top of page

Vivian, Gwinn

(1935 – 2022 April 14): Age 87

Dr. Richard Gwinnet Vivian – “Gwinn” to most everyone who knew him – passed away in April after a long, distinguished, and respected career in SW archaeology. The son of R. Gordon Vivian and Myrtle Vivian, of Albuquerque, Gwinn was associated with Chaco Canyon archaeology for his whole life and with the Arizona State Museum (ASM), University of Arizona, for much of his professional career. His love for the Chaco culture was inspired by his father, who directed the ruins stabilization there prior to the 1970s and with wife Pat, helped rear Gwinn from age one in Chaco Canyon.

Growing up as the son of a National Park Service archaeologist at Chaco Canyon, Gordon Vivian, Gwinn began his professional career as a 7-year old by washing potsherds for his dad. By the time he was a teenager, he was conducting his own research projects at Chaco. He received his 1960 MA from UNM with his thesis on the Navajo archaeology of Chacra Mesa. He later headed off to the University of Arizona to pursue degrees and a career in archaeology. He joined the staff at the Arizona State Museum (ASM) and founded the contract archaeology (CRMS) program, conducting research projects throughout Arizona. With a joint appointment in the Dept. of Anthropology, he was instrumental in the education and professional development of many, many archaeologists who have worked in the Southwest and across the country.

As the Associate Director of the Museum, he provided support for a large staff of research archaeologists and furthered the development of professional standards in collections management. He had a strong commitment to the public education role of the state museum and in the 1980s, supported that mission through the development and support of stronger exhibit and education programs through projects such as the Paths of Life exhibit, lecture series, expanded docent tours for school groups, and the Southwest Indian Art Fair.

Aside from his responsible and effective administrative efforts, Gwinn continued his Chaco Canyon research and publications. His 1990 book, The Chacoan Prehistory of the San Juan Basin was a landmark tour-de-force, summarizing a century of research, publication, and culture history of possibly the most written-about prehistoric site area in America. In his final days at ASM, he pursued his goal of public education by writing The Chaco Handbook: An Encyclopedic Guide for a popular audience. Just before his death, he completed a manuscript summarizing his life-long research on water use at Chaco Canyon, a controversial topic. While many of his colleagues may have disagreed with him on this subject, he was always respected and liked by all.

Which brings us to Gwinn's most important contribution to all who knew him; he was an incredibly good friend, colleague and human being. Gwinn was a gentle soul so who was always kind, honest, supportive and generous with his time and energy. He respected all he met, whether an undergraduate student, a subordinate employee, a colleague or a friend. I am proud and so pleased that we became great friends during my 18 years at the ASM. He was an incredible mentor in my early years and became a close friend as we worked on various projects from grant proposals to research field trips. I was so fortunate to learn so much from him.

Gwinn's legacy as an archaeologist will live on through his many, many site reports and publications on the Greater Southwest. His legacy as a human being will live on in the hearts and memories of all who knew him. May the four winds blow you safely home.

Courtesy of Al Dart and Bruce Hilpert

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page