James Bennett Griffin

James Bennett Griffin

James Bennett Griffin (also known as Jimmy Griffin) is an American archaeologist who was born in Atchinson, Kansas on January 12, 1905. He died on May 17, 1997 in Bethesda, Maryland. His parents were Charles and Maude Griffin. Jimmy Griffin is regarded as one of the most influential archaeologists in North America in the 20th century.

Personal life

Jimmy Griffin was born in Atchinson, Kansas, but his family subsequently moved to Denver, CO, and when he was eleven to Oak Hill, IL, where he lived until he enrolled in college. His father was a supplier for railroad equipment. Griffin's interest in archaeology was born through reading as a child and his love for visiting museums. At Oak Hill School in Illinois, he met Fred Eggan and Wendell Bennett. His friendship with these two schoolmates would last into graduate school and his professional career in anthropology. In 1933, he married Ruby Fletcher. They had three children: John, David, and James Griffin. Griffin retired in 1976 and remained in Ann Arbor for several years. His wife died in 1979, and in 1984, he moved to Washington D.C. He met Mary Dewitt there and soon married her. They spend twelve years together living in Washington before Griffin’s death on May 31, 1997.


Jimmy attended and graduated from Oak Hill School where he became a champion swimmer. He then enrolled into the University of Chicago in 1923 where he initially planned on studying Business Administration. After two years in the BA program, he transferred to the program of General Science. He graduated with his Bachelors Degree in 1927. After graduating, Griffin took a brief break from school to work for Amoco, but later returned to the University of Chicago. In 1930, he graduated with a Master of Arts Degree in Sociology and Anthropology.

Professional career

Griffin accepted a Research Fellowship in 1933 at the University of Michigan. That same year, he moved to Ann Arbor, where he would live for the next five decades. His first fieldwork was conducted in the summer of1929, where he excavated at the Parker Heights Mound near Quincy, Illinois, a project led by William Krogman. By 1931, Griffin had gained enough experience in the field to conduct his own excavations. He led an excavation of Upper Susquehanna Valley, Pennsylvania, for the Tioga Point Museum. The following season, the project had to be postponed due to budget cuts caused by the depression. Griffin spent the season writing a manuscript about the summer spent excavating the Parker Heights Mound a few years earlier. However, this manuscript was not published until 1991 by the Center for American Archaeology in Kampsville. In the fall of 1939, Griffin accompanied James A. Ford and Philip Phillips on the start of a Lower Mississippi survey project. In 1945, he was appointed Associate Professor of Archaeology at Michigan. Four years later, he became a full professor. Between 1940 and 1946, Griffin spent nearly three field seasons working on surface surveys, while his partner Phillips worked on stratigraphic excavations at sites in the southeast, work published in 1951 in a monograph that has come to be regarded as a classic in American Archaeology, Archeological Survey In the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 1940-1947 (Phillips, Ford and Griffin 1951) After this project, Griffin began work with Al Spaulding on the Central Mississippi Survey in 1950. Fieldwork was done in southeast Missouri and at the Roots site near the Kaskaskia River, but the main project was at Cahokia. These projects continued for a few more years, but Griffin stepped down as the leader of them in the mid-1950s.

Griffin’s primary involvement in field activities shifted to a broader synthetic study and overview of archaeology itself. However, he still was involved with fieldwork. Between the years of 1963 and 1964, Griffin supervised an excavation at the Norton Mound group of Hopewellian affiliation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Soon after this, one of Griffins students, Jim Price, encouraged him to return to the northern end of the Lower Mississippi Valley with the Powers Phase project in southeast Missouri (1968-1972). The involvement with this site helped graduate students gain experience in new collecting and field techniques. He helped train dozens of North American archaeologists, many of whom went on to prominence themselves. Though Griffin is a very well know and successful archaeologist, he was also a distinguished professor at the University of Michigan. His teaching abilities inspired many of his students throughout the years to become archaeologists as well. His legacy as a professor was so pronounced that in the 1970s and 1980s, many of the major archaeological graduate programs in North America were taught by Griffin’s students. Many of today’s archaeologists that focus on Eastern Woodlands prehistory are linked to Griffin or one or more of his students in some way. Though he had an effect on countless students, those who knew him personally as a teacher have said he had an extraordinary ability to teach, and that he was a caring and helpful teacher who never left a student on his own. His students worked hard to gain his respect. He served as a visiting professor at many schools, several of which include the University of California, Berkley in 1960, the University of Colorado in 1962, and Louisiana State University in 1971.

Throughout his career, Griffin attended numerous professional meetings. His record of attendance was extraordinary at both the Society for American Archaeology meetings (which he helped to found in 1934) and the Southeastern Archaeological Conference (which he founded with James A. Ford in 1937). Griffin was a fairly reserved man, yet was easily approached by many people. Griffin was best known for his intellect, wit, extraordinary memory, being an inspirational teacher, and for his extensive archaeological work at sites and particularly with collections from Eastern North America. He had many friends and professional ties. He even conducted work in Europe, Mexico, and the former Soviet Union. He initially retired in 1976, but eight years later, he moved to Washington D.C. to become associated with the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian until he died in 1997.

Accomplishments and Awards

From the SAA, Griffin received the Viking Fund Award and Medal in Archaeology in 1957. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1968. He received the University of Michigan's Faculty Achievement Award in 1971. He received an Honorary Doctorate from Indiana University in 1971. The University of Michigan awarded him with the Henry Russell Lectureship for Outstanding Research in 1972. The Fryxellt Award was given to him by the Society for American Archaeology in 1980. He got the Distinguished Service Award in 1984. He served as the director of the Museum of Anthropology of Michigan from 1946-1975. He organized and managed the Ceramic Repository for the Eastern United States, a central source of information and collections about prehistoric pottery based out of the University of Michigan. He and H.R. Crane founded the University’s Radiocarbon Laboratory that was in operation from 1949-1970. He served many years in the Council of the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences. He was considered a ceramics expert at the University of Michigan and by his colleagues throughout Eastern North America. He wrote more than 260 articles and eight books about ceramics and applying other sciences to archaeology. Griffin was considered among the most honored archaeologists of his generation in Eastern North America.

External Sources

[http://bentley.umich.edu/research/guides/anthropology/anthro_search.php?id=10%3E Bentley Historic Library (University of Michigan) James B. Griffin]

[http://www.anthrosource.net/doi/abs/10.1525/aa.2002.104.2.635 Anthrosource: American Anthropologist: James B. Griffin 1905-97]

[http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/information/biography/fghij/griffin_james.html eMuseum @ Minnesota State University Mankato: James B. Griffin]

[http://www.saa.org/Publications/SAAbulletin/16-1/SAA18.html Society for American Archaeology: James Bennett Griffin]

Selected Publications

[http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/276003&Search=yes&term=%22james+b+griffin+%22&item=6&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=113&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dau%3A%22James%2BB.%2BGriffin%22 (1937) The Archaeological Remains of the Chiwere Sioux]

[http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/275464&Search=yes&term=%22james+b+griffin+%22&item=7&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=113&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dau%3A%22James%2BB.%2BGriffin%22 (1937) The Chronological Position and Ethnological Relationships of the Fort Ancient Aspect (American Antiquity, Vol. 2, No. 4)]

[http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/275400&Search=yes&term=%22james+b+griffin+%22&item=10&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=113&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dau%3A%22James%2BB.%2BGriffin%22 (1942) Adena Pottery]

[http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/663025&Search=yes&term=%22james+b+griffin+%22&item=1&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=113&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dau%3A%22James%2BB.%2BGriffin%22 (1942) On the Historic Location of the Tutelo and the Mohetan in the Ohio Valley]

[http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/275573&Search=yes&term=%22james+b+griffin+%22&item=11&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=113&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dau%3A%22James%2BB.%2BGriffin%22 (1945) An Interpretation of Siouan Archaeology in the Piedmont of North Carolina and Virginia]

[http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/275529&Search=yes&term=%22james+b+griffin+%22&item=12&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=113&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dau%3A%22James%2BB.%2BGriffin%22 (1945) The Box Elder Mound in la Salle County, Illinois]

[http://www.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-7294(195301%2F03)2%3A55%3A1%3C118%3AASITLM%3E2.0.CO%3B2-2 (1953) Archeological Survey In the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 1940-1947]

[http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/3031142&Search=yes&term=%22james+b+griffin+%22&item=5&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=113&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dau%3A%22James%2BB.%2BGriffin%22 (1955) Chronology and Dating Process]

[http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/1720491&Search=yes&term=%22james+b+griffin+%22&item=4&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=113&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dau%3A%22James%2BB.%2BGriffin%22 (1967) Eastern North American Archaeology: A Summary. Science...]

[http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/278309&Search=yes&term=%22james+b+griffin+%22&item=25&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=113&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dau%3A%22James%2BB.%2BGriffin%22 (1969) Identification of the Sources of Hopewellian Obsidian in the Middle West]

[http://www.jstor.org/sici?sici=0084-6570(1985)2%3A14%3C1%3AAIPIAA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-B (1985) An Individual's Participation in American Archaeology, 1928-1985]

[http://www.jstor.org/action/showArticle?doi=10.2307/280484&Search=yes&term=%22james+b+griffin+%22&item=16&returnArticleService=showArticle&ttl=113&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dau%3A%22James%2BB.%2BGriffin%22 (1985) The Formation of the Society for American Archaeology]


"Anthropology and Archaeology." Bentley Historical Library University of Michigan. 2008. Bentley Historical Library. 8 Mar 2008 .

Ford, Richard. "James Bennett Griffin." American Anthropologist Vol. 104, No. 202 DEC 2004 635-637. 08 MAR 2008 .

“James Bennett Griffin." eMuseum at Minnesota State University, Mankato. 2003. Students in an Introduction to Anthropology Class, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minnesota 2003. 8 Mar 2008 http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/information/biography/fghij/griffin_james.html

Williams, Stephens. "James B. Griffin (1905-1997)." Society for American Archaeology. SAA. 8 Mar 2008 .

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