American archaeologist renowned for innovative research in Mesoamerica and the development of settlement archaeology. Born in Chariton, Iowa, he took his first degree at the University of Arizona. In 1942 he received a Ph.D. from Columbia University for research in the Chancay Valley, Peru. He worked at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington before moving to Harvard as the first Charles P. Bowditch Professor of Central American and Mexican Archaeology and Ethnology, a post he held from 1950 to 1983. Willey developed his ideas of settlement archaeology in the Viru Valley of Peru in the late 1940s, arguing that settlements and other features reflected people's use of the landscape. As well as developing new methods of pottery analysis, he worked with Philip Phillips on Method and theory in American archaeology (1958, Chicago: University of Chicago Press), which presaged theoretical developments behind the New Archaeology of the late 1960s. Amongst his other numerous publications are Archaeology of the Florida Gulf Coast (1949, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution), the masterful Introduction to American archaeology (2 vols, 1966 and 1971, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice‐Hall), and, with Jeremy Sabloff, the authoritative History of American archaeology (1974, London: Thames & Hudson). He was President of the American Archaeological Association (1960–62) and the Society for American Archaeology (1967–78), and was awarded the Kidder Medal for distinguished service, the Viking Medal from the Viking Fund, the Huxley Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute, and the Gold Medal of the Society of Antiquaries of London. In retirement he found time to write archaeological mystery novels such as Selena (1995, Toronto: Worldwide Library).
Antiquity, 77 (2003), 430–33