Luther Cressman

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Luther Cressman at Fort Rock Cave, Oregon, 1966

Luther Sheeleigh Cressman (October 24, 1897 – April 4, 1994) was an American field archaeologist, most widely known for his discoveries at Paleo-Indians sites such as Fort Rock Cave and Paisley Caves, sites related to the early settlement of the Americas.

Early years[edit]

Cressman was born outside of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, the son of a physician. He was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1923, but feeling doubts about his vocation, began studying sociology and anthropology at Columbia University in New York. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1928, and that same year, he left the priesthood.


In 1929, he took a position as Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon.[1] The Department of Anthropology was founded by him six years later. His first hire for the department was Homer Barnett. Cressman was the chair of the department from 1935 until his retirement in 1963.

His most significant discovery came in 1938, when he discovered a pair of perfectly preserved shredded sagebrush bark sandals at Fort Rock in Oregon that were radiocarbon dated from 10,500 to 9,300 years old, making them the oldest footwear ever discovered.[2]

As late as 1962 he taught an Intro to Anthropology with another professor. At the first lecture the younger professor said he struggled with how to address Dr. Cressman. They were peers by PhDs so it would have been all right to use his first name but since Cressman was greatly senior he said it didn't seem right to call him Lou, and left it there. Dr. Cressman pointed out he didn't tell us what he called him. Dr. Cressman said, "He calls me, 'Doc'."

His autobiography A Golden Journey: Memoirs of an Archaeologist was awarded the 1989 Oregon Book Award for literary nonfiction.

Personal life[edit]

Cressman married anthropologist Margaret Mead in 1923; the couple divorced in 1927. He married Dorothy Cecelia Loch in 1928. They had one daughter and were married for 49 years, until her death in 1977.[3]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Klamath Prehistory (1956, OCLC 1574790)
  • The Sandal and the Cave (1962; 1981 reprint, ISBN 0870710788)
  • Prehistory of the Far West: Homes of Vanished Peoples (1977, ISBN 0874801133)
  • A Golden Journey: Memoirs of an Archaeologist (1988, ISBN 0874802938)



Specific citations
General references
  • Luther Cressman at the Minnesota State University, Mankato
  • Bishop B. “Northwest Archaeologist Luther Cressman, 96, Dies.” Eugene Register Grand 7 April 1994.
  • Dana T. “ Oregon’s Luther Cressman Harbors no Regrets from Archaeological Storm.” Oregonian 19 Mar. 1987.
  • Ellis B., Dank H., “Anthropologist Luther Cressman Dies at age 96.” Oregonian 8 April 1994.
  • Travis–Cline, S. “Remembering the Golden Journey.” Oregon Heritage 1994.

External links[edit]