Born near Cadiz, Harrison County, Ohio, William Henry Holmes graduated from McNeely Normal College, Hopedale, Ohio (1870), and briefly went into teaching. He began work as an artist, drawing specimens for a number of naturalists in the employ of Spencer Fullerton Baird, then assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. In 1872 Holmes was appointed artist with the second F.V. Hayden survey, which explored the territories of Yellowstone, Wyoming, when it became a national park. In 1874 he was assistant geologist under Major John Wesley Powell (see entry), director of the Geological Survey and later founder of the Bureau of American Ethnology.
In 1879 Holmes was appointed geologist to the U.S. Geological Survey and worked in the southwestern United States. He contributed pioneering reports on the terrain and geologic phenomena of Yellowstone Park, and completed early geological reconnaissance work in Colorado, with an interest in the prehistoric cliff dwellers of those regions. As an artist, he was responsible for illustrative material in an atlas of the Grand Canyon, Arizona. His beautifully illustrated Archaeological Studies Among the Ancient Cities of Mexico is an account of his work on the Yucatán Peninsula (which separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico) (1894-1897).
At the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Holmes was archaeologist of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1889); curator of anthropology (1897-1902 and 1910-20); chief of the institution (1902-1909); and director of the National Gallery of Art from 1920 until he retired in 1932. During his time with the bureau he studied the Etowah Indian Mounds of the Mississippian culture in Georgia.
His study of the prehistoric pottery and shell art of the Anasazi culture (the ancestors of the modern Pueblo peoples) in the San Juan River region of Utah is captured in Art in Shell of the Ancient Americans, along with essays on Native American textiles. He was a member of the National Academy of Science and received many awards, including the Loubat prize from Columbia University in 1919 for Handbook of American Aboriginal Antiquities.
(1846–1933) William Henry Holmes was the preeminent figure in American archaeology around the turn of the last century. With the careful eye of...
1846-1933 US archaeologist and museum director Born near Cadiz, Ohio, he trained as an artist, and became interested in archaeology in 1875 when expl