Robert Heizer

Robert Fleming Heizer was one of two towering figures who dominated Great Basin archaeology after World War II. Heizer, of the University of California at Berkeley, focused on understanding the sequences of past periods of occupation. The other, Jesse Jennings of the University of Utah, worked with Great Basin prehistoric sites, developing the notion of the Desert Archaic Lifeway. Heizer excavated at Nevada's Lovelock Cave, Humboldt Cave, and Eastgate Cave, and his students excavated numerous caves throughout Northern Nevada. He and his students created a sequence of projectile points linked to specific phases to date Great Basin archaeological sites.

Heizer was born in Denver, Colorado, on July 13, 1915 to Ott Fleming Heizer (a mining engineer) and Martha Madden Heizer (a nurse). After moving in his youth to Lovelock, Nevada, Heizer immersed himself in the history and culture of local Native Americans. These experiences formed his lifelong interest in archaeology and anthropology—when he graduated from Lovelock High School in 1932 he set out to become an archaeologist.

Heizer enrolled in Sacramento Junior College in September 1932 and transferred to UC Berkeley where he graduated with highest honors in 1936 and earned his PhD in 1941. He worked as a Marine pipe fitter during World War II and began his academic career in 1946 when he was appointed as an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. He worked there until his retirement from teaching in 1976.

In 1948, Heizer organized and ran the University of California Archaeological Survey, known after 1960 as the Archaeological Research Facility. He also served as the Curator of North American Archaeology at the Lowie Museum from 1950 to 1979. He remained an active archaeologist until his death in July 1979, when he had twelve manuscripts in production.

Although Heizer published scholarly work in all four anthropological disciplines—archaeology, cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, and linguistics—his publications are centered on the archaeology of the Great Basin and California. He also made significant contributions to Olmec archaeology in Mesoamerica and at Luxor in Egypt, and his work in ethnohistory and ethnology is noteworthy.

Heizer authored, co-authored, or edited 415 papers and reports, thirty books, fifty-three book reviews, and two films. He edited and published more than 1,000 pages of field notes and observations by anthropologist C. Hart Merriam that might not otherwise have been available. Heizer supported tribal land claims throughout California and Nevada, worked on Native American programs, and published strong condemnations of the historic treatment of California Indians.

In addition to his published works, Heizer's legacy includes generations of archaeologists and their students, who continue to shape Nevada and Great Basin archaeology; the fundamental dating sequence for projectile points in the Great Basin; and the most comprehensive published Great Basin rock art inventory available.

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