April 29, 1918–January 16, 2001
BY KENT V.FLANNERY AND JOYCE MARCUS
IN THE 1940s, BEFORE the extensive surveys and excavations of archaeologist Richard S. (“Scotty”) MacNeish, little was known about the origins of agriculture and the transition from hunting and gathering to sedentary life in the New World. Over a period of six decades, MacNeish supplied us with enormous quantities of data and developed new ways of thinking about how Native Americans lived during thousands of years of nomadic foraging. He eventually extended his work to places as diverse as the Yukon, New Mexico, Mexico, Belize, Peru, and China.
Richard Stockton MacNeish was born in New York City and grew up in Eastchester and White Plains. His father, Harris Franklin MacNeish, was a professor of mathematics who received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1912; his dissertation was on “Linear Polars of the k-hedron in n-space.” He also wrote a book entitled Algebraic Technique of Integration, which was reprinted in 1950. MacNeish’s mother, Elizabeth Stockton, was descended from a founder of Princeton University; she hoped her son would attend that institution, but he ended up at his father’s alma mater.
MacNeish developed an early interest in Maya archaeology. In the spring of 1930 his teacher in eighth-grade art history