In Memoriam: Gayle F. Carlson

The archaeological community has again lost a great archaeologist and friend this year with the passing of Gayle F. Carlson. He will be greatly missed.


Gayle at the Duck Creek Site (25NH88) in 2007

Gayle F. Carlson passed away in Lincoln Nebraska on November 15, 2015 and lived most of his life in Nebraska. Following service in the U.S. Navy, he received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In 1967 Gayle began employment at the Nebraska State Historical Society as its Highway Archeologist. Gayle remained at the Society serving as Research Archeologist and State Archeologist until his retirement in 2011.

Carlson’s depth and breadth of archeological research in Nebraska and surrounding states was impressive. Although he is known for work in many facets of archeology, his efforts with the early settlement period is particularly notable. He directed excavations, studied collections from, and wrote technical reports and published articles and books on many important sites such as Ft. Atkinson, Ft. Robinson, Rock Creek Station, Engineer Cantonment, and Ft. Sully. These endeavors have not only contributed significantly to material culture studies of Great Plains settlement and military frontier complexes, but also to architecturally and historically accurate reconstructions such as those of the Cheyenne Outbreak and 1887 Adobe Barracks at Ft. Robinson; the Barracks, Powder Magazine, and Council House at Fort Atkinson; and buildings at Rock Creek Station. In the course of working on historic period projects, Gayle became particularly well-known for his detailed yet careful and conservative use of archival information such as maps, journals, diaries, records, newspapers, and photographs. Carlson also has made lasting and significant contributions to a clearer understanding of Native American archeology from 8000 years ago until the 1800s.

While any list of Carlson projects and publications would be rich, diverse, and quite lengthy, his contributions to Nebraska archeology are even more far-ranging through the impact he made on his many professional friends and colleagues. Gayle was the voice of experience and widely known as the ‘go-to guy’ on anything involving Nebraska archeology. He warmly and enthusiastically welcomed questions and discussions from students and archeologists young and old on topics ranging from theory to “what kind of arrowhead is this?” He was far more patient than most of his colleagues when asked by curious members of the general public visiting an excavation; “How do you know where to dig?” “How much is this stuff worth?” or “What tribe of Indians lived here?” Finally, his knowledge of the history and oral tradition of Nebraska archeology as a profession, was encyclopedic. Nebraska archeologists, students, and the interested public are all fortunate for the life and career of Gayle Carlson. It resulted in a vastly richer and more interesting understanding of Nebraska’s archeological record, than had he chosen a different career path.

by Rob Bozell

gayle award

Gayle received NAPA’s William Duncan Strong Award in 2013. Pictured here with Rob Bozell and Cynthia Wiley.



Gayle with the Duck Creek crew in 2007.



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