American archaeologist who pioneered research on the evolution of agriculture and who studied the earliest human migrations into the New World. Born in New York, he was a schoolboy boxer of note, taking his degrees at the University of Chicago and completing his BA in 1940 and his Ph.D. in 1949. He joined the National Museum of Canada as an archaeologist in 1949, remaining there until 1964, when the Tehuacán Project in Mexico was already well under way. This project examined the long‐term cultural and environmental history of the Tehuacán Valley and was the first post‐Pleistocene sequence for any region important in New World archaeology. It documented changes in subsistence patterns and the development of agriculture and village life which underpinned the rise of Olmec, Zapotec, and Maya civilizations. In 1964 MacNeish founded the Department of Archaeology in the University of Calgary, Canada, the first such freestand‐ing department in the Americas. He continued this tradition and commitment to archaeology as a distinct discipline by spending the period 1982 to 1986 at the newly established Department of Archaeology in Boston University, the first such department in the USA. Between 1968 and 1983 he was director of the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology in Andover, Massachusetts, but resigned after a disagreement with the governing body there about the allocation of funds. In the mid 1980s he established the Andover Foundation for Archaeological Research, which served as a vehicle for receiving grants and running his projects for the rest of his life. Always a field archaeologist, MacNeish calculated that he spent 5683 days in the field during four decades of active research. He was awarded many honours and prizes for his work, including membership of the United States Academy of Sciences. Tragically, he died following a car crash in Belize, where he was taking a working holiday to examine the sites of Lamanai and Caracol.
Antiquity, 75 (2001), 9–11