January 12, 1905–May 31, 1997
BY HENRY T. WRIGHT
JAMES BENNETT GRIFFIN WAS ONE of the leading North American archaeologists of his day. Known to everyone—even his children—as Jimmy, he was the man most responsible for reshaping the archaeology of eastern North America, for building an enduring center of research on long-term cultural change at the Museum of Anthropology of the University of Michigan, and for fostering many innovations in archaeological method and theory throughout his long career.
Born in Atchison, Kansas, and raised in Denver, Colorado, and Oak Park, Illinois, Griffin was steeped in the traditions and perspectives of the American Midwest, the land to whose prehistory he brought systematic order. He received his bachelor of arts from the University of Chicago in 1927. He gained excavation experience in the Illinois field school of the polymathic anthropologist Faye Cooper Cole in the summer of 1930 while working in Fulton County near Peoria, and this fieldwork led to one of his first publications (1934). Later that year he received a master of arts with a thesis on mortuary variability in eastern North America.
There were few posts open for young archaeologists in the tumultuous first years of the Great Depression. Griffin sought research positions in Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Guatemala, and Iraq with varying success. In 1932, however, Griffin was