Alfred Vincent Kidder

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Alfred Vincent Kidder

The American archaeologist Alfred Vincent Kidder (1885-1963) directed expeditions which excavated important prehistoric ruins in the American Southwest and Middle America.

Alfred Kidder was born on Oct. 29, 1885, in Marquette, Mich., the son of a mining engineer. He entered Harvard College with the intention of qualifying for the medical school but was appalled by the premedical courses, and so he applied for a summer job in archeology. He spent two successive summers in the mesa and canyon country of southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. He obtained his bachelor's degree at Harvard in 1908 and a doctorate in anthropology in 1914.

Kidder then embarked on a series of Peabody Museum expeditions to the Southwest, mostly in northeastern Arizona, where, with Samuel J. Guernsey, he established the validity of chronological cultural periods. Kidder brought to the attention of scholars in the United States and abroad that valuable deductions about the development of human cultures could be obtained through archeological excavation in the United States as well as in the Old World.

In 1915 the R. S. Peabody Foundation of Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., selected Kidder to conduct excavations at Pecos Pueblo in the Rio Grande drainage of New Mexico, for centuries a crossroads for the exchange of trade and ideas between Pueblo and Plains Indians. Now a national monument, Pecos Pueblo was a landmark in American archeology and a training ground for many of the men who were to mold its development. There Kidder inaugurated the annual Pecos Conference, which continues today, bringing together for fruitful cooperation archeologists and ethnologists working in the Mountain and Plains states.

After field work at Pecos ended in 1929, Kidder became increasingly involved in Middle American archeology. Since 1926 he had been adviser to the Carnegie Institution of Washington in its surveys and excavations of Yucatán. In 1929 he was appointed head of the institution's Division of Historical Research. Here he applied his experiences in the Southwest to the study of one of the highest and most elaborate civilizations of ancient times. He instigated what he called a "panscientific" approach, utilizing a wide range of modern scientific disciplines, including physical anthropology, ethnology, geography, geology, plant and animal biology, agronomy, medicine, and the documentary history of the aborigines.

Kidder was a member of the faculty (governing board) of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University from 1939 until 1950, president of the Society of American Archeology in 1937 and of the American Anthropological Association in 1942, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. To Kidder, more than to any other person, is owed the transformation, during the first half of the 20th century, of American archeology from an antiquarian avocation to a scientific discipline.

Further Reading

Background on Kidder's life and work appears in the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Biographical Memoirs, vol. 39 (1967). Brief mention is made of him in Gordon R. Willey and Philip Philipps, Method and Theory in American Archeology (1958).

Additional Sources

Givens, Douglas R., Alfred Vincent Kidder and the development of Americanist archaeology, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992. □

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Alfred Vincent Kidder, 1885–1963, American archaeologist, b. Marquette, Mich., grad. Harvard (B.A. 1908; Ph.D. 1914). From 1915 to 1929 he conducted excavations at Pecos, N.Mex., for the Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass. This research is considered to have laid the foundation for modern archaeological field methods. In the late 1920s he started the Pecos conferences for archaeologists and ethnologists. As an associate in charge of archaeological investigations (1927–29) and as chairman of the division of historical research (1929–50) at the Carnegie Institution, he conducted a broad-scale research program in the Guatemalan highlands which established the framework of Mayan stratigraphy. In 1939 he became honorary curator of Southwestern American archaeology at the Peabody Museum, Harvard. His writings include Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology (1924), regarded as the first comprehensive archaeological study of a New World area; The Pottery of Pecos (2 vol., 1931–36); The Artifacts of Pecos (1932); and Pecos, New Mexico: Archaeological Notes (1958).

See biography by R. B. Woodbury (1973).

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Alfred Vincent Kidder


American archaeologist and anthropologist whose pioneering work in the southwestern United States resulted in the first comprehensive regional synthesis of North American archaeology, An Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology (1924). Kidder's combined application of stratigraphical excavations and pottery typology revolutionized archaeology. In addition to the American Southwest, he also implemented a major multi-disciplinary study of the Maya regions of Mexico and Central America, bringing together archaeologists, ethnologists, and natural scientists.