Archaeologies of Persistence: Reconsidering the Legacies of Colonialism in Native North America

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The Society for American Archaeology / Cambridge University Press


This article seeks to define common ground from which to build a more integrated approach to the persistence of indigenous societies in North America. Three concepts are discussed—identity, practice, and context—that may prove useful for the development of archaeologies of persistence by allowing us to counter terminal narratives and essentialist concepts of cultural identity that are deeply ingrained in scholarly and popular thinking about Native American societies. The use of these concepts is illustrated in an example that shows how current archaeological research is challenging long-held scholarty and popular beliefs about the effects of colonialism in coastal California, where the policies of Spanish colonial missionaries have long been thought to have driven local native peoples to cultural extinction. By exploring how the sometimes dramatic changes of the colonial period were internally structured and are just one part of long and dynamic native histories, archaeologies of persistence may help to bring about a shift in how the archaeology of colonialism presents the histories of native peoples in North America—one that can make archaeology more relevant to descendant communities.