Decolonizing “Prehistory”
288 pages, 6 x 9
31 b&w illustrations, 3 tables
Release Date:30 Nov 2021

Decolonizing “Prehistory”

Deep Time and Indigenous Knowledges in North America

The University of Arizona Press
Decolonizing “Prehistory” combines a critical investigation of the documentation of the American deep past with perspectives from Indigenous traditional knowledges and attention to ongoing systems of intellectual colonialism. Bringing together experts from American studies, archaeology, anthropology, legal studies, history, and literary studies, this interdisciplinary volume offers essential information about the complexity and ambivalence of colonial encounters with Indigenous peoples in North America, and their impact on American scientific discourse. The chapters in this book reveal how anthropology, archaeology, and cultural heritage have shaped the collective ideological construction of Indigenous cultures, while actively empowering the voices that disrupt conventional tropes and narratives of “prehistory.”

Constructions of America’s ancient past—or the invention of American “prehistory”—occur in national and international political frameworks, which are characterized by struggles over racial and ethnic identities, access to resources and environmental stewardship, the commodification of culture for touristic purposes, and the exploitation of Indigenous knowledges and histories by industries ranging from education to film and fashion. The past’s ongoing appeal reveals the relevance of these narratives to current-day concerns about individual and collective identities and pursuits of sovereignty and self-determination, as well as to questions of the origin—and destiny—of humanity. Decolonizing “Prehistory” critically examines and challenges the paradoxical role that modern scholarship plays in adding legitimacy to, but also delegitimizing, contemporary colonialist practices.

Contributors: Rick Budhwa, Keith Thor Carlson, Kirsten Matoy Carlson, Jessica Christie, Philip J. Deloria, Melissa Gniadek, Annette Kolodny, Gesa Mackenthun, Christen Mucher, Naxaxalhts’i (aka Sonny McHalsie), Jeff Oliver, Mathieu Picas, Daniel Lord Smail, Coll Thrush

Decolonizing ‘Prehistory’ carries readers to the rugged landscapes of the Pacific Northwest to hear how they are known by communities with millennial depth as residents. The book adds breadth with chapters on the Penobscot River People, Maya communities living at tourist destinations Coba and Tulum, and Mammoth Cave. Philip Deloria concludes the book with a reading of his father’s no-holds-barred assertion of flaws in Western science, a position that time has brought closer to anthropologists’ own critiques seen in this volume.’—Alice Beck Kehoe, author of Traveling Prehistoric Seas: Critical Thinking on Ancient Transoceanic Voyages

‘The book, a collection of essays by a range of academics, contains some delightful examples…I recommend this book for all those interested in decolonizing environmental policy making, and even the environmental movement.’—Heather Menzies, Watershed Sentinel


Gesa Mackenthun teaches American studies at Rostock University and is the author and co-editor of several works, including Metaphors of Dispossession: American Beginnings and the Translation of Empire.

Christen Mucher is an associate professor of American studies at Smith College and the author of Before American History: Archives, Antiquities, and Native Pasts.

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