Kidder, Alfred V.

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Kidder, Alfred V.



Alfred Vincent Kidder (1885–1963) was recognized as the leading American archeologist of his time. His major achievements lie in two fields: the Southwestern culture area of the United States and the territories of the Old and New Maya empires in Mexico and Central America.

Although he appeared to be a typical New Englander, he was born in Marquette, on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. His father was Alfred Kidder, a Bostonian seeking his fortune in the Michigan iron mines, and his mother was Kate Dalliba of Chicago. Kidder received all his academic degrees from Harvard: A.B., 1908; A.M., 1912; and PH.D., 1914.

Inspired by Roland B. Dixon, Alfred M. Tozzer, Frederic Ward Putnam, George A. Heisner, W. C. Farabee, and Vilhjalmur Stefansson, he began his field work in the San Juan drainage in New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah in 1907. There he met Edgar L. Hewitt, Byron Cummings, Neil Judd, Sylvanus G. Morley, and Jesse L. Nussbaum. The enthusiasms generated by these contacts in Cambridge and the Southwest were responsible for his decision to become an archeologist instead of a physician. His doctoral thesis was the first effective application, of pottery typology to the problems of prehistory in the American Southwest.

Kidder was responsible for the first thoroughgoing systematization in American archeology. In An Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology, published in 1924 and still constantly used, he elaborated his conception of the development of the prehistoric Basket Maker culture into the historically known Pueblo cultures of the American Southwest. He also presented his ideas at the first Southwestern Archaeological Conference, held at his excavation headquarters near Pecos, New Mexico (1927a).

In the course of a series of expeditions to the canyons and mesas of northeastern Arizona, in the company of Samuel J. Guernsey, and to the excavation of the large pueblo of Pecos, the system known as the Pecos Classification of archeological units was set up. Although the original, developmental phases have been modified by discoveries made since the classification was first presented at the 1927 Pecos conference, the classification did establish a framework subsequently used by all workers in the Pueblo area. The conference has also continued and at present attracts annually some two hundred students of Southwestern anthropology.

In 1910 Kidder married Madeline Appleton of Boston, and thereafter she regularly accompanied him as an assistant on his expeditions. The Kidders were noted for their ability to transform students into productive scholars and amateur archeologists into professionals. They also participated enthusiastically in the communities where they worked, assisting in the establishment of departments of anthropology in the colleges and universities of the area, state and regional archeological societies, the Laboratory of Anthropology at Santa Fe, the Museum of Northern Arizona at Flagstaff, and the Gila Pueblo Museum at Globe, Arizona.

For a quarter of a century, beginning in 1907 on Alkali Ridge in southeastern Utah, Kidder was a field worker par excellence, although he also held research and curatorial appointments in the department of anthropology and the Peabody Museum at Harvard and at the Robert Singleton Peabody Foundation for Archaeology at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Among the students whom the Kidders encouraged and trained at Pecos were many who went into the Middle American field, and eventually Kidder’s own interests shifted to that field. Although at that time an actual relationship between Mexican and Pueblo culture was not susceptible to proof, Kidder was sure that many of the elaborate, civilizing manifestations in the Pueblo culture must have diffused from the Valley of Mexico and beyond. He therefore kept a close watch on the work of his former students (who included George C. Vaillant, Samuel K. Lothrop, Karl Ruppert, and Oliver Ricketson) and of his contemporary, Morley, who was excavating the famous Maya site, Chichen Itza, in Yucatan.

Kidder began his long association with Phillips Academy when in 1915 he undertook for them the excavation of the old pueblo of Pecos, New Mexico. After his 1926 appointment as research associate of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in the capacity of adviser to its archeological program in Middle America, he still continued his official connection with Andover. In 1929 he was appointed chairman of the division of historical research in the Carnegie Institution, but he kept his office in Andover until 1935, when he moved it to Frisbie Place in Cambridge.

With official responsibility for the outstanding archeological research program in the New World south of the United States, Kidder’s first step was to make it interdisciplinary. In addition to the standard archeological program, he initiated studies in ethnology, social anthropology, linguistics, medicine, physical anthropology, colonial history, geology, geography, ethnobiology, and agronomy. There resulted a comprehensive survey of Maya cultural history that is a highly important addition to our knowledge of the American past. Under Kidder’s direction the Carnegie Institution’s research program was extended to the Guatemalan highlands. Kidder himself constantly visited and worked with the expeditions, particularly the one at the great early Maya site of Kaminaljuyu, near Guatemala City. Under his leadership many outstanding Americanists were encouraged and supported.

Kidder rendered many services to his profession: for example, he was chairman of the division of anthropology and psychology of the National Research Council in 1926/1927; president of the Society for American Archaeology in 1937 and of the American Anthropological Association in 1942; and a principal founder of the Institute of Andean Research. Also, he served in an advisory capacity to such bodies as the Committee for the Recovery of Archaeological Remains, the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, and the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale. Among the honors he received were the first Viking Fund Medal for archeology and the Drexel Medal of the University of Pennsylvania. Honorary degrees were conferred on him by the universities of New Mexico and Michigan, the National University of Mexico, and the San Carlos University, Guatemala. Upon his retirement from his post at the Carnegie Institution in 1950, an independent committee of archeologists set up the Alfred Vincent Kidder Medal, to be awarded every three years in perpetuity for outstanding achievement in the fields of Southwestern and Middle American archeology.

J. O. Brew

[For the historical context of Kidder’s work, seeArcheology; and the biographies ofDixon; Putnam; Tozzer; for discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, see the biography ofVaillant.]


1910 Explorations in Southeastern Utah in 1908. American Journal of Archaeology14 : 337–360.

1915 Pottery of the Pajarito Plateau and of Some Adjacent Regions in New Mexico. American Anthropological Association, Memoirs 2: 407–462.

1916 The Pottery of the Casas Grandes District, Chihuahua. Pages 253–268 in Holmes Anniversary Volume: Anthropological Essays. Washington: Bryan.

1919 Kidder, Alfred V.; and Guernsey, Samuel J. Archaeological Explorations in Northeastern Arizona. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin No. 65. Washington: Government Printing Office.

1921 Kidder, Alfred V.; and Guernsey, Samuel J. Basket-maker Caves of Northeastern Arizona. Harvard University, Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Papers, Vol. 8, No. 2. Cambridge, Mass.: The Museum.

(1924) 1962 An Introduction to the Study of Southwestern Archaeology: With a Preliminary Account of the Excavations at Pecos. Rev. ed. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

1926 Archaeological Work by State Agencies in 1925. Edited by Alfred V. Kidder. American Anthropologist New Series 28 :679–694.

1927 a Southwestern Archaeological Conference. Palacio 23:554–561.

1927 b Early Man in America. Southwest Museum Masterkey 1, no. 5:5–13.

1930–1950 Annual Report of the Chairman, Division of Historical Research. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Year Book.

1931 The Pottery of Pecos. Volume 1: The Dull-paint Wares. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

1932 The Artifacts of Pecos. Papers of the Southwestern Expedition, No. 6. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

1936 Speculations on New World Prehistory. Pages 143–152 in R. H. Lowie (editor), Essays in Anthropology Presented to A. L. Kroeber. . .. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

1937 A Program for Maya Research. Hispanic American Historical Review 17:160–169.

1938 The Prehistoric New World. Think 4, no. 7:28,48. (1940) 1962 Archaeological Problems of the Highland Maya. Pages 117–125 in The Maya and Their Neighbors. Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press.

1945 Excavations at Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala. American Antiquity 11:65–75.


Harrison, Margaret W. 1947 A. V. Kidder. Boletín bibliográfico de antropología americana 9:337–342.

Alfred V. Kidder. 1950 Palacio 57:10–11.

Alfred Vincent Kidder. 1963 Volume 13, pages 161–170 in Harvard University, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Library, Catalogue. Part 1: Authors. Boston: Hall. → A bibliography.