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. Today, as Curator and Professor Emeritus, Jeffrey continues to publish on his archaeological and ethnographic research in Peru and Mexico.
Jeff Parsons has been 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—more than 2500 hamlet, village and town sites—have been published in a series of monographs by the Museum of Anthropology. Articles evaluating broader theoretical issues such as the roles of population growth, irrigation, and conflict have appeared in major journals. In addition, Jeff Parsons and his lifelong research partner Mary Hrones Parsons have conducted studies of the surviving traditional economic pursuits in the valley such as salt-making, agave processing, and the harvesting of insects and algae, which have also appeared as Anthropological Papers of the Museum and have been featured in displays in the Exhibit Museum. In 1975 Parsons introduced the regional archaeological approach to Peru, undertaking a major survey in the Junin area of the central Andes, which has recently been published as a major monograph. In 1998 he received the highest honor given 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 has been committed to assuring their long-term preservation and curation. He continues to mine these collections in Peru and Mexico for new scholarly research, as will archaeologists for generations to come. Jeff’s ethnographic work has 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 has been a stellar educator and inspiring mentor, both in the field and in the classroom. In 2002 he was honored with LS&A’s Distinguished Faculty Achievement Award. Generations of archaeologists in both the Old and New World have mastered techniques of archaeological survey working on his projects or by inviting him to join their teams—in Mongolia, Australia, Egypt and other far-flung places.