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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 (1846-1933)
from Biographical Dictionary of Anthropologists

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.

Sources and Selected Publications
  • American National Biography Online, Encyclopedia Britannica Online,
  • Holmes, William Henry (2008, June 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:05, June 20, 2008, from
  • Holmes, William Henry. Art in Shell of the Ancient Americans. Reprint Services Corporation Temecula, Calif., 1883.
  • Holmes, William Henry. Archaeological Studies Among the Ancient Cities of Mexico. Field Columbian Museum Chicago, Ill., 1895.
  • Holmes, William Henry. Anthropological Studies in California. Government Printing Office Washington, D.C., 1902.
  • Holmes, William Henry. Handbook of American Aboriginal Antiquities, Government Printing Office Washington, D.C., 1919.
  • Holmes, William Henry. Holmes Anniversary Volume: Anthropological Essays Presented to William Henry Holmes in Honor of His Seventieth Birthday, December 1, 1916. AMS Press New York, 1977.
  • Holmes, William Henry. “On the Race History and Facial Characteristics of the Aboriginal Americans.” Art and Archaeology, 9 No. 2 (1920): 77-89.
  • © 2009 Louis J. Palmer, Jr. and Xueyan Z. Palmer

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