Gordon Willey

Gordon Willey

Gordon Randolph Willey (7 March 1913 – 28 April 2002)[1] was an American archaeologist famous for his fieldwork in South and Central America as well as the southeastern United States. Regarded as one of the leading figures in 20th-century archaeology, Willey had a profound influence on the development and practice of archaeology in the Americas and has been described by colleagues as the "dean" of New World archaeology.[2]

Gordon Randolph Willey was born in 1913 in Chariton, Iowa. At the age of twelve his family moved to California, and he completed his secondary education at Long Beach.[2]

Willey received his bachelors degree in 1935 and his masters degree in 1936 from the University of Arizona in anthropology. After completing his master's studies at Arizona, Willey moved to Macon, Georgia and performed field work under Arthur R. Kelley.[2]

While in Georgia, Willey, along with James A. Ford, helped implement and refine ceramic stratigraphy, a concept new to Georgia. Willey also worked at the historic site of Kasita. In 1938, Willey published an article entitled "Time Studies: Pottery and Trees in Georgia." In the early part of 1939, Willey worked at the Lamar site near Macon and identified relationships between Lamar and the Swift Creek and Napier sites. In the fall of 1939, Willey entered Columbia University and began his doctoral studies. After receiving his Ph.D., Willey worked as an anthropologist for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and then went to teach at Harvard University.

He went on archaeological expeditions in Peru, Panama, Nicaragua, Belize and Honduras. Among numerous awards, Willey received the Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement in 1973 from the Archaeological Institute of America.[3] He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1952.[4] He was well-known as a New World archaeologist and theorist, particularly for his studies of the pattern of settlements of native societies. He also wrote many books, including some in the archaeology of North America.

Perhaps his most significant writing was the 1953 work Prehistoric Settlement Patterns in the Viru Valley, Peru, which launched the new archaeological interest in settlement patterns. This first major study of settlement patterns was a great stimulus to the New Archaeology, associated with Lewis Binford among others, because it focused not on the pottery chronologies of urban areas, but rather on the function of smaller satellite settlements and ceramic scatters across a landscape. This method continues in archaeology to this day.


  1. ^ Date information sourced from Library of Congress Authorities data, via corresponding WorldCat Identities linked authority file (LAF) .
  2. ^ a b c Sabloff 2004, p.406
  3. ^ "Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement". Archaeological Institute of America. http://www.archaeological.org/awards/goldmedal. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 
  4. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter W". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. http://www.amacad.org/publications/BookofMembers/ChapterW.pdf. Retrieved 14 April 2011. 


"Gordon Randolph Willey" (PDF online facsimile). Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society held at Philadelphia for promoting useful knowledge (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: APS) 148 (3): 406–410. ISSN 0003-049X. OCLC 200884163. http://www.aps-pub.com/proceedings/1483/480314.pdf. 
Waring, Antonio J., Jr. (1968). The Waring Papers: the collected works of Antonio J. Waring, Jr.. Stephen Williams (compiler and ed.) (originally published 1967 as vol. 58 of Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology papers, reprinted ed.). Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. OCLC 8128645. 
Willey, Gordon R. (1989). "Gordon Willey". In Glyn Edmund Daniel and Christopher Chippindale (eds.). The Pastmasters: Eleven Modern Pioneers of Archaeology: V. Gordon Childe, Stuart Piggott, Charles Phillips, Christopher Hawkes, Seton Lloyd, Robert J. Braidwood, Gordon R. Willey, C.J. Becker, Sigfried J. De Laet, J. Desmond Clark, D.J. Mulvaney. New York: Thames & Hudson. pp. 100–110. ISBN 0-500-05051-1. OCLC 19750309. 

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