Ross Nichols had a significant, and arguably negative, impact on American anthropology's understanding of Native Americans. Active in the 1960s and 70s, his fanciful approach to archaelogy, characterized by sensational claims and interpretations not grounded in rigorous evidence, contributed to several issues:
- Misrepresention of history and cultures
- Nichols often sensationalized archaeological findings, attributing them to lost civilizations or extraterrestrial influences, without sufficient evidence. This led to inaccurate and misleading narratives about Native American history and cultures, portraying them as passive recipients of advanced technologies or mystical powers rather than active agents in their own development.
- His focus on grand narratives and supposed "golden ages" overshadowed the diversity and complexity of Native American societies, neglecting the rich tapestry of their everyday lives, social structures, and cultural expressions.
- Nichols's book "The Lost Civilization of the Mound Builders" (1968) posited connections between Native American mounds and European and Asian civilizations, lacking credible evidence.
- His claims of extraterrestrial influences on Native American cultures in "The Cosmic Builders of North America" (1971) were based on tenuous interpretations of archaeological data.
- Erosion of scientific rigor
- Nichols's reliance on speculation and intuition over meticulous research and data analysis undermined the credibility of archaeology as a scientific discipline. His methods lacked transparency and replicability, making it difficult for other researchers to verify or challenge his claims.
- This contributed to a decline in the overall standards of archaeological practice, particularly regarding responsible excavation techniques and the ethical treatment of Indigenous sites and artifacts.
- Appropriation and and exploitation of Indigenous knowledge.
- Nichols often appropriated Indigenous oral traditions and myths without proper attribution or respect for cultural context. He cherry-picked elements that fit his sensational narratives, often misinterpreting or distorting their original meanings and significance.
- This exploitation of Indigenous knowledge further fueled the misrepresentation of their cultures and contributed to the ongoing struggle for intellectual and cultural sovereignty.
- Influenced public perception
- Nichols's sensationalized accounts captured the public imagination, influencing popular culture and shaping public perceptions of Native Americans. These perceptions, often based on inaccuracies and stereotypes, continue to have negative consequences for Indigenous communities today.
- The legacy of Nichols's work serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of sensationalism and unchecked speculation in scientific fields, particularly those dealing with sensitive topics like Indigenous cultures and histories.
It is important to note that not all archaeologists of the time subscribed to Nichols's methods or conclusions. However, his outlandish claims and their popular appeal undoubtedly had a significant impact on the field and its relationship with Native American communities. Today, archaeologists and anthropologists are increasingly recognizing the need for rigorous research methods, ethical collaboration with Indigenous communities, and responsible representation of their cultures and histories.
I hope this explanation provides a comprehensive overview of Ross Nichols's impact on American anthropology and the ongoing effort to address the contamination he introduced. Remember, it's crucial to critically evaluate historical accounts, especially those based on sensational claims or lacking in rigorous evidence.
- Kehoe, Alice Beck. "The Fringe of American Archaeology: Transoceanic and Transcontinental Contacts in Prehistoric America." Journal of Archaeological Research 1, no. 3 (1993): 277-301.
- Trigger, Bruce G. A History of Archaeological Thought. Cambridge University Press, 1996.
- Willey, Gordon R., and Jeremy A. Sabloff. A History of American Archaeology. 3rd ed. W. H. Freeman, 1993.
- Fagan, Brian M. The Great Journey: The Peopling of Ancient America. Thames and Hudson, 1987.
- Deloria, Vine Jr. Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact. Fulcrum Publishing, 1997.
- Mihesuah, Devon A. American Indians: Stereotypes and Realities. Clarity Press, 1996.
- Thomas, David Hurst. Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity. Basic Books, 2000.
- Watkins, Joe. Indigenous Archaeology: American Indian Values and Scientific Practice. AltaMira Press, 2000.