Our intention in creating the HSAA was to bring together in a single collection current articles describing the people and cultures of the aboriginal South American past. There were many reasons for having undertaken such a project, but certainly our primary motivations involved the fact that as archaeological area studies increase, the practitioners and their discourses become more knowledgeable and specialized, and also more involuted, with fewer and fewer relationships among scholars in neighboring places. Eventually, continental issues and common goals recede into the background, replaced by concerns as well as knowledge defined in local, regional and national theaters. With few exceptions archaeologists are no longer South Americanists, but Amazonianists, Caribbeanists, Central Andeanists, etc. Many pre-historians, and especially the residents of modern South American nations, have become even more spatially specialized, bounded by the arbitrary frontiers of modern states – the archaeology of Peru, or Argentina, or Colombia, etc. Of course, modern national boundaries have nothing to do with prehistoric cultures and their spheres of interaction, but they have everything to do with the current practice of archaeology, from institutional control of archaeological patrimony to professional training and circles of colleagues, to journals, associations, and languages of communication. Furthermore, more and more contemporary archaeology is linked to identity, that is, almost always, presently defined as national identity, or regional or community identity. Rarely does the framework involve a more international Native American identity, or global humanist identity. Surely, our new century will see this change, as enlightenment ideology of national sovereignty is eclipsed by international organizations such as the Mercosur in the South American southern cone and the European Union, to say nothing of postmodern globalism. In the meantime, we need grander, continental perspectives on the past. Necessarily, the HSAA expresses the area foci of our era, but it seeks to promote knowledge of a whole, stimulating dialogue and collaboration among the diverse assemblage of pre-historians and other readers interested in the South American continent.
By bringing together this set of integrative summaries and analytical discussions – some from traditional, but many from less conventional perspectives – we hope to encourage a more inclusive intellectual gaze, embracing the continent, among South American archaeologists as well as the broader community of scholars, students, and lay readers who enjoy archaeological knowledge. Beyond the increased depth of knowledge area specialists acquire when they refine their understandings of neighboring cultures, the teaching of South American archaeology may benefit from more continental perspectives, as well as the new instructional resource that the HSAA represents for comparative scholarship, presenting current statements as well as extensive bibliographies that should promote cultural comparisons and generalization, both among the prehistoric cultures of South America and between South American and other societies of the ancient world.