Obituary: Dena F. Dincauze, Professor Emerita of Archaeology

Dena F. Dincauze
Dena F. Dincauze

Dena F. Dincauze, 82, of Amherst, professor emerita of anthropology and an archaeologist honored for her work in ancient environments and the archaeology of native peoples in New England, died Aug 14.

Valued among professionals for her careful skepticism, she was part of a nine-member team of experts who traveled to Chile in 1997 and confirmed that humans lived in the Americas at least 1,300 years earlier than had been thought.

Elizabeth S. Chilton, associate vice chancellor for research and engagement and professor of anthropology, said, “She was a very distinguished professor and archaeologist, and she had a profound impact on the field of New England Archaeology and on a whole generation of archaeologists from UMass and beyond.”

Born in Boston on March 26, 1934, Dincauze spent her formative years in Concord. She graduated from Barnard College with a major in anthropology and a minor in geology. She earned a diploma with distinction in prehistoric archaeology from Cambridge University, England, in 1957 and a doctorate in anthropology from Harvard University in 1967 for research on cremation cemeteries in eastern Massachusetts.

She held staff positions over the next five years at the Peabody Museum at Harvard. Of that experience, she wrote: “I studied aspects of archaeology in eastern Massachusetts, establishing the basic prehistory of the region in a series of publications based on museum collections and my own field survey work. These publications have served as the foundation of all subsequent prehistoric research in News England, through a period of rapid growth of the subject.”

She taught anthropology for a year at the State University College at Buffalo, N.Y., now the University of Buffalo.

She joined the department of anthropology at UMass Amherst in 1973 and established a program in New England prehistory. Her expertise included paleoenvironments and human paleontology of New England; archaeology of the native people of northeast North America; geoarchaeology; and archaeological resource management. She taught here until her retirement in 2001.

In 1989, she delivered a Distinguished Faculty Lecture and was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal for exceptional service to the university.

She conducted field surveys and excavations in Illinois, South Dakota and England. In 1989, she traveled to Russia as part of a research exchange to visit Upper Paleolithic sites, and four years later she toured the Pedra Furada sites in Sao Raimundo Nonato, Brazil.

The W.E.B. Du Bois Library special collections house the Dincauze Papers, which include professional correspondence, slides from archaeological digs, travel journals and field notes, as well as notes for teaching and research. Among other items of interest in the collection are a travel journal with corresponding slides and notes documenting her somewhat controversial visit to Russia, and correspondence with a member of the UMass faculty questioning her ability to carry a full course load while simultaneously attending to the demands of motherhood.

She served as a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, where she was also a Fulbright Scholar; a Thaw Fellow for the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, and a recipient of research grants from the NSF, the National Park Service, the New Hampshire Charitable Fund and the Massachusetts Historical Commission. She was the author of more than 50 publications.

She was a past president of the Society of Professional Archaeologists and a past president, vice president, and editor of American Antiquity for the Society for American Archaeology, which presented her with its Distinguished Service Award in 1997. She was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The Massachusetts Historical Commission presented her with its Preservation Award at a State House ceremony in 2001, a few months after her retirement.

She is survived by her daughter Jacqueline; son Eric; and four siblings.

Graveside services will be held Sept. 17 at 11 a.m. at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord. Arrangements are under the care of the Dee Funeral Home of Concord.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, 60 East 56th St., 8th Floor, New York, NY 10022.