Death of Dr. John Cotter, Noted Archaeologist

Dr. John Lambert Cotter, noted American archaeologist and curator emeritus of the University Museum, died of cancer on February 5. He was 87 years old.

Although officially retired, until shortly before his death he maintained an office and regular hours at the Museum, where colleagues recall "...a wonderful archaeologist, teacher, scholar, wit--and gentleman."

Taking his B.A. and M.A. in anthropology at the University of Denver in the 1930s, Dr. Cotter went on to earn his Ph.D. in anthropology at Penn in 1959. As an archaeologist, Dr. Cotter was active in the investigation of ancient Native American settlements. He joined the National Park Service in 1940 as the archaeologist in charge of a prehistoric pueblo in central Arizona that had newly been created a national monument. He continued to serve the NPS in various capacities though 1977, when he was honored with the National Park Service Outstanding Service Award.

Dr. Cotter was also the archaelogist in charge of the excavation of the Jamestown colonial settlement during the 1950s, culminating in his publication of Archaeological Excavations at Jamestown (1958). In 1961, while he was an adjunct associate professor of American Civilization at Penn, Dr. Cotter introduced the first course in American historical archaeology at an American university. He was curator for American Historical Archaeology at the University Museum from 1971-1980.

Dr. Cotter was the author of more than 230 journal articles. His numerous books include Archaeology of Bynum Mounds (with J. Corbett, 1952), Handbook for Historical Archaeology (Compiler, 1968), and The Buried Past, an Archaeological History of Philadelphia (Penn Press, 1992, with D. Roberts and M. Parrington). His final book, Clovis Revisited, written with Anthony T. Boldurian, went to press last week.

Dr. Cotter was co-founder and life member of the Society for Historical Archaeology, a life member of the Archaeological Institute of America, and a Charter Member of the Society for American Archaeology. He served in the Army Infantry during World War II, and earned a Purple Heart after being wounded in the invasion of Normandy. His other military decorations include the European and Combat Infantryman badges.

Dr. Cotter is survived by his wife of 58 years, Virginia T. Cotter, a daughter, Jean Cotter Spaans, a son, Laurence Tomlin Cotter, and three grandchildren.

His family suggests memorial contributions to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.


Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 20, February 16, 1999