FAIRSERVIS, Walter Ashlin, Jr. Brooklyn, N.Y. 17.2.1924 — Sharon, Conn. 12.7.1994. U.S. Archaeologist. Museum Curator and Professor in New York. He had an early interest in archaeology. In 1937 he ran from the school, got a job on a freighter heading east, jumped ship in Alexandria and landed in Luxor. In poor state he later came to the U.S. embassy and found an elder American, who hired him for the trip to home. For a while he was at University of Chicago on an athletic scholarship (he listened there to Olmstead), but in 1941 returned to New York and “enrolled in the anthropology program at Columbia University, earning a B.A. adding Chinese and Mongolian to his languages.” Soon in army, “he served as lieutenant in Intelligence Branch and was trained in Japanese at universities of Minnesota and Michigan. He served in the Far East and at the end of the war was on General MacArthur’s staff.”
After the war Fairservis re-entered Columbia University, where he earned an M.A. in anthropology in 1948. Now he moved to Harvard, to the anthropology Ph.D. Program. He soon developed a program of field work, which was not appreciated by some of the faculty members, and in the end the work was financed not by Harvard, but by American Museum of Natural History (New York), where he was in 1948-52 Special Field Assistant in Archaeology and in 1952-62 Special Assistant in Anthropology. In 1949 Fairservis began his career as an independent archaeologist with his first Afghan Expedition, a reconnaissance in Pakistan and southern Afghanistan, in collaboration with his friend —> Louis Dupree. In 1950 Fairservis returned with a team on his second expedition, surveying several sites in Baluchistan and Afghan Seistan. The results were numerous, but were criticized by some elder colleagues (like Wheeler) because of a difference of methods. Nevertheless, and nothwithstanding of some disappointment of some members of his staff, he collected a great amount of material, on which he now began to work. When he submitted his dissertation in Harvard, the university had no specialist to evaluate it and asked Wheeler for the job. Because of the difference of methods his criticism was rather hard, and as Fairservis had stepped rather many toes, his degree was postponed and finally conferred only in 1958.
In 1958 he returned to Pakistan for a survey of south-western Sindh and Las Bela. Now he discovered the Kulli site. Further field trips were taken in 1964 and 1965. In 1962-68 WF served as Museum Director in Thomas Burke memorial Washington State Museum and Associate Professor of Anthropology at University of Washington. In 1968-76 he was Curator of Anthropology in American Museum of Natural History in New York, and from 1968 also Professor of Anthropology and Director of Asian Studies Program at Vassar College. In 1974 he began excavating the Harappan site of Allahdino, 30 miles to the east of Karachi. In addition to Pakistan, Fairservis conducted excavations in Egypt in 1968.
In the 1950s Fairservis, son of an actress, Edith Yeager, devoted much of his time to a theatre, in which he was part owner and Artistic Director, and later, too, appeared regularly as an actor, playwright, and director. His wife Jan Bell worked as the artist on several field expeditions. They have four daughters. Since 1973 Fairservis was much interested in the problem of the Indus script. He lived in Sharon, N.Y. Among his students were Possehl and several others.
Publications: Diss. The Archaeology of the Indo-Iranian Borderlands. Manuscript 1958.
– A number of articles beginning with “Exploring the Desert of Death”, Natural History 59:6, 1950, 246-253, in the 1980s mainly on the Indus script.
– “The Chronology of the Harappan Civilization and the Aryan Invasions: Recent Archaeological Research”, Man 56, 1956, 153-156.
– “Excavation in the Quetta Valley, West Pakistan”, Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 45:2, 1956, 169-402, 27 pl. 114 fig.; “Archaeological Surveys in the Zhob and Loralai Districts, West Pakistan”, Ibid. 47:2, 1959, 277-448, 25 pl.; “Archaeological Studies in the Seistan Basin of Southwestern Afghanistan and Eastern Iran”, Ibid. 48:1, 1961, 1-128.
– The Origins of Oriental Civilization. 192 p. N.Y. 1959; Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile. 271 p. N.Y. 1960; Egypt, Gift of the Nile. 146 p. 1963; Mesopotamia: The Civilization that Rose Out of Clay. 126 p. N.Y. 1964; Costumes of the East. 160 p. Riverside Conn. 1971; etc.
– The Roots of Ancient India: The Archaeology of Early Indian Civilization. 26+482 p. N.Y. 1971, 2nd ed. Chicago 1975.
– The Threshold of Civilization: An Experiment in Prehistory. 256 p. N.Y. 1975.
– Excavations at the Harappan Site of Allahdino: The Seals and Other Inscribed Material. 117 p. Papers of the Allahdino Expedition 1. N.Y. 1976; Excavations at the Harappan Site of Allahdino: The Graffiti, a Model in the Decipherment of the Harappan Script. 143 p. Papers of the Allahdino Expedition 3. N.Y. 1977.
– The Harappan Civilization and Its Writing. A model for the decipherment of the Indus Script. 8+239 p. Leiden & Delhi 1992.
Sources: G. L. Possehl (ed.), South Asian Archaeology Studies. N.D. – Bombay – Calcutta 1992 (Fairservis Volume), 1-12 (with bibliography); Wikipedia briefly.
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