Dena F. Dincauze: A Towering Figure in Northeastern U. S. Archaeology

Dena F. Dincauze

Dena F. Dincauze

I was saddened this morning to learn of the passing of Dena Dincauze, one of the most prominent archaeologists ever in Northeastern United States archaeology (and indeed, American archaeology).  Dena served a long career as a professor of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  I would have been one of her students if I had decided to go to UMASS instead of Binghamton for grad school (a fact she once brought up in conversation, just to remind me).  

Dena also was a past-President of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), past-editor of its journal, American Antiquity, and past-President of the Society of Professional Archeologists (SOPA:  an organization that has evolved into today’s Register of Professional Archaeologists, RPA).  She has been credited with an effort to increase the role of women in SAA administration, and with reaching out to avocational archaeologists.  Dena received the SAA Distinguished Service Award in 1997.

Often with an eye to environmental context, Dena Dincauze made substantial contributions to the study of human prehistory in the Northeast.  In addition to this, she was a very strong advocate for Cultural Resource Management (CRM) archaeology.  Her books include Cremation Cemeteries of Eastern Massachusetts (a title that could get you an odd look from the librarian when you signed it out, as I often did); The Neville Site:  8000 Thousand Years at Amoskeag, Manchester, New Hampshire (which did much to begin archaeologists’ recognition of important, very ancient, Holocene cultures in the Northeast); and the 587-page Environmental Archaeology:  Principles and Practice (which I once heard her refer to as a crowning achievement of her writing career).

Dena especially made substantial contributions to the study of the Paleoindian and Archaic periods.  In addition, she guided students into a much broader range of subjects, often including the cultures of the late prehistoric and contact periods.  This guidance and mentoring continues to significantly shape understandings of what native cultures were like in New England when they first encountered Europeans; how the contact experience affected native societies; and how New England adaptive patterns may have conditioned resilience.  Dena strove to bring New England archaeology into the national archaeological arena that often is dominated by research concerns of the mid-Continent and the Southwest.  Moreover, she was sure to bring up New England when the discussion of Northeastern archaeology was overly dominated by data (or voices) from New York.  As Ed Bell noted in his Facebook post to the Eastern States Archaeological Federation (ESAF) this morning, Dena was indeed supportive of younger generations of archaeologists.  For this, a good many are grateful.  Rest in peace, Dena.