Ford Worked From The High Arctic To The High Andes During His Career
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This weekend is the beginning of spring and hopefully the weather will be mild. In Railroad Park this Saturday, March 20, at a historical marker dedicated to noted archaeologist James Ford will be unveiled at 3 p.m. It will be a nice, open-air event.
I have been reading two books about Ford. The first is “James A. Ford and the Growth of Americanist Archaeology,” published in 1998 by the University of Missouri Press and written by Michael J. O’Brien and R. Lee Lyman. The second book is “Measuring the Flow of Time, The Works of James A. Ford, 1935-1941” with O’Brien and Lyman editing the book.
Both books are in depth reads as to the workings of early American archaeology as it evolved from simple random digging to a methodical science. Ford worked from the high Arctic to the high Andes in the course of his career, but much of his early work was across the entire southeastern United States.
Here’s a long quote from Ford’s early writing for a Louisiana periodical about the methods of his work.
“The principle of the gradual change of culture with the passage of time applies quite directly to the lives of the ancient Indians of Louisiana, and clear indications of it may be noted by a study of the articles they have left behind them.
By examining the sites of their prehistoric town are found mounds, erected as part of the religious ceremonialism and which often served as cemeteries for the dead; remains of houses in which people lived; and the midden deposits – the village garbage dumps – where broken pottery and worn out flint knives, arrowheads, axes, etc., were deposited. All these man-made things were subject to the principle of constant change, hence those any one site are more or less peculiar to the time that produced them.
It is apparent that if the different forms of the various implements, houses, mounds, etc., used during time covered by one of these ancient cultures can be arranged in the sequence in which they occurred, it is possible to determine relative ages of the various old towns, not in the accurate terms of years but in relation to one another. The origins, migrations, developments and final dispositions of the different groups of people by this means are made apparent. Thus the prehistory of the area is outlined.
Such an arrangement of cultural elements, called a chronology, is one of the primary purposes of archaeological research. The simplest means of arranging such a chronology is to select some one element of culture which appears commonly on ancient sites and which was subject to rapid changes in form. After the chronology of this one element is discovered, it serves as a ‘yardstick’ for the remaining elements in culture history.”
What has changed since Ford’s time is the ability to more precisely date objects and the protection of such sites and mounds via the 1990 Federal law Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.