Archaeologist James Sackett, who was one of the world’s leading experts on the Ice Age cultures of Europe and one of the founders of the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, has died after a long illness. He was 86.
Sackett, who died on Dec. 21, was born to Margaret and DeForest Sackett on Feb. 1, 1933. He grew up in the Midwest and earned his bachelor’s degree at Lawrence College and his doctorate in archaeology at Harvard University.
He and his family came to Los Angeles in 1962 when he accepted a position on the faculty of the UCLA Department of Anthropology where he actively taught for 30 years before retiring and becoming a professor emeritus in 1992.
Sackett taught generations of archeology and anthropology students, bringing many to work summer seasons at his large archeological site of Solvieux in the Perigord region of France. A renowned expert in the history and theory of archeology and the tools of our Stone Age ancestors, Sackett was particularly interested in the archeological problem of style, how artifacts could be used to identify the societies and cultures of the past.
He wrote numerous articles and several books including the landmark tome “The Archaeology of Solvieux.” From 1967 through 1974, Solvieux was intensively researched by a joint UCLA-University of Bordeaux project. In all, 2500 cubic meters of deposit were excavated, producing a kilometer of stratigraphic sections, 2000 square meters of horizontally exposed occupation surface, and some 5000 retouched stone tools representing eleven distinct archaeological levels.
Few open-air dig sites from this time period have the same extent, complexity and diversity of deposits, as was found at the site in southwest France. The book captures the history of the project and its results and analysis of finds are complemented by drawings, outlines of typologies and essays on Upper Palaeolithic traditions.
In addition to his scholarly work, Sackett’s interests included 17th-century British history, French popular literature, polar exploration, Baroque music, bagpipes, cycling, Navajo blankets and the films of Mel Brooks.
Sackett is survived by his wife, Mary; his sons Ross, James and Tom and stepson, Seth Chase; his daughters-in-law Ruthbeth Finerman, Katalin Sackett and BJ Cummings; grandchildren Alexandra, Mark and Maya Sackett, and Carlie and Katie Chase; and his former wife, Susan.