Carleton S. Coon

By: Robert H. Dyson, Jr.

Originally Published in 1981

View PDF

carleton-s-coonCarleton Coon was a large bear of a man with a shock of white hair and a devilish sense of humor. From 1949 to 1964 he was a popular panel member on the Museum’s “What in the World?” program which originated in Philadelphia on WCAU-TV. Carl was noted for his irreverent remarks and direct approach. On occasion he tasted artifacts as part of his effort at identifi­cation!

When Carl joined the University Museum as Curator of Ethnology, he had already had a long and accomplished career as an anthropologist. After graduating from Har­vard in 1925 with an A.B. degree (magna cum laude), he joined the Harvard faculty in 1927 (he received his Ph.D. in 1928 at Harvard) where he served until 1948. During that period he undertook a wide range of field work in North Africa, the Balkans, Ethiopia and Arabia. From this research he produced his well-known vol­umes on the Tribes of the Rif (1931) and Races of Europe (1939).

After the Second World War (at the end of which in 1945 he was decorated with the Legion of Merit) he came to the University Museum (1948) and resumed his writing and field work. In 1949 he undertook the first serious survey and excavation work in Iran looking for fossil man, and in 1951 he excavated “Hotu man” in a neolithic cave in northeastern Iran. In 1952 he received the coveted Viking Medal for his work in physical anthropology. His active field work for the University Museum covered Afghanistan (1954), Syria and Central Africa (1955) and Chad and Libya [1966­67). A flow of books continued which included The Story of Man (1954), The Seven Caves (1957), The Origin of Roos (1962) and finally The Hunting Peoples (1971).

Carl’s kindness to his students and his colleagues, his joy of scholarly pursuits, and his infectious laughter were remem­bered long after his retirement from the Museum. The “Hall of Man” on the first floor of the Museum just to the right of the stairway to Harrison Auditorium was a major contribution to the presentation of anthropology in his capacity as curator, and long formed a major attraction for young visitors to our galleries. All of us who knew him and benefited from his friendship will miss him but we can take pride that his scholarly explorations are well recorded and permanently available on the shelves of our library.

Cite This Article

Jr., Robert H. Dyson,. "Carleton S. Coon." Expedition Magazine 23, no. 4 (August, 1981): -. Accessed February 29, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

Report problems and issues to