An Interview with Dr. Fred Wendorf

The leading pioneer in the prehistoric archaeology of the Nile Valley and the Eastern Sahara shares recollections about his life in reference to his recently published memoir.

The Interview:

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Dr. Fred Wendorf came of age and began his career during a formative period in American archaeology. But after leaving his permanent mark on the development of archaeology in the American Southwest and the United States, he essentially founded the study of the prehistoric eastern Sahara, beginning with the Aswan Dam Project in the Nile River Valley. His life, nearly ended by a bullet on a WWII battlefield in Italy, has included an archaeological research career spanning six decades and an unsurpassed record of seminal contributions. His recently published book, Desert Days: My Life as a Field Archaeologist, is a record not only of a life, but of an epoch in the history of archaeology on two continents. This is history he not just witnessed, but to a significant degree he created it through his innovative approaches and endless energy, which should serve as an inspiration to subsequent generations of archaeologists.

Dr. Richard Pettigrew of ALI interviewed Dr. Wendorf for The Archaeology Channel on two separate occasions, first in person at the Society for American Archaeology Conference in Atlanta on April 24, 2009, and then over the telephone on June 9, 2009. Guided by Dr. Wendorf’s book, this interview covers a wide array of topics, including his role in the creation of the first truly large contract archaeology projects in the United States, his momentous and very fruitful decision to launch a field expedition in the Nile River Valley against the wishes and advice of others, and the contributions of his research toward the understanding of human cultural development. Personal anecdotes combine with long considered assessments to paint a genuine picture of his life and career and the era they have spanned.

Dr. Fred Wendorf

About Fred Wendorf:

Fred Wendorf, Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory Emeritus, Southern Methodist University (SMU), grew up in Terrell, Texas, was wounded as a lieutenant serving in Italy during World War II, received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1953, and spent more than sixty years as a field archaeologist in this country and in Africa. In 1987 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

After spending the early years of his career as a museum archaeologist, during which time he founded the Fort Burgwin Research Center (now SMU-IN-TAOS) in Taos, New Mexico, Dr. Wendorf joined the faculty at SMU in 1964 and shortly thereafter founded the Department of Anthropology there. His interests include the archaeology of the American Southwest, northeastern Africa, the Paleolithic, and the origins of agriculture. From 1962 to 1999, Dr. Wendorf led the Combined Prehistoric Expedition in the Sahara Desert, mostly in Egypt. This assemblage of archaeologists, geologists, botanists, zoologists and other earth scientists has published over thirty books and more than a hundred journal articles.

His enormous contributions to our understanding of early human life in the New World as well as the prehistory of northeastern Africa were recognized in 1996 by the University of Pennsylvania with the Lucy Wharton Drexel Medal for Archaeological Achievement, one of the highest honors that can be given to an archaeologist. He has been a constant advocate for the preservation of the archaeological record for the benefit of humanity. For a lifetime of scientific achievements in the field of archaeology, SMU in 2003 awarded Dr. Wendorf the degree of Doctor of Science,honoris causa.

Dr. Wendorf has contributed to and written numerous publications, includingArchaeological Studies in the Petrified Forest National Monument(1953);The Midland Discovery: A Report on the Pleistocene Human Remains from Midland, Texas(1955); Contributions to the Prehistory of Nubia(1965);The Prehistory of the Nile Valley(1976); The Prehistory of Wadi Kubbaniya (1989); Holocene Settlement of the Egyptian Sahara, Volume I: The Archaeology of Nabta Playa(2001);and nowDesert Days; My Life as a Field Archaeologist(2008).

Desert Days: My Life as a Field Archaeologist (Amazon.com)

Desert Days: My Life as a Field Archaeologist (Texas A&M University Press)

Prehistoric Sites in Egypt and Sudan (by Fred Wendorf; Nubia Museum)

The Wendorf Collection (British Museum) (Andie Byrnes)

SMU-IN-TAOS (Southern Methodist University)

Southern Methodist University Department of Anthropology