Department of Anthropology

George Carr Frison

B.S. 1964, University of Wyoming
M.A. 1965, University of Michigan
Ph.D. 1967, University of Michigan

George Carr Frison was born November 11, 1924 in Worland, Wyoming. He first attended the University of Wyoming in 1942, but soon joined the U. S. Navy for service in World War II. He served with amphibious forces in the South Pacific and was discharged in 1946. He returned to the family ranch at Tensleep, Wyoming upon discharge, and worked it until 1962, when he re-entered the university to complete in Anthropology a Bachelor's of Science degree with honors.

As a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, George enrolled in the Anthropology department at the University of Michigan where he completed his M. A. degree in one year and PhD in another two. He received the PhD in May 1967 and was appointed both head of the University of Wyoming Department of Anthropology and Wyoming's first State Archaeologist in the same year. George served as State Archaeologist until 1984 when it became a full-time position. During his tenure at the University of Wyoming, more than 70 students have graduated with the Master of Arts degree in anthropology, and many more students attended his classes and graduated with an undergraduate degree from the department. Many of these students have chosen careers in anthropology because of George's early influence on their lives.

From 1967 to 1994, George excavated close to a dozen bison bone beds, ranging in age from Paleoindian to Protohistoric, and fully reported his findings in over a dozen articles and books. The materials from these sites are curated at the University of Wyoming and form one of the most complete sources for understanding this important Plains site type. There are a number of significant aspects to George's bone bed research. Perhaps the foremost implication of this research is the systemic and ecological view of Plains prehistory. A number of George's other studies are important as well. These include his investigation of the Colby, Hanson, Medicine Lodge Creek, Laddie Creek, Southsider, Lookingbill, and a number of foothills rockshelters. Through these we learn about Clovis and Folsom on the Northwestern Plains with Colby being the only extensively reported Clovis site in the region, and Hanson being one of a few Folsom period campsites in this region. Work at the other sites allowed George to form his ideas about early mountain/foothill adaptations that date back to Paleoindian times.

George benefitted from the earlier cultural historic studies that laid the groundwork for Northwestern Plains chronology. He expanded the chronology and went well beyond to understand subsistence strategies, technology, and taphonomy. One of the offshoots of his dissertation research (Archaeological Evidence of Crow Indians in Northern Wyoming: A Study of Late Prehistoric Buffalo Economy 1967), the change in tool edge shape through resharpening, resulted in two things: Frist, an important contribution to understanding variation in chipped stone assemblages and thus technological organization. And second, having this process named after him ("the Frison effect"). His experimental work with stone tools has brought new insight into the form and function of Clovis technology.

He has authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited six major books (Casper, Hanson, Agate Basin, Colby, Horner, Mill Iron), and the two editions of his Prehistoric Hunters of the High Plains provide a synthetic overview of northwest Plains prehistory. He has authored more than 70 other professional publication (with others in press), and has presented scientific papers before more the 60 regional, national, and international meetings. He has received over three dozen research grants totaling more than $1 million from such agencies as the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Geographic Society, and the National Park Service.

In addition to these academic contributions, George has made a number of what can be called institutional contributions to archaeology. He served as board member and president of the Plains Anthropologist Society (Board of Directors [1970], president [1972-1974] and the Society for American Archaeology (Executive Board [1973] President-elect and President [1981-1985]. His tenure as president of the SAA was especially painful as the Society separated from the American Anthropological Association during this time. Having been schooled in the four field approach to anthropology and having followed this philosophy in his teaching and in the organization of the program in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming, the SAA-AAA split was difficult.

In addition he was named Fellow of the American Academy of Science in 1972; and Counselor of the American Quaternary Association 1982-1986, serving on the Quaternary Research Editorial Board as well. He has received numerous awards through the years. In 1975, he received the Asa Hill Award given by the Nebraska Historical Society, for Outstanding Archaeological Research and Interpretation on the Plains, followed in 1979, by a Regents' Fellowship Award from the Smithsonian Institution, a Senior Post Doctoral Fellowship. The University of Wyoming has also honored him with the 1985 George Duke Humphrey Distinguished Faculty Award, and with the 1993 Arts and Sciences College Outstanding Alumni Award.

George has always had a close working relationship with the Wyoming Archaeological Society, a group of concerned avocational archaeologists who began promoting Wyoming archaeology in the 1950s. His association with this society was instrumental in their lobbying efforts to create the indispensable position of State Archaeologist in state of Wyoming. While state archaeologist, George oversaw the growth of the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist Survey Sections, the Records division, which later became the State Historic Preservation Office - Cultural Records Division, and the University of Wyoming curation facility (one of two curation facilities in the state). The centralization of these agencies at the University of Wyoming has been of great benefit to investigators. Throughout the initial growing pains and subsequent coming of age of Cultural Resource Management, George played at first an active and now an advisory and influential role in assuring that CRM and academic archaeology remain in touch.

George Frison's career in Plains anthropology has spanned nearly four decades. Through this time he has made a major contribution to Plains prehistory. This contribution is in the form of greater understanding of chipped stone technology, bison bone beds, Paleoindian systematics, Plains chronology, the growth of two major Plains archaeological institutions (the department of Anthropology at the University of Wyoming and the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist) and the training of hundreds of students, and through this he has gained an international reputation in the field of archaeology. All of this is best summed by George's own words: "This is my last year of teaching at the University of Wyoming. I look forward to Emeritus status and continuing to do research in Wyoming archaeology. Our department here at the University of Wyoming is relatively small, but at local, regional, national, and international meetings, I see many former students presenting papers at the leading edge of the profession. Most of these persons have gone on to greater things, but it is satisfying to know that they received their basic training in Wyoming archaeology ... I doubt very much that if I were allowed to do it again I would do it any differently."

Dr. Frison was named to the National Academy of Sciences in 1997.



Contact Us

Anthropology Department

12th and Lewis Streets

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-5136


Find us on Instagram (Link opens a new window)Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window)Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window)Find us on LinkedIn (Link opens a new window)Find us on YouTube (Link opens a new window)