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Marshack, Alexander. Papers of Alexander Marshack, 1957-2004: A Finding Aid.

Peabody Museum Archives
Harvard University
May 2006


©2008 The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Peabody Museum Archives, Harvard University
Call No.: 2005.16.1
Location: Peabody Museum Archives
Title: Papers of Alexander Marshack,
Date(s): 1957-2004
Creator: Alexander Marshack
Quantity: 4.6 linear feet
Abstract: The Alexander Marshack Papers include correspondence, notes and publications written by Alexander Marshack during his career of researching Paleolithic peoples.

Processed by:

Sarah Bertovich, Simmons College intern; edited by India Spartz, Senior Archivist
May 2006

Acquisition Information:

These papers are a gift of Elaine F. Marshack
November 2005

Access Restrictions:


Use Restrictions:


Biographical Sketch

Alexander Marshack was born in the Bronx on April 4, 1918 and received a bachelor's degree in journalism from the City College of New York. In his 40s he became interested in early notational calendar systems after reading an article on the discovery of an ancient African bone fragment in Scientific American. He spent much of the 1960s studying incisions on Paleolithic plaques of bone, in pursuit of his theory that the notches represented early lunar calendar systems, demonstrating complex thought patterns in early humans. In 1963 he became a Research Associate at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard. Eventually, Marshack developed a method he called 'internal analysis' by which a microscope could be used to determine the order and structure of markings on Paleolithic objects. Using his background in photography, he also used infrared and ultraviolet techniques to analyze the materials and construction of cave paintings in France.
Marshack published over 200 articles and numerous books during his career, most notably The Roots of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginnings of Man's First Art, Symbol, and Notation (1972), which had a lasting impact on both the archaeological profession and the public. His later work focused on the evolution of human thought and the neuropsychological content of early symbol systems. Although some critics disputed his structuralist theories and lack of formal training, his scientific approach to looking at artifacts and his portrayal of early humans as intellectually complex were notable contributions to our understanding of Paleolithic peoples. Marshack died on December 20, 2004 at the age of 86.


Scope and Content Note

The Marshack Collection consists of papers and photographs (primarily 35 mm slides). The slides are processed and stored separately as 2005.16.2
This collection of papers includes correspondence, notes and publications written by Alexander Marshack during his career; broken down into seven series arranged by date or alphabetically by subject.

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