Sarah Milledge Nelson. Photo courtesy of the Archaeological Institute of America
Museum of Anthropological Archaeology alumna Sarah Milledge Nelson—archaeologist, professor emerita at the University of Denver, novelist, and feminist scholar—passed away on April 27, 2020, after a long illness.
Sarah was known around the world for her archaeological research in Korea and northeast China and for her groundbreaking work on gender in archaeology. She was a prolific writer. She wrote ten academic books, including the well-known Gender in Archaeology: Analyzing Power and Prestige, which is still used as a textbook today. Dissatisfied with the lack of progress in gender archaeology, Sarah turned to fiction, and wrote three novels with women and archaeology at their core: Spirit Bird Journey, Jade Dragon, and Ancient China’s Tiger Queen. She also wrote about her life as an archaeologist and mother in Shamans, Queens and Figurines, The Development of Gender Archaeology. In addition, she published more than 150 journal articles and other publications and was editor or co-editor of several scholarly books.
After graduating from Wellesley College, Sarah earned her master’s and PhD from the University of Michigan. Her mentor was James B. Griffin, then director of the Museum. The title of her 1973 dissertation, which is available from the University of Michigan Library, was Chulmun Period Villages on the Han River in Korea: Subsistence and Settlement.
Sarah joined the faculty of the University of Denver in 1974 and worked there for more than 30 years. At various times during her tenure there, she was chair of the Department of Anthropology, the vice provost for research, interim vice provost for Graduate Studies and Research, and chair of Women’s Studies. In 1996, the university named her a John Evans Distinguished Professor. In addition, she was a lecturer with the Archaeological Institute of America, a fellow of the American Anthropological Association, and president of the Society for East Asian Archaeology.
In 2011, Wellesley College awarded Sarah the Alumnae Achievement Award.
Throughout her distinguished career, Sarah maintained her connection with the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology. She was a strong supporter of the Museum and was one of the initial members of the Director’s Development and Advisory Committee, founded in 2018.
The Museum interviewed Sarah in 2019, soon after the publication of her third novel, Ancient China’s Tiger Queen. Read the interview here.
Michael Galaty, director of UMMAA, wrote, “Sarah was a kind person, a path-breaking archaeologist, and a great friend to the Museum. We will miss her.”