Pioneers of Physical Anthropology

Carleton Stevens Coon (1904-1981)

Carleton S. Coon attended Harvard University (Ph.D., 1928) and taught there from 1934 to 1948. He then became a curator at the University of Pennsylvania University Museum. Coon was an advocate of holistic anthropology, and he carried out ethnographic, social anthropological, physical anthropological, and archeological studies. His region of specialization was North Africa and the Near East.

Coon worked in Morocco in 1925-1928, 1939, 1947, and 1962-1963. During the 1920s, he was primarily concerned with ethnographic, social anthropological, and physical anthropological studies of the Riffians, which was the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation and his early books. He also became involved in archeological studies of Stone Age cultures, especially through investigations of caves. During World War II, Coon was a member of the United States Office of Strategic Services and, in part, operated in Morocco.

In 1929-1930, Coon studied northern mountaineer Albanians to test several theses, including one that posited a Dinaric race and another that set forth a relationship between stature and calcium in agricultural lands. In 1933, Coon was in Ethiopia for research, but political complications forced him into physical anthropological studies in Yemen. In 1948-1951, Coon investigated the Iraqi and Iranian Stone Age. In 1954, he surveyed and excavated Stone Age caves in Afghanistan and, on his way home, visited Australia where he carried out work with the Tiwi. In 1955, he was in Syria and in Central Africa.

While working with the United States Air Force in 1956-1957, Coon photographed India, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Ceylon, Nepal, Sikkim, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines. His pictures provided information about areas where airmen might be forced down. In 1959, he was on a team to study Alakaluf physiology in southern Chile. In 1965, he was in Sierra Leone, carrying out archeological work in the cave of Yengema.

Coon has produced several general and sometimes quite controversial works in anthropology. With Eliot D. Chapple, he published Principles of Anthropology in 1942. Other works include The Races of Europe (1939), The Story of Man (1954), The Origin of Races (1962), and The Living Races of Man (1965). An account of his work during World War II is the subject of A North Africa Story (1980); and his life and career is the subject of Adventures and Discoveries (1981).

Coon became a member of the National Academy of Science in 1952 and served as president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 1961-1962.