Archaeologist With Attitude: A Glimpse at Richard Fowler Van Valkenburgh
Part of a series: Diamonds In The Rough
Through a grant-funded project awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Autry National Center sets out to process approximately 2,000 linear feet of archival material over two years, ending in 2012. Every third week of the month, the Autry Libraries blog will feature collection gems being brought to light by NHRPC Processing Archivist Holly Rose Larson.
Last summer, I ran across this man’s image in the Southwest Museum Institutional Archives in the files of Masterkey editor, Southwest Museum curator, and field archaeologist Bruce Bryan.
From accompanying materials, I identified the man as Richard Van Valkenburgh, a collaborator with the Southwest Museum and sometime contributor to the Southwest Museum’s periodical The Masterkey. Further research revealed that at the time the photo was taken, Van Valkenburgh was assisting archaeologists on the Van Bergen Los Angeles Museum Expeditions in an excavation at the Chumash site Muwu in Ventura County. http://www.nhm.org/site/research-collections/anthropology-archaeology/department-history-research
The photo caught my eye because of the immense amount of attitude I saw oozing from this cardigan-wearing, tousled-haired archaeologist with his hip jutting out and a smirk on his otherwise deadpan face. Most historic photographs of archaeologists feature extremely straight-laced looking individuals with rather stern expressions on their faces and rather rigid posture. Thus, this photo really stood out.
So I did a little research. It turns out that this man who looks like he’s totally over it ended up becoming an extremely important anthropologist and liaison between the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government in the 1940s and 1950s, and was largely responsible for helping establish the occupancy rights of Navajo and Hopi people in the Southwest.
He was so close, in fact, and his work deemed so important, that he is buried in the Navajo cemetery at Fort Defiance, in an honored place next to the late Navajo leader Chee Dodge, according to a 1998 article by Mary VV McNamara. http://www.navvf.org/news/s98/whiteman.html
Van Valkenburgh was born June 16, 1905, and was still working on a Navajo Land Claim when he died just after his 52nd birthday on June 19, 1957. This week, we salute this 1922 graduate from Compton Union High School, a friend to the Navajo Nation, and a stylistic inspiration to slouching scholars everywhere.
Do you have more information about Richard Van Valkenburgh? Please consider researching this great figure in Southwest anthropology (or fellow Southwest Museum alum Frances Hopkins), because they both should have books written about them!
And in case you hadn’t yet heard, the Southwest Museum is now open on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Come check it out!
A great big thanks goes out to Chris Coleman at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for photo release, historical knowledge, and blogging advice!