Jeffrey R. Parsons received his B.S. (1961) from the Pennsylvania State University and his M.A. (1963) and Ph.D. (1966) from the University of Michigan. He joined the University of Michigan in 1966, and served as the Museum’s curator of Latin American Archaeology and a professor in the Department of Anthropology until his retirement from the University in 2006. Parsons served as director of the Museum of Anthropology from 1983 to 1986. Following his tenure as director—as curator and as professor emeritus—Jeff continued to publish on his archaeological and ethnographic research in Peru and Mexico. In 2021, at the age of 81, Jeff passed away. Read his memorial here.
Jeff Parsons was a fundamental innovator in regional studies of the early New World civilizations. He began his research career in the Valley of Mexico in 1963, perfecting the technique of archaeological surface survey now used in many areas of the world. Working closely with Mexican colleagues, his teams walked over almost every square kilometer of the Valley of Mexico that was not sealed by asphalt and concrete. The results—detailed reports on the settlement sites of every period from 1200 BC to AD 1520 (totaling more than 2500 hamlet, village and town sites)—were published in a series of monographs by the Museum of Anthropology. (To browse Jeff's works, visit the Museum's books website, sites.lsa.umich.edu/archaeology-books, and search on Parsons.) He published many articles in major journals on broader theoretical issues such as the roles of population growth, irrigation, and conflict.
In addition, Jeff Parsons and his lifelong research partner, Mary Hrones Parsons, conducted studies of the surviving traditional economic pursuits in the valley, including salt-making, agave processing, and the harvesting of insects and algae. In 1975, Parsons introduced the regional archaeological approach to Peru, undertaking a major survey in the Junin area of the central Andes. In 1998, he received the highest honor given to New World archaeologists: the Alfred V. Kidder Award from the American Anthropological Association.
Most of the archaeological collections generated by Jeff’s fieldwork remain in their countries of origin, and throughout his career Jeff was committed to assuring their long-term preservation and curation. He continued to mine these collections in Peru and Mexico for new scholarly research, as will archaeologists for generations to come. Jeff’s ethnographic work enriched the Museum’s ethnographic collections with thoroughly documented and comprehensive collections of tools, raw materials, and finished products.
Throughout his tenure at the University, Jeff Parsons was a stellar educator and inspiring mentor, both in the field and in the classroom. In 2002, he was honored with LSA’s Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award. Generations of archaeologists in both the Old and New Worlds mastered techniques of archaeological survey by working on his projects or by inviting him to join their teams—in Mongolia, Australia, Egypt, and other far-flung places.