James Deetz, 70, Chronicler
Dr. James Deetz, an American anthropologist who dug into the country's colonial past, died on Saturday [November 25, 2000] at a hospital in Charlottesville, Va. He was 70 and lived in Charlottesville, where he had been the Harrison professor of historical archeology at the University of Virginia since 1994. The cause was pneumonia, his family said.
Dr. Deetz was one of the country's foremost archaeologists specializing in colonial North America. His studies, spanning several decades, focused on the earliest English settlements in Massachusetts, where he directed explorations at Plymouth, and Virginia.
James Fanto Deetz was born in Cumberland, Md., and trained in anthropology at Harvard University, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1957 and earned his Ph.D. three years later.
He found a lifelong interest when introduced to efforts to establish Plimoth Plantation, a reconstruction designed as an outdoor history museum in Plymouth, Mass. The museum was meant to bring to life the story of the Pilgrims in the year 1627, just before they dispersed throughout what became known as Plymouth Colony.
Dr. Deetz began to teach anthropology at Harvard in 1957 and, as the archaeologist of Plimoth Plantation, led excavations of Pilgrims' houses near the original landing site around Plymouth.
His scholarship turned transcontinental with an academic appointment to the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1960; he rose to full professor of anthropology there by 1966. After that, he taught at Brown University, the University of Cape Town and the University of California at Berkeley. He was a visiting professor of New World studies at the University of Virginia when he accepted his appointment to the Harrison chair.
Dr. Deetz was counted among the "new" American archaeologists, called so for contributing a new chapter to the general theory of anthropological archaeology. Like them he was credited with discerning patterns underlying historical finds that reflected changes in past human behavior.
Along those lines, he and a colleague, Ted Dethlefsen, published a series of papers on stylistic changes in old New England gravestones. He also wrote articles on topics like ceramics, the "ethnogastronomy" of Thanksgiving, and African-American settlers at Plymouth, along with several books.
He contributed to a 1967 sourcebook on the North American Indians and wrote "Invitation to Archaeology" (Doubleday, 1967).
A revised, expanded edition of "In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life" (Doubleday, 1996), remains in print, as does "Flowerdew Hundred: The Archaeology of a Virginia Plantation" (University Press of Virginia, 1993).
Most recently he teamed with his second wife, Patricia Scott Deetz, to write "The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love and Death in Plymouth Colony" (W. H. Freeman, 2000). To complete it, he revisited the research on probate records he had delved into more than 30 years before to chronicle Pilgrims' workaday life.
He was a past director of the Lowie Museum of Anthropology at Berkeley and assistant director of Plimoth Plantation, of which he remained a trustee.
In addition to his wife, a cultural historian, Dr. Deetz is survived by six sons, James C., of Berkeley, Joseph, of Mendon, Mass., Eric, of Williamsburg, Va., Geoffrey, of Oakland, Calif., Joshua, of Taipei, Taiwan, and Hartman, of Mashpee, Mass.; four daughters, Antonia D. Rock of Williamsburg, Kristen and Cynthia Deetz of Albany, Calif., and Kelley Deetz-Mallios of Williamsburg; a sister, Barbara Deetz of Charlottesville; and 16 grandchildren. His earlier marriage to Eleanore Kelley Deetz, a resident of Albany, Calif., ended in divorce.
The text of this article by Wolfgang Saxon is available on The New York Times on-line services. The illustration was added by the Plymouth Colony Archive editor.