Anthropology and Archaeology: A Guide to Selected Resources in the Bentley Historical Library

Historical Overview

Archaeological Records in the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

Richard I. Ford, Director
University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology

Major contributions to understanding the history of American archaeology - anthropological, Classical, avocational - are preserved and made accessible through the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. These primary sources include personal correspondence and manuscripts of key participants in the early phases of all fields of American archaeology. At first glance the diversity of papers appears unrelated, but after further examination, one recognizes that they are inter-connected by historical circumstances and personal relationships. This brief introduction will explain the significance of archaeological history at the University of Michigan by relating it to manuscripts ranging from a former president of the University of Michigan to the first curators in the Museum of Anthropology, members of the Department of Anthropology, Classical archaeologists at Michigan, and amateur archaeologists who founded the Michigan Archaeological Society with support and assistance of professional archaeologists at Michigan.

Archaeological collections became part of the University Museum in the 19th century as a result of donations from Michigan citizens and the Smithsonian Institution. They were not systematic in a scientific sense until Francis W. Kelsey began his investigations in Egypt and Carl E. Guthe initiated fieldwork in the Philippines as the first anthropological archaeologist hired at Michigan. Professor Kelsey offered the first academic course in American archaeology to two undergraduate students, including Harlan I. Smith, in 1892. Another thirty years would pass before the Museum of Anthropology would exist to curate the anthropological collections, which were rapidly accumulating in the Museum of Zoology, the museum that predated the Museum of Anthropology.

The anthropological archaeology collections and all ethnographic objects were housed in the Museum of Zoology under the direction of Alexander G. Ruthven,* who in 1929 became president of the University of Michigan. As director, Ruthven had to handle an ever-increasing number of anthropological collections and requests from professionals, including Harlan I. Smith, to initiate an archaeological survey of Michigan. By 1920 Ruthven was prepared to create an anthropology division within the Museum of Zoology, pending permission from the Board of Regents. With that position approved in 1921, Ruthven began a search with the assistance of Francis Kelsey for an anthropologist. The new position was offered to Dr. Carl E. Guthe, who had recently received his Ph.D. from Harvard with archaeological training in the American Southwest and Guatemala.

Guthe's arrival in Ann Arbor was almost immediately followed by a three-year archaeological excavation project in the Philippines. Before he left, however, he established the first research unit in anthropology, the Great Lakes Division, under the direction of Dr. Wilbert B. Hinsdale, who had recently retired as director of the Homeopathic Hospital. Hinsdale had assistance in his field investigations from an enthusiastic student who would become the first Ph.D. in anthropological archaeology at Michigan, Emerson F. Greenman.

When Guthe returned, he had an administrative design for a four-field museum of anthropology with each anthropologically-trained curator controlling all four sub-disciplines for his particular geographic region. This quickly proved difficult and he soon wanted curators in each of three sub-fields of anthropology - archaeology, ethnology, and physical anthropology. After Hinsdale and himself, the next curator hired was the ethnologist Julian Steward, who left within a year and was replaced by Melvin R. Gilmore. By the time Guthe left Michigan in 1944 he established a considerable anthropological legacy at Michigan. He founded the Museum of Anthropology as an independent museum within the university. He initiated stellar research programs in archaeology and ethnobotany. He was the first chair of the Department of Anthropology while also serving as director of the Museum of Anthropology and the University Museums.

Guthe created the modern research museum of anthropology. He believed that a museum should provide identification services to professionals and some museums should be acknowledged for this nation-wide. He initiated the Ethnobotanical Laboratory with the support of the University of Michigan to provide the identification of plant remains from archaeological contexts. Gilmore's papers reveal his historic contribution to their interpretation, the application of ethnographic analogy and phytogeography for understanding plant communities in the upper Midwest. Jones developed many new methods for identifying archaeological plant remains and for conducting fieldwork to learn about how plants are processed to make artifacts. The beginnings of paleoethnobotany in the United States are found in Gilmore's and Jones's papers at the Bentley Library.

Guthe further recognized that museum archaeological collections could have a special value for understanding the past. He viewed ceramics as a seminal way to date sites and to link prehistoric cultures. To achieve this end he convinced the National Research Council to establish the Ceramic Repository of the Eastern United States at Michigan to maintain type collections to identify pottery. As this project grew he received support from Eli Lilly to fund a graduate student with a fellowship (Griffin) to dedicate his services to this repository and later to continue it when he received his Ph.D, in 1936. Griffin's photo archive and voluminous correspondence illustrate how the ceramic repository grew and how archaeologists used it for several decades to solve chronological problems. When radiocarbon dating replaced comparative studies of ceramics to date sites, Griffin initiated a dating program at Michigan with Dr. H. Richard Craine of the Department of Physics. All the correspondence related to the Michigan radiocarbon program is available for research at the Bentley Library.

Guthe's curators all trained graduate students in a museum research context and each succeeded his mentor. Greenman succeeded Hinsdale, Volney H. Jones replaced Gilmore, and James B. Griffin, who was the second Ph.D. at Michigan in anthropological archaeology, became the second director of the Museum of Anthropology in 1946. Griffin's 215 linear feet of research papers and correspondence reflect the professional development of American archaeology and the interdisciplinary basis of contemporary research.

Michigan was instrumental in the establishment of American archaeology as a profession. Guthe worked extensively with the National Research Council to advance archaeological concerns, to inventory archaeological sites, and to convene conferences that would address archaeological interests. Guthe and most of his museum curators were among the original signers of the articles of incorporation that established the Society for American Archaeology. Many details of its beginning are found in the correspondence of all these Museum of Anthropology specialists.

At Michigan, archaeology has always been a division of anthropology. The Museum of Anthropology began by curating the material collections in archaeology, ethnology, and later physical anthropology. Guthe believed that a museum should be the research venue for curators and students but an academic department should teach disciplinary theory and topical courses. Guthe worked with the deans of the Graduate School and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts to establish a Department of Anthropology* in 1929. Guthe was its first chair and he hired his successor from outside the university, Dr. Leslie A. White. White began his distinguished Michigan career with an office in the Museum of Anthropology and professional working relations with Jones and Griffin in the Museum. Although White gained professional fame for his theories and ideas about cultural evolution, his extensive field notes based upon his research in the Eastern Pueblos of New Mexico hold the most new surprises for the researcher. As the number of ethnology faculty in the Department of Anthropology increased, several had experience in archaeology as graduate students - Richard K. Beardsley and Roy A. Rappaport - or used archaeology in their personal research as Eric Wolf demonstrated in Sons of the Shaking Earth.

Throughout the 20th century the number of archaeologists and the value of archaeology to the University of Michigan increased. In addition to those in the Museum of Anthropology, archaeologists who worked in the Old World brought vitality to the humanities and interacted with archaeologists in the Museum of Anthropology. Guthe served on most university committees that fostered archaeological research abroad. Leroy Waterman was an early Bible scholar who combined ancient text translations with archaeology. Archaeological interest in the Near East received support from the university administration and the Committee for Near East Research* for field investigations by Kelsey and other Classical archaeologists and for the storage of excavated artifacts and notes from their expeditions in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology which was founded in 1929. George C. Cameron continued a regional archaeological specialization in the Department of Near Eastern Studies.* Elsewhere in the university, Walter Koelz collected anthropological materials during his biological collecting expeditions from many localities in Asia and the Arctic. The increased significance of archaeology led the university's Media Resources Center* to produce a number of visual programs based upon specialized knowledge or research conducted by University of Michigan archaeologists. Scripts and broadcast programs are also available through the Bentley.

Archaeologists in the Museum of Anthropology helped to found the Michigan Archaeological Society, which strove to professionalize the activities of avocational students of archaeology throughout Michigan. The research notes and correspondence of three of its pioneers, George R. Fox, Fred Dustin, and Amos R. Green, illustrate notable contributions to the state's prehistory by citizen-scholars. Judge Ira W. Butterfield continued their important scholarly tradition by the next generation of avocational archaeologists. The Bentley holdings are a special tribute to the collaboration between non-professional and university anthropological archaeologists.

Much remains to be researched and written about the archaeological knowledge of many sites and the research activities and development of professional archaeology in a university context. The faculty at Michigan made major contributions to these foundations of modern archaeology. The Bentley Library provides an opportunity for future investigators to explore and to understand these intellectual developments.

* = Additional records or papers held by the Bentley Historical Library