(Benjamin) Irving Rouse (b. 1913, d. 2006) began his career at
Yale as an undergraduate in forestry and switched to archaeology while
a student employee of the Peabody’s Anthropology Division.
Intending to go into forestry, Ben Rouse did his undergraduate work in
plant science at the Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School, but a chance
event changed his life and shaped his career.
“When I arrived at Yale in 1930, I put what little money my family was able to give me after the stock market crash the previous year into a bank; the bank went broke, so I had to support myself. Yale had a job placement bureau that gave me a couple of jobs raking leaves in the fall. Then they sent me to Cornelius Osgood, who had just arrived at Yale and discovered that less than half the archeological specimens at the Peabody Museum had been catalogued. Cataloguing those specimens was the first decent job offered to me. At Osgood’s urging I started taking graduate courses in anthropology. By my junior year, I had decided I didn’t want to be a forester. Osgood persuaded me to come into the Yale graduate program and eventually he directed my dissertation.”
In college, Rouse had been drawn towards taxonomy in botany, a mature field of study, but he shifted to the much younger discipline of anthropology because he saw a more urgent need for classification there. He completed his Ph.D. at Yale, and went on to become Charles J. MacCurdy Professor of Anthropology and Curator of Anthropology at the Yale Peabody Museum. At various times from 1938 through his retirement in 1984, Professor Rouse was curator, assistant curator, research associate and faculty affiliate. A pioneer in circum-Caribbean archaeology and a major contributor to the development of archaeological methods, particularly ceramic analysis, typology and chronology, Rouse has left the Peabody Museum with the world’s and most comprehensive systematically excavated collections from the Caribbean region, comprising 52% of the Division of Anthropology’s catalog records and hundreds of thousands of individual objects, the largest and most important anthropology collections at the Peabody. Rouse and his colleagues and students excavated on most of the major islands in the Caribbean (Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and others) as well as in Venezuela and Florida. He published several books and articles, including his 1999 publication with colleague and long-time research collaborator Birgit Faber Morse, Excavations at the Indian Creek Site, Antigua, West Indies. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, held important roles in national anthropological and archaeological organizations, and helped found the Archaeological Society of Connecticut.
Rouse’s interest in the problems of classification was lifelong. His work combined two major themes in archaeological research: the distribution of culture over space and the study of culture change through time. The Peabody’s 2005 Curator’s Choice exhibition Detecting Cultures treated one small part of one excavation among many conducted by Rouse to reconstruct the prehistory of the Caribbean, where he has done so much groundbreaking work.
Rouse passed away in New Haven on February 4, 2006 at the age of 92.