The world became a lesser place with the passing of Professor Joan Gero on 14th July, 2016.

Professor Gero was an eminent scholar in the socio-politics of archaeology, the archaeology of gender, archaeological ethics and South American archaeology. With Margaret Conkey, she co-edited the seminal volume Engendering Archaeology: Women and Prehistory, published by Basil Blackwell in 1991 and re-printed six times. Her most recent publications include ‘The Evolution of Happiness” (with Stephen Loring), published in Archaeologies: The Journal of the World Archaeological Congress and Yutopian: Archaeology, Ambiguity and the Production of Knowledge in Northwest Argentina, published by the University of Texas Press in November 2015.

At the time of her passing Joan Gero was Professor Emerita, American University, Washington, D.C., and a research associate with the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution. Prior to this she taught at the University of South Carolina, USA. She has held visiting professorships at Cambridge University, U.K., Universidad Nacional de Catamarca, Argentina; the Universities of Umeå and Uppsala, Sweden; and the Universidad Nacional del Centro de Buenos Aires, Olavarría, Argentina.

Professor Gero worked tirelessly for WAC over many decades. She was the nationally elected senior North American representative for WAC from 1999 to 2008. When the arrangements to hold WAC-5 in Brazil fell through due to a major change in the economic circumstances of the country, Professor Gero agreed to take it on herself. WAC-5 was held in Washington, D.C., in June, 2003. It supported some 230 participants from Indigenous groups and low-income countries and provided a surplus that put WAC on a secure financial footing for the first time. From 2003 to 2008, Professor Gero was Head Series Editor of the One World Archaeology book series, published by Left Coast Press. In 2003 she became a founding member of the Advisory Board for Archaeologies: The Journal of the World Archaeological Congress. From 2007, she was a member of WAC’s Standing Committee on Ethics.

In all of these roles Professor Gero saw, and understood, the complexities of every situation. The ironies, the contradictions, the ethical dilemmas. She did not make decisions easily or lightly. She considered issues deeply, looking for cracks in the logic, alternatives that had not been considered, ways of improving the process or the outcome. We will miss her critical mind.

In the last months of her life, Joan Gero continued her service to WAC through supporting the possibility of a bid for WAC-9 in Cuba. She continued her efforts to obtain a fairer world for all through her active support of Bernie Sander’s campaign to become the Democratic nominee for the 2016 Presidential elections in the USA. She passed away shortly after returning from Argentina and a continent that she loved. She was looking forward to attending WAC-8 in Kyoto, Japan.

The World Archaeological Congress has been greatly enriched by the efforts, vision and generosity of Professor Joan Gero over many decades. Her work continues through the people she inspired, supported and loved.

Claire Smith
28 July, 2016

If you would like to share a memory of Joan or give your condolences please do so in the comments section below.

wac gero web

Joan Gero with her husband Stephen Loring, Sonora, Arizona, USA, December, 2012


  1. I knew Joan from seeing her at the Smithsonian, and at a couple of lovely get-togethers at her and Stephen’s home. She was always so engaging, kind, and had wonderful humor.
    My sincere condolences to Stephen.
    Natalie Firnhaber

  2. Behalf of the Archaeologies (Journal of WAC) we are so sorry for such great loss!
    Sympathies to Steve Loring.
    We will never forget you Joan…

  3. Each time I met Joan I thought ‘what a neat person!’ So thoughtful, alive, doing really interesting things. Her passing leaves a big gap in my world. Stephen: my thoughts are for you.

  4. I knew Joan from the early 1970’s as grad students at UMASS. We worked together at South Carolina and despite the geographic disrances between my research in Ireland and hers in Peru and Argentina, we shared our passion concerning the power history has over the politics of the present and future.

    I know Joan as one of the funniest and most serious of intellects, and a tremendously loyal friend. Her passion for archaeology as a discipline with particularly profound and relevant insights into making life better for everyone drove her profound formative thinking on Feminism and her marvel as a teacher. Everyone should read through her bibliography; and especially her just published masterwork, which I find the best book on the theory and practice of archaeology written only as Joan could do. I intend ro use it as my graduate method and theory text for the rest of my teaching career.

    I am still breathless from her passing but I am soothed knowing that her legacy is having changed academia and the real world throigh her feminist teaching and persistent battle against privilege and for social justice.

    Stan Green

  5. I do remember well Prof. Joan Gero, from when I attended WAC 5 on behalf of UISPP, as a first step to overcome past divides. I also know and appreciate her scientific work, that will undoubtly remain. My condolences, and also those of UISPP, go to her family, also to her close colleagues and friends.

  6. Another grate lost to archaeology and my condolences to her family, also to her close colleagues and friends.

  7. I was a student of Joan at AU in late 1990s. For me she was one of the best teachers I ever had – it’s through her eyes that I began to see the history of archaeology and the complexities of our field. My critical approaches to archaeology have their roots in her classes at AU. I still talk about her lectures in my classes at my institute in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and about her funny ways of telling things that are so serious. Her passing away is a great loss – I really can’t believe that Joan is no more – well life is such.

  8. My heartfelt condolences to Prof. Joan Gero’s family, friends and close colleagues.

  9. Joan was my thesis advisor and chair at the University of South Carolina. She took on a subject that was not her field and greatly influenced my direction and thinking, as well as helped broaden my understanding of archaeology. You don’t always realize the influence that someone can have on your life and career until you look backwards, and I can greatly appreciate Joan’s contributions to mine. My sincerest condolences to Stephen and Joan’s family.

  10. Joan was one of my professors in the University of South Carolina’s Masters Degree program where I took theory classes from her. While abstract thinking was/is not my forte, she taught me to try to understand the past from perspectives that I would not have otherwise ever imagined. My condolences to her friends, family, and her husband Stephen.

  11. May your spirit be clothed in the love and respect so many hold for you and your name be a blessing.

  12. Joan was a great person, full of enthusiam ,energy and creative ideas. I remember when she came to do ethnography in our excavation in Arroyo Seco in 1992. It was an intense experience which produced a lot of interest discussions after diinner. Joan was always charming and open-minded. We all enjoyed her presence.. Stephen: my deep condolences.

  13. Like Natalie and Brad, Joan was one of my professors at the University of South Carolina. Also, I worked for her as a Grad Student in Peru during the summer of 1988. I actually met my wife via her terrific 1988 project in Peru. She was the toughest professor I had at USC and I am grateful to her for that. I am better at doing archaeology because of her. I send my heartfelt condolences to Stephen, family, and friends.

  14. I first met Joan through having the privilege to edit an article based on her PhD that introduced startling and creative ideas on lithics which jarred and thrilled me at an important time in my theoretical thinking. We didn’t meet face to face until she came to Australia to support the first Women in Archaeology conference held in a small country town. I’m pretty sure she was a bit shocked at the informality of Australian archaeological conferences. Her powerful feminist critiques had a profound affect on everyone who attended the conference and of course on the global community where they still resonate so strongly. Besides the powerful intellect, there was also Joan, the witty, kind, compassionate person who always had time to share and who devoted so much of her energy to support WAC. I’m so happy that I was able to know this amazing person and benefit from herdiverse talents. I have no doubt that her outstanding academic contributions will outlast most of us.

  15. I met Joan in the early 1970s when we were grad students together at UMASS/Amherst, and sought her out as possible thereafter because I was inspired by her feminist critiques and research, as well as her wit, warmth, and wisdom. Joan’s contributions to archaeology will continue to inspire, but the field has lost an amazing leader and I feel great sorrow over losing a kindred spirit who I considered a friend. I wish to extend my deep condolences, sympathy (and virtual hugs) to Stephen Loring and hope we get a chance to meet again. André also sends his greetings and condolences, with memories of past get togethers.
    Suzanne Spencer-Wood

  16. I am so very sad to hear this news and my sympathies are with Stephen. I was taught by Joan as a grad student at USC in the late 80s. My abiding memory is of her inspirational and irrepressible intellectual energy – I was an RA for her and had a great time going through back copies of Nat Geo to decode the socio economics of how indigenous peoples were represented according to gender. It helped inspire a lifetime’s interest in how the past is represented and my attempts to address these issues in my own documentaries. VALE Joan.

  17. I was another of Joan’s students at South Carolina, 1984-87. I came to that program satisfied with my career as a CRM tech, and with the limited ambition to get an M.A. in Public Service Archaeology, which, I hoped, would help to lengthen my jobs in CRM. (We were pioneers of the gig economy, without knowing it, of course.) Joan changed that. She INSISTED (as only Joan could) that we could not just dig, because a highway/pipeline/canal, etc. was going through, but that we had to ask a QUESTION that ONLY that digging could answer. For better or worse, I stopped being a tech, and became an archaeologist. That’s a better, and a more interesting and fulfilling gig, and I have Joan to thank for it.

  18. Joan was at the forefront of feminism and the social contexts and impacts of archaeology, while always, as Claire says, a most dependable hardworking colleagues and friend. Her death is a shock and a substantial loss to our discipline as well as to her host of friends.

  19. She knocked the door and came in when we were discussing about a new issue of ‘Archaeological Review from Cambridge’. Her huge smile literary lit up the room and we stopped talking, obliged to smile back. Then we wondered ‘who the hell…’.

    This is how I met Joan, back in winter 1991. She came to invite us for her private discussion seminar series on the potential of Ethnomethodology in the archaeologies of the everyday, and some of us immediately said yes! My theoretical ambition (!?) was huge, but my experience, skill and, above all, my competence in conversational English, were all pretty poor, but Joan, quite characteristically, took great care for me to feel comfortable amongst my fellow members of the seminar, who were all very smart, enthusiastic, kind, but competitive.

    She left Cambridge after one year of her sabbatical stay, but she left us a tremendous impression and legacy, that was the belief that doing serious theoretical archaeology was the only way to seriously commit yourself to what were going on in the world. Despite that brief private tutor/mentorship, Joan has been treating me as her student, and giving me all sorts of advices and encouragements, each and every time in her tender voice and with her huge, assuring smile.

    I still cannot quite believe she has left us, simply because there are innumerable fragments of what she was doing in her archaeology that are in what I am doing my archaeology everyday, connected and re-connected to an ever changing sets of artefacts, features, landscapes, observations, descriptions, analyses, ideas, models, theories, and everything, and each and every time when I remember how she talked about those bits, she is still there, smiling, and encouraging me.

    Thank you, Joan, thank you, Professor Gero.

  20. Joan was an intellectual force within archaeology–both a forward-looking researcher and, in a way, our collective conscience. I remember clearly how inclusive and welcoming she was to me when I was just entering the ranks of the profession. We are very fortunate that Joan chose archaeology and so enriched our discipline.

  21. I was very sad to hear of Joan loss. I met Joan back in 2003, a few days before WAC-5. They were really stressful times, everything had to be ready for a huge conference with more than 1200 people from more than 70 different countries attending. With Claire and her I learned the complexities of organising a major conferences, the behind the scenes, the serious decisions that made possible a phantastic conferences with very successful social events. Those stressful times before WAC5 soon turned into smiles and happiness when the conference was over. It was a great success, and a significant contribution for WAC. And after and thanks to WAC, we did find multiple times in different parts of the World: the unique WAC intercongress in Osaka, WAC-6 in Dublin, WAC-7 in Jordan, to name some, and there she was, always present and always ready to contribute to WAC. She will be certainly missed. My most sincere condolences for Steven.
    Ines Domingo

  22. Dear Steven,

    I am really sorry to hear that Joanne has left us, i was certainly looking forward to meet you both again in Kyoto, 2016. I had such a great time with you two in this thiny bar while the conference in Jordan. Where we were able to share and transmit some of our ideas, visions and entertained ourselves. She was really clever and humble, a very unique human life. I met Joan back in 2003 during the American University conference and i will always remember her laughs and just fun times she was having during our dinner at the Smithsonian Museum. She will always as a memorable woman who led a light in my life.

  23. I really loved having Joan as a professor and mentor at usc. I was thrilled to have a chance to catch up with her this past November at the AAAs. It gave me a chance to thank her for her influence. I’m so very sad that she is gone. She was brilliant and a true original. My condolences to Stephen.

  24. At WAC in DC, her presentation of The Evolution of Happiness showed that serious scholarship – her feminist archaeology will continue to inspire – can be done by nice people with a great sense of humor.

  25. I knew Joan when she was in South Carolina and relocated to Washington, DC. She was very kind to me, and I admired her relentless spirit in making archaeology inclusive. She made notable contributions to archaeology in some many ways. My condolences to Stephen and Joan’s family.

  26. I have never met her in person, but I was deeply inspired by her work.
    Rest in peace.

  27. I first met Joan when she came to Australia for the first Women and Archaeology conference, back in the 1990s. She was inspirational, and so kind and supportive to me, a PhD student at that stage. I was very influenced by Engendering Archaeology, Genderlithics, and other of her works such as The Woman at Home. She had a revolutionary spirit combined with archaeological rigour. I admired her so much and cannot believe she is no longer here.

  28. I’m so sorry to hear this. I gave my first ever conference paper at WAC-5 in DC. I was a lowly BA student. Thank you for the inspiration, Joan Gero. Condolences to her husband.

  29. Sincere condolences to Stephen and her family. I didn’t really know her but of course knew of her and that clearly indicated a good and kind and very knowledgeable person of great value to our profession. There is no doubt that the host of angels on high have had their quality seriously enhanced. The health and well being of WAC is an important part of her legacy so her investment will benefit many, many people and she leaves our profession in better shape than when she first arrived.

  30. Dear Stephen,

    I am sorry that I did not know Joan well, but I am aware that she was very important to you. Please know that I am thinking of you at this difficult time.


  31. To Joan Gero who inspired me so much by writing on recuay iconography.
    Another great lost in the domain of archaelogy. All my condoleances to the family.

  32. I knew Joan first when she was a grad student and I was an undergrad at UMass in the 70s. I then showed up in Peru when she was doing her dissertation work in the Callejon de Huaylas and she supported me on her Fulbright for 3 months. This incredible and generous offer led to my long-term research in Peru. Twenty years later we were working together again, at Yutopian! Our personal joke was that we should work together every 20 years, exactly! She is really loved, as a friend and intellectual. I am now living and working in Hawai`i and I feel the void halfway across the earth. You showed me how to be a professional and how to change the world. Rest in peace.

  33. I first met Joan following a 16-hour bus trip through the night from Buenos Ares to Northwest Argentina. I stumbled off the bus and was greeted by an enormous hug and an equally generous heart. I didn’t realize at the time just how lucky I was to learn from Joan and see Argentina and Peru through her eyes, heart, and mind. Her thoughtful mentorship welcomed me to the field and guided me onwards to graduate school. It’s befitting that I follow the words of Jack Rossen who I also met that trip, she’s brought us all together again. Joan, you are missed and forever my heart.

  34. Orgullosa de haber sido parte de algunos años de su vida, cuando desarrolló una beca de la Fullbrige y vivimos casi tres años con ella, fuímos testigos de su amor a su trabajo. Pero también de su calidad humana. Gran amiga muy comprometida. Nunca imaginé que cumpliría regresar a Perú solo para ser madrina de mi hija. Así era Juanita, así la llamamos siempre. Y saber que en todo su camino dejó mucho de ella como profesional, amiga, maestra, me regocijo de haber compartido momentos únicos como cuando me enseño a hacer mantequilla de maní. Algún día nos volveremos a reunir….

  35. Although I can’t remember exactly how she said it, I’ll never forget the first time I met Joan at a conference a few years ago when she pointed to her mostly pink, multi-colored tights to remind me that women can embrace their femininity as loudly and proudly as they wish and still be powerful forces in the world. That beautiful, bright image of Joan will always live strongly in my mind. I really regret not finding the time to accept her invitation to visit her in DC last year to kickstart a collaboration. But I am, nonetheless, very happy to have known her at all–to soak up a few moments of her strength and intellect. My sincere condolences to her family and close friends.

  36. I did not know Joan as an anthropologist. I knew her as a gracious host when I visited and a wonderful crewmate during a two-week canoe trip on the Rio Grande. Canoeing a wild river for a couple weeks and associated campfire discussions, are a great way to get to know someone. I last saw Joan in Vermont in early July. I only heard the tragic news after returning from a northern Canadian canoe expedition this month. It was a gut punch and my most heartfelt sympathies to Stephen and Joan’s family.

  37. Joan Gero was one of the finest professors American University ever had. She was engaging – even for those of us for whom archeology seemed so very complicated. I loved her laugh and I loved to laugh with her because she was an authentically kind and wonderful woman who never put on airs. She always treated others as if they were right on par with her (almost impossible to be on par with Joan) and you always came away feeling she had given you a new idea or insight or just a great “belly-laugh”. Joan was a genius in so many ways. She was innovative and timeless in her grasp of the world around her. We shared a love for orchids and would compare photo’s of those we each tended to. Hers were always strong and beautiful – like herself. Joan, you will be missed by many. I hold you to my heart and feel grateful to have known you.

  38. It was an honor and a privilege to have had Joan as my advisor at South Carolina, but more than that I considered her a friend. My heart goes out to her family and especially to Stephen. Like so many others, I learned about the value of archaeology to the modern world from her. But what I remember most was her support when I was caught between a rock and a hard place as a young grad student. Joan was quick to point out that I was learning more from my grad school experience than a lot of my classmates as a result. Making lemonade from whatever lemons life throws at you, standing up for what’s right and always fighting the good fight. Lessons that I have carried with me ever since.

    Thank you Joan!

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