2002 AIYS Lifetime Achievement Award
Tributes to Mac
AIYS is pleased to honor Dr. McGuire (Mac) Gibson of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago with the first AIYS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022. Dr. Gibson was the impetus for the creation of AIYS in 1978, served as its first President and has been a board member since its inception.
Mac has been a driving force for archaeology in Yemen, especially American contributions. As a primary founder of the Dhamar Survey Project, much of what we know about the archaeology of Yemen's highlands is the direct or indirect result of his obvious passion for the country. I had the great privilege of participating in a field season with Mac when I was a graduate student. It was my very first visit to Yemen. Mac's insightful anthropological and political perspectives on the people and culture of Yemen were major influences on me, ranking high among the many reasons I fell in love with the country and decided to center my career on it.
During that field season, I learned a wide range of things from Mac. During the excavation of a Bronze Age house he demonstrated archaeological methods and interpretations I hadn't been previously exposed to. Watching how he administered a successful field project in Yemen provided equally valuable lessons that I drew upon in later years when I began to run my own field seasons. It is also largely due to Mac's depth of knowledge of Yemen that I was able to get my first real insights into cultural issues such as how to eat Yemeni food and to how to appreciate the exquisite historic Yemeni silver jewelry.
Thank you, Mac, for your vital role in developing Yemeni archaeology, founding and sustaining AIYS, and, on a more personal note, for your significant influence on the early shaping of my career path.
Krista Lewis, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Department of Anthropology
Appalachian State University
Mac Gibson with a field crew at an excavation of a Bronze Age site in Yemen in 1998.
Photographs courtesy of Krista Lewis
Iraq Archaeological Field Crew in 1977. Photograph courtesy of Stephen Lintner
REFLECTIONS ON MAC GIBSON
When I first walked into Mac’s office at the Oriental Institute on March 25, 1975, he was sitting by the window listening to a transistor radio. He announced to me that King Faisal of Saudi Arabia had just been assassinated. That was the opener to our discussion about his work in Iraq and my recent dissertation research on reconstructing human influences on river channel behavior. One intense and exciting hour later, I was offered an opportunity to join the Nippur Expedition to Iraq later that year as a geomorphologist. I accepted his proposal immediately and gave him my passport that afternoon to send to Washington, DC along with those of other members of the expedition, to get our Iraqi visas. Thus began a relationship that has lasted nearly fifty years.
I participated in three expeditions to Iraq with Mac during 1975, 1976 and 1977. In 1978, I got a phone call from Mac that Yemen, a country that had fascinated me since my youth, was opening up to foreign researchers and that Mac was in the process of getting a permit for what became a National Geographic-supported field survey in the Yarim-Dhamar area in the fall of that year. I signed up for the survey with great joy.
Almost immediately after that call, Mac called again and advised me that he was organizing a meeting at the University of Chicago in the summer of 1978 to discuss interest among scholars in Yemen. I participated in that meeting, which served to establish the American Institute of Yemeni Studies (AIYS), an institution that, from its inception, benefited from Mac’s view that the scope of its activities should be broad and wide-ranging, which was a revolutionary approach at the time.
Later, his diplomatic skills and energy combined to effectively lead the establishment in 1981 and subsequent successful development of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), which flourishes to this day, with over 25 member centers operating globally. It is important to recognize Mac not only for his extraordinary research and teaching on an individual level, but also for his ability to reach out and create or revitalize valuable institutions that have promoted interdisciplinary studies covering a vast geographic area.
What can one say about Mac? He is ageless; with a mischievous smile and laugh. Mac is dynamic and curious with a unique breadth of interests, some of which he has explored in depth and some that he has floated as challenging ideas for others to consider pursuing, No one can ever forget the seemingly inexhaustible font of fascinating tales, stories and anecdotes he recounted during nights in the field, over long dinners or on even the shortest of phone calls. His descriptions of events both past and present, reflections on personalities and humorous descriptions of his experiences are always engrossing, enlightening and eagerly anticipated. Who else could claim that their mother was an Olympic Water Wings champion in her youth or tell such exotic tales about the desert?
I started my graduate education at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2003 under Mac with a focus on ancient Mesopotamia. The war in Iraq had only begun a few months before, and looting was rampant across the countryside. Needless to say, there was a great amount of uncertainty regarding the future of archaeology in the region. So I thought it would be more valuable to improve my Arabic language skills, rather than continue my Akkadian classes, in order to help navigate whatever the newly emerging political landscape would be. Not yet knowing Mac very well at all, I wasn’t sure if he would agree. But when I anxiously proposed this to him in his office, he turned his chair around with an unexpected glint in his eye and encouraged me to apply for the AIYS fellowship. I didn’t know then that the course of my career would soon change, but I think he had an idea.
Over the next years, I did indeed get to know him better and his perspectives on not only archaeology but also just as crucially its place and role in the socio-political networks of the Middle East. While deeply committed to ancient material culture, it is well-known that he has an equal passion for interrogating and understanding the contemporary context that encompasses it. Having his feet firmly planted in both worlds, it is clear why he perceived the need for establishing AIYS. Later the following summer, when I was about to leave for Sanaa for my language training, our final discussions were not fixated on what sites to visit or objects to study in museums. They were about which people to seek out or places to go or things to experience. Looking back on it, it’s clear he wanted me to gain a broader vision of Yemen as an incredibly rich whole so that I would be able to pursue my research endeavors and ideas with greater depth and nuance. I may never have gone to Yemen without his foresight and encouragement, and for this I am greatly indebted to him.