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Jeffrey R. Parsons, professor emeritus of anthropology and curator emeritus of Latin American archaeology at the University of Michigan, died on March 19, 2021. He was 81. 

Parsons was a highly respected professor of Latin American archaeology and a wonderful field researcher. He received a BA in geology from Penn State University in 1961 and an MA and PhD in anthropology from the University of Michigan in 1963 and 1966. Parsons trained with William T. Sanders, working in the Basin of Mexico near Teotihuacan. Here he developed ceramic chronologies and also large-scale air photographs for locating ceramic samples. He joined faculty at the University of Michigan in 1966. 

From 1967 to 1983, Parsons received a series of National Science Foundation (NSF) grants to survey in the Basin of Mexico. He published The Basin of Mexico: Ecological Processes in the Evolution of a Civilization in 1979, coauthored with Saunders and Robert S. Santley. Parsons also worked for years in the Upper Mantaro Valley in central Peru and wrote two monographs on the project. He conducted surveys near Lake Titicaca, near Cuzco, and in the Santa, Casma, and other valleys. 

Undergraduate majors, anthropology graduate students, and advanced students in other departments appreciated his courses for their detailed content and excellent illustrations with photographs that Parsons took deliberately for use in teaching. He also received a number of NSF grants to do archaeology in Latin America with Michigan students; many were coauthors of his research monographs.  

These research accomplishments led the University of Michigan to honor him with its Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award in 2002. In 1998 he was recipient of the Alfred Vincent Kidder Award from the American Anthropological Association for a lifetime of outstanding Mesoamerican archaeology.  

He was a frequent invited visitor to Latin American countries—Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina—where he taught and did surveys with local colleagues and students, all of whom admired him and adopted his field methods. Latin American faculty appreciated his linguistic skill, courtesy, and adherence to their customs and archaeological traditions. All said they could not have had a better guest! 

(Richard Ford)

Cite as: Ford, Richard. 2021. “Jeffrey R. Parsons.” Anthropology News website, June 4, 2021.