Betty Meggers

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Betty Jane Meggers (December 5, 1921 – July 2, 2012) was an American archaeologist best known for her work conducted in association with her husband, Cliff Evans, in South America. Meggers was born in Washington, D.C., to Dr. William Frederick Meggers and Edith R. Meggers. Dr. William F. Meggers was an internationally recognized spectroscopist as well as an archaeology enthusiast, and he would often take the family to visit Native American sites. Dr. Betty Meggers's first experience with anthropology was when she was 16. She volunteered for the Smithsonian Institution and helped to reconstruct pots excavated from Pueblo Bonito, an Anasazi village in New Mexico. She died on July 2, 2012.[1]


Meggers graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor's degree in 1943 and a year later went on to earn a Master's degree from the University of Michigan. At the University of Michigan, Meggers was introduced to ceramics from the Marajo of Brazil. Meggers published her first scientific article on the Marajo in 1945. After obtaining her Master's Degree, Meggers attended Columbia University to finish her Ph.D. While at Columbia University, Meggers met her future husband Clifford Evans, another archaeology graduate student. On September 13, 1946, the two were married. Meggers's dissertation was entitled The Archaeological Sequence on Marajo Island, Brazil with Special Reference to the Marajoara Culture.


Meggers research began with the island of Marajo in the Amazon Basin and most of her other research has been concentrated on South America. Within South America, Meggers has done research in Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Guyana, in the area of the Amazon, and along the Andes. Other research conducted by Meggers has been done in the Lesser Antilles and Micronesia.

She was highly influenced by environmental determinism.[2]

Contributions to the field[edit]

Meggers made many important contributions to the field of archaeology. Probably her best-known contribution was her controversial assertion of a pre-historic relationship between the peoples of North-Western South America and of Japan.[3] Meggers suggested that there was a trans-Pacific cultural connection between East Asia and South America long ago based on similarities of pottery fragments found in Japan and Ecuador. She contended that Japanese Middle Jomon pottery was similar to ceramics from the Valdivia site in Ecuador — both dating between 2000 and 3000 B.C. Meggers also stated that plants, pathogens, and parasites of Japanese origin are found among Andean populations.[4]

Meggers also developed a system with her husband, Clifford Evans, by which pottery fragments could be analyzed. In addition, Meggers was among the first to examine environmental influences on ancient societies and in framing culture as an adaptation to the environment.[5]

Professional affiliations[edit]

Meggers was affiliated with the following:

  • 1950-1951: Instructor for the American University in Washington, D.C.
  • Since 1954: Research Associate for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
  • 1959-1961: Executive Secretary of the American Anthropological Association

At the time of her death in 2012, she was:

  • Principal Investigator of the Programa Nacional de Pesquisas Arqueologicas na Bacia Amazonica (PRONAPABA)
  • Director of the Latin American Archaeology Program at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution)


Meggers was widely acknowledged for her contributions to the field of archaeology and South American studies. Some of her awards include:

  • 1956: Washington Academy of Sciences Award for Scientific Achievement
  • 1966: Decoration of Merit from the Government of Ecuador
  • 1966: 37th International Congress of Americanists Gold Medal
  • 1985: Society for American Archaeology, 50th Anniversary Award
  • 1997: Medalla de "La Periquera" from the Museo Provincial de Holgun, Cuba
  • 1997: Doctor Honoris Causa from the Universidad Nacional de la Plata, Argentina
  • 1998: Meggers & Evans awarded for "their contribution to our National Identity" by the Embassy of Ecuador, Washington, D.C.


Meggers wrote nearly two hundred articles, book reviews, translations, and books. She published in many leading scientific journals including American Anthropologist, Archaeology, American Antiquity, Americas, and National Geographic.


  1. ^ "ARQUEOTROP: Betty J. Meggers (1921-2012)". Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  2. ^ Meggers, Betty J. (1996). Amazonia: Man and Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise. Revised ed. Smithsonian Books. 214 pp. ISBN 9781560986553.
  3. ^ Meggers, Betty. Prehistoric America: An Ecological Perspective, 3rd expanded ed. Transaction Publishers. New Brunswick, New Jersey. 2010. page xxi
  4. ^ Meggers, Betty. Prehistoric America: An Ecological Perspective, 3rd expanded ed. Transaction Publishers. New Brunswick, New Jersey. 2010. page xxv
  5. ^ Meggers, Betty. Prehistoric America: An Ecological Perspective, 3rd expanded ed. Transaction Publishers. New Brunswick, New Jersey. 2010. page xxxiii