from The Textbook Letter, September-October 1999

More Fake "History" from Glencoe

William J. Bennetta

The Anasazi were Amerindians who inhabited, in prehistoric times, the region we now call the Colorado Plateau. Our knowledge of how they lived consists wholly of archaeological inferences derived from the inspection of relics and ruins, and there are many engaging questions -- including questions about the incidence of cannibalism in Anasazi societies -- which remain unanswered [see note 1, below]. There is no question, however, about how the Anasazi figure in American history: They don't figure at all. The Anasazi had nothing to do with America, and they played no part in America's history, because all of the Anasazi societies disintegrated and disappeared during the 13th century. By the time when Europeans came to the New World and founded the colonies from which America would arise, the Anasazi were long gone.

That doesn't matter to the hacks who write phony "American history" books like West's Publishing's United States History: In the Course of Human Events [note 2], McDougal Littell's America's Past and Promise [note 3], Glencoe's History of a Free Nation [note 4], Prentice Hall's America: Pathways to the Present [note 5], and Glencoe's American Odyssey: The United States in the 20th Century. These hacks don't permit mere irrelevance or absurdity to get in their way or to inhibit their preoccupation with dispensing faddish claptrap. In their zeal to display political correctness, they have dug up the Anasazi and other prehistoric Indians, have pretended that these Indians were somehow involved in the evolution of our nation, and have glorified them in ways that range from the simply laughable to the nastily deceitful. And invariably, they have labeled the prehistoric Indians as "the first Americans" or "the earliest Americans," projecting the idiotic notion that there were Americans before there was America.

To see how far such antics have been carried, and how nasty they have become, look at the stuff about the Anasazi in Glencoe's American Odyssey: The United States in the 20th Century. It appears in chapter 2, in a section titled "The Earliest Americans."

Glencoe's writers don't even try to suggest why a book about the United States in the 20th century should say anything about Indians who went extinct in the 13th, nor do they attempt to define the term Anasazi. They just start to babble about "the Anasazi," as if the reader must already know who "the Anasazi" were, and they characterize the Anasazi as "highly developed." What does "highly developed" mean? The writers do not say, but I can tell you the answer -- "highly developed" has no meaning at all. It is merely one of the inane clichés of fake anthropology, a kind of politically correct nonsense that has become common in schoolbooks during the past decade. In the fatuous world of fake anthropology, no group of people has ever been primitive, all groups of people have been "highly developed" or "advanced," and these meaningless labels are substituted for facts [note 6]. Hence the Glencoe writers label the Anasazi as "highly developed," but they refuse to give any meaningful information about Anasazi technology. They refuse to tell, for example, that the Anasazi possessed only Stone Age technology and didn't practice any extractive metallurgy.

After declaring that the Anasazi were "highly developed," the writers say that the Anasazi also were paragons of egalitarianism:

. . . the Anasazi fostered an egalitarian culture in which people functioned as equals. Without kings, chiefs, or other official authority figures to compel cooperation, members of Anasazi farming villages built dams, reservoirs, and irrigation systems . . . . the Anasazi also constructed 400 miles (643.6 km) of roads and broad avenues leading to Chaco Canyon in northwest New Mexico, . . . .

That is just a noble-savage fantasy. Our knowledge of Anasazi social organization is scanty at best, and -- like everything else that we have learned about the Anasazi -- it consists entirely of inferences from archaeological evidence. (There are no written records to tell us about Anasazi social structures, because the "highly developed" Anasazi had no system of writing.) The available evidence lends no support to the bizarre claim that Anasazi societies operated without any "authority figures," and no rational person would believe that any society could have built dams and other large works, or could have operated large irrigation systems, without having managers to make decisions and to give orders.

The nastiest part of Glencoe's account, however, comes in a passage headlined "Anasazi Architecture," where the writers purport to tell about Anasazi dwellings. Here is an excerpt:

At one dwelling site, Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, more than 1,000 residents lived in a free-standing 600-room structure. . . . some apartment sections towered 5 stories above the canyon floor. Until a larger apartment building went up in New York City in 1882, the size of this Anasazi building remained unsurpassed in the world.

Now we are in the realm of heavy deception. Let us analyze what we see here, starting with the comparison between the Pueblo Bonito structure and an apartment building. That comparison is absurd because the Pueblo Bonito structure wasn't an apartment building: It was an aggregation of dwelling rooms, storehouses, and other chambers. Next we notice that Glencoe's writers -- seeking to create the impression that the building of five-story "apartment sections" was a unique achievement -- hide the fact that taller apartment buildings had existed, centuries earlier, in imperial Rome. They also hide the fact that the Pueblo Bonito builders eventually had to dump trash into some of the rooms in their structure's lower stories to provide support for the upper stories.

Next we observe that the writers use the words "larger" and "size" without explaining what they mean. Are the writers referring to capacity? If so, how has capacity been calculated? Are the writers referring to dimensions? If so, what dimensions do they have in mind? We can't tell -- but we know that the Old World has ancient structures which are much taller, and which display much greater spans, than anything built by the Anasazi. We also know that Glencoe's writers are dealing in bafflegab.

Finally, we see that these writers, though they allegedly are telling about "Anasazi Architecture," fail to provide even the most basic architectural information about Anasazi buildings. The writers don't tell, for example, that the Anasazi relied on a primitive form of post-and-lintel construction in which spaces were spanned by straight, solid, horizontal members (lintels) that rested upon vertical posts or vertical walls. Those "highly developed" Anasazi evidently had no conception of the truss, the arch or the dome.


  1. See, for example, "Cannibals of the Canyon," by Douglas Preston, in The New Yorker for 30 November 1998. [return to text]

  2. See the reviews in TTL, January-February 1997. [return to text]

  3. See the reviews in TTL, September-October 1997. [return to text]

  4. See the review in TTL, July-August 1998. [return to text]

  5. See the review in TTL, March-April 1999. [return to text]

  6. See "Advanced Fakery" in TTL, July-August 1994, page 11. [return to text]

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.


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