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Photograph of a man

Image description: A man with grey hair and a white beard smiles slightly. He wears a green shirt with a patterned tie and a lighter green jacket.
Caption: Warren Richard DeBoer


Warren Richard DeBoer, professor emeritus of anthropology at Queens College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, author of important studies in American archaeology, died of cancer on May 24, 2020, in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He was 74.

The son of an army officer, DeBoer lived in Germany and Japan as a child, and perhaps this formative experience was the origin of his deep curiosity about people and places. His first archaeological experience was in the Southwest United States, but at the University of Illinois he was introduced to South American archaeology by an early mentor, Donald Lathrap. Continuing his South American focus, DeBoer went to the University of California, Berkeley, to study with John Rowe and spent years of fieldwork in Peru. He received his PhD in anthropology in 1972. That same year, DeBoer joined the Department of Anthropology at Queens College, where for the next 40 years he taught 16 different undergraduate and graduate courses covering all four fields of anthropology. Although primarily known for his archaeological and ethnoarchaeological contributions on the Indigenous peoples of lowland South America, DeBoer’s scholarship was wide-ranging and prolific, ignoring disciplinary boundaries. He published 64 articles, reports, monographs, and books, was a frequent contributor of conference papers, and received grants from the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation. DeBoer was an archaeologist who did ethnography and an anthropologist who did archaeology.

Perhaps foremost of DeBoer’s accomplishments were his long-term ethnoarchaeological studies on the role of pottery among the Shipibo-Conibo people of Peru. His detailed ethnographic observations provide archaeologists with the empirical data to evaluate inferences about ancient pottery production, function, use life, disposal patterns, and style. DeBoer’s publications on pottery have become standard citations in reference works on archaeological ceramics. He received the Society for American Archaeology Excellence in Ceramic Studies Award in 1999. DeBoer brought his ethnographic knowledge to bear on such topics as manioc production, feasting, food taboos, raiding, and cultural ecology.

A skilled field archaeologist, DeBoer established culture-historical sequences in the archaeological terra incognito of eastern Peru and western Ecuador, illustrating his work with innovative graphic presentations of seriations, indices, and other measures of temporal and spatial patterns. Among DeBoer’s achievements is his book, Traces Behind the Esmeraldas Shore (1996), the culmination of a multi-year project in the Santiago-Cayapas region of Ecuador. A distillation of DeBoer’s distinctive approach to archaeology and a seminal work, the volume is an exemplary presentation of research that constructs a three-thousand-year sequence of Indigenous history. Not one to confine his interests to a specific place or time, DeBoer wrote on a variety of anthropological subjects, often in cross-cultural perspective, such as gambling, exchange networks, ceremonial centers, color symbolism, and storage pits.

DeBoer had in abundance the basic requirements for his lifework: curiosity, intelligence, humor, and the enthusiastic ability to share his ever-evolving insights with others. Colleagues, friends, and students miss him. He is survived by his wife, Sara Stinson, a sister, Ainsley, and a son, Clayton.

(John H. Blitz)

Cite as: Blitz, John H. 2021. “Warren Richard DeBoer.” Anthropology News website, January 6, 2021.