -- I think we'll be talking at about this loudness.

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Shirley Gorenstein: Okay. This is Shirley Gorenstein interviewing Gordon Ekholm March 30th 1971, American Museum of Natural History and I'd like to begin by asking you if you can give me a narrative of your early career as a graduate student and beginning professional.

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Gordon Ekholm: Well, my first interest in archaeology came was when I was undergraduate at the University of Minnesota.

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I had, uh, in high school I had become extraordinarily interested in biological subjects and by the time I graduated from high school I had shifted somewhat to an interest in paleontology and when I began at the University of Minnesota I was determined that I was going to be an historical geologist or a paleontologist.

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I began courses in geology but as a sophomore 1 course in anthropology - general anthropology by Albert Ernest Jenks shifted my interest entirely to archaeology.

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I all of a sudden realized that I think that I was much more interested in the activities of human beings than I was in the history of uh-- of simpler animals and this was something that I could really take hold of.

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I then majored in anthropology, did field work with Jenks in Minnesota one summer, then --

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Well I was, I think, before I went to graduate school, I had a fellowship with the then Laboratory of Anthropology which was an extraordinarily important element in the archaeological world, in the anthropological world at that time.

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The laboratory of Anthropology in Santa Fe had groups of students in three fields: archaeology, ethnology, and linguistics, every summer. And groups of 8 or 10 students in each field were taken into the field by someone who was doing such work.

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I spent the summer then with [[Emil Howrie?]] at the Harris site in the [[Membrize?]] valley.

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It was an extremely important experience for me because he was an extremely able archaeologist and I learned a great deal.

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From there I went on to register as a graduate student at Harvard and I began my work there in 1935, the spring of 1935.

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The actual experience in the field continued the next two summers. The first of these with, okay, with McKearn of the Milwaukee Public Museum. He was digging a site in northern Wisconsin and I spent another, I spent this summer with him,

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another very important field worker of the time. He was an innovator in analyses of

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Gordon Ekholm: cultural units of pottery, and so on. So I spent that time with him and then the following summer worked with - on my own in Minnesota with a WPA crew. I was given ten men and a site in northern Minnesota which I spent the summer at.

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This for the first time being the uh, the - the man in charge of a big dig. I think this field experience was extremely important to me.

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It wasn't as easy then to get experience in the field as it is now, except for the case of the Laboratory of Anthropology, that was an important thing which was very soon afterwards stopped for lack of money.

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Apparently the Rockefeller Foundation started this and then did not continue it.

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My work at Harvard was in general anthropology. Courses in the whole field, all except linguistics; at that time there were no, there was no linguist at Harvard so I never got a single, a single bit of any knowledge of linguistics.

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Shirley Gorenstein: Who was the archaeologist you were working with? Who was the particular--

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Gordon Ekholm: At Harvard, the-- taking courses from [[Tahzer?]], he gave courses in Mexico and in the Mayan area; Carlton Kuhn; Ward in the Asiatic field, Lauriston Ward.

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courses also from Clyde Kluckhohn, not in archaeology but I think he was, his one course I took from him I thought was very important for me.

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Shirley Gorenstein: Did you take work in physical anthropology?

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Gordon Ekholm: Yes, I took work in physical anthropology with Hutin, his courses, and in the last year a course in field methods both in physical anthropology, in linguistics, or rather in archaeology and in social anthropology. As a matter of fact, at the time when I graduated in 1937, when I'd finished my graduate work in 1937, there was very little opportunity for positions available and Hutin was casting about for jobs for me and there were three possibilities.

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One, to do some excavations in Iceland, to get skeletons for physical anthropological work, or in other words to become a physical anthropologist; and there was also a possibility of my going to the Barbados to do a social anthropological study and I'm afraid that if any one of those jobs really came through I probably would have been in those fields rather than archaeology. [[Door slams in background]]

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I had become very interested in the Barbados through this field work course where we studied the Barbadian Negroes in Boston and Cambridge and I got to know many of them and got extremely interested in the whole subject of social anthropological studies.

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However my main interest was archaeology, although at that time I had no intention whatsoever of going to Mexico or the Maya area.

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I had worked in the southwest and in the north and I think my general preference was for work in southwestern archaeology.
Shirley Gorenstein: Excuse me. You didn't tell what the third choice was.

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Gordon Ekholm: Ah, let me see, um--

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Gordon Ekholm: there was one other position, possible position now, ah the Barbados, physical anthropology um--

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Shirley Gorenstein: I thought the third choice was in archeology -- [[inaudible]] the end of the story.

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Gordon Ekholm: --Well I can't remember the specific thing, but none of these which were being projected for me at the time came through.

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When I was at the time, just after I took my generals, George [[Badin?]] of the American Museum of Natural History was up there and apparently he'd gotten some funds for work in Mexico and was looking for an archaeologist to take on this job, and [[Tahzer?]] recommended me and I went home and got married that summer and then we went to Mexico in the fall on a survey study of northwestern Mexico, of Sonora and Sinaloa.

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Shirley Gorenstein: And this was in what year?

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Gordon Ekholm: This was in the fall of 1937. We began work in about the beginning 1938 on this job; went to Mexico with the [[Valiens ?]] in November 1937. They introduced us to all the people in the - in anthropology in Mexico. George [[Valien ?]]at that time was of course very active in the field in Mexico and he introduced us generally to the whole area of Mexico before we came back to the States and started out into western Mexico.

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The first, or the intention of this first, job in Mexico was to

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Gordon Ekholm: discover the origin of the higher cultures in the southwest. I mean, to work in the intervening area between central Mexico and the southwest to see if we couldn't develop ideas as to the relationships of the two regions.

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It didn't work out quite that way. This is always an extremely complex problem, the relationships of two areas.

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The same thing occurred a few years later, as I will mention shortly, in regard to the eastern coast of Mexico, where our idea there was to attempt studying the relationships between Mexico and the southeastern cultures of the United States.

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There was a great interest in this at this time, a general interest, in this whole problem of relationships, and I must say that people were everywhere were looking for stepping stones from one region to the other.

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That is, you find a, supposedly you were expected to find a sort of a series of sites in sort of a perfect diffusional pattern from one to the other.

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We didn't find these and so of course we did not really solve the problem of relationships.

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Shirley Gorenstein: I don't know if it's appropriate to ask you now, maybe we'll get to it later, but where did that view come from? Did it come from the European diffusionist school, and why is it - why did it take hold now, or was it something, or did it have to the fact that you were not yet --

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Gordon Ekholm: I think it was more the Whistler age-area hypothesis, I mean the spread of things out. I don't think it was part of the

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Gordon Ekholm: Diffusionists idea at all--
Shirley Gorenstein: Oh it wasn't, OK.
Gordon Ekholm: --I don't think so anyhow from what I, from what I learned later on.

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Gordon Ekholm: Well, we spent several years there on the west coast of Mexico in Sonora and Sinaloa and toward the southern part of the area in northern Sinaloa we came upon this site of Guasave and spent a good deal of our time there excavating a large burial ground. Which in a way took us more into the mesoamerican heartland because this was basically a mesoamerican culture that we were working with.

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The same thing happened later on in the Huasteca. It uh, in the Huasteca I intended to work throughout the whole sort of gap between Tompico and - and eastern Texas but when I got there I realized we knew absolutely nothing about Huastec culture.

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So purposefully and consciously decided that the thing to do was to stay there in the heart of the Huastec area and learn something about the sequences there before attempting to look into this great area of lesser culture to the north.

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I think probably that my point of view at this time was, of these early field jobs, was that which was current at the time,

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Gordon Ekholm: archaeology was primarily a uh, an attempt to work out sequences and slowly develop knowledge of a field. There was--there was little real theoretical understanding, it seems to me, of what- of what we were doing.

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At least, I feel now that there relatively little theoretical understanding of how we were attempting to connect these areas in Mexico and in the southwest and southeast.

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Shirley Gorenstein: Do you think that might have had something to do with the fact that you really had very little substantive data to work with?
Gordon Ekholm: Yes, that's - that's - that's true. We were actually, in a sense, pioneering an area, which - in areas, which were unknown. We had a general idea of what might be found in these areas but no-one had done any actual work in these intervening areas.

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It was a question of exploring to see what was to be found and that was basically it. 'Go see what you find and see what it means.'

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Shirley Gorenstein: But a great deal of energy and time and, and work was spent on 'go see what you find' that there was practically nothing left over for 'and see what it means.'
Gordon Ekholm: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

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Shirley Gorenstein: And I think even that there might also have been not enough to, not enough substantive data to see what it means because I think there has to be a period in which that's collected.
Gordon Ekholm: Um--[[long pause]]

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Shirley Gorenstein: ..or was this that period in Mexican archaeology?
Gordon Ekholm: Well, Mexican archaeology at this time was, was beginning to come out of a long period of

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Gordon Ekholm: Beginnings, Valiant had just done his work in the Valley of Mexico and for the first time we had a, we had a uh, a long sequence in one area that is from the preclassic, early preclassic, up through the - to the time of the conquest.

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This had gradually been built up through the work of Damiel and [[Nopiera ?]] and Boess of course, at an earlier time.

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We had absolutely no idea of Mesoamerica, that is 'Mesoamerica' came later, that is, a unit of culture including the Maya and - and uh some, some from Mexico.

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Actually, much later came the - the correlations between the cultures of Central Mexico and the, and the Maya area.

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I shouldn't say much later, it came in the - it came in the early '40s, when uh, when the Mexican archaeologists began to get interested in the Tula and there was a meeting on Tula in the, at that time and that's a meeting of a round table meeting of the Society of Mexican archaeology, of Mexican Anthropology.

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And for the first time, it was realized that the relationships between Chichen Itza and Central Mexico, or that is the Itzas, who supposedly came out of the Mexico and developed Chichen Itza, were from Tula and not from Teotihuacan.

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There had been no, when I was in uh doing graduate work in Tozzer's courses, we talked a great deal about Chichen Itza and the Toltecs, but we always thought of the Toltecs as Teotihuacan, and there was actually no evidence of relationship between the two areas because Teotihuacan was quite a bit earlier, quite a bit earlier.

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And all of a sudden with this Tula conference, the thing became clear: Tula was late, just pre-Aztec, and later than Chichen Itza.

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Gordon Ekholm: --can was not Toltec, it was something earlier. And then a few years later the work at Kaminaljuyu in Guatemala by Kidder and his group, were able to show a very strong relationship between the Esperanza-phase culture there and Teotihuacan. So this was the beginning of our being able to think of a Middle American or (as Kirshaf a little bit later defined it as) the mesoamerican area. And things began to fall into place quite rapidly in that time. In the - in the later '40s there began to be a number of people coming into the field of Mexican archaeology, and of course that's been continuing, increasing ever since,

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[[pause]]

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[[tape disturbance]]

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Gordon Ekholm: ? We should turn perhaps and talk a little more about the first work in Mexico in Sinaloa and Sonora. We made a, what really was a relatively quick survey of many parts of, of Sonora, that is the parts that could be reached by car and not any really extensive off-the-road work by horseback or whatever. We made a few short trips by horseback but of course at that time roads were very limited so we could only get to portions of the area. However

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Gordon Ekholm: We did not find very much of great significance in Sonora. We

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reviewed the Trincheras culture in the north, visited a number of the sites which had already been known. It is a culture which has since been worked by others to some extent, but it is primarily a southwestern complex. In central Sonora there were very meager sites in most regions.

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Ceramic sites, a number of ceramic sites were found, but only of the simplest kinds of undecorated plainware pottery and so on, which was, very har- which has been very hard to put into any meaningful pattern. Actually, this - much of this survey material has never been published, unfortunately.

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The part of the survey that we did publish had to do with northern Sinaloa and the Wasabe complex.

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The only publishing we did on the, on the northern Sonora we did was in terms of a brief sort of summary account.

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Shirley Gorenstein: Were they collections that--
Gordon Ekholm: --they're collections which are still here in the museum, yes. There's material of great interest and there are others who have been, who have working in the area and have been using these collections that we have here.

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But even yet there's no real patterning that has come out of the central Sonora material. It looks like an area of relatively low cultures throughout the entire

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Gordon Ekholm: entire period. This probably has in part led me to my idea that has played an important role later on, that people probably traveled a great deal more than we at that time thought they did.

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We didn't find a series of, a series of stepping stones between Sinaloa and the southwest, where you could say that "culture passed this way."

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I think at this time I was slowly coming to, coming to me that probably people traveled through this area; that is, traders, visitors going back between the edge of Mesoamerican culture in Sinaloa and the Southwest. And this I think has pretty well been illustrated elsewhere in regards to Mesoamerica and the Southeastern United States also.

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Another thing that led me to this feeling for the importance of what we might call long-distance diffusion even at this time was the fact that the Wasabe culture which was described in some detail from the Wasabe site was in part a, a pretty close reflection, or show of pretty close reflection, of things in Central and Southern Mexico.

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I said in this other report that what we seem to have here is a result of an actual migration of people from Central Mexico into Northern Sinoloa to the very edges of Mesoamerica. This has not been entirely born out by the work, but - but a certain extent I think still stands.

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There was a, probably an actual movement of people into this area from the far south.

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Following this work in Sinaloa and Sonora, I came back to the museum and wrote up the report for about one year, spent one year writing the report on the Wasabe and then took on a job for these [[two Bandian?]] research.

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The, part of the, I always forget the title, the, of the entire program.

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This was before the United States had got into war and the coordinator of the Inter-American Affairs, led by Nelson Rockefeller, got interested in doing scientific work throughout Latin America. We were at that time courting very strongly the Latin Americans and

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the Latin American it was called the Latin American Servings project. I believe there were 11 projects extending all the way from

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mine, which was furthest north in the Huasteca down into, through Mexico, Southern America, and through South America down as far as Chile.

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11 projects, all financed by a grant of $114,000 from the coordinator of Inter-American Affairs.

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We spent a long and fairly richly provided season, a year is a season in Mexico.

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And spent with, with some difficulty but we finally did. We spent $7,500, which is something that we didn't do at the perfect time of course.

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Actually we were started out with the, as I mentioned before, with the idea of trying to do same thing on the east coast of Mexico as we did in the west. Trying to do in the west that of linking up this--

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Gordon Ekholm: Surveying all the - all of this archaeologically wealthy barren area of Tanolipas and Nuevo Leone and seeing what I could learn.

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Gordon Ekholm: But landing in the Tampico area, I decided that we couldn't - it wasn't worth doing that until we knew something about the Azteca.

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Gordon Ekholm: And we surveyed diligently a good portion of the Huastec region and then settled down to excavate 2 sites.

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Gordon Ekholm: 1 Las Cloves right in the suburbs of Tampico, which proved to be an extremely interesting site, but a, a 1 period site.

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Gordon Ekholm: It was, what I later called a period 5. The Toltec horizon.

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Gordon Ekholm: It was - it became very obvious to me then how important it was - how important these 1 period sites are.

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Gordon Ekholm: Because everything you find at the site works out to be of that period then you can fill in the cultural inventory of a - of a particular period very well that way.

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Gordon Ekholm: It was, it was very lucky because this was a site which was - being at that time destroyed by people looking for subsoil rock to build roads in the area.

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Gordon Ekholm: This being a large alluvial area where rock didn't occur.

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So that what we had in the excavations of these - of these rock hunters was a series of beautiful cross section cuts over the entire large site.

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Gordon Ekholm: --vertical faces in the soil. Get the rock out from underneath and then, go back and make another cut so that we were able to say quite certainly that this was a 1 period site.

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Gordon Ekholm: We found nothing of earlier or later periods. Then at the, after finishing that work, we went to the site of [[Pamlico ??]] which had appeared in our survey,

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Gordon Ekholm: and it proved to be an extraordinarily rich site, covering a long period of time from the, from the pre-Classic right up to the time of the Spanish Conquest, I believe.

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And, it's - it proved to be one of the most complete, uh--

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Gordon Ekholm: stratifications I think that has been found anywhere in middle America.

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Gordon Ekholm: It's a river-side site that had been built up through not only the cultural debris, but through the building of a natural levy. So that there was considerable depth,

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Gordon Ekholm: and a rather complete separation of the various horizons at the site. About a sequence of 6 periods,

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Gordon Ekholm: which have been, have been-- have held up very well in further work in the area.

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Gordon Ekholm: Actually we did not get the earliest material in our particular dig because a number of years later [[McNiche ??]] went back and found in the riverbank a still earlier series of deposits and was able to carry back from our earliest level

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Gordon Ekholm: the occupation of the site to the very early pre-Classic, considerably earlier--

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Gordon Ekholm: --problems of doing stratographic work came upon me very strongly at this time, and I was of course fortunate in the, not entirely accidental, but selection of the site.

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Gordon Ekholm: Of that particular site which allowed a detailed sequence.

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Gordon Ekholm: The part of the, this particular project was the, the stipulation that not only the field work be done in one year but that the--

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Gordon Ekholm: the, writing up be also completed within a year's time. And, ah, we didn't quite make the grade,

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Gordon Ekholm: but a few months after the work was - the fieldwork was - a few months after we got back from Mexico we were able to finish up the report on the--
Gordon Ekholm: Uh, Tam- uh, Tampico Panico sequence - of Tampico Panico work this whole project of the Institute of Andean Research proved to be an extraordinarily good one

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Gordon Ekholm: in that all the reports of all the work were completed very promptly, or almost all were completed very promptly, and most everything was done, or has been finished up now.

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[SILENCE]

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While doing this work in Mexico, I received news that I could come back to a position at the American Museum of Natural History, a regular staff position, became Assistant Curator in 1942.

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Gordon Ekholm: Summer '42. And, but that - obviously I was well uh, well, well established

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[[Noises of people moving around]]

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Gordon Ekholm: In the 1941, 1942 period, when I was working in the Huasteca. It was a time of considerable activity in anthropology and archaeology in Mexico.

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Gordon Ekholm: I recall that we arrived in Mexico for this work, at the time, just before the opening of the conference on Tua and it's importance,

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Gordon Ekholm: the conference of the signing for, the Sociedad Mexica Antropologia,

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Gordon Ekholm: Mexican Anthropological Society, was having it's first round table seminar-type meeting,

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lasting several days. And this was the time when the important relationship of Tula,

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Gordon Ekholm: to the Toltecs was announced. And from this time on, the - for a number of years the round-table has played an important role in Mexican archaeology.

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Gordon Ekholm: Throughout the '40s certainly, which was a period of, of great activity. Part of this activity, and perhaps to a larger extent as far as I know the origin of the round-table conferences was due to the activities of--

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Gordon Ekholm: Europeans then living in Mexico, a number of Spaniards who, such as [[Armiez and Calasco ??]], who were refugees from Spain.

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And [[Kieschoff ??]] from Germany and France, who brought with him a a highly sophisticated knowledge of

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ethnography, ethnology, and of historical research and a very systematic

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Gordon Ekholm: Approach to things, the round table on Tula [?], ahhh was followed by 1 - a year later on the olmec, this took place in Tuktuktierras [[?]] and right at the end of our stay in Mexico this time.

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Gordon Ekholm: And also, was extremely important because it was just in this previous year that Matthew Sterling had discovered the olmec. And this perhaps is one of the most important developments of the 40s. [[chuckle]]

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Gordon Ekholm: The discovery of the olmec came like a bombshell, really, in Mexican archeology because it was uhhh - no one had placed the - knew anything about what became to be olmec a little bit later.

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Gordon Ekholm: I think perhaps the first time I ever heard of the olmec was at the Congress of Americas in Mexico in 1939 when George Valiant gave a paper on olmec-like sculptures and as [[inaudible]] argument as to whether George Valiant or who invented the term "olmec".

00:40:43.000 --> 00:40:54.000
Gordon Ekholm: Anyhow, in the early 40s, that was an extremely important development.

00:40:54.000 --> 00:41:22.080
Gordon Ekholm: The conference in Tuktuktierras [[?]], attended by many of the people working the Carnegie Institution program, of course, Matthew Sterling, who was just then discovering the venta [[?]] and the tres zapotes who worked the tres zapotes.

00:41:25.000 --> 00:41:37.000
Gordon Ekholm: --lamented that time, but anyhow, he brought there a lot of knowledge of the Olmec. Caso and Covarrubias played an important role.

00:41:37.000 --> 00:42:51.000
Gordon Ekholm: Uh, also, as a matter of fact Caso and Covarrubias tended to be on one side of a gentle argument about the Olmec. They claimed, even at this early date, that the Olmec were definitely pre-classic. Obviously the earliest of the high cultures to them and many of the Carnegie people and others were inclined to think that the Olmec would eventually prove to be of the classic period. So there was a, there was a strong counterargument. Argument back and forth at this time as to the position of the Olmec. Thompson, who was at this conference, also later published a uh, a uh, a listing of various Olmec traits and other things trying to show that the Olmec were perhaps late classic in date.

00:42:51.000 --> 00:43:43.220
Gordon Ekholm: Another thing which made Mexican archaeology extremely active in the, in the 1940's was the fact that during war years and there were many Americans there. But I think this worked in combination with the situation that there were a number of very active and very well-educated Europeans there at the same time. It probably had a lot to do with the rapid development of the school of anthropology at this time. And the uh...

00:43:46.000 --> 00:44:25.000
Gordon Ekholm: ...and the uh, generally rapid progress that was made in uh visualizing the uh major centers of New World development. I think, that Kirchhoff's paper on Mesoamerica, what was the date of that, do you recall?

00:44:25.000 --> 00:44:31.000
Shirley Gorenstein: The, uh- '43?

00:44:31.000 --> 00:45:04.000
Gordon Ekholm: Kirchoff's paper on Mesoamerica, if it was '43, we must check that. Was extremely important for the first time it brought together my area of Mexico into a single unit and - which is proven to be a very important way of looking at things in that part of the world.

00:45:04.000 --> 00:45:18.000
Gordon Ekholm: It came a little before I believe the - it came a little or about the same time as the [[?]] Valley conference in Peru and which the, uh,

00:45:18.000 --> 00:45:20.000
Shirley Gorenstein: You mean the Chiquiàn conference?

00:45:20.000 --> 00:45:47.660
Gordon Ekholm: Yes, the Chiquiàn conference in which the uh, the uh, uh, the developmental sequence was postulated for Peru and the same kind of developmental process was pointed out by Armius for middle America.

00:45:50.000 --> 00:46:04.000
William C. Sturtevant: So I would think that perhaps in the 40s, we saw a greater push in Middle American archaeology than we have in any other decade.

00:46:04.000 --> 00:46:10.000
[[silence]]

00:46:10.000 --> 00:46:15.000
[[people moving around]]

00:46:15.000 --> 00:46:27.000
Gordon Ekholm: My old work in the 40s was where they're buried in the

00:46:27.000 --> 00:46:30.000
Gordon Ekholm: in the Natural History Museum.

00:46:30.000 --> 00:46:40.000
Gordon Ekholm: In 1944, we did a new, or is it a renewal, of holocentral Mexican Central American archaeology.

00:46:40.000 --> 00:46:47.000
Gordon Ekholm: Which is, of course, took a considerable amount of time in doing. Although it wasn't a complete renewal.

00:46:47.000 --> 00:46:54.000
Gordon Ekholm: It served to develop my feeling for middle America however.

00:46:54.000 --> 00:47:05.000
Gordon Ekholm: I hadn't mentioned the fact that about the time we were

00:47:05.000 --> 00:47:14.000
Gordon Ekholm: early in the 1940s when we were doing our work in western Mexico, we made a side trip into

00:47:14.000 --> 00:47:24.000
Gordon Ekholm: Guerrero to do some excavation at a site within the city of Acapulco or what was then the town of Acapulco.

00:47:24.000 --> 00:47:31.000
Gordon Ekholm: Went back a few years later, a few years ago and tried to find the site, and it was all paved over.

00:47:31.000 --> 00:47:45.000
Gordon Ekholm: But that, although it was a very minor, small job, was published only partially in the report of the

00:47:45.000 --> 00:48:00.000
Gordon Ekholm: Roundtable Conference on western Mexico. It served to give me a feeling for this coastal area, the Pacific Coast.

00:48:00.000 --> 00:48:03.030
Gordon Ekholm: And which--

00:48:06.000 --> 00:48:35.000
Gordon Ekholm: Perhaps influenced me in trying to get other people, other students, to work in the Guerra area later on. During this period, also, the 1940s, I got interested in the question of the use of yolks and palmate stones, and atchas, and wrote several papers on the subject.

00:48:35.000 --> 00:48:55.000
Gordon Ekholm: I can't remember quite how this started, how this interest got started, but it was new, I think to seeing several figurines with yolk-like objects around the waist of the figures.

00:48:55.000 --> 00:49:27.000
Gordon Ekholm: And it led me on to think about the importance of the Balgain in Middle America. It seems to be one of the great obsessions in all of Middle America. And was of such importance that the, the Balgain spread to areas outside of the borders of Mesoamerica.

00:49:27.000 --> 00:49:29.000
[SILENCE]

00:49:29.000 --> 00:49:52.000
Gordon Ekholm: Anyhow, the evidence seems to be pretty good that yolk, stone yolks, or yolk-like objects, uh, were worn in the Balgain, or in some way related to the Balgain. And also that the stone atchas and palmas were somehow used in the same way.

00:49:52.000 --> 00:50:09.080
Gordon Ekholm: There's been a great deal of reluctance to accept this idea that the use of stone yolks in the Balgain. It's easy to see how that is. But there can be no question in my mind that

00:50:13.000 --> 00:51:22.000
Gordon Ekholm: The Yokes and palamas are related to the Balgain in one way or another. One of the, one of the indications of this, I think, is the fact that in the - something which came out at a much later date - but we might follow the idea of Balgain to a later period in the early 1960s, I guess was, that I looked at the stone yokes, or the stone collars of Puerto Rico and found that they too are undoubtedly of use in the Balgain and this re-enforces, it seems to me, the importance or the probably importance of the Malagain complex in Middle America - because if there's one thing it did, diffuse, I believe - must have diffused from Middle America in the direction of Puerto Rico, where the maps, the direction.

00:51:22.000 --> 00:51:27.000
[SILENCE]

00:51:27.000 --> 00:52:16.930
Gordon Ekholm: This matter of the Balgane and its diffusion will probably be mentioned later in regard to my concern with the whole problem of diffusion. In the late 19, in the late 1940s, in the - I believe it was 1948 - I had a short field trip to Mexico and worked briefly at a place in Northern Vera Cruz at Tuxpan. This was published only to the extent of a brief review in the report of the roundtable conference having to do with the Waztecs and-

00:52:18.000 --> 00:52:56.000
Gordon Ekholm: ...uh, in general, the the work at Tuxpan showed a close relationship to what was found at Tampeco and Panuco. And seems to indicate that the, its one of the basic Southern border of the Waztec area was approximately at the Rio Tuxpan.

00:52:56.000 --> 00:53:12.000
Shirley Gorenstein: In 1946, you wrote two articles on the wheel, one with Caso, and one in American Antiquity. "Wheeled Toys in Mexico." What was the American Antiquity article?

00:53:12.000 --> 00:54:06.000
Gordon Ekholm: Yes, this uh, this is a uh, the the uh, the question of the presence of the wheel in the New World came up very shortly after the work at Tampico Panuco. At approximately the same time as this work, starting with excavating at Tres Zapotes and found several wheeled animals - small clay animals with clay wheels on them. And shortly after I finished at Tamico or at Panuco, my workman there found a similar object with wheels a very, very short distance, distance from my own stratigraphic excavation.

00:54:06.000 --> 00:55:12.870
Gordon Ekholm: Uh, this uh, I contributed to the uh, a little round table publication by the editor of Cuadernos Americanos in Mexico, started. And we all published little reports on wheeled animals. What we called at that time wheeled toys. And I wrote a more complete article for American Antiquity on wheeled toys in Middle America. I had not become a complete diffusionist at that time, so I tried to argue for the invention of the wheel in the New World as an explanation of these wheeled animals...

00:55:15.000 --> 00:55:46.000
Gordon Ekholm: --so, extremely interested in this subject, and I'm working at the present time on a further study of, um, wheeled animals, attempting to provide what I think is a much more complete explanation of their origin, which I am quite convinced is through diffusion from Asia, where some of the wheeled animals are found.

00:55:46.000 --> 00:56:10.000
The, um, any event that seems to me that up to the present, although many people have written about these wheeled animals and their possible relationship to invention diffusion have been completely unsatisfactory as explanation.

00:56:10.000 --> 00:56:25.000
[SILENCE] Um--

00:56:25.000 --> 00:56:37.000
William C. Sturtevant: Just testing on voice level. I think this is about the same way we talked previously. How much do you want of this?

00:56:37.000 --> 00:56:38.000
Shirley Gorenstein: Just another sentence or two.

00:56:38.000 --> 00:56:42.000
William C. Sturtevant: Another sentence? Okay, here we go. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.

00:56:42.000 --> 00:56:47.000
Shirley Gorenstein: Okay.
[SILENCE]

00:56:47.000 --> 00:56:58.000
Shirley Gorenstein: Friday, April 23rd, 1971, American Museum of Natural History. The second interview with Gordon Ekholm for the Oral History Project at the Smithsonian Institution.

00:56:58.000 --> 00:57:11.000
I'd like to begin this interview by asking you a major - the major question, and that is: I wonder if you could trace for me the history of your interest in diffusionism.

00:57:11.000 --> 00:57:37.000
Gordon Ekholm: Once I got really interested in diffusion I um, well, on looking back on the history of my interest in this, I find that before I did anything especially in the subject, there were certain trends running up, more indicating that I was getting more and more interested in them.

00:57:37.000 --> 00:58:06.000
I think the wheeled animal subject, which we discussed previously, was one in which got me interested in larger theoretical problems of new world prehistory. Formerly, I had been involved in the more or less, in a way, pedestrian kind of archeological work -

00:58:06.000 --> 00:58:24.450
working at sites, the development of sequences, and so on, without much consideration of larger theoretical problems. The specific interest in--

00:58:26.000 --> 00:58:44.000
Gordon Ekholm: --in the, um, in diffusionism, particularly [[sidebar]] could you drop off just a moment [[/sidebar]] particularly the subject of Trans-Pacific diffusion really began in 1949.

00:58:44.000 --> 00:59:00.000
Most important, perhaps, was the fact that Dr. Robert Haynie Guilherme of Vienna was here at the time, refugee from Austria, and this was one of his principal, was of course, one of his principal interests.

00:59:00.000 --> 00:59:23.000
I remember very distinctly in the old cafeteria in the museum one day when we were talking about the forthcoming Congress of Americanists that was going to meet in the museum and I said, "Why don't we put on an exhibit illustrating diffusion?"

00:59:23.000 --> 00:59:28.000
Cotpa Kirschoff was also there, and all of a sudden everyone said, "Yes, why not?"

00:59:28.000 --> 00:59:41.000
And from then on, we did prepare Dr. Haynie Guilherme and myself, an exhibition entitled "Across the Pacific".

00:59:41.000 --> 01:00:06.000
We didn't attempt to prove anything in this exhibit other than to, what we did was to show those objects and those things which seemed to be similar in Asia and in the New World, leaving the conclusion largely up to the spectator.

01:00:06.000 --> 01:00:31.690
We, in preparing for the exhibit, we had great fun really, because Dr. Haynie Guilherme knows the Asiatic scene very well and he would often say, "Do you have this in the New World?" or I would say, "Do you have this in Asia?" and often, or occasionally, we hit upon something that--

01:00:34.000 --> 01:00:52.000
Gordon Ekholm: --to be of some importance. For instance, the whole subject of the lotus motif in Maya art and in the art of Hindu Buddhists in India and Southeast Asia came out of such discussions.

01:00:52.000 --> 01:01:19.000
In the event, we put on this exhibit and it, as one would expect at that time, it received varying responses from the anthropologists meeting at the Congress. Many of course, were aghast that this could be attempted. Many others were very much interested.

01:01:19.000 --> 01:01:49.000
In any event, from there on, I had, from that time on, I had a tremendous interest in the subject. The first article I think that I published was a report at the Congress of Americanists by Dr. Haynie Guilherme and myself discussing some of the materials in this exhibit. This was published in the proceedings of the Congress.

01:01:49.000 --> 01:02:10.000
A little bit later, I published an article in Natural History Magazine, which the editor gave a rather lurid title to: "Is American Indian Culture Asiatic?" This also included a number of the things which were shown in the exhibit.

01:02:10.000 --> 01:02:14.000
[SILENCE]

01:02:14.000 --> 01:02:36.850
From here on, there were various attempts to, or I made various attempts to, discuss the subject at other congresses, particularly, one in particular, being perhaps a lecture I gave at the--

01:02:42.000 --> 01:03:07.000
Gordon Ekholm: Washington Anthropological Society, which was published in their journal. I think that's the one. "The Problems of Asiatic-American Cultural Relationships", 1951. It was published by the Anthropological Society of Washington.

01:03:07.000 --> 01:03:32.000
I also lectured on this subject at many different, to many different groups and in various cities. And it always excited a great deal of interest. The very curious about this subject was that people not in anthropology, those in art history and in,

01:03:32.000 --> 01:03:46.000
those just having a general interest in cultural things, were inclined to think that the evidence was significant, that there were these relationships.

01:03:46.000 --> 01:04:06.000
Anthropologists in general were not impressed. I think that this is an interesting situation, or I have thought that this was an interesting situation.

01:04:06.000 --> 01:04:26.000
The, um-- It developed into a feeling of mine that perhaps most anthropology or most archaeological reconstruction wasn't done in a very scientific manner.

01:04:26.000 --> 01:04:49.050
There's I think a great misconception about the methods of science. The people who have written generally on the philosophy of science are inclined to generally agree that the progress in science is--

01:04:51.000 --> 01:05:14.000
Gordon Ekholm: Primarily the um, the um, system whereby hypothetical or the theoretical constructs are made and one attempts to prove or disprove them.

01:05:14.000 --> 01:05:41.000
Uh, many archeologists seemed to have followed, not followed that, uh, type of reasoning, wanting to base their conclusions entirely on just the evidence in hand and not to speculate beyond the evidence.

01:05:41.000 --> 01:05:50.000
One of the major characteristics, I think of archeological evidence generally is that it is always very incomplete.

01:05:50.000 --> 01:06:26.000
This is true in local situations and even more true when one comes to larger questions of greater import. The archeological record is and always will be incomplete. We probably won't find evidence for many things which eventually we will have to conclude did occur, in the way we, the way we speculate that they did.

01:06:26.000 --> 01:06:57.320
The question of diffusionism, the history of diffusionism, of the thinking of the origin of new world cultures, it seems to me has been hindered by this rather limited scientific approach. And my interest in the last few years has been one of primarily attempting to change this approach into--

01:07:02.000 --> 01:07:06.000
Gordon Ekholm: suggest that we should allow ourselves to speculate further, and

01:07:06.000 --> 01:07:17.000
particularly to speculate about the whole question of diffusion into the new world.

01:07:17.000 --> 01:07:36.000
One can well ask, of course, why American archeologists have been, in the past, disinclined to consider the, seriously, the question of trans-pacific, trans-pacific or inter-oceanic contacts as having some importance in the origins of the new world cultures.

01:07:36.000 --> 01:08:44.000
Probably, there are multiple reasons for this. One, is that from the time of the first discovery of the new world there has been a great deal of wild speculating as regards contacts. Many of these speculations were done by persons not expert in archaeological subjects, of course. And archeologists have spent a great deal of time trying to cut down many of these wild speculations. And they have gotten into a habit, or they did get into a habit it seems, of discrediting or discarding these speculations that were made mainly by amateurs.

01:08:44.000 --> 01:09:05.340
Another aspect of it, it seems to me, is the kind of false scientism that is, was found in much archaeology. There has been a long time, for a long time, an attempt to--

01:09:13.000 --> 01:10:11.000
Gordon Ekholm: --prove archaeology as science rather than something else, rather than a, a art, or a subject of more general reasoning. They have attempted to be, base conclusions on things which could be handled and things which could be definitely accounted and arranged, etcetera. I think that much of the attitudes have also been dependent on, in American archaeologist, on the fact that archaeological theory was mainly directed toward primitive peoples entirely.

01:10:11.000 --> 01:10:46.000
The American, or anthropology, up until recent years was mainly concerned with primitive peoples. The archeologists who were trained in American schools were concerned with the archaeology of relatively primitive peoples. They did not do much with the civilizations of middle and South America and when they did get to them, they really did not handle the more elaborate cultural remains.

01:10:46.000 --> 01:11:05.000
Many archaeologists from this country go to Mexico and, or to South America and they count pot shards. They don't really look at architecture or attempt to study the architecture of the Maya or other areas or of the complex arts.

01:11:05.000 --> 01:11:17.300
It's not surprising then that, of all the American archeologists who have worked in Mexico, only now is someone attempting to study--

01:11:19.000 --> 01:11:54.000
Gordon Ekholm: --important thing as Aztec sculpture. We still do not have any good study of Aztec sculpture, which is of course one of the great sculptures of the world, sculptural traditions of the world. Although we have a tremendous amount of information on many obscure and very unimportant pottery types, etcetera.

01:11:54.000 --> 01:11:59.000
[[inaudible transition]]

01:11:59.000 --> 01:12:10.000
I'll be sitting forward in part of the time, but yes, I think I'll always be sitting forward like this so that should just about be high enough, I guess.

01:12:10.000 --> 01:12:14.000
Shirley Gorenstein: It's very low.

01:12:14.000 --> 01:12:48.000
Oral History Projects Smithsonian Institution, Wednesday, April 28th, 1971 Third interview with Gordon Ekholm in Pleasantville, New York. In order to continue our discussion on diffusionism, I think the question I want to ask now is what is your view of diffusionism, both theoretically and methodologically?
Gordon Ekholm:

01:12:48.000 --> 01:13:35.530
Well, diffusionism is often considered as something opposite from evolutionism or independent inventionism, and I don't think it should be so categorically put in an opposite camp, as it were. I think we must consider all cultural history, all cultural growth as coming about through various factors. Two of the important, most important perhaps, are that of evolution of any one culture and the other, diffusion--

01:13:39.000 --> 01:13:47.000
Gordon Ekholm: And there are perhaps, perhaps there's no culture in which both are not working at all times.

01:13:47.000 --> 01:14:19.000
I think diffusion is happening at all times in that practically everything new we do as human beings, we learn from someone else - and this is true not only of individuals of course, but of cultural groups or cultural units, or national units or whatever.

01:14:19.000 --> 01:14:32.000
As a matter of fact, just about everything new we borrow from someone else, and of course this can be on all stages of complexity.

01:14:32.000 --> 01:15:09.000
At the present time with the wide dispersal of information in written form and in written in spoken form, photographs and so on, we are of course able to borrow from every culture of the world and every important invention, every important development is undoubtedly due to a complex system of borrowing of the borrowing of ideas.

01:15:09.000 --> 01:15:16.000
- ideas, attitudes, and of course on to materials and so on.

01:15:16.000 --> 01:15:29.000
So diffusionism shouldn't be considered too separate, it's say one of the major processes in cultural change.

01:15:29.000 --> 01:15:43.540
When it comes to thinking of diffusionism in archeology of course, one meets up with great many difficulties, we've already spoken of the -

01:15:46.000 --> 01:16:03.000
The attitudes of many archeologists against what's called diffusionism, their reluctance to accept it because often it's not, in cases of diffusion, aren't provable.

01:16:03.000 --> 01:16:22.000
This is due to the, as I think we might have mentioned, due to the very vague nature of what we can learn through archeology.

01:16:22.000 --> 01:16:51.000
We get to perhaps, in a view of ancient cultures through archeology, which might be compared to an extraordinarily cracked and faded mirror, we can just barely get a few glimpses here and there of ancient times that is without historical accounts.

01:16:51.000 --> 01:17:23.000
And it's very easy to - it's perhaps easier to ascribe developments through independent inventions through evolution, than it is through diffusion, because the significant elements that one might need to prove diffusion are very often absent.

01:17:23.000 --> 01:17:44.000
Recently, we discussed this question of archeological record, as regards just Mesoamerica, what Mesoamerican and the Andes - the Andean cultures.

01:17:44.000 --> 01:18:00.270
There's been a tendency in Mesoamerica to think not of the area as a whole - although that's - in the process of cultural history, although that's becoming more and more uh -

01:18:02.000 --> 01:18:07.000
Gordon Ekholm: We're becoming more and more, if you think of it as a whole.

01:18:07.000 --> 01:18:23.000
But in general, for instance, the valley of Mexico, Oaxaca, the Maya area, have, or Veracruz, [[Olmecer?]], in the past have been considered as separate units.

01:18:23.000 --> 01:18:51.000
The Maya perhaps, the history of Maya research is a very important example of this. I have pointed out elsewhere that when Morley wrote the ancient Maya, he discussed everything he knew about the Maya, and only in two places, or in two instances, mentioned people outside the Maya area.

01:18:51.000 --> 01:19:12.000
Now, of course this is, this is very strange to us now. We know that the Maya were related in many ways to both the earlier Olmec, to various people to Mexico and so on.

01:19:12.000 --> 01:19:47.000
The, ah. From my approach, the Maya were probably related very closely to all of the people of Mesoamerica throughout their history, related by not only trade - which is usually considered the most important aspect of communication between groups, but by other forms of contact as well.

01:19:47.000 --> 01:20:01.000
In my view, the Maya, the Mexicans, the Central Mexicans and those of other groups were probably in very close contact.

01:20:01.000 --> 01:20:10.860
I based this in part on, consider on my consideration that or, on our consideration that these people were, of a relatively -

01:20:12.000 --> 01:20:17.000
- Civilised, and relatively civilised stage of culture.

01:20:17.000 --> 01:20:35.000
And it's characteristic of the more advanced cultures, of what we can call civilisations, to find people interested in other people in other areas.

01:20:35.000 --> 01:20:46.000
This is due partly to the fact that in these more advanced cultures, you have specialised activities.

01:20:46.000 --> 01:21:12.000
Certainly a potter of Central Mexico is interested in new ideas about pottery making, and a religious functionary - a full time religious functionary - let us say in the Maya area, would be very much interested in the activities of full time religious functionaries in Central Mexico.

01:21:12.000 --> 01:21:27.000
So I am, I feel very certain, that there probably was a great deal of contact. That people in Mexico knew what was happening in the Maya area, vice versa.

01:21:27.000 --> 01:21:36.000
Not only in a general way, but probably in detail of what was happening.

01:21:36.000 --> 01:22:10.000
I expect that people of these various - not potters probably - because potters are usually relatively stable, country folk who - who are, make pottery in the ways they always did - they probably wouldn't travel around, they're not, they're probably aren't what we call upper class occupation. Some of the painters undoubtedly were, but pottery not.

01:22:10.000 --> 01:22:35.660
But religious functionaries, ball game players, musicians, architects, artists - artists and so on, probably on many occasions, actually traveled about Mesoamerica, moved from one centre to another, perhaps to give performances or to learn.

01:22:37.000 --> 01:22:51.000
Gordon Ekholm: And, uh, I think we have a, uh, isolationist approach has, uh, has given us the idea that strangers probably would not be accepted in other areas in this way.

01:22:51.000 --> 01:23:02.000
In my opinion they would be accepted because the people in the, in the, uh, in the culture being visited are just as interested in outside things as the visitors.

01:23:02.000 --> 01:23:06.000
[SILENCE]

01:23:06.000 --> 01:23:23.000
So I see a great, a great interchange going on all the time even though many of these, many of the, uh, there are many strange lacks of diffusion of important elements.

01:23:23.000 --> 01:23:28.000
For instance, uh, uh, the [[stela?]] cult of the Maya,

01:23:28.000 --> 01:23:58.000
uh, the elaborate, uhm, inscriptions on monuments, uh, detailing astronomical and perhaps historical events, never took over in central Mexico despite the, uh, despite this supposed, uhm, great knowledge of, uh, of, uh, each other.

01:23:58.000 --> 01:24:01.000
[SILENCE]

01:24:01.000 --> 01:24:36.000
One of the interesting, uh, uh, perhaps one of the indications, of, uh, how close the contact was and how little it seemed to show up archaeologically is the relative, uh, absence of trade items in Mesoamerica despite the, uh, the kind of trade that is indicated in the Aztec tribute records.

01:24:36.000 --> 01:24:50.000
We know that the Aztec gathered tribute yearly or, two, or one or two, uh, two or four times a year in many parts in Mesoamerica.

01:24:50.000 --> 01:25:00.820
They brought in all kinds of things in great, great quantities and these are detailed in the, in the [[Matrícula de los Tributos?]] of the [[Aztec's Mendoza?]] Codex.

01:25:04.000 --> 01:25:16.000
Gordon Ekholm: Actually however, there are very few items in this list of objects brought into Mexico that are of a perishable, that are of a non-perishable nature.

01:25:16.000 --> 01:25:40.000
There are few gold, and a few jade objects, there's a little bit of pottery - mainly for carrying materials such as honey. And there's one indication in the tribute records of the demand by the Aztec of a certain form of yellow pottery from the West.

01:25:40.000 --> 01:26:14.000
Now looking at Aztec history, through only archeology, if we had no records, we would have no indication of the amount of contact that occurred between these various areas, or strayed groups, people going and coming, ambassadors and so on, soldiers and so on, that would be necessary to transport, arrange for all these materials and so on.

01:26:14.000 --> 01:26:24.000
The same is true of, or examples of this kind can be found in other parts of the world.

01:26:24.000 --> 01:26:57.000
I don't know the history of the Near East particularly well, but I'm always struck by the, by the important lack of, of trade items between the several cultural centers in the Near East. Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia and so on.

01:26:57.000 --> 01:27:06.840
We know historically that these peoples were in contact. We know of, of wars that were conducted between these. We know of prisoners of -

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Gordon Ekholm: Training expeditions and so on. But archeologically you find relatively little evidence of this.

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Or very little proof of it.

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So that, this is part of my, or this indicates my general impression that archeology is, is a very poor reflection of actuality, as regards intra-communication between, between peoples.

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Or still one other example of this might be perhaps suggested, if we had no archeological record of, or had we had no historical record of things happening in Europe, we would of course be completely foxed on the whole business of importation of oriental ideas into Europe - printing, gunpowder, and so on - would of course be seen to have archeologically, would eventually perhaps be seen to have evolved in Europe.

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But there would be absolutely no indication of its, of its having come from far away China.

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[[stop in tape and restart]] What we've been speaking of, is, are examples of diffusionism in better known cultures. And from this I think one can easily establish a theoretical point of view in regard to the -

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Gordon Ekholm: Extreme importance of diffusion in all aspect of - or in, in culture growth generally.

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One of course tends to overemphasize one factor against another depending on his interest and so on.

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I've been, for a long time I've probably overemphasizing the role of diffusion in culture growth.

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But that is, I try to, I try to realize the tendency that one might overemphasize and to mediate the matter as much as possible.

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In speaking of this kind of diffusion of course, I don't mean, just the diffusion of minor elements of pottery type or whatever, or of some new idea that might be found elsewhere, that can be explained by diffusion.

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It seems to me that diffusion is always a very complex matter that there, if people are in contact, there is a multiplicity of ideas that are passing in both directions from one to the other.

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Sometimes they take, others don't, and there's no, there's no real rule that we can see as yet, as to how diffusion occurs, or what diffusion occurs through contact.

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But I think the -

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Gordon Ekholm: One can probably assume that through diffusion, major changes in cultures have come about.

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There's a, uh. Perhaps the multiplicity of small elements lead to greater changes.

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For instance, the development of civilization in the New World, can be ascribed to a multiplicity of ideas coming from the Old World, rather than from, from native internal development.

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This leads to a, perhaps a basic point of theory, that I would certainly attempt to hold to, and that is that the, that diffusion is of great importance in any theory and any theoretical construct, of how cultures change, and of how cultures develop.

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It cannot be used alone. Every, every change, even though it's based primarily on diffu -- even though it may be based entirely on diffusion, also includes an amount of -

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Gordon Ekholm: Uh, internal development of independent invention, because no idea is taken over exactly by one culture, as it was used or was part of another culture.

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So that invention, evolution, diffusion, are all complementary in a larger theory of, of culture change, culture growth.