Coe, Michael (1929–)

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Coe, Michael (1929–)

American archaeologist and anthropologist Michael Coe's career spanned more than five decades and produced pathbreaking research in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican studies. Coe was born on March 14, 1929, and after a comfortable Long Island childhood, he attended Harvard University and made his first trip to the Yucatan Peninsula, sparking an interest in Mayan archaeology. Following a post as a CIA operative in the Far East during the Korean War, Coe returned to Harvard for graduate school, engaging in study of the Maya, the Olmecs, and many other early American civilizations. Upon receiving his Ph.D. in anthropology, Coe worked as an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee from 1958 to 1960. Much of his career, however, was spent at Yale University, where he was a professor and served as the curator of the Peabody Museum of Natural History's anthropology collection from 1968 until his retirement in 1994. Over his career, Coe's work overturned many previously held beliefs about Mesoamerican culture, perhaps most notably the one that Mayan hieroglyphics were actually a writing system. While establishing a reputation as one of the foremost Mayanist scholars of the twentieth century, Coe also did research at archaeological sites across North America, South America, and Southeast Asia. Coe's extensive body of writing on archaeological, anthropological, and ethnohistorical topics also includes a number of popular works for nonspecialist audiences. In addition to his many travels and research passions, Coe and his wife, the late Sofie Dobzhansky, raised five children. As of 2007, Coe was the Charles J. MacCurdy Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at Yale University and Curator Emeritus of the Peabody Museum.

See alsoAnthropology; Archaeology; Mayan Ethnohistory.


Coe, Michael D. The Maya. New York: Praeger Press, 1966.

Coe, Michael D. Final Report: An Archaeologist Excavates His Past. London: Thames & Hudson Press, 2006.

                                           Alison Fields