The University of Wyoming’s Anthropology Building now bears the name of George Frison, a Worland native and UW graduate who achieved international acclaim as an archaeologist during a lengthy career as a UW faculty member.
UW’s Board of Trustees voted today (Friday) to name the building in Frison’s honor, at the request of UW’s Department of Anthropology, the university’s Naming Committee chaired by Provost Kevin Carman, and President Ed Seidel.
The George C. Frison Building, a 53,000-square-foot facility that was completed in 2007, houses the Department of Anthropology, the State Archaeologist’s Office, the cultural records section of the State Historic Preservation Office, the Frison Institute, the State Archaeological Repository and the Anthropology Museum.
Frison, who founded the Department of Anthropology and was the first state archaeologist, is the only UW faculty member ever elected to the National Academy of Sciences. He died Sept. 6, 2020, at the age of 95.
“Naming of buildings for certain individuals is a very rare honor at UW, but this is clearly a case when it’s absolutely appropriate,” Seidel says. “Dr. Frison was a huge figure in archaeology and put Wyoming and UW on the map in this important field of study. This is a great way to honor his legacy.”
“It’s only right that the university honor Dr. Frison’s decades of service to UW and the state by putting his name on the building that houses the programs that would not exist if not for his efforts,” says Professor Todd Surovell, head of the Department of Anthropology. “He easily ranks among the greatest field archaeologists in the history of American archaeology. His contributions to the field of archaeology, the Department of Anthropology, the University of Wyoming and the state of Wyoming cannot be overstated.”
Frison was born Nov. 11, 1924, in Worland and grew up on his grandparents’ ranch near Ten Sleep, spending his early years working sheep and cattle. He spent his spare time collecting arrowheads, exploring caves in the Bighorn Mountains and developing a love for the history and prehistory of Wyoming.
He enrolled at UW in 1942, but his education was cut short when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving in the amphibious forces of the South Pacific during World War II. After being honorably discharged in 1946, he returned to the family ranch.
While operating the ranch, Frison joined the Wyoming Archaeological Society and was an avocational archaeologist, discovering numerous artifacts including atlatl and dart fragments. His interactions with UW Professor William Mulloy prompted Frison to enroll at UW in 1962 at the age of 37 to finish his undergraduate work.
After earning his master’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Michigan, Frison returned to UW in 1967 to head the new Department of Anthropology and serve as the first state archaeologist, a position he held until 1984.
During his decades of work at UW, Frison made major contributions to the understanding of the prehistory of the northwestern Great Plains in the areas of chipped stone technology, bison bone beds, Paleoindian systematics and Plains chronology. His many books and papers, which include “Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains,” made him an internationally recognized figure in archaeology.
More than 70 students graduated with the Master of Arts degree in anthropology during his tenure at UW, and many more students attended his classes and graduated with undergraduate degrees from the Department of Anthropology.
His many awards include the lifetime achievement award from the Society for American Archaeology; a Regents’ Fellowship Award from the Smithsonian Institution; UW’s George Duke Humphrey Distinguished Faculty Award; UW’s Medallion Service Award; and the College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Alumni Award. He was named to the National Academy of Sciences in 1997.
Among his legacies is the George C. Frison Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at UW, which funds archaeological research; supports student and faculty participation in international research and education opportunities; sponsors an annual lecture and public talks; and provides for volunteer participation in field and lab programs.