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Walter Willard Taylor, Jr.
1913 - 1997

Walter Willard Taylor, Jr. photo On April 14, 1997, our profession lost one of its most influential anthropologists, Walter W. Taylor. He died at his home in Rockaway Beach, Ore., of complications resulting from the debilitating effects of Alzheimer's disease. He leaves three children born of his first wife Lyda (Peter of Longview, Wash., Gordon of Nawah, N. J., and Ann of Easton, Md.). He also leaves a loving companion, Virginia Cotton, of Rockaway Beach.

Walt was born in Chicago but moved at an early age with his family to Greenwich, Conn. During his prep school years he was primarily interested in drama, music, literary affairs, hunting, fishing, and camping.

At his father's urging he matriculated at Yale, graduating in 1935 with an AB degree in geology. At Yale he met a number of Boasian anthropologists, notably Leslie Spier, from whom he learned much about anthropology and a cultural-historical approach. While he later began to doubt the importance of this approach--as is clear in his later professional work--he gained a broad understanding of culture itself, an underpinning that many archaeologists lack today.

In summer 1935, Walt took part in his first archaeological excavations, working for the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, where he was influenced by the holistic environmental philosophy of Lyndon Hargrave (W. W. Taylor and R. C. Euler, 1980, Lyndon Lane Hargrave, 1896-1978. American Antiquity 45: 477-482). Taylor was also influenced by his acquaintance with Clyde Kluckhohn in 1937, with whom he had long intellectual conversations, first in Flagstaff and later at the University of New Mexico field school in Chaco Canyon, where Walt was archaeological field foreman for three years.

With Kluckhohn's strong encouragement, Walt enrolled in the anthropology doctoral program at Harvard in 1938. By 1940, Leslie Spier suggested he undertake fieldwork in northern Mexico, which led to his decade-long study in Coahuila.

Taylor's PhD degree was granted just after he had enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as a private in 1942. He was one of fewer than a dozen Marines who served in the European theater; he was detached to the Office of Strategic Services and spent time parachuting behind German lines to contact friendly resistance fighters. He was captured and badly wounded in 1944 and was not released from a prisoner-of-war camp until the end of the war in Europe. Typical of his calling, he taught introductory anthropology to his fellow prisoners in two German stalags. He earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star and resigned as a captain in 1955.

After the war Walt led a somewhat peripatetic but rewarding life, moving first to Santa Fe, then to Mexico, and finally to Carbondale, Ill., where in 1958 he developed the Department of Anthropology. He also taught occasionally at Texas, Washington, Mexico City College, and La Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia. In addition, he conducted fieldwork in Arizona, New Mexico, Georgia, Mexico (Coahuila, Sonora, and Zacatecas), and Spain, before retiring in 1974.

Throughout this time, Walt chafed at not completing his Coahuila report, which he intended to be a model treatment of his conjunctive approach. He did publish a few papers on theory (e.g., 1961 Archaeology and Language in Western North America. American Antiquity 27:71-81) and Coahuila archaeology (e.g. 1964, Tethered Nomadism and Water Territoriality: An Hypothesis. In Proceedings of the XXXV International Congress of Americanists, Mexico, part 2:197-203; and 1968, A Burial Bundle from Coahuila, Mexico. In Collected Papers in Honor of Lyndon Lane Hargrave. Papers of the Archaeological Society of New Mexico: 1). After many frustrating years of waiting for his collaborators to complete the Coahuila artifact analysis, he successfully published Contributions to Coahuila Archaeology, with an Introduction to the Coahuila Project (1988, Southern Illinois University Center for Archaeological Investigations No. 52. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale), which reported the excavated sites and analyses of the many sandals recovered. However, perhaps because his illness was already in its infancy, Taylor was dissatisfied with the results, and requested that it be withheld from public distribution. This was most unfortunate, since the manuscript was well written and and detailed his years of fieldwork in Coahuila unobtainable elsewhere; a copy is in my library.

While many think of Taylor only as an archaeologist, one need only read his most important work, A Study of Archeology (1948, American Anthropological Association, Memoir 69)--wherein he described his conjunctive approach--to recognize his complete anthropological leanings. Although some well-known archaeologists apparently felt a sting from his critique of what then were current descriptive, historical approaches, Patty Jo Watson remarked that his purpose "was not to generate ill will but rather to stimulate examination...of aims, goals and purposes by American archaeologists" (1983, Foreword to the 1983 edition of A Study of Archeology. Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale). He certainly anticipated by a number of years the efforts of the "new archaeologists" of the 1960s and 1970s and noted this in "Old Wine and New Skins: A Contemporary Parable" (1972, In Contemporary Archaeology, edited by M. Leone, pp. 28-33. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale).

For his friends and those of us who knew him well, the ravages of an incurable disease that destroyed a great intellect and human being, came as a major shock. His most important work, A Study of Archeology, now in its seventh printing, will remain a monument to his life.

Acknowledgments: I am deeply indebted to Brenda V. Kennedy who, in 1984 as a graduate student, wrote a paper entitled "No Man is an Island: Walter W. Taylor and American Archaeology" (unpublished manuscript. Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary). I have a copy that Walt gave me and have relied on it extensively.

Robert C. Euler is a consulting anthropologist in Prescott, Ariz.


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