Foundations of Anthropology at the University of California   Seal of The University of California
Section 5 composite

Section 5 Composite
McCown, Mohave music, Waterman


rchaeology is the study of past cultures through analysis of material remains and the environmental and spatial context within which such objects have been found. At the birth of the Department, this sub-field was generally considered within the purview of cultural anthropology since the focus was on culture albeit in the more distant past. The practice of archaeology called for different methods, however, including excavation, analysis of artifacts without benefit of native informants, and incorporation of scientific information such as radiocarbon dating and stratigraphic data. Archaeology was given prominence in the founding of the Department because of Hearst’s support of research and collecting in Egypt, Peru, and California prior to 1900. Nevertheless, the other subfields (particularly cultural and linguistic anthropology) were given much more attention until at least the 1920s.

As archaeological sites came to be more threatened with the growth of population in California at this time – just as the traditional native cultures had apparently been earlier in the century – the Department renewed its commitment to document and interpret the cultures of the past through archaeology. In particular, research focused on Peru and California, drawing on the strengths upon which the Department and Museum had been founded. As the Department grew, archaeological studies grew apace to encompass other regions, including the Great Basin, Mesoamerica, Africa, Europe, and the Pacific.

Robert Fleming Heizer: Notebook for the California Archaeological SurveyRobert Fleming Heizer: Notebook for the California Archaeological Survey

Robert Fleming Heizer

Notebook for the California Archaeological Survey


In his 1903 report detailing long-range plans for the Department, Putnam called for the organization of an ethnological and archaeological survey of California. While some archaeology was subsequently accomplished, the commitment and funding to it remained well below that directed to ethnographic work. While chairing the Department in the 1920s, Kroeber repeatedly attempted to secure funds for archaeological research, most notably in his recommendation in 1928 to establish an Archaeological Survey of California. Success was not realized until 1948, however, after depredations to the State’s archaeological heritage caused by the growth of its population, agriculture, and industry, could no longer be ignored.

The Department established what later became the University of California Archaeological Survey. In addition to marking a renewed commitment to archaeological fieldwork, the Survey provided a means to conduct field investigations under contract to federal agencies such as the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

BANC MSS 78/17 c Ctn 28:2

Robert Fleming Heizer: Stratigraphic Profile

Robert Fleming Heizer

Stratigraphic Profile


After Heizer joined the faculty, his students undertook numerous archaeological investigations in California and Nevada. This entailed collecting artifacts to be added to the Museum’s collections, while careful documentation of the context of the finds through mapping and stratigraphic profiles such as this one helped define prehistoric cultural sequences.

BANC MSS 78/17 c Ctn 29:14

Atomic Clock Checks Records of Early Man - newspaper clipping - Chicago Tribune

Atomic Clock Checks Record of Early Man

[Newspaper clipping], 1950s

In this account for the popular press, the Department’s archaeologists demonstrate ingenuity and rigor in conducting fieldwork and laboratory analysis by employing experimental techniques and new technologies. Heizer was one of the first to recognize the potential of radiocarbon dating for archaeology, and employed and promoted the technique from its inception.

BANC MSS 78/17 c Ctn 29:11