William Andrew McDonald— 1981 Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement

Award Citation:

William Andrew McDonald, Regents' Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies at the University of Minnesota, has been a key figure in one of the most challenging times in Greek archaeology. He has pioneered in bringing about changes in the theory, methodology and general conduct of archaeological research in Greece.

Trained as an undergraduate with first class honors in classics at the University of Toronto, McDonald turned to archaeology in his graduate study and received his Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University in 1940. His dissertation, The Political Meeting Places of the Greeks, remains a fundamental study of ancient Greek public architecture. The course of his formative career took a major turn, however, and soon fixed itself on an area and era—Bronze Age Messenia—which were to dominate his scholarly activity to the present day. In April 1939 McDonald as a trenchmaster at Carl Blegen's first season of excavation at Nestor's Pylas was the first to handle and record (in his own words) "the earliest cache of written records then known on the continent of Europe." His direct contribution to the discovery of the Pylas tablets and his devoted respect for Blegen as an excavator and scholar guided his career. He returned to Pylos as an excavator in 1953.

In 1961 he started an ambitious program of fieldwork, the Minnesota Messenia Expedition (MME), the first systematic and interdisciplinary archaeological study on a regional basis undertaken in Greece. As such it has set the standard for all subsequent programs of surface reconnaissance in that country. The results appeared in prompt preliminary reports in AJA and in the more comprehensive studies, Place Names of the Southwest Peloponnesus (1969) and Minnesota Messenia Expedition: Reconstructing a Bronze Age Regional Environment (1972). These were collaborative publications which testify admirably to McDonald's ability to mobilize the research efforts of scholars representing a wide variety of academic disciplines. His capacity to communicate with the interested layman was ably demonstrated by his sensitive and readable account of Bronze Age archaeology in Greece (Progress into the Past), written during this same period (1967).

The MME led to the excavation of Nichoria, an important Bronze Age settlement and perhaps the most thoroughly investigated village of the early Iron Age on the Greek mainland. With characteristic dispatch, the results have been disseminated in preliminary reports in Hesperia and, although the fieldwork was only completed in 1975, the first volume of the final publication has already appeared (1978). The swiftness and high quality of these publications, again collaborative efforts of multidisciplinary research, stand as models for all excavators in Greece.

The interdisciplinary approach has also characterized McDonald's other professional activities. He served as the AIA’s first representative in the Society of Professional Archaeologists. He established a joint Ph.D. program in Classics between the Universities of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin in the early 1960's and, later, served as the first Director of the Center for Ancient Studies at the University of Minnesota.

McDonald is a dedicated educator. He was the first recipient of the University of Minnesota's Morse Award for outstanding contribution to undergraduate education. As a teacher of advanced students, he has always insisted upon a firm grounding in classical studies while advocating special training in at least one allied field such as paleobotany, archaeozoology, statistics, or computer studies. In the field as well as in the classroom, his creative and responsible leadership and his modest manner, always laced with a generous dose of Scottish wit, have won him the admiration and unfailing respect of students and colleagues alike.

Bill McDonald has been a pathfinder in many respects. Twice a Guggenheim Fellow, he has been a quiet leader in an era when his profession was undergoing dramatic if not revolutionary change. As excavator, scholar, teacher and administrator he has demonstrated the scientific curiosity, adaptability and vision needed to help set the positive course of modern Greek archaeology. In recognition of these accomplishments it is fitting that he receive the award first conferred upon his mentor and close associate, the late Carl W. Blegen, to whom he is a most worthy successor.

Dig Deeper

Email the AIA
Subscribe to the AIA e-Update

Sign Up!