Herbert E. Wright, Jr.— 1984 Pomerance Award for Scientific Contributions to Archaeology

Award Citation:

Herbert Wright has pioneered in the use of palynology to enhance our understanding of the late Pleistocene and early Holocene environments of the eastern Mediterranean region. Wright first took pollen cores in the Iranian Zagros in 1960, a step which has led to increasingly reliable determinations of the climatic and vegetational circumstances of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. Within that time-span came the transition from a hunting-gathering way of life to one of effective village-farming communities, thus setting the stage for subsequent urban developments.

Wright's graduate work in Pleistocene geology was done under Kirk Bryan at Harvard. His Ph.D. was conferred in absentia, however, as he was already on his way to becoming the well-decorated pilot of a Flying Fortress in Europe. In 1946, at Hallam Movius's suggestion, Wright was invited to participate as a field geologist in the Fordham University-Boston College excavations at the Ksar Akil cave in Lebanon. Southwest Asia has, since then, been one of his major areas of interest.

In 1947, Wright joined the Department of Geology of the University of Minnesota, where he is now a Regents' Professor and Director of the Limnological Research Center. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, he has held Guggenheim and Wenner-Gren fellowships, and was awarded an honorary D.Sc. degree by Trinity College, Dublin, in 1966.

During field seasons with the Oriental Institute's Jarmo project under R.J. Braidwood in the early 1950's, Wright realized that evidence for the sequence of Pleistocene-Holocene events was fragmentary in the Iraqi Zagros because of the high rate of erosion, perhaps in part due also to subsequent overgrazing and deforestation. Already acquainted with the useful results of palynological studies in Minnesota, Wright and his younger colleagues undertook coring for pollen sequences in the 1960's at Lake Zeribar, northwest of Kermanshah. The results of that important work, as well as several subsequent articles, have played a fundamental role in the development of theories related to the origins of agriculture in the Old World. Since that time, palynological investigations have multiplied in southwest Asia.

Wright also pioneered palynological research in Greece. His work with the University of Minnesota Messenia Expedition under W.A. McDonald in the Osmanaga Lagoon and elsewhere in the region of ancient Pylas later in the 1960's was among the first of its kind in that country. The vegetational studies of Wright and his associates in Messenia continue to be among the most thorough for any region of Greece and therefore form the basis for our understanding of the relationship between man and environment in the Aegean Bronze Age.

Wright's contributions are not confined to the archaeology of the eastern Mediterranean. He is also well known to New World archaeologists for his work on the palaeoecology of the Upper Great Lakes area. The books he has co-authored with Cushing and Frey have long been standard references on the Quaternary, and his new two volume series on the Late Quaternary environments of the United States is likely to be a standard for some time to come.

The reconstruction of past environments and the interaction of man and environment through time have been subjects of increasing concern to archaeologists over the past twenty-five years. Herb Wright has played a leading role in these developments. His highly successful career and his many contributions to our present understanding of environmental and cultural history in both the Old World and the New World serve to remind all of us of the importance of collaboration between archaeology and the natural sciences in studying the past.

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