The Life and Work of W. B. Nickerson (1865–1926): Scientific Archaeology in Central North America
By Ian Dyck
November 2016, ISBN 978-0-7766-2388-7
Mercury Series, Archaeology Paper 177
412 pages, 41 illustrations, 17 x 24 cm
The son of a Civil War surgeon, William Baker Nickerson (1865–1926) was immersed in natural history sciences during his youth in Connecticut. He became infatuated with archaeology and was among the first in North America to receive formal training, although circumstances compelled him to earn a living with railroading. During his spare time, he investigated sites from New England to the Midwest and into the Canadian Prairies. Nickerson created an elegant and detailed record of his discoveries and developed methods that later archaeologists recognized as being ahead of their time. By middle age, he was en route to becoming a professional contract archaeologist. However, after a very good start, archaeological commissions disappeared during the First World War. Despite heroic efforts, Nickerson was unable to restore his scientific career.
W. B. Nickerson’s life story spans the transition of North American archaeology from museums and historical societies to universities. The quality, quantity and innovative nature of his work was only recognized after his death. This book restores a pioneer who died in obscurity to his rightful place in the annals of North American archaeology.