Excavating Nauvoo


Excavating Nauvoo

The Mormons and the Rise of Historical Archaeology in America

Benjamin C. Pykles
Foreword by Robert L. Schuyler

Critical Studies in the History of Anthropology Series

416 pages
24 photographs, 1 illustration, 1 map, 1 appendix, index


March 2018


$30.00 Add to Cart

April 2010


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eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

April 2010


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About the Book

This detailed study of the excavation and restoration of the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, takes readers back to the roots of historical archaeology. Beginning in the 1960s, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsored an archaeology program to authentically restore the city of Nauvoo, which was founded along the Mississippi River in the 1840s by the Mormons as they moved west. Non-Mormon scholars were also interested in Nauvoo because it was representative of several western frontier towns in this era. As the archaeology and restoration of Nauvoo progressed, however, conflicts arose, particularly regarding control of the site and its interpretation for the public.

The field of historical archaeology was just coming into its own during this period, with myriad perspectives and doctrines being developed and tested. The Nauvoo site was one of the places where the discipline was forged. This well-researched account weaves together multiple viewpoints in examining the many contentious issues surrounding the archaeology and restoration of Nauvoo, providing an illuminating picture of the early days of professional historical archaeology.

Author Bio

Benjamin C. Pykles is a historic sites curator for the Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Robert L. Schuyler is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and associate curator-in-charge of historical archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. 


“This thoughtful and carefully researched book, bolstered by many archival sources and oral histories, is an important reflection on the relatively young discipline of historical archaeology. Through the narrative of Nauvoo, Pykles teaches us much about the materials and materiality of the recent past and how identities take shape through stories we tell about that past, our ancestors, and our profession.”—Shannon A. Novak, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Pykles provides an evenhanded and fascinating glimpse into the use of historic preservation and archaeology as both a restoration and a proselytizing tool.”—Chris Merritt, Montana, The Magazine of Western History

"Readers interested in the development of historical archaeology in the United States, in Mormon history, or in religious groups' struggles to control public perceptions of their past will find this book rewarding."—Stephen C. Taysom, Indiana Magazine of History

"Researchers interested in archaeological activities at Nauvoo and their contribution to the development of historical archaeology will find that Pykles has an excellent command of the documentary record supporting his analysis."—Carl A. Merry, Plains Anthropologist

"Historians and historical archaeologists alike will find Pykle's trailblazing work worthwhile."—Glen M. Leonard, Journal of Mormon History

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Foreword by Robert L. Schuyler


Series Editors' Introduction


1. The Origins of the Restoration of Nauvoo

2. The Rise of Nauvoo Restoration, Inc.

3. Interpretive Conflict at Nauvoo

4, Historical Archaeology at Nauvoo

5. The Nauvoo Excavations and the Development of Historical Archaeology in America

Appendix: Chronology of Nauvoo Excavations



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