Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Holmes, William Henry from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

US archaeologist and artist. He was a geologist and outstanding illustrator who turned to archaeology while working for the US Geological Survey in 1875 and became an expert on southwestern Indian art and prehistoric ceramics and stone implements. His works include the standard Handbook of Aboriginal American Antiquities 1919. He was chief of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1902–09 and director of the National Gallery of Art 1920–32.

He was born near Cadiz, Ohio.


Summary Article: Holmes, William Henry
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

1846–1933, American geologist, anthropologist, and museum director, b. Harrison co., Ohio. He was internationally recognized for his work in museum science. In 1872 he became an artist with the F. V. Hayden survey, and after it was absorbed (1879) into the U.S. Geological Survey, he was appointed geologist. He contributed pioneer reports on the phenomena of Yellowstone Park, the classic illustrative material in the famous Grand Canyon atlas, and reports of much geological reconnaissance work in Colorado. Holmes was a noted mountain climber, and peaks in Yellowstone Park and the Henry Mts. of Utah were later named in his honor. While directing the reconnaissance survey of the San Juan River district of SE Utah in 1875, he was fascinated by the cliff-dwelling remains in the region and increasingly turned to that field, becoming one of the great pioneers of Southwestern archaeology. His Art in Shell of the American Indians (1883), Pottery of the Ancient Pueblos (1886), and many essays on Native American textiles, were among the first serious contributions to the study of Native American art. His work in ceramics was especially important in the study of ethnographical relationships. Holmes left the Geological Survey in 1889 to become archaeologist of the Bureau of American Ethnology, and from 1902 to 1909 he served as its chief. From 1910 to 1920 he was chief curator of anthropology at the U.S. National Museum. In 1910 he also became curator of the National Gallery of Art and from 1920 served as its director. His later books included the important Handbook of Aboriginal American Antiquities (1919).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles


Full text Article Holmes, William Henry
Encyclopedia of Archaeology: History and Discoveries

(1846–1933) William Henry Holmes was the preeminent figure in American archaeology around the turn of the last century. With the careful eye of...

Full text Article Holmes, William Henry
Chambers Biographical Dictionary

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

See more from Credo