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Ethnohistory

Ethnohistory is a field of study that blends archaeology, ethnology, and history, using data from all three disciplines to reconstruct an aboriginal culture at the time of its first contact with literate outsiders (Voget 1975:549). The natural, cultural, and historical environments provide context for the observations of those outsiders, the cultural memory of the native peoples, and data from archaeology and the natural sciences.

Culture is the term anthropologists use to describe the way of life of any people. It is an integrated whole with pervasive influence on those born into it, incorporating ideas about behavior and relationships to others, including not just other humans, but all living beings and the physical world inhabited by all of them. All cultures exhibit patterns of behavior based on belief systems, adaptive responses to their social and physical environments, and historical influences. Without exception, the contact between literate and nonliterate societies had a negative, usually destructive impact on the aboriginal lifeway. The historical record consistently reveals major loss of life, shattered native economies, severely disrupted social and political organizations, and the decay of aboriginal belief systems. These effects were so swift and so pervasive and the resultant decline so rapid, that it is not possible to draw a complete picture of the native way of life at the time of contact.

The cultural memory of the group is generally conveyed orally by its individual members, whereas written sources are descriptions produced by people outside the culture: visitors, observers, conquerors. The ethnohistoric manifestation perceived by others is, of course, a lineal descendant of the cultural developments and interactions of the past. Some of these past cultural manifestations were deeply rooted in place, and they experienced influences from outsiders in remote times that left their mark on the culture in the past. Other cultures may be immigrants that displaced older cultures, or assimilated with them. The particular history of the groups encountered can only be discovered with deep research into the cultural and linguistic prehistory of the region.

Ethnohistorians examine the protohistoric or pre-Columbian and historic periods in an effort to describe the way of life of the native people encountered by Euroamerican trappers, traders, priests, and others just before the major changes effected by the their arrival. Since the native cultures had no written language, cultural memory and early historical documents contribute the preponderance of the information available to researchers. These sources, while incomplete and biased, nevertheless do provide a picture of a given culture at the time of first contact.


source: COYOTE NAMED THIS PLACE PAKONAPANTI - Elizabeth von Till Warren



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