• Diaries of Archaeological Expeditions to Alaska with the Smithsonian's Aleš Hrdlička in 1936, 1937, and 1938

      Veltre, Douglas W.; May, Alan G. (2021-01)
      For three summers in the late 1930s, Dr. Aleš Hrdlička, the preeminent physical anthropologist in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, led expeditions to southwestern Alaska to investigate the earliest peopling of that region. Curator of Physical Anthropology at the U.S. National Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the acknowledged “founding father” of physical anthropology in the United States sailed north with small crews of young men—whom he called his “boys”—in the summers of 1936, 1937, and 1938 to probe ancient villages, camps, and burial places on Kodiak Island and throughout the Aleutian Islands. Only one member of his crews took part in all three of these expeditions—Alan G. May. While nearly everyone who knew Hrdlička recognized him to be a kind and often generous scientist of world renown, albeit an elite and difficult taskmaster, May developed an affection for him and an interest in Alaskan archaeology that brought him back on each summer’s venture. For his part, Hrdlička considered May to be his “best man.” Most important, unlike Hrdlička’s other crew members, May kept detailed and lengthy diaries of each summer’s thoughts and experiences. Those documents, presented here, offer insights into both May’s own character as well as his personal perspective on—as Aleš Hrdlička has recently been called—“a most peculiar man.” May’s diaries have been transcribed, edited, and made available through Archives and Special Collections, University of Alaska Anchorage/Alaska Pacific University Consortium Library (henceforth, the Archives), with the support of the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, the not-for-profit Alaska Native Corporation for the region. In this introduction, I offer some brief historical context to those diaries. I begin with background on Hrdlička, including his place in the discipline of American anthropology and his interest in Alaska studies. Next, I outline the significance of the Kodiak Island and Aleutian Islands region to Hrdlička. This is followed, based in part on my personal association with him, by notes about Alan May and his participation in Hrdlička’s research in Alaska. Following this, I outline the three expeditions and their participants. Finally, I offer observations on May’s diaries and the manner in which they are presented here. --Douglas W. Veltre, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of Alaska Anchorage