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Jerry Moore: Anthropologist Co-Edits Seminal Work on Prehistory of Baja California



Jerry Moore, professor of anthropology; caption below

Jerry Moore: Anthropologist Co-Edits Seminal Work on Prehistory of Baja California

The Prehistory of Baja California: Advances in the Archaeology of the Forgotten Peninsula, edited by archaeologist Don Laylander and CSU Dominguez Hills professor of anthropology Jerry Moore, has been designated an “Outstanding Academic Title for 2007 by Choice, the publication of the American Library Association (ALA).

Moore, who has done extensive research on the Baja Peninsula, a largely ignored region in archaeological and anthropological circles, was initially approached by the University Press of Florida, which published his 2006 book, Cultural Landscapes in the Prehispanic Andes: Archaeologies of Place, to write a book on the missions of Baja California. Moore answered their request with an offer to fill a greater academic need.

“I went back to the editors,” he says, “and said, ‘You know what? What we really need is a summary statement about what we know about the past in Baja California because no such book exists. And they got interested in that.”

Moore states that the possible reason that Baja California is uncharted territory in historical literature is due to its falling into a “conceptual limbo.”

“It wasn’t part of the Native American cultures of California,” he notes, “At least it wasn’t perceived as such. It was outside of the great Mesoamerican civilizations like the Aztecs or the Toltecs and their ancestors. It never received a great deal of sustained archaeological attention until the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

According to Moore, the anthropology department at Dominguez Hills was at the right place at the right time. In 1992, it established the Baja California Project, a program that introduces students to archaeological field work on the peninsula.

“We caught a wave,” he says. “In the mid- and late 1990s, we started realizing that there were, for the very first time, bodies of comparative information from these portions of the peninsula that would allow us to write a book like this one. We started the Baja California Project at the same time that there were groups of Canadian, U.S. and Mexican investigators working in the southern part of Baja California. It was an amazing coincidence of interests.”

Among the intrinsic values of exploring the prehistory of Baja California, according to Moore, is that contemporary scholars are learning how the cultures survived dramatic climactic changes that mirror the threat of today’s global warming.

“What’s really important for our era is that Baja California is one of the most arid regions in the world,” says Moore. “It’s important for us to understand what kinds of societies faced those changes and failed and what societies faced those changes and succeeded. I’m not suggesting everybody in Los Angeles becomes a mobile hunter and gatherer, in the way they did in [prehistoric] Baja California. But there are some lessons to be learned. They had a basic strategy, and a very flexible one. The idea that survival involves flexibility is a lesson that everyone should learn.”

Moore is an archaeological anthropologist with ongoing research in the Andes and Baja California. He has authored three books: Cultural Landscapes in the Prehispanic Andes: Archaeologies of Place; Architecture and Power in the Ancient Andes: The Archaeology of Public Buildings; and Visions of Culture: An Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists. His archaeological fieldwork has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the H. John Heinz III Foundation, and the Curtiss and Mary Brennan Foundation. Moore was the Dominguez Hills Outstanding Professor in 2003.

A Spanish translation of The Prehistory of Baja California is in its final stages, according to Moore, who says that the American Library Association designation should underscore its value to scholars and publishers in Mexico.

“Not only is the research being done on Mexican territory, we don’t want an English-only version of the prehistory of Baja California,” he says. “We want folks in Mexico to understand how Baja California contributes to their own nation’s broad cultural patrimony as well.”

Moore describes the book as a starting point for more investigations, saying that, “Every single person who has contributed to this book is literally a pathfinder in the areas in which they’re working. What this book does – and we’re already seeing this – is provide a state of knowledge [on Baja California] as it stands right now.

The Choice list of outstanding academic titles comprises only 10 percent of some 7,000 books that the journal reviews each year. Designation on the list ensures widespread recognition of the works by the academic library community.

“One of the things that I really hope [for this book], is that it will be definitive for a very short time,” says Moore of the seminal work. “That’s my goal, is to have this really definitive text that will stimulate so much research that it will be obsolete in five years. That would be a remarkable achievement.”

- Joanie Harmon

Photo above: Jerry Moore, professor of anthropology, measures a large ceremonial hearth during excavations at the archaeological site of Santa Rosa in far northern Peru.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Moore.




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Last updated Monday, January 24, 2008, 2:39 p.m., by Joanie Harmon