Greg Possehl

A Portrait

By: Peter Bogucki and Uzma Z. Rizvi

Originally Published in 2012

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Greg Possehl conducted archaeological research in South Asia and was a frequent contributor to Expedition magazine.

I always knew when Dr. P was in his office at the Penn Museum. His car with the license plate Meluhha (the Sumerian name for the Harappan Civilization) alerted all of us to his presence. I recently went to visit the Museum and realized how much I missed that simple welcoming sight. Dr. Gregory L. Possehl, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and former Curator of the Asian Collection at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, passed away on October 8, 2011. A man of few words, but incredibly prolific in text, Possehl authored over 14 books and 101 articles and book chapters. His passion for archaeology was only matched by his passion for puns and new technology. It is because of his quick adoption of computer programs that his databases became available so early for all of us at Penn and his colleagues in the field. Throughout the 1990s, almost all of his students, at some point or another, contributed to his organizational databases which ultimately led to his online gazetteer of sites and radiocarbon dates. He excelled at synthesizing these large quantities of data into clear ideas and hypotheses about ancient South Asia.

His long and productive career has resulted in foundational archaeological research work in South Asia. Early in his career, he conducted excavations at Oriyo Timbo, Babar Kot, and Rojdi in Gujarat, India. From 1999–2005, Possehl joined forces with Dr. Vasant Shinde (Deccan College, Pune, India) to co-direct excavations at Gilund, Rajasthan, a site at which many of his recent graduate students (including myself) have worked. His current excavations include the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bat in Oman. The coast of Oman is also where one of his more recent experiments in ethnoarchaeology became international news. Possehl, in association with Drs. Maurizio Tosi and Serge Cleuziou, worked with a team to reconstruct and sail one of the ancient black boats of Magan (Sumerian name for Oman) in 2005. Unfortunately, the ship sank, but it made headlines across the world and, as he told me many times, gave him a boatload of stories to share.

Greg Possehl, at far left, stands for a group photograph early in his career with Kenneth Kennedy (Cornell University) at far right and Indian colleagues.

Not only has Possehl’s work left a significant mark on field research, but he has been instrumental in shaping the future of South Asian archaeology. Through the years, he has taught students at the University of Pennsylvania and also served as an external examiner for many students of South Asian archaeology worldwide. He has been particularly attentive to students from the South Asian subcontinent and has always offered support and advice. He had an unmatched generosity of spirit and willingness to share data through books, photocopies, and CD/DVDs. There are few scholars of South Asian archaeology who have not benefited from him in some capacity or another.

I first walked into Dr. P’s office in 1994 as an undergraduate looking for a course in South Asian archaeology and over these 17 years I have always looked to that office as a refuge, as a fantastic library, and as a place where I always knew I would be taken for who and what I was. Dr. P was always patient, good humored, and even when we argued (and we did argue) he always looked out for me. Perhaps most significantly, he taught me the significance of human relationships within archaeological practice.

Uzma Z. Rizvi is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Urban Studies in the Department of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute of Art and Design, Brooklyn, NY. She graduated with her doctorate under the advisement of Dr. Gregory L. Possehl in 2007.

Cite This Article

Bogucki, Peter and Rizvi, Uzma Z.. "Greg Possehl." Expedition Magazine 54, no. 2 (July, 2012): -. Accessed April 18, 2024.

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

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