Tozzer, Alfred M. (Alfred Marston), 1877-1954

Alternative names
Birth 1877-07-04
Death 1954-10-05

Biographical notes:

Tozzer graduated from Harvard in 1900, and taught anthropology and archaeology at Harvard.

From the description of Papers of Alfred Marston Tozzer, 1908-1937 (inclusive). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76973202

Alfred Marston Tozzer was born in Lynn, Massachusetts on July 4, 1877 to Samuel Clarence Tozzer and Caroline Blanchard (Marston) Tozzer. He grew up in Lynn and after graduating from high school attended Harvard College where he received degrees in anthropology: an A.B. in 1900, an A.M. in 1901 and a Ph.D. in 1904. On April 10, 1913 he married Margaret Tenney Castle of Honolulu, Hawaii in New York. The couple had two daughters, the eldest of which, Joanne, died young. The surviving child, now Joan Tozzer Cave, grew up to stay in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Tozzer conducted his initial anthropological field work during his undergraduate summer in 1900 and 1901 in Arizona, California, and New Mexico focusing on linguistics among the Wintun and Navajo nations From 1902 to 1905 he held the American Fellowship of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). Tozzer's position as Traveling Fellow for the AIA and his sponsorship by Harvard's Peabody Museum, allowed him to spend three winters living with and studying the Lacandones of Mexico and Central America. As a result, he won their confidence and gained admittance to their religious ceremonies. This field work provided material for his Ph.D. dissertation; he published results in A Comparative Study of the Mayas and Lacandones (1907) and A Maya Grammar: with Bibliography and Appraisement of the Works Noted (1921).

From 1909-1910, Tozzer led a Peabody Museum expedition to Guatemala where he studied the ruins of Tikal and Nakum. His publications on these sites in 1911 and 1913 are noted for their comparative methods and depictions of hieroglyphic inscriptions and architecture. Tozzer's cross-disciplinary training under F. W. Putnam permitted him to move easily between archaeology and social anthropology. He served as the Director of the International School of Archeology in Mexico City in 1914, and as a result, was in Vera Cruz during the U.S. naval bombardment and its six-month occupation by the United States Marine Corps.

After World War II, Tozzer returned to Harvard where he spent the rest of his professional life. Upon his retirement from the Department of Anthropology in 1949, he remained professionally active by writing technical papers of the Maya and Mexican fields of study, and lecturing on a wide variety of subjects, including general anthropology, primitive religion, social origins, and social continuities. Throughout his career, Tozzer held executive posts for many institutions and associations, including the Academic Board at Radcliffe College, Director of Harvard Alumni Association, National Research Council, Social Science Research Council, President of the American Anthropological Association, Faculty Member and Librarian of the Peabody Museum and Member of Harvard's Administrative Board. Ever the encouraging mentor, Tozzer assisted his students by ensuring they were properly housed and fed; he also helped many students either by organizing scholarships or through his own financial generosity.

In 1940, The and Maya and Their Neighbors was published in his honor, and the list of contributing authors shows eight out of ten had been students in his Mexican and Maya courses. In fact, two-thirds of his students had gone on to become specialists in the study of Mexico and the Maya. More than fifty years after his first expedition, Alfred Marston Tozzer passed away on October 5, 1954.

In 1974, the Peabody Museum library moved to a new building and was renamed the Tozzer Library as a tribute to the collections Alfred Marston Tozzer established (Mesoamerican), and his enormous contribution to both Harvard and the field of anthropology.

Sources: Lothrop, S.K. "Alfred Marston Tozzer 1876-1954." American Anthropologist, v. 57 (New Series, no. 3, pt. 1 (June 1955): 614-18. Phillips, Phillip. "Alfred Marston Tozzer 1877-1954." American Antiquity, v. 21, no. 1 (July 1955): 72-80. Tozzer, Alfred M. "Notes and News." American Anthropologist, v. 37 (New Series), no. 4, pt. 1 (Oct.-Dec. 1935): 711-12.

From the guide to the Tozzer, Alfred M. (Alfred Marston), 1877-1954. Collection of Negatives, 1901-1929, (Peabody Museum Archives, Harvard University)


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Ark ID:


  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Anthropologists--Correspondence
  • Excavations (Archeology)
  • Superstition


not available for this record


  • Chaco Canyon (N.M.) (as recorded)
  • Mexico (as recorded)
  • Guatemala (as recorded)