Dwight T. Wallace

— Dwight T. Wallace

BERNE — Archaeologist Dwight T. Wallace, whose work took him to Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru, died late Tuesday, Oct. 1, of natural causes. He was 92, and living in Portland, Oregon.

Dwight Wallace was born on May 25, 1927, in Oakland, California, the son of Urban and Mary Wallace. Growing up in the Great Depression, Dr. Wallace later told stories of close neighbors who lived off their own produce. One family ate dandelions. 

While the Wallace family didn’t suffer to the same extent, frugality was of the essence. Food was a commodity, and some of the family’s belt-tightening dietary habits carried into Dr. Wallace’s adult life. To wit: A peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich with lettuce, which remained a fond staple.

“It was meatless and nutritious,” said Laurel Wallace, Dr. Wallace’s daughter. “You don’t think it would be very good. But I tried it — it’s not bad.” 

A lover of music, Dr. Wallace met his future wife, Carol, while they were in middle school, attending an opera. Their union would last 69 years, ending only with his death.

“They loved opera,” said Ms. Wallace, “but they weren’t snobby about it.”

Later, when they lived in Altamont, they would attend operas put on by local companies, and drive to New York City to see the Metropolitan Opera.

During World War II, Dr. Wallace enlisted at 17, serving in the Navy. Because he was so young, his mother had to sign him in to service. He was sent to the Chicago Navy Pier to train as an electrician. Less than a year into his enrollment, he was on his way to the Pacific when the war ended.

Like other men of his era, the GI Bill funded Dr. Wallace’s education (University of California, Berkeley; Ph.D. 1957). Ever a good student, he was the first in his family to go to college. 

Concurrently, Carol Wallace got a bachelor’s degree in English from Berkeley and later worked as a grade-school teacher in Oakland, providing the couple’s sustenance while Dr. Wallace continued his studies. 

At Berkeley, Dr. Wallace found a mentor in Dr. John Rowe, a Harvard-trained archaeologist who introduced Dr. Wallace to Peruvian culture and history as an area of study. 

Dr. Wallace received two Fulbright Scholarships for work in Peru — the first post-doctoral candidate to do so — from 1957 to 1959, completing large-scale surveys and training younger Peruvian archaeologists through his program. His daughter was born there in 1957. His son, Neal Wallace, was born just after they returned to the United States in 1959. 

Dr. Wallace had a long career as an academic, teaching at the University of Georgia, Athens; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; University of Oregon, Eugene; and the State University of New York at Albany.

He was hired at UAlbany just as the university began a major mesoamerican studies program. Dr. Wallace’s expertise brought him to Guatemala, among other exotic locales, where he led several field schools. 

Ms. Wallace said some of her clearest childhood memories come from those trips. “We all went as a family,” she recounted. On those trips, the family would live with the students and professionals. 

“It was tight-knit,” Ms. Wallace said. Most of their family friends were cultural anthropologists, linguists, and archaeologists. “They’re really all incredible people. Very distinctive.” 

But those early 1970s field schools in Guatemala coincided with an undeclared civil war. “There were a lot of dangerous situations,” said Ms. Wallace. “That was part of the thrill of it.”

Dr. Wallace’s Spanish fluency, developed during his earlier Fulbright work in Peru, was critical for public outreach to ensure the safety of students and the archaeological resources.

Recognized as a prominent scholar in Peruvian archaeology, and specifically on the textiles of early Peruvian cultures, he also led archaeological field schools in Puebla, Mexico, and on coastal sites in Oregon.

At the beginning of his studies in Peru, Ms. Wallace said, there were relatively few archaeologists working there. Eventually, there would be “many, many” more. 

But Dr. Wallace’s presence loomed locally, too. Along with his wife, he participated in the Cathedral of All Saints’ choir, in Albany, performing Handel’s “Messiah.”

And after two students of Dr. Wallace’s returned from the war in Vietnam, they got to work on studying the historic Quackenbush House on Broadway, Albany. They recruited children from Schenectady to help them, and the Wallace kids would bus in from Altamont.

The Wallace family lived on Leesome Lane in Altamont.

“We enjoyed living in Altamont. It was a great time” said Carol Wallace. 

“We thought everyone was so friendly,” added Laurel Wallace. “But we always felt like westerners.”

After his retirement in 1992, Dr. Wallace returned to his deep interest of archaeology in Peru. The Cerrillos Site, near Ica, Peru, was first recorded by him in 1957, and was the site of his last fieldwork in 2003, the subject of a National Geographic article (September 2003). 

A feathered mummy case, pictured on the cover of National Geographic, can be viewed in the archaeological museum in Ica, Peru along with other important artifacts from the Cerrillos Site.

Ms. Wallace is still getting emails from Peruvian archaeologists who knew her father, or his accomplishments. 

“Archaeology is a community activity, and I’m hearing from that community now,” she said.

For her part, Ms. Wallace continued in her father’s broad footsteps, working as a historian and archaeologist in New Mexico. Neal Wallace is a professor at Portland State University. 

Though Ms. Wallace admitted to not being much of an academic in her youth, she said her father offered his continued support. 

“He was a major part of my life,” she said. 

****

Dwight Wallace is survived by his wife of 69 years, Carol Wallace, of Portland, Oregon; by his daughter, Laurel Wallace, and husband, Joseph Traugott, of Albuquerque, New Mexico; by his son, Neal Wallace, and wife, Beverly Briggs, and their children, Jessica Briggs-Wallace and Nathan Briggs-Wallace, all of Portland, Oregon; and by friends and colleagues throughout the world who share his love of archaeology in the Americas.

— Noah Zweife

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