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George Byron Gordon

Birth: 1870

Death:1927

George Byron Gordon (1870-1927) was a Canadian-American archaeologist, who graduated from Harvard University in 1894. While studying at Harvard, he participated in excavations at Copan in Honduras under the direction of John G. Owens in 1891. Following Owens' death in the field, Gordon took command of the Copan expeditions from 1894 to 1895 and in 1900-1901. After his time in Honduras, George Byron Gordon was hired by the University of Pennsylvania where he led two expeditions to Alaska in 1905 and 1907. He spent the remainder of his twenty-four year employment at the University of Pennsylvania collecting antiquities for the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology's North American collections, and he remains one of the museum's largest contributors of North American artifacts.

George Byron Gordon was born on August 4, 1870 in New Perth, Prince Edward Island, Canada to James Gordon and Jane MacLaren Gordon. In 1888, George B. Gordon began studying at the University of South Carolina. However, he only stayed for one year and finished his education at Harvard University. In 1892 he was selected to assist John G. Owens on his excavation in Copan, Honduras, which was sponsored by Harvard University. G.B. Gordon gained leadership of the expedition when Owens died during excavations. He was then named the Director of the continuing Harvard-sponsored semesters in Copan through 1900. Gordon completed his Ph.D. with Harvard in 1894 on work at Copan.

In 1927 Gordon was the Director of expeditions in Beisan (or Bet Sh'ean), known at the time as Mesopotamia, as well as Ur (located in Iraq). He also held membership in the Franklin Inn Club, the Rittenhouse Club, the American Anthropological Association, the American Philosophical Society, the Explorer's Club of New York, the Authors Club of London, the Lenape Club, and the American Ethnographical Society. In 1903, Gordon was named Assistant Curator of the Section of General Ethnology at the Free Museum of Science and Art at the University of Pennsylvania. By 1904 he was named General Curator of American Archaeology of the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

During his time at the University of Pennsylvania, he took two expeditions to Alaska in 1905 and 1907. His brother, MacLaren Gordon, joined him on these expeditions that were aimed at using new methods to explore the Arctic region. G.B. Gordon and his brother chose a path that had been previously undiscovered by other explorers and included regions along the Yukon River that led them into the Tanana; they then took the Tanana River southward into Lake Minchumina. Near Lake Minchumina, he encountered an aboriginal tribe that he named the "Kuskwagamutes". Gordon's expeditions revolutionized the way future expeditions into the Arctic were organized, and he described his methods in his book, In the Alaskan Wilderness.

From 1907 to 1915, George Byron Gordon taught undergraduate and graduate Anthropology courses at the University of Pennsylvania on a regular schedule. During this time, Gordon was named the Director of the Free Museum of Science and Art (subsequently renamed the University of Pennsylvania Museum) in 1910, and he helped formally establish the University of Pennsylvania's Anthropology Department. Also while employed by the University of Pennsylvania, Gordon founded the Museum Journal, which was subsequently renamed the Museum Bulletin. He purchased fine artifacts for the Museum, and supervised the addition of collections from Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt, and the Continental Americas. However, his crowning achievement is the Chinese collection that is still housed at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Gordon suffered fatal injuries from an accident that occurred at the Philadelphia Racquet Club, and he died on January 30, 1927 at the age of 56.


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