Spoehr, Alexander

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SPOEHR, ALEXANDER (1913–1992), U.S. anthropologist. Born in Tucson, Arizona, Spoehr specialized in American Indian and Pacific ethnology and archaeology. In 1940 he worked as assistant curator of American ethnology and archaeology at the Field Museum in Chicago. During World War ii, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve, where he served in air combat intelligence and airsea rescue operations in the western sea frontier and central Pacific area, which included the Marshall (Majuro), Gilbert, and Caroline islands. When he returned to the Field Museum in 1946, he worked for eight years as curator of Oceanic ethnology, supervising the reorganization of the museum's massive collection of artifacts from Oceania. In 1953 he was appointed professor of anthropology at Yale University. He moved to Hawaii later that year to assume the directorship of the Bernice Pauhi Bishop Museum in Honolulu. In 1961 he became chancellor of the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii. In 1964 he was appointed professor of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, where he remained until his retirement. He served as chairman of the Pacific Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences (1958–61) and was president of the American Anthropological Association (1965). In 1972 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

When Spoehr retired from teaching in 1978 he returned to Honolulu, where he did a study of the tool-using techniques of Japanese-American carpenters. He also did research on the history of the Hudson's Bay Company in 19th-century Hawaii.

Spoehr wrote several books on his fieldwork, which was mainly among the American Indians and the peoples of the Pacific islands. He is best remembered for defining the prehistoric ceramic culture known as Lapita, a community of hunter-gatherers that lived in Oceania from 1500 b.c.e. to 500 b.c.e. and whose handiwork included elaborately decorated pottery and a wide variety of tools made from shells.

His major works include Camp, Clan and Kin among the Cow Creek Seminole of Florida (1941), Majuro, a Village in the Marshall Islands (1949), Acculturation and Material Culture (with G. Quimby, 1951), Saipan, the Ethnology of a War-Devastated Island (1954), Zamboanga and Sulu: An Archaeological Approach to Ethnic Diversity (1973), Protein from the Sea (1980), and Maritime Adaptations (1980).

[Ephraim Fischoff /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]