Betty Meggers

Betty Meggers

Archaeologist. She was born in Washington D.C. on December 5, 1921. She studied anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and Michigan University. She earned her doctoral degree at Columbia University in 1952 after presenting her dissertation, which was based on a study of the cultural sequence of Marajó Island in Brazil.

Along with her husband, archaeologist Clifford Evans, she conducted various archaeological research projects in different parts of Brazil, Guyana and Ecuador. In Ecuador, she helped with studies of pottery, settlement patterns and environmental and economic aspects, which established a classification system and chronological sequence of the development of human societies on the country’s coast. This work is still considered enormously important for understanding the region’s archaeology.

As part of her research, she excavated findings at Valdivia, Ecuador, where some of the oldest pottery in the Americas was documented and dated. Meggers and Evans considered the site to be a center of origin and expansion for this art, which spread to the rest of the continent. From their perspective, also shared by other specialists, the cultural development was connected via trans-Pacific movements to the Jomon site in Japan.

Meggers established ties with archaeologists in South America, particularly in Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Peru. She has supported and promoted the development of archaeology in Venezuela and Brazil. She played an important role in Brazil by promoting the PRONAPA project for researching the Varzea forests of the Amazon. Her work in that region, which is considered essential, emphasized the decisive role of environmental factors, especially the climate, in creating cultural complexity and diversity. Meggers sees the Amazonian societies of the Orinoco in Venezuela and the Antilles as an example of the process of dispersion from the formative area of northeastern South America.

In the Caribbean, Meggers had close relationships with specialists affiliated with the group Latin American Social Archaeology and the Vieques Group, which in the 1980s brought together researchers from the Antilles, Colombia, Venezuela and Costa Rica. She has also made significant contributions to support archaeology in Cuba, as one of the researchers from the United States who has most frequently collaborated with colleagues from the island over the past four decades.

Her use of the method of pottery seriation as a tool for determining chronological order and a resource for integrating diverse archaeological data has had important applications in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Meggers has worked at the American University, the American Anthropological Association and the National Science Foundation. She has worked as a consultant and as a member of important committees for various publications. Since 1954, she has been associate researcher for the National Museum of Natural Sciences at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. She is considered one of the most important archaeologists on the continent and has been honored in the United States and numerous Latin American countries for her contributions to science and culture. Her published works include more than two hundred titles.

Author: Reniel Rodríguez Ramos
Published: April 12, 2012.

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