1999 Distinguished Service Award Richard G. Forbis (1924-1999)

Article excerpt

The Distinguished Service Awardee for 1999 is considered the father of Alberta archaeology. Richard George Forbis's research spanned the Paleoindian and Protohistoric periods. Fletcher, MacHaffie, Old Women's Buffalo Jump, Upper and Lower Kills, British Block Cairn, Rocky Mountain House, and Cluny remain important sites. With Marie Wormington, he coauthored an Introduction to A The rta Archaeology, which introduced the world to the richness of Alberta archaeology. Additionally, he was a major instigator in the passage and implementation of provincial heritage legislation.

For many years, Forbis taught at the University of Calgary. At Calgary, with Scotty MacNeish, he founded the Department of Archaeology. In addition to teaching and serving as department chair, he served on many doctoral and thesis committees. He was valued for his good advice and dreaded by students for his editing and insistence upon clear thinking.

Forbis was a mentor and role model for several generations of Plains archaeologists. He talked to students and amateurs as though they were persons who could make contributions to Plains archaeology. Certainly, this approach facilitated his relationships with amateurs whom he encouraged to conduct their activities in a scientific manner.

He had very broad interests temporally and geographically, possibly deriving from his work under W. D. Strong at Columbia. His dissertation was on the MacHaffie site, near Helena, Montana. McHaffie contains the northernmost known in situ Folsom component, excavated in 1951. Although this was years before. the archaeological profession's interest in debitage, Forbis had the vision to save the flake debris by provenience, which enabled detailed study by later researchers.

A theme expressed in many of his Plains papers was communal hunting. He researched and published the first scientific study of a bison kill on the Plains using thorough analysis and modem techniques. He combined ethnographic data with archaeology for a more complete understanding and interpretation of sites. A major contribution is his adaptation of small point typology to the Plains which is still in use almost 40 years after its publication.

In sum, Richard Forbis contributed to Plains archaeology until his death last year through teaching, managing cultural resources, leading fieldwork, writing important publications, developing chronology, and mentoring students, professionals, and amateurs.




1950 Archaeological Data from the Gates of the Mountains. Montana State University Anthropology and Sociology Paper 1. Missoula.

1951 The Flathead Apostasy: An Interpretation. Montana Magazine of History 1:35-40. Helena. (Reprinted in The Red Man's West, edited by M. Kennedy, 1965. Hastings House, New York.)

1952 An Early Site in Montana. American Antiquity 18:127-133 (with J. D. Sperry).

1956 Early Man and Fossil Bison. Science 123:327328.

1960a Some Late Sites in the Oldman River Region, Alberta. National Museum of Canada Bulletin 162:119-164. Ottawa.

1960b The Present State of Archaeology in Western Canada. Western Canadian Archaeological Council Proceedings 1. Calgary.

1961 a Early Point Types from Acasta Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada. American Antiquity 27:112113.


1961b Rescuing the Past in Canada. Archaeology 14:257260. Cambridge.

1962a The Old Women's Buffalo Jump, Alberta. National Museum of Canada, Bulletin 180:56-123. Ottawa. 1962b A Stratified Buffalo Kill in Alberta. In Symposium an Buffalo Jumps, edited by C. 1. Malouf and S. W. Conner, pp. 3-7. Montana Archaeological Society Memoir 1.

1963 The Direct Historical Approach in the Prairie Provinces of Canada. Great Plains Journal 3:9-16. …