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Anthony Stein
for Prehistoric American

The Spiro Mound: A Photo Essay, by Larry G. Merriam and Christopher J. Merriam. Published by Merriam Station Books, 2004. Printed by Hynek Printing, Richland Center, WI. Review by Anthony Stein.

Larry and Chris Merriam’s recently published book The Spiro Mound: A Photo Essay will likely become an instant classic. The 406-page hardbound book reintroduces a 21st Century readership to the famous Spiro Mounds excavations that occurred in Eastern Oklahoma in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. So famous were the Spiro Mound excavations that a 1936 article in the Kansas City Star declared the site to be an American King Tut’s tomb. The Spiro Mound complex was one of the great Mississippian ceremonial centers of its era.

In collaboration with Dr. Robert E. Bell, the Merriams have republished Dr. Bell’s original black and white photographs that Dr. Bell took at the Spiro Mounds from 1933 through 1937. The 51 Bell photos serve as reliable documentation of the excavation and many of the extraordinary artifacts found at the site. Bell was one of those rare adventurers who recognized the unique opportunity to document the tribute offerings recovered from the site. In addition to Dr. Bell’s annotated photographs, the Merriams have also published the various excavation accounts as told by contemporary writers and diggers, including Dr. Robert Bell, Dr. Forest Clements, Guinn Copper, A. B. MacDonald and others.

Dr. Bell’s collaboration on the Merriams’ book serves as an important acknowledgement to the book’s accuracy and reliability. The annotated photographs share key ownership information for Spiro objects now in public and private collections. The Spiro Mound: A Photo Essay is an invaluable reference tool for modern-day Spiro enthusiasts and collectors because Dr. Bell’s photos preserve a record of authentic objects actually found at the site. Never before has a photographic record been so necessary to verify the authenticity of Spiro artifacts.

Cliff Jackson
for the AACA

Review of
“The Spiro Mound: A Photo Essay” by Larry and Christopher Merriam, photographs from the collection of Dr. Robert E. Bell
Merriam Station Books, 8716 Old Brompton Rd., Oklahoma City, OK, 73132

by Cliff Jackson

One of the turning points in North American archaeology has long been both reviled and loved by collectors and archaeologists alike- the Spiro Mounds of Oklahoma. This large ceremonial complex and the associated activities of the ancient Spiroans, plus the early destructive searches of modern man and the reactions of professionals of the time, all shaped the beginnings of archaeological law as we know it. The Pocola Mining Company dug out the Spiro Mounds for the relics, and in the process helped define legality, morality, property rights, and burial laws, definitions that continue to effect archaeological law even seventy years later. Ancient Spiro shaped early American archaeology.
Modern archaeologists and collectors alike can now look back at the prehistory of this fantastic ancient site, through the eyes of the Pocola diggers and through the photographs taken by Dr. Robert Bell of not only the site as it was dug, but also of the phenomenal ceremonial artifacts that were uncovered back in the 1930’s. Dr. Bell was but a young man when he first viewed the Pocola "mines", and they struck a chord with him that drove his lifetime of learning as a professional archaeologist. He saw the tremendous wealth of information that was being lost by mining for relics, and that prompted him to record and photograph all he could of the site and the artifacts found there. The information lost and damage caused also prompted stronger laws in Oklahoma (and elsewhere) that today protect significant sites nationwide.
Chris and Larry Merriam have done a superb job of gathering the scattered information from Spiro, using eyewitness interviews, old photographs, and the amazing relics themselves to create an historical document that goes well beyond the average coffee-table relic book. Chapters include the prehistory of Spiro, the earliest history of excavations there, and the vast activities of the Pocola Mining Company during the Great Depression years. The authors continue on into the WPA excavations and the beginnings of the Oklahoma Archaeological Society, and include a detailed bibliography of past publications on the Spiro Mounds.
Perhaps most impressive is the wealth of illustrations of the mounds and excavations, and the hundreds of vintage photographs from Dr. Bell’s albums that have never before been published. Most of the finest artifacts found at Spiro, now in museums worldwide, are shown as they were being brought out for sale by the miners, laid on newspapers and blankets amidst the dust of the trenches.
This important historical reference book of this significant ceremonial center is one that collectors of ancient artifacts will want to have in their libraries. The information it contains is unique in that it details the mysterious prehistory as well as the turbulent history of modern man’s activities there. Students of archaeology can discover in this book the beginnings of the discipline as it was in its educational infancy.
Most importantly, “The Spiro Mound-A Photo Essay”, shows professionals and collectors alike our common bond in the evolution of the science of archaeology- that human curiosity that drives our quest for knowledge about the unique artifacts and lifeways of the ceremonial people of the Spiro Mounds. This new book deserves a place on the shelves of all artifact collectors and archaeologists, as a prehistoric/historic document of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.

Jon Dickinson

Posted By: jon dickinson on: 05/04/2004 13:01:27 CDT
Subject: Review of Spiro Book by Larry and Chris

I have known Larry through these internet boards for several years now. I respect him as a class act, so I was expecting a classy work when I opened up the box his book was in. Right from the start, I knew I was right. I don't know what the normal copies look like, but the collectors edition cover is awesome. A nice green color hardbound with an almost copper/bronze etching of an important Spiro copper piece(which resides in Ohio-hehehe). The binding is solid and the pages are first class glossy.
I read the entire book yesterday evening(about 3 hours), and found it to be a great read. The style is what I call a cross between Bob Converse and Allen Eckert. Converse is known for writings that appeal to the expert and amateur. He employs a writing style that explains things professionally, but eliminates the scientific nomenclature that pro archy's use to confuse the uneducated reader. Allen Eckert is known for a style of historical fiction that uses eyewitness accounts, historical writings and quotations to write a story instead of a book report. Eckert's historical characters are given personality and dialogue rather than dry historical record. Larry and Chris employ both these styles in weaving a factual story that gives out great information that all skill levels can understand and appreciate.
The story itself is really a tragedy of the destruction of a National Treasure. However, the authors are careful to point out that different times called for different actions.
I also really liked the descriptions of the old time dealers involved. I think there is a clear warning throughout the pages to contemporary bad dealers. You guys won't be remembered for all the money you made, but rather your lack of character.
The picture collection taken from the time of the digs is impressive and depressing. I kept asking myself "why did they do that?".
The artifact pictures are great, but provide my only criticism. I would have loved to see some of the highlight pieces pictured today in color inside the book. However, I understand this would have added a ton of money to the publication.
Overall, a must for collectors who want to learn more about a vastly important site, the personalities surrounding its destruction and the great objects that came from within.