Earth Notes
3:46 pm
Wed January 23, 2013

From Harvard Undergrad to Pioneering Archaeologist

Alfred Vincent Kidder in the early 1900's
Credit National Park Service

More than a century ago, a Harvard undergraduate named Alfred Vincent Kidder came out west. He came to volunteer at some archaeological sites that had just been excavated - places like Mesa Verde and other ancient ruins.

Nicknamed Ted, he had little more than a tape measure, a cheap compass and a Kodak camera. But the experience changed his life - and the course of southwestern archaeology.

After that first trip in 1907, Kidder was hooked. He came west again each summer. In cliff alcoves in northeast Arizona, he documented what today is known as the Basketmaker tradition - the remaining evidence of the earliest ancestral Pueblo peoples.

In 1915, new Ph.D. in hand, Kidder launched another decade of fieldwork at Pecos Pueblo in northern New Mexico. His wife, Madeleine, worked with him, and their growing family spent summers there, too.

Through detailed study at Pecos, he created a timeline of Basketmaker-Pueblo culture. He convened the first Pecos Conference in 1927 as a meeting of southwestern archaeologists that continues periodically to this day. Attendees endorsed his classification of eight time periods that became broadly accepted as an outline of when ancient peoples had lived in the northern Southwest.

After finishing at Pecos, Kidder toured in "Old Blue," his trusty Model T. He went on to study the Mayans and oversaw archaeological research for the Carnegie Institution. But through his long, esteemed career, Alfred Vincent Kidder drew on his early Southwest foundations in understanding past human cultures from what they left behind.