Alfred Kroeber (1876 - 1960)

Alfred Kroeber (1876 - 1960)

Alfred Kroeber was born on June 11, 1876 in Hoboken, New Jersey. His father, Florence Kroeber, was a second-generation immigrant from Germany who was an art importer. In 1906, Kroeber married Henrietta Rothschild who died of tuberculosis in 1913. In 1926, he married Theodora Krakow Brown.

Alfred Kroeber earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University under Franz Boas. He was the first student of Franz Boas and the second Ph.D. in Anthropology in the United States. He did his fieldwork for the dissertation among the Arapaho Indians in Wyoming. His dissertation was 26 pages long. Kroeber moved to California where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1901, Kroeber went to the University of California, Berkeley mainly to work with the archaeological collections of Pheobe Hearst (mother of William Randolf Hearst). She had collections from Greece, Rome, Egypt and Peru. By 1919, Kroeber was a Full Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley.

He would later become one of the most influential figures in anthropology in the first half of the twentieth century. Although he did not ever consider himself an archaeologist during his long career, he was instrumental in getting archeology accepted as an important facet of understanding culture. He looked at the history of humanity as the most important thing to understanding people in a modern context. And to him, the way to understand that history was through archaeology. Before Kroeber’s time archaeology as a discipline concentrated on the classification of prehistoric monuments and collection of artifacts. Kroeber felt that it was vital to understand the monuments in a context linked with the smaller artifacts to form an entire picture of the remnants of a given culture. 

Kroeber wrote about, taught and did fieldwork in archaeology. Doing the archaeological field work, Kroeber developed a series of accurate methods for excavating sites and developed a means of using seriation, defining relative age by looking at the depth of the find and classified pottery sherds in the field during his work on the Zuni. 

Kroeber was a prolific writer during his career, producing over 500 books and articles, including Anthropology (1923, revised 1948) the greatest general text on general anthropology for many years. Another important work, relevant to this paper is Peruvian Archaeology (1944). Of the 34 dissertations Kroeber authored, only 1 dealt with archaeology. The rest were devoted mainly to linguistics and ethnographic comparison. 

In 1960, while on a vacation with his wife in Paris, Alfred Kroeber died of a heart attack.

Archeology Fieldwork 

1915-1920 sites near Zuni, New Mexico

1924,1930 expeditions to Mexico

1925, 1926, 1942 expeditions to Peru 

Kroeber, Theodora. Alfred Kroeber: A Personal Configuration. Berkeley, 1970.

Steward, Julian. Alfred Kroeber. Columbia, 1973.

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