Adolph Francis Alphonse Bandelier, the late 19th century archaeologist and ethnologist was responsible for much of what we know about the prehistoric peoples of the American Southwest. Known as the ‘Pueblo’ peoples after their mud brick villages and cliff dwellings, the tribes of America’s ‘four corners’ (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado) comprise several different languages and cultures. Generally they fall into two groupings of matrilineal and patrilineal kinship systems and have a vast collection of beliefs and myths regarding kachinas – spirits representing ancestors, elements or natural phenomena. During the Spanish colonization many missions were set up within the pueblos and although many converted to Catholicism, the pueblo people retained much of their folklore and traditions. The pueblos revolted in 1680 and were able to hold the Spanish at bay for twelve years before being reconquered. Today pueblo culture survives in a handful of tribes like the Hopi and Zuni.
Born in Switzerland but raised in America, Bandelier met and befriended the famous American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan who sparked his interest in the pueblo peoples of the Southwest. In 1880 he received a contract from the Archaeological Institute of America to conduct a field study of the pueblos of Santa Fe. It was the beginning of a career that would make him the leading authority on the previously unexplored culture of the native Southwest. Bandelier’s work is marked by his all-encompassing approach to culture. His interest was not just in archaeology but in the folklore, traditions, mythology and ethnology of the people he was studying.
In 1881 he extended his studies to ancient sites in Mexico like Teotihuacan and Cholula. For the next ten years Bandelier conducted extensive studies of the native peoples and sites of New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico as well as doing much archival work. In 1892 he and his wife moved farther afield by journeying to Lima, Peru. His wife died soon after the move and he married fellow Swiss immigrant Fanny Ritter. Fanny became his research assistant and together they spent ten years researching the ancient sites of Peru and Bolivia.
Bandelier died in Seville, Spain in 1914 while researching the Archivo de las Indias. Bandelier National Monument in Frijoles Canyon, New Mexico was named after him and includes many pueblo homes, kivas (subterranean ceremonial lodges as pictured) and rock paintings. In 1977 Bandelier’s remains were exhumed and in 1980 he was cremated and his ashes scattered in Frijoles Canyon. Today he is known as much for his research as for his 1890 novel The Delight Makers; a fictional work concerning the prehistoric Pueblo peoples (known to their Navajo neighbors as the ‘Anasazi’ peoples) which I’ll be taking a look at in another post. Its authenticity and care in constructing a civilization known to us only through archaeological remains and the culture of their descendants was a big influence on the writing of my own novel Golden Heart.