Courtesy of the University of
John Lambert Cotter
1911 - 1999
Edward B. Jelk
John Lambert Cotter's death on February 5, 1999, in Philadelphia
brought an end to an archaeological career spanning more than
65 years. Cotter is survived by his wife, Virginia, their two
children, Laurence Cotter and Jean C. Spaans, and three grandchildren.
Jack was born in Denver, Colorado, on December
6, 1911, to John A. and Bertha B. Cotter. After graduating from
East Denver High School in 1930, he earned B.A. and M.A. degrees
in anthropology at the University of Denver in 1934 and 1935,
respectively. He married Virginia Wilkins Tomlin in 1941. In 1959
he completed a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Cotter's initial field experience was at two
western Paleoindian sites: the Folsom component at Lindenmeier,
Colorado, and the type site of the Clovis complex at Blackwater
Draw, New Mexico. The final four decades of his career were devoted
to researching English colonial sites in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The years in between were devoted largely to research on Archaic,
Woodland, and Mississippian cultures in Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee,
His interest in Paleoindian archaeology began
with his work as a member of Frank H. H. Roberts Jr.'s team at
Lindenmeier in 19341936. Excavations at Blackwater Draw
in 1936 and 1937 directed by Cotter, located two Clovis points
in geologic association with mammoth bones in a deposit underlying
a bed of bison bones that contained Folsom points. This was the
first clear evidence that Clovis predated Folsom and was contemporaneous
with mammoths. In the next few years Jack pursued this interest
and became a widely recognized authority in the Paleoindian field.
From 1938 until he joined the National Park Service
(NPS) in April l940, Jack headed the Archeological Survey of Kentucky.
After a stint as an infantryman in World War IIduring which he
was wounded and awarded the Purple Hearthe rejoined the NPS in
January 1946. Between 1947 and 1950, he directed a survey of the
Natchez Trace Parkway in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee,
and excavated the Gordon, Bynum, and Emerald mounds in Mississippi.
Following completion of the project, he was transferred to Washington
where he served as acting chief archaeologist of NPS (19501953).
Jack's career underwent a shift in focus when
in July 1953 he was assigned to direct explorations at the site
of 17th-century Jamestown, Virginia. As assistant director of
the Jamestown project, I worked closely with Jack and came to
recognize his outstanding abilities both as a field archaeologist
and as an ardent and effective public advocate for the unique
contributions that archaeology can make to historical research.
Developing the site for interpretation to the public, the Jamestown
archaeological project continued Jean C. Harrington's pioneering
work of the 1930s and 1940s and was a phenomenal success as a
showpiece of Jamestown's 35th anniversary celebration in 1957.
Cotter's report, "Archaeological Excavations at Jamestown,
Virginia," (1958, Archaeological Research Series No.
4, National Park Service, Washington), was a landmark in the reporting
of archaeological investigations at historic sites. Long out of
print but still in demand, it was reprinted in 1994 by the Archaeological
Society of Virginia.
Cotter's work at Jamestown immersed him deeply
into the methods and nuances of the emergent historical archaeology
in the 1950s. He became so captivated by it that thereafter he
turned his scholarly energies almost entirely to the development
of the subdiscipline.
Leaving Jamestown in 1957, Jack was stationed
in Philadelphia as regional archaeologist for the NPS Northeast
Region until 1970, when he was transferred to the NPS Eastern
Service Center in Washington. Although he retired in 1972, he
continued to work for the NPS as a rehired annuitant until final
retirement in 1977.
Cotter was adjunct professor in the Department
of American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania (19601979)
and curator for American Historical Archaeology at the University
of Pennsylvania Museum (19721980). As curator emeritus he
maintained an office at the museum and worked there regularly
until 10 days before his death. Cotter authored or coauthored
several books and more than 200 journal articles and reviews.
His best-known publications are "Archaeological Excavations
at Jamestown, Virginia," and The Buried Past: An Archaeological
History of Philadelphia (1992, with coauthors D. G. Roberts
and M. Parrington, University of Pennsylvania Press). His final
book, Clovis Revisited, written with A. T. Boldurian, was
in press at the time of his death. It looks back at his early
work on Paleoindians and puts it into context with current Paleoindian
Cotter received numerous awards, including the
J. C. Harrington Medal in Historical Archaeology (Society for
Historical Archaeology), and the David E. Finley Award for Outstanding
Achievement in Historic Preservation (National Trust for Historic
At the University of Pennsylvania, Cotter taught
the first university course in historical (nonclassical) archaeology
and inspired a generation of students. He was one of the cofounders
of the Society for Historical Archaeology, served as its first
president, and edited the first volume of its journal, Historical
Archaeology. Staunch activist for historic preservation, respected
mentor, versatile scholar, and capable Park Service administrator,
Jack Cotter will be long remembered for his many contributions
to both historic and prehistoric archaeology. ·
Edward B. Jelks is retired and lives in Normal,