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Richard W. Redding (1947-2023)

On Monday, May 22, 2023, Dr. Richard W. Redding, dear friend, mentor, colleague, and fellow team member, passed away, a month before he turned 76. Richard was an archaeologist who analyzed animal bone, but that does not encompass the depth and breadth of his research. Richard always put his results in a wider context of the societies and economies of ancient cultures.

Richard earned his doctorate in Anthropology and Biology in 1981 at UofM with a thesis on ancient subsistence herding of sheep and goats in Southwest Asia. Richard went on to teach at Hamilton College, Wellesley College and Oakland University. From 1986 to 1991 he served as Curator and Director of Science at the Cranbrook Institute of Science. In 1993 Richard was appointed a research scientist in the Museum of Anthropology at UofM. There, he served as Associate Curator of Zooarchaeology from 1995 through 2011. As he did at Giza, Richard built a comparative collection of animal bone for the Museum of Anthropology’s zooarchaeology lab by purchasing and donating numerous bone specimens of Old World domesticates. He taught classes through the UofM Anthropology Department and trained numerous undergraduate and graduate students in zooarchaeological methods. From 2008-2010 he served as Associate Director of the Museum. In 2012, he became a Research Scientist at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

Grounded in a Michigan archaeological perspective, Richard firmly believed in a real, empirical world and a hard, natural science approach. He would challenge team members to articulate their paradigms, even if they didn’t share his. If they replied, “I don’t have a paradigm” (or model), he would say, “Yes you do, you just haven’t articulated it.” Richard framed his excavations, surveys, and analysis in big questions about the origin of food production and the “evolution of complex societies.”

In 1984 Richard directed the NSF-funded Kom el-Hisn Project with Robert Wenke who was then Director of the ARCE Cairo office.  excavated at Kom el-Hisn in 1984, 1986, and 1988. On the heels of that project, in 1991, Richard came to work with the AERA team at the “Lost City of the Pyramids”, a.k.a. the Heit el-Ghurab site of 4th Dynasty settlement at the Giza Pyramids. He became a regular AERA team member, Chief Research Officer, board member, and eventually Chair and Secretary. Slowly, methodically, over 32 years, right up to our most recent fieldwork two months ago (March 2023), Richard continued to amass big data – literally millions of identifications of exactly-provenanced animal bone – data that reveals striking patterns of status and diet in this city of pyramid builders: administrators in large houses enjoying prime beef of young male cattle, conscripts in barracks consuming more sheep and goat, dietary combinations like expensive Nile perch and prime beef versus catfish and goat.

Thanks to Richard, there is now a cadre of Egyptian zooarchaeologists, and a whole special program of zooarchaeology at the MoTA Training Center in Saqqara, headed by his former student, Mohamed Hussein. Willeke Wendrich, President of the International Association of Egyptologists, said it best: “His work in Giza really put the importance of zooarchaeology for Egyptology on the map.”

Asked in a recent interview what inspires him, Richard answered, “Discovery.” When asked, “what can’t you live without?”, Richard answered “field work.” When he had to leave our last field season early (in March 2023) to tend to health issues, he wrote “I am sorry” on that white board in the lab for truncating his teaching for three students. He looked forward picking up in the fall where they left off.

Richard leaves a great legacy, a legacy hard to match. Richard leaves what may be the world’s largest corpus of archaeological faunal data compressed into the briefest of archeological periods (the 50 or so years of pharaohs Khafre and Menkaure who built the Second and Third Giza Pyramids). He leaves an invaluable reference collection in Giza. (For over 32 years, other projects borrowed that collection to use it on other sites.) AERA will make good use of Richard’s reference collection by continuing his research and teaching.

The many expressions of appreciation for Richard’s life, work, and legacy say it best: Richard was “an irreplaceable, generous spirit;” “a positive, enthusiastic, and dedicated professional, a force of nature;” “a wonderfully positive and supportive person and a great scientist.” Richard lived with “kindness and dedication to his work and his trainees.” “AERA will not be the same without him, we were like a family in all these years.”

Mark Lehner