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Franklin Fenenga
1917 - 1994

Franklin Fenenga photo Noted California archaeologist Franklin Fenenga died of lung cancer on April 7, 1994, at the age of 76, in Long Beach, Calif. He is survived by his third wife, Barbara Baker Fenenga, five adult children, and three adult stepchildren. Two previous wives, Barbara Wagner Fenenga and Emelyn Bennett Fenenga, preceded him in death.

Frank was born July 20, 1917, in Aberdeen, S. D. His interest in archaeology began when he moved to St. Louis, Mo., as a child, visiting archaeological sites and mound systems, including Cahokia. Frank gained broad anthropological experiences through his father's involvement in the operation of boys' camps. As a high school senior he was invited to study at the University of Chicago by Fay Cooper-Cole. With a scholarship, Frank was able to begin his schooling, but it was clear his family could not afford to finance his education there. With the end of the scholarship, he accepted an offer from J. B. Lillard, president of Sacramento Junior College, to run an archaeological field class.

This job enabled him to attend college during the height of the Great Depression. Frank became one of a small group to constitute the first professional archaeological community of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area of central California. With Bulletin 2 (Lillard, et al. 1939), a local chronology was established, and the first descriptions of central California artifact typologies and a culture classification system were proposed. Site surveys of central California enabled Frank to establish a recording system for all state archaeological sites (Fenenga 1949), which was adopted by the Smithsonian Institution and has become widely used across the nation. From data derived almost exclusively from the delta, Frank was first to suggest that the bow and arrow were recent introductions to the New World, preceded by spear-throwers and darts used throughout the hemisphere, a view now accepted by all scholars.

Frank graduated with an AA degree from Sacramento in 1940 and received a BA in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1943. After WWII army service and working in essential wartime industry, Frank returned to Berkeley. His 1946 and 1947 summers were spent working for the Smithsonian Institution's River Basin Surveys throughout the western states. In 1948 he became an archaeologist for the University of California Archaeological Survey, holding this position until 1950, when he became a research associate at the University of Nebraska and an archaeologist for the Missouri River Basin Survey. During that period he was editor of The Plains Anthropologist. In 1960 he became director of museums for the Georgia Historical Commission, and in 1965 he was recruited as associate professor in anthropology at California State University, Long Beach. He retired from the university in 1987.

While at Long Beach, Frank accepted numerous contracts to do what was then called "salvage archaeology." These projects became a training ground for his students, sometimes numbering as many as 70 on a single project. His efforts for the National Park Service at Hidden Reservoir, along the Fresno River, constituted Frank's most intensive California fieldwork. From 1969 to 1975, major villages, cemeteries, and resource procurement areas were excavated prior to inundation by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' reservoir. Stratified deposits revealed a long prehistoric sequence, extending to the gold-rush era. James Savage's trading post (1851) and the short-lived Fresno River Reservation (1850-1860) had left a complex archaeological amalgam of cultures and traditions on the landscape. Franklin Fenenga thrived on this confusion and directed his large crews in its analysis.

Frank's interaction with students, whether in class or in the field, was perhaps his most significant role in archaeology--he was an inspirational teacher. His teaching was oriented to the process and function of cultural systems. He loved student companionship and conversation. His home and office were always open, with coffee or beer available for the student who needed to talk; he was always accessible, glad to see you, and was never judgmental.

From 1965 until his death Frank served as peer reviewer for manuscripts submitted to the Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology and American Antiquity. He served on several advisory boards for large resource management firms, archaeological societies, and museums.

In 1942 Frank was elected an associate of Sigma Xi and in 1946 a member. He was a research fellow of the Social Science Research Council from 1947 to 1948 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for California Archaeology in 1985. Also in 1985, he received the Outstanding Contributions to American Archaeology Award from the Society for American Archaeology. He was recognized for his contributions to the preservation of archaeological values in 1985 by the American Committee for the Preservation of Archaeological Collections.

His death leaves a void in the hearts of Frank Fenenga's family, friends, and students, which will not be easily filled. We miss you "Finnegan!"

Francis Riddell is president of the California Institute for Peruvian Studies. Barbara Baker Fenenga provided biographical data. Gerrit Fenenga, William Wallace, Clement Meighan, and John Foster offered constructive suggestions and filled in information gaps. Photograph courtesy of the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology. A bibliography will be mounted on the SAAweb.


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