The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1977, Volume 23, Number 3
James E. Moss, Editor
Thomas L. Scharf, Assistant Editor

Douglas H. Strong, Book Review Editor

The Broken Stones. By Herbert L. Minshall. San Diego: Copley Books, 1976. Foreword. Illustrations. Maps. Bibliography. Index. 166 pages. $16.50.
Reviewed by Paul H. Ezell Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, San Diego State University.

It is a pity that many archaeologists may not read this book and that far more non-archaeologists will begin it than are likely ever to get beyond the first few pages. The impression which those readers will probably gain is that humans have been in the Americas for at least 250,000 years. Minshall has a right to disagree with the conclusions of professional archaeologists who believe that the tenure of humans in the Americas is much shorter, but the burden is upon him to prove them wrong. This he does not do.

It would be pointless to list all the flaws which archaeologists can find in The Broken Stones. Since readers not familiar with the history of anthropology in general, and of archaeology and “early man” studies in America in particular, may wonder at this criticism, two examples may be helpful. Minshall assumes an antiquity for stone tools which are commonly described as “crude,” based on typological evidence. Most, if not all archaeologists, however, are aware of numerous cases in which such implements are made and used in the present. Second, Minshall accepts the Harris Site as the “type site” for the San Dieguito Complex and hence accepts the specimens found there as representative of the stone technology of the San Dieguito. Julian D. Hayden (a name not in the Minshall bibliography), who worked with Malcolm J. Rogers in 1938 at the Harris Site, pointed out recently that the site can only be regarded as representing the third and terminal phase of the sequence. To compare Buchanan Canyon and Texas Street implements only with those of San Dieguito III, and thereby argue for still another and earlier complex (and people), is to ignore the earlier San Dieguito I and II and Malapais phases of the sequence. And, since Minshall (p. 108) has correctly but incompletely reported my reaction to the specimens from Buchanan Canyon and Texas Street, let me say that those specimens which I can recognize as artifacts from those sites (but I cannot accept all the specimens as artifacts) are consonant with the Malapais and even, in some cases, the San Dieguito I phases.

And yet, to reject The Broken Stones entirely would, I feel, be like throwing the baby out with the bath water. The twelve superb color and eight, excellent black-and-white photographs of specimens are alone worth the book’s price. Minshall explains most of the limited number of technical terms which he uses and avoids the tediousness of many professional papers. He devotes chapters to descriptions not only of the Texas Street, Buchanan Canyon, and Del Mar sites in San Diego County, but also selected sites in North America and Asia for which he claims great antiquity. The result of these claims, however, is a kind of round-robin argument in which each questionable site (or specimen) somehow supports the others, the whole adding up to an attempt to shore up the thesis of great antiquity of man in the New World.

Despite the many objections which can be found to the work, I believe that this book may, in the long run, benefit us all. Minshall’s style, unlike that of most archaeologists, evokes some of the color and romance and drama of the life and times of early prehistoric man. Those who read his book may well retain a vivid impression of life in Pleistocene North America which they might not otherwise receive. Public interest in, and sympathy for, the search for knowledge about the past at that distant time may well be more stimulated by The Broken Stones than by the majority of archaeological reports. Finally, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the Copley Press for the publication of this book. It is doubtful that any of the professional associations or university presses could have, or perhaps would have, issued it. Copley Books, by doing so, not only has added an attention-worthy item to its already impressive series on Southern California, it has made available a work which we might otherwise not have seen. Whether we agree with Minshall’s book or not, we can be the richer for it.