Recollections

Article excerpt

I do not remember any time in my childhood when I seriously entertained the notion of becoming an archaeologist. I remember reading all the books I could find on mythology-Greek, Roman, Scandinavian, and Native American. A book called something like "The Aztec Treasure House for Boys" also comes to mind. But if there was any one thing that created a predisposition to engage in anthropology generally, and archaeology in particular, it was science fiction.

I had become addicted to "Startling Wonder Tales" and "Amazing Stories" at a tender age. They were 25 cent pulp magazines at their best. In the 194Os "Amazing Stories"-along with the science fiction content-regularly carried articles by an individual named, if memory serves, L. Taylor Hanson. Later I would understand his writings as extreme diffusionist, but I had never heard of such things then. He penned exciting links between myths and cultures around the world, and I was completely captivated by them. They provided my first exposure to other cultures and, perhaps, a predilection for anthropology.

My discovery of archaeology in Iowa happened in 1955, when I entered the University's Archaeology Lab, located in the basement of the Old Armory building on the University of Iowa campus. One descended through an outside stairwell and entered a dark landing with a few more steps down to the laboratory door. Opening that door, I found tables covered with rocks, pottery, and other evidence of archaeological investigations. Two students were discussing their work in the arcane language of archaeology. They directed me to a bespectacled, pipe-smoking individual at the far end of the room, and I introduced myself to Dr. Reynold J. Ruppé, one-half of the anthropology faculty at the University of Iowa. If I had ever imagined what an archaeologist would look like, it would have been Rey Ruppé. Tall, slender, receding hairline, with severe wire rimmed glasses, and smoking-always smoking-a pipe.

Ruppé introduced me to the two students, John C. Ives and Eugene Fugle, who, it turned out, were the only graduate students in archaeology at that time. He asked me if I'd care to help out by washing the rocks and pottery. This was the defining moment. After completing the washing of that first basin of pottery, I never entertained a doubt but that I would be anything but an archaeologist. The prospect of volunteering to do lab work delighted me. I began spending all of my spare time in the lab, absorbing the techniques for restoring ceramics, drawing accurate renderings of pottery and stone and bone tools, listening to Ruppé, Ives, and Fugle, and learning something about "The Nebraska Culture."

John Ives was analyzing collections of pottery from some earth lodge sites excavated by amateurs in Mills County in the Missouri Bluffs of southwestern Iowa. He was classifying the ceramics from Glenwood, following Jim Gunnerson's (1952) typology for Nebraska Culture pottery. John was always ready to discuss what he was doing and equally ready to quash any suggestion of ideas I had gained from science fiction. Fugle was more taciturn, but I eventually learned that he was actually one of the last of the "China Marines," having been stationed briefly in one of the Mainland port cities at the end of WWII. He engaged in archaeology cheerfully, but his real interest was ethnology, and he made certain that I knew of the work of and met Jim Howard, one of his favorite people.

I also introduced my fiancée, Barbara Durbin, to the lab. Barbara was studying art and had a good eye and a steady hand. She could draw artifacts better than anyone else in the lab and was quickly drawn into volunteering her skills.

When the spring semester of 1955 was over, I signed up for my first field school. We spent eight weeks engaged in the study of the Phipps site, one of the Mill Creek village sites in northwest Iowa. Ruppé was the director; John Ives was the graduate assistant (which meant he received a $100 stipend); and Gene Fugle, George Cowgill, and I were the crew (Figure 1). …