Collins Henry B

Henry Collins was among the founders of modern Arctic archaeology, and the first to prove that Eskimo cultures had their origin in Asia rather than Canada. His fieldwork on St Lawrence Island and in other parts of western Alaska, and later in Canada, addressed Eskimo origins and cultural development across the Arctic, from Alaska to Greenland. During his career-spanning association with the Smithsonian Institution, he trained several generations of specialists in Arctic prehistory.

Collins graduated from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1922 with a degree in geology (and later received an Honorary Doctor of Sciences degree from this institution). After working for three summers on Neil M. Judd's expeditions to Pueblo Bonito, New Mexico, he received his M.A. degree in archaeology from George Washington University in 1925. Before he shifted his attention to the Arctic in 1927, Collins focused on archaeological research in various areas of the American South. He worked on the physical anthropology and archaeology of the Choctaw and Calusa, and also investigated the culture history and relationships among the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast. Years later, in 1980, his research in the Southeast was to win him a citation from colleagues at Harvard University.

From 1927 to 1936, in collaboration with James A. Ford and others, Collins devoted most of his intellectual efforts to excavations in the Bering Sea and Bering Strait areas, on St Lawrence Island, Nunivak Island, the Diomede Islands, Punuk Island, Bristol Bay, Norton Sound, Pt Hope, Cape Prince of Wales, the Aleutians, and the Seward Peninsula. Collins and his colleagues concentrated on the problems of Asian affinities, Western origins, culture sequences, and nonEskimo influences on Eskimo/Inuit culture (e.g., Collins, 1929, 1930, 1937). He found evidence for an unbroken sequence of changes in Eskimo art styles reaching back at least 2000 years. His 1936 report on his St Lawrence Island research provided a major and lasting revision of Eskimo culture history (Collins, 1937), for which he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. Recently, his archaeological work at the Hillside site on St Lawrence Island has been the subject of a restudy (Dumond, 1998).

In 1948, at the invitation of Diamond Jenness, Collins expanded his field research eastward into Canada and excavated sites at Iqaluit (Frobisher Bay), and Resolute, on Baffin, Cornwallis, and Southampton islands (Collins, 1957). He enlarged his scope of inquiry to take in further questions about the development of Eskimo cultures (e.g., Collins, 1951), and included inquiries into their relationships to European Mesolithic and Siberian Neolithic cultures. As a result of this work, he contributed important new insights into the Dorset and Thule cultures of that area. His research resulted in the earliest synthesis of Greenlandic, Canadian, and Alaskan prehistory (Collins, 1940).

Throughout his career, Collins conducted museum research in addition to fieldwork, and actively contributed to his field, serving in various capacities with the International Congresses of Ethnological and Anthropological Sciences, including vice president of the second congress in Copenhagen in 1938, member of the permanent council in 1952, member of the organizing committee in charge of foreign delegations, and president of the seventh congress in Moscow in 1965. He served as honorary vice president of the 1956 International Congress of Americanists, which was convened in Copenhagen. Collins also held various elected offices with the Arctic Institute of North America (AINA). A founding member in 1944, he served as the board's chairman in 1948. In 1946, he chaired the directing committee of the Arctic Bibliography, an AINA project. In 1960, he served as chairman of the advisory committee for AINA's Russian Translation Project. From 1938 to 1939, Collins served as president of the Anthropological Society of Washington, and in 1952 he was elected vice president of the Society for American Archaeology. From 1943 until 1946, he held consecutive positions as assistant director and director of the Ethnographic Board, a World War II agency. In 1945, he was a voted member of the National Research Council's Council on International Relations and Anthropology, where he directed a project to send CARE packages to European anthropologists.


Henry Bascom Collins Jr. was born in Geneva, Alabama, on April 9,1899. After receiving his M.A. in 1925, Collins was hired by the Smithsonian Institution where, a year earlier, he had been appointed an aid in the Division of Ethnology of the United States National Museum and was then promoted to assistant curator, becoming associate curator in 1938. In 1939, he was promoted to senior ethnologist with the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) and became its acting director in 1963. In 1965, when the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology and the BAE amalgamated as the Smithsonian Office of Anthropology, Collins was appointed a senior scientist. He held emeritus status after his 1967 retirement, and kept an office at the Smithsonian until 1986, continuing his active publication record until the end of his life. In 1931, Collins married Carolyn A. Walker (1906-1988), a native of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, who became the first American Exchange Librarian at the Deutsche Bücherei in Leipzig, Germany, after graduating from the Framingham Teachers College in 1924. Henry Collins died on October 22, 1987 in Campbelltown, Pennsylvania, of injuries from a fall.

Molly Lee and Peter P. Schweitzer

See also Jenness, Diamond Further Reading

Collins Jr., Henry B., Prehistoric Art of the Alaskan Eskimo (Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections; 81, 14), Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution, 1929

-, "Ancient culture of St Lawrence Island, Alaska."

Smithsonian Explorations (1930): 135-144

-, Archeology of St Lawrence Island, Alaska (Smithsonian

Miscellaneous Collections; 96, 1), Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution, 1937

-, "Outline of Eskimo prehistory." Smithsonian

Miscellaneous Collections, 100 (1940): 533-592

-, "Eskimo archaeology and its bearing on the problem of man's antiquity in America." Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 86(2) (1943): 220-235

-, "The origin and antiquity of the Eskimo." Smithsonian

Report for 1950, Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1951, 423-467

-, "Archeological work in Arctic Canada." Smithsonian

Report for 1956, Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1957, 509-528 Dumond, Don E., The Hillside Site, St Lawrence Island, Alaska: An Examination of Collections from the 1930s (University of Oregon Anthropological Papers; 55), Eugene, Oregon: Oregon State Museum of Anthropology and Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, 1998 Fitzhugh, William W., "Deaths: Henry Bascom Collins."

Anthropology Newsletter, 29(1) (1988): 20 Glenn, James R., Guide to the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (revised and enlarged), Washington, District of Columbia: National Anthropological Archives, 1996

Stevens, Ted, "Henry Bascom Collins." Congressional Record

— Senate, 133(22) (1987): 31059-31060 Washington Post, "Henry Collins, 88, Dies; Was Expert on Eskimos." Washington Post, October 28, 1987, p. B-6

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