fortunate to find support as a research fellow in charge of the North American ceramic collections at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Anthropology, which was directed by Carl Guthe. His fellowship was funded by the pharmaceutical entrepreneur Eli Lilly, an Indiana native fascinated by American Indian cultural traditions.
In 1936 Griffin married Ruby Fletcher in the University of Chicago chapel. They raised three sons—John, David, and James C.—in Ann Arbor and traveled widely together. Their long and productive marriage ended with Ruby’s death in 1979.
Up until the mid-1940s there was little appreciation of how long the Americas had been occupied. Archaeological assemblages were often ascribed to late ethnic groups mentioned by early European explorers. This approach had broken down as more and different assemblages were found in each subregion. Griffin joined those who argued for the purely archaeological classification of material, without reference to putative ethnic groups mentioned in historic accounts and travelers’ reports. Samples of well-excavated ceramics from meaningful contexts—at first from excavations occasioned by federal reservoir construction in the Tennessee Valley and then from other Depression-era projects—came to Michigan’s Ceramic Repository for description and classification. With Lilly’s funding Griffin drove from project site to project site studying ceramics in the field and making suggestions to excavators. Griffin brought order to the mountains of sherds with a binomial system in which larger groupings based on clay body and inclusions were subdivided into smaller groupings based on surface treatment and decoration; this improvement produced not only precise descriptive studies but also became the basis of Griffin’s 1938 doctoral dissertation at the University of Michigan. That was but the first of many syntheses of the prehistory of eastern North America (1946)