Ancient North America

From the Caravan Journals: My thirty years of over-the-road travels across North America in my blue van, stopping occasionally at archaeological parks and historical sites, have been the groundwork for this book project. The raw journals kept during these decades document the experience of trying on different lenses to see what the world has to say about itself.  

For me, it has always been a matter of looking behind the façades of culture. The writings of film critic Pauline Kael taught me about foreground and background in movies. In the foreground, the movie stars enacted their melodramas; in the background were the carefully crafted settings created by armies of artists whose credits flew by at the end of the film. And behind these façades, were the realities of the world that earned little attention from Hollywood. In classic American Westerns, it has been the story of the Indians that was largely masked from view.

Despite my childhood interest in First Nations culture, there were areas of Native American history that I knew little or nothing about. I was a non-indigenous Northern Woodlands kid and I knew a little bit about the Plains Indians from watching movies. Growing up in the 1950s, the popular Western movies I saw on my hometown screen were about shooting  Indians who threatened the passage of innocent pioneers crossing the continent. Only rarely was there a movie segment that looked at this epoch from the Indian point of view.

Though there are more movies about the nomadic tribes of the Plains than any other Indian groups, they left little in the way of permanent records behind them. The mound-builders of the Mississippi Valley and the pueblo-builders of the Southwest left evidence of massive ceremonial centers in archaeological remains, but there are virtually no Hollywood movies that tell their story.

The boundary between North America and South America is all the way at the bottom of Panama, but it has been more convenient for the purposes of this website to treat the three distinct nations, Canada, US, and Mexico as a whole, and to group the seven countries of Central America with my Southern Americas destinations. It was Mexico that saw the origins of the great stone-carving cultures of Mesoamerica well over 3000 years ago, and it was Mexico that saw the arrival of Cortez intent on dismantling these cultures.

There is a documentary film, called Reel Injuns, that became my guide for appreciating the alternate view of Indians in the movies. It can be found in Indian Perspective: Reel Injun.  I hope you enjoy it.

For a full list of movies viewed for this website, go to Movie Archive, above.