James Alfred Ford was an archeologist, curator of archeology at the American Museum of Natural History (1946-1964) and at the Florida State Museum (1964-1968), and a professor of anthropology at the University of Florida. Early in his career he was also connected with the Smithsonian Institution as a field worker and the Louisiana Geological Survey as an archeologist. During his early professional career, he interspersed his appointments with periods of formal study at Louisiana State University (BA, 1936), University of Michigan (MA, 1938), and Columbia University (PhD, awarded 1949). He was president of the Society for American Archeology in 1963-1964.
Ford made several significant contributions to archeology. First, he carried out much field work in the southeastern United States and in doing so showed that the Lower Mississippi Valley was a separate archeological province rather than a part of a larger region as had been previously thought. With Gordon Randolph Willey, he also provided the outlines of culture sequences for the Southeast. Second, he carried out field work in Alaska and, thus, although in a secondary role, shared in work concerned with the origins and development of Eskimo culture. Third, he carried out field work in Latin-America--Mexico, Columbia, and Peru--and contributed to an understanding of culture sequences in that region.
Ford is credited with working out original methods of pottery classification, pottery being the chief type of specimen with which he worked in his broad interpretations. Late in his life, he brought together his interests in the southeastern United States and Latin America in a theory concerning the relationship of Formative sites in those regions and neighboring areas. Ford's first archeological activities were in the Southeast, where as a boy he collected archeological artifacts around Jackson, Mississippi, work that Ford himself referred to as pothunting. His introduction to scientific methods came in 1927 when he was engaged as an assistant to Henry Bascom Collins, of the Smithsonian Institution, in excavations at the Deasonville site in Mississippi.
In 1933, Ford secured a National Research Council grant to survey portions of Mississippi and adjacent parts of northern Louisiana. In 1933, he assisted Frank Maryl Setzler, of the Smithsonian, in excavations at the Marksville site in Louisiana and worked for Arthur Randolph Kelly at the present-day Ocmulgee National Monument at Macon, Georgia, both projects being financed by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. In 1934, Ford also worked for the Georgia State Park Service in investigations of a tabby ruin believed to be a Spanish fort at Elizafield Plantation near Brunswick and for the Southeastern Fair Association on an American Indian Exposition at Atlanta.
In the two years following, Ford was archeological research associate with the Louisiana State Archeological Survey of the Louisiana Geological Survey. In 1937, he was engaged in a project to restore an earth lodge at Macon. Following this, as Louisiana state director of archeological projects of the Work Projects Administration, he brought to the state several outstanding young archeologists whose work he directed. During this time, he himself worked at the Crooks site and Greenhouse site in Avoyelles Parrish in 1938-1940, organized with James Bennett Griffin the first Southeastern Archeological Conference in 1938, and undertook with Philip Phillips and Griffin a survey of the Lower Mississippi Valley (Arkansas and Mississippi) in search of the origins of Middle Mississippi culture in 1939-1940.
In 1951, with William G. Haag and Phillips he worked at the Jakestown site in Mississippi; and in 1952-1955, he worked at Poverty Point in Louisiana with C. H. Webb and R. Stuart Nietzel. He carried out excavations at the Menard site in Arkansas in 1958 and a burial mound near Helena, Arkansas in 1960-1961. Ford's early work in Alaska was with Henry Bascom Collins and his later archeological work in that state was an attempt to complete the earlier labors. In 1930, he accompanied Collins as an assistant to St. Lawrence Island. In 1931, he again worked for Collins at the Birknirk site and was then assigned to survey the Point Barrow area. He wintered at Barrow, living among the Eskimos and carrying out physical anthropological studies as well as the archeological work.
In 1936, again for Collins, he carried out a survey along the coast of Alaska between Cape Prince of Wales and Point Barrow. During World War II, Ford was a senior design specialist with a unit of the United States Army Office of the Quartermaster General which was engaged in designing and testing military clothing and equipment. Some of this work involved travel to Alaska. In 1953, he returned to Point Barrow.
Fordʹs work in Latin America began 1941-1942 when he participated in Wendell Clark Bennettʹs archeological survey of the Cauca Valley in Colombia, a project of the Institute of Andean Research. In 1946, he participated in the Instituteʹs Viru Valley project, working specifically on chronology in conjunction with Gordon Randolph Willeyʹs study of settlement patterns and land use. He was again in Peru in 1958-1959 and 1963, carrying out surveys and excavations in the Chira, Piura, and Lambayeque valleys. In 1963-1966, he worked with Alfonso Medellin Zenil and Matthew Wallrath in a survey of the Veracruz coast of Mexico.
The papers were donated to the National Anthropological Archives by the Florida State Museum (Jerald T. Milanich) in several deposits in 1981 and 1983 and by the Louisiana State University Department of Geography and Anthropology (William G. Haag) in a deposit in 1981.
(1) Correspondence, 1934-1968; (2) field notes, 1930-1959; (3) research notes; (4) manuscripts; (5) oversized materials
The Ford papers in the National Anthropological Archives include letters, notes, field notes, journals, archeological data forms, manuscripts, photographs, reports, charts, cartographic material, exhibit plans, drawings of specimens, and miscellaneous materials such as itineraries and expense accounts. The material has not been completely identified and analyzed. Preliminary work, however, indicates that there is appreciable quantities of material concerning the 1931-1932 expedition to Alaska; work at the Marksville site; 1942-1945 work for the United States Army in Alaska; and a considerable amount of material relating to his last publication on the American Formative, including drafts, notes, and comments on the manuscript by other scientists.
There are also materials, often a journal or notebook but sometimes only a single drawing or map, relating to Ford's other archeological projects. A few notes reflect his work at the University of Michigan and there are a few notes on classes taken under Ruth Benedict at Columbia University. Several miscellaneous items concern the history, exhibits, and collections of the Department of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History; others include material relating to the Marksville Museum; and there are notes entitled "Methods and Theory of Archeology."
There are yet to be materials located that relate to Ford's earliest work for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History; the 1933 work in Mississippi and Louisiana; the 1933-1934 work at Macon, Georgia; work for the Southeastern Fair Association; field training at Chaco Canyon; 1941-1942 work in Columbia (except for correspondence); 1951 work at the Jakestown site; 1953 work at Point Barrow; work at the Menard site or the Hopewell mound near Helena, Arkansas. Except for correspondence, there is also no material relating Ford's curatorial work at the Florida State Museum. Some of the missing materials are at the institutions with which Ford was affiliated. There are some pertinent materials in the Henry Bascom Collins papers. (entry 15).
Ford collected material of other persons who worked in his own area of interest. Included among the Marksville materials are notes, correspondence, and other documents of Frank Maryl Setzler; manuscripts by Walter Beecher, Edwin B. Doran, and Carlyle S. Smith; letters and photographs of Dache McClain Reeves. The papers also included among the Marksville materials are notes, correspondence, and other documents of Frank Maryl Setzler; manuscripts by Walter Beher, Edwin B. Doran, and Cayle S. Smith; and letters and photographs of Dacs the presence of Work Projects Administration material regarding sites (mounds) in Hillsborough County, Florida together the related correspondence the presence of Work Projects Administration material regarding sites (mounds) in Hillsborough County, Florida together with related correspondence of J. Clarence Simpson, particularly with William G. Sutherland.
The Ford collection also incorporates a few letters from John Reed Swanton to William Henry Holmes.
James Alfred Ford Papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Museum Support Center, Suitland, Maryland
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