National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Alice Kehoe

Affiliation: Marquette University

Alice B. Kehoe, now professor emeritus, conducted field excavations in the Northwestern Plains/Canadian Prairie, in addition to extensive experience with First Nations in that area.  She has also participated in archaeology at Tiwanaku, Solutre, Dolni Vestonice, and other sites.  Broad and varied fieldwork and professional experiences stimulated her to research history of archaeology and also sociology of science regarding archaeology, background for a dozen books on American archaeology issues and First Nations ethnohistories.


The idea that Columbus discovered an unknown New World in 1492 was popularized in the nineteenth century as part of U. S. “Manifest Destiny” propaganda for taking over the American continent.  Indians were labeled “Savages” isolated from the rest of the world and incapable of great works.  Similarities between Old World and American crafts are still conventionally said to be independent inventions, and long ocean voyages impossible.  The Guinness Book of World Records shows that even a paddleboard has been sailed between American and Europe, twice.  This lecture shows varieties of boats capable of crossing oceans; obvious evidence that people crossed ocean straits more than 100,000 years ago in the South Pacific; archaeological evidence of movements around the Pacific in the Terminal Glacial Period; and archaeological evidence of transpacific contacts between Southeast Asia and Mesoamerica during the medieval spice trade about 1200 C.E.  Woodland ceramics in eastern North America are best explained by introduction across the North Atlantic from coastal Scandinavia, as hypothesized by Stuart Piggott (the archaeologist in the Sutton Hoo film “The Dig”).  DNA analyses now confirm interpretations formerly dismissed as “impossible”.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Traveling Prehistoric Seas:  Critical Thinking on Ancient Transoceanic Voyages – Alice Beck Kehoe, 2016, Left Coast Press.

Ancient Ocean Crossings: Reconsidering the Case for Contacts with the Pre-Columbian Americas, Stephen C., 2016, University of Alabama Press.

The word “prehistory” was first used in 1851, in Scotland as part of a reform movement creating a middle class of educated people in business and the professions.  It included national histories and museums, and scientific study of human evolution.  Its Edinburgh leaders radically changed the city’s Antiquarians Society from collectors of Roman antiquities to archaeologists using geological science models of stratigraphy and landscape, in which artifacts are accurately placed.  The French term préhistoire was borrowed for data from layers lower down, thus earlier, than historically documented occupations.  When scientific (geology model) archaeology was developed in mid-nineteenth century North America, the term was introduced to cover all occupations earlier than European settlements.  “Scientific” archaeologists ignored First Nations’ historians, terming them myths, and fit archaeological data into European models of Progress from Savagery to Barbarism, claiming no American First Nation ever progressed to Civilization.  Even Cahokia, one of the medieval world’s largest cities, was labeled a “chiefdom” and largely ignored.  By the 2000s, some archaeologists working in Africa, the Americas, Australia, and former colonies elsewhere recognized that every human community has its own deep-time history, that we must work with descendants of the people who made our sites to more fully understand our data.  “Death of Prehistory” is a slogan used now to emphasize collaborative research respecting the fascinating varieties of human communities revealed by archaeology.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

The Land of Prehistory:  A Critical History of American Archaeology, Alice B. Kehoe, 1998, Routledge.

PDF of Kehoe, “Prehistory’s” History, in Death of Prehistory, ed. Schmidt and Mrozowski, 2013, Oxford U. Press.

support Us

The AIA is North America's largest and oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to archaeology. The Institute advances awareness, education, fieldwork, preservation, publication, and research of archaeological sites and cultural heritage throughout the world. Your contribution makes a difference.