Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 82.djvu/440

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THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS OF THE PLAINS
By Dr. CLARK WISSLER

THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

ANTHROPOLOGY is one of the newer sciences. Its development during the past ten years makes clear that regardless of the original meaning of the term anthropology, and, in spite of any one's opinion on the subject, it is primarily a culture study. Culture is here used in a technical sense to designate the complex of social and intellectual activities constituting the life of a native tribe or a group of people. One of the most engaging problems of our time is the origin and mode of development of this culture, which is, after all, the distinctly human character that differentiates man from the animals. Modern anthropology has made this its chief problem and has thus set itself over in contrast to biology which concerns itself with man only in so far as he has animal characters. The theory of evolution was devised as a working scheme for the study of animal characters and has therefore little direct bearing upon anthropological problems, notwithstanding the fact that formerly many anthropologists tried to make it their method also. When it became clear to all that the study of man must concern itself with the distinctly human characters, and delegate his distinctly biological problems to biologists, anthropologists began to formulate their cultural conceptions, which is now their working scheme in just the same way that evolution is the method of biologists. Unfortunately, the culture problem appears peculiarly difficult and complex and has, like evolution, become the battle ground for several incompatible theories of origin and growth. Yet, in the course of its labors anthropology has accumulated an unusually large collection of data and has so systematized its results that whole continents may now be divided into culture areas. For some of these areas our information is now so complete that one may form some idea of what went on within their borders in definite periods of time. The anthropological method in such cases is decidedly empirical, for everywhere interpretations are regarded as permissible by historical analysis only.

As an illustration of what has already been accomplished in anthropology, we may attempt a brief resume of the Plains Indian culture in North America. In North America, as a whole, anthropologists usually recognize from ten to eleven more or less clearly defined culture areas, the approximate borders of which are indicated on the accompanying map. Yet, in most cases these divisions are not absolute, but relative, for rarely can a group of Indians be found anywhere,