Edwin Hamilton Davis, one of the founders of North American archaeology, was born on January 23, 1811 in Hillsboro, Ohio and died in New York City on May 18, 1888. Davis's interest in the many Indian mounds in south-central Ohio began while he was a student at Kenyon College. These preliminary investigations were further "influenced and encouraged" by a meeting with Daniel Webster while Davis was still an undergraduate, and led to an oration entitled "The Antiquities of Ohio" presented at his graduation from Kenyon on September 4, 1833.
Over the next several decades, Edwin Davis graduated from the Cincinnati Medical College (ca. 1838), married Lucy Woodbridge in 1841 (with whom he had nine children), and practiced medicine in Chillicothe, Ohio until 1850. He then moved to New York City and taught at the New York Medical College until 1860, occupying the chair of materia medica and therapeutics. He (presumably) also maintained a private medical practice until the late 1870s or early 1880s.
During his years in Ohio, Davis's commitment to describing and preserving the fast-disappearing archaeological remains in Ohio and elsewhere continued to occupy much of his time. At his own expense, he set out to (in his words) "procure accurate surveys of the various works and record them with full descriptions." He was particularly interested in the monumental earth structures and burial mounds to be found throughout the American Midwest. Ephraim G. Squier, who went on to become a leading archaeologist, joined him in this effort.
In 1848, Squier and Davis published what is generally considered to be the first systematic and scientific study in North American archaeology, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. This book was the very first volume in the distinguished Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge Series, a series which was the progenitor of the current Smithsonian Publication Series in Archaeology and Anthropology. Davis and Squier's investigations were pathbreaking in the care and accuracy of their recording procedures, setting standards for North American archaeology that were not to be surpassed until the early 20th century.
In recognition of his pioneering work in archaeology during the previous two decades, Edwin H. Davis was awarded an honorary M.A. from Kenyon in 1851. Davis House, located close to Palme House, contains an archeology lab and storage space for artifacts, as well as a seminar room and faculty offices.
(J. Kenneth Smail)