Famous American Anthropologists

Find out more about the greatest American Anthropologists, including Joseph Campbell, Ann Dunham, Margaret Mead, Zora Neale Hurston and Franz Boas.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Dian Fossey

Dian Fossey
Famous As: Zoologist, Conservationist
Birthdate: January 16, 1932
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, United States
Died: December 26, 1985
Zoologist, primatologist, and conservationist Dian Fossey conducted research on mountain gorillas in Rwanda from 1966 until she was murdered in 1985. She was part of the Trimates assigned to study apes by paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. She wrote Gorillas in the Mist, which was later turned into a film.

 2 Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston
Famous As: Folklorist, Anthropologist
Birthdate: January 7, 1891
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Notasulga
Died: January 28, 1960

Zora Neale Hurston was an author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. As an African American woman, she often depicted racial issues in the films she made. Her works also reflected her struggles as a black woman. In her early career, she conducted anthropological and ethnographic research and focused more on writing and film-making in her later years.

 3 Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead
Famous As: Cultural Anthropologist
Birthdate: December 16, 1901
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Died: November 15, 1978

One of the most celebrated anthropologists to have ever existed, Margaret Mead is remembered for his research on a broad range of topics, such as sexual conventions in Western society. Of her 23 books, the most talked-about was the bestseller Coming of Age in Samoa.

 4 Franz Boas

Franz Boas
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: July 9, 1858
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Minden, Westphalia, Germany
Died: December 21, 1942

Remembered for his research on cultural relativism, German-born American anthropologist Franz Boas is often referred to as the Father of American Anthropology. The son of a merchant, he was a sickly child who grew up reading a lot. He also studied folklore and developed it as an academic discipline.

 5 Ann Dunham

Ann Dunham
Famous As: Anthropologist, Barack Obama's Mother
Birthdate: November 29, 1942
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Wichita, Kansas, United States
Died: November 7, 1995
Ann Dunham was the mother of former U.S. President Barack Obama. She was an economic anthropologist and worked for the betterment of rural Indonesian women. She had met Barack Obama Sr. while studying at the University of Hawaii. She had worked with USAID, the Ford Foundation, and Bank Rakyat Indonesia.

 6 Chris McCandless

Chris McCandless
Famous As: American adventurer
Birthdate: February 12, 1968
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: El Segundo, California, United States
Died: August 18, 1992

Chris McCandless, also known as Alexander Supertramp, was made famous by Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, which was later made into a movie. The adventurer had hitchhiked through Alaska, and later took shelter in an abandoned bus, where he eventually died of starvation and poisoning, cut off from civilization.

 7 Clifford Geertz

Clifford Geertz
Famous As: Anthropologist, University teacher, Sociologist
Birthdate: August 23, 1926
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: San Francisco
Died: October 30, 2006

Clifford Geertz was an anthropologist who strongly supported and influenced the practice of symbolic anthropology. He attended Harvard University, where he completed an interdisciplinary program. He then embarked on an academic career and wrote several theoretical pieces and essays on symbolic anthropology. He has left a strong influence on modern anthropology and communication studies. 

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 8 Ruth Benedict

Ruth Benedict
Famous As: Anthropologist, Folklorist, University teacher, Poet, Sociologist, Biographer
Birthdate: June 5, 1887
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: New York City
Died: September 17, 1948

Ruth Benedict was an American folklorist and anthropologist. Benedict, who played an important role in the American Folklore Society, also served as the American Anthropological Association's president; the association gives away an annual prize named after Ruth Benedict. In 2005, she was made an inductee of the National Women's Hall of Fame.

 9 Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: July 7, 1948
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA

Kathy Reichs is a forensic anthropologist, academic, and crime writer. She has been certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and is an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina. She is the author of numerous technical books and has also written many novels. She also produced the TV series Bones, based on her works. 

 10 Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer
Birthdate: October 26, 1959
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: North Adams, Massachusetts
Died: February 21, 2022

Paul Farmer was a medical anthropologist and physician, who was a co-founder of Partners In Health (PIH), an international non-profit organization. He was a proponent of liberation theology and wrote extensively on health and human rights. 

 11 Edward Sapir

Edward Sapir
Famous As: Anthropologist, Linguist, Sociolinguist, University teacher, Ethnologist
Birthdate: January 26, 1884
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Lębork
Died: February 4, 1939

Edward Sapir was an anthropologist-linguist. He played a pivotal role in the development of the discipline of linguistics in USA. He studied Germanic linguistics at Columbia and later researched Native American languages. He was an expert in the study of Athabascan languages and Chinookan languages. He also worked with Yiddish, Hebrew, and Chinese languages. 

 12 Carlos Castaneda

Carlos Castaneda
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: December 25, 1925
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Cajamarca, Peru
Died: April 27, 1998

Peruvian-American author and anthropologist Carlos Castaneda was born to unwed parents. He lived a mysterious life, and though believed to be married, he later denied the claim. An expert on shamanism, he was a disciple of sorcerer Don Juan Matus and later penned books such as The Teachings of Don Juan.

 13 Lewis Henry Morgan

Lewis Henry Morgan
Birthdate: November 21, 1818
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Aurora
Died: December 17, 1881

Lewis Henry Morgan was a 19th-century lawyer, anthropologist, and social theorist. A contemporary of the European social theorists and philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, he was interested in studying what holds societies together. He originated several theories of social evolution. He was made the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1880.  

 14 David Graeber

David Graeber
Famous As: Anthropologist, Professor
Birthdate: February 12, 1961
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York, United States
Died: September 2, 2020

David Graeber, who was a well-known name in the fields of social and economic anthropology, is best remembered for his bestselling book Bullshit Jobs. A lifelong anti-capitalist, he spoke against bureaucracy and also led the Occupy movement. He died abruptly of necrotic pancreatitis, while vacationing in Venice.

 15 John Wesley Powell

John Wesley Powell
Famous As: Explorer, Geologist
Birthdate: March 24, 1834
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Mount Morris
Died: September 23, 1902

John Wesley Powell was a geologist and explorer of the American West. He undertook a series of adventures as a young man and later joined the military. He is best known for the three-month-long geographic expedition he undertook down the Green and Colorado rivers. He was made the director of the U.S. Geological Survey in 1881.  

 16 Talal Asad

Talal Asad
Famous As: Anthropologist known for his writing calling for the anthropology of secularism
Birthdate: March 31, 1932
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Medina, Saudi Arabia

Sociocultural anthropologist and City University of New York professor Talal Asad is best known for his research on nomads, postcolonialism, and the culture of nations such as Sudan. He has also taught at the universities of Khartoum and Hull, and penned books such as On Suicide Bombing.

 17 Edward S. Curtis

Edward S. Curtis
Famous As: Former photographer and ethnologist whose work focused on the American West and on Native American people
Birthdate: February 19, 1868
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Whitewater, Wisconsin, United States
Died: October 19, 1952

Edward S. Curtis was an American ethnologist and photographer whose work focused on the Native American people and American West. He is credited with photographing the first portrait of a Native American. Edward S. Curtis' work aimed at preserving the traditional life of Native Americans.

 18 Marshall Sahlins

Marshall Sahlins
Famous As: Anthropologist, Educationist, University teacher
Birthdate: December 27, 1930
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Chicago

Born to a Russian immigrant doctor father in Chicago, Marshall Sahlins grew up to be one of the most celebrated cultural anthropologists of the world. The University of Chicago professor is also known for his books such as The Use and Abuse of Biology and Stone Age Economics.

 19 Gregory Bateson

Gregory Bateson
Famous As: Anthropologist, Philosopher, Sociologist, Psychologist
Birthdate: May 9, 1904
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Grantchester
Died: June 11, 1980

Gregory Bateson was an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, and visual anthropologist. Along with his colleagues, he developed the double-bind theory of schizophrenia. Also a cyberneticist, he was part of the core group of the Macy Conferences in Cybernetics. He was a member of philosopher William Irwin Thompson's esoteric nonprofit foundation Lindisfarne Association.  

 20 Robert Ripley

Robert Ripley
Famous As: Cartoonist
Birthdate: December 25, 1890
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Santa Rosa, California, United States
Died: May 27, 1949

Robert Ripley was a cartoonist and an amateur anthropologist best known for creating the newspaper panel series Ripley's Believe It or Not! The series was later adapted for radio and TV. He lost his father when he was young and began working as a cartoonist at the age of 16. Over the years, he became extremely successful and wealthy. 

 21 William James Sidis

William James Sidis
Famous As: Notable for his 1920 book The Animate and the Inanimate
Birthdate: April 1, 1898
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Manhattan, New York City, United States
Died: July 17, 1944

 22 Lothrop Stoddard

Lothrop Stoddard
Famous As: Anthropologist, Political scientist, Historian, Author, Journalist, Opinion journalist
Birthdate: June 29, 1883
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Brookline
Died: May 1, 1950

Twentieth-century American political scientist and historian Lothrop Stoddard was a Ku Klux Klan and believed in eugenics, a theory that promoted the superiority certain races based on genetics. His book The Revolt Against Civilization introduced neo-Nazi concepts. He also covered World War II as a journalist.

 23 Edward T. Hall

Edward T. Hall
Famous As: Anthropologist, Sociologist, University teacher
Birthdate: May 16, 1914
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Webster Groves
Died: July 20, 2009

Edward T. Hall was an anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher best known for developing the concepts of proxemics, monochronic time, and polychronic time. He explored cultural and social cohesion in his research and described how people behave and react in different types of culturally defined personal space. Hall was a colleague of philosopher Marshall McLuhan and architect Buckminster Fuller. 

 24 Jim Yong Kim

Jim Yong Kim
Famous As: Physician
Birthdate: December 8, 1959
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Seoul, South Korea

Jim Yong Kim, or Kim Yong, was born in South Korea and later moved to the US, where he grew up to be the president of the World Bank. The physician and anthropologist has also taught at Harvard Medical School, his alma, and co-owns the medical care company Partners in Health.

 25 William Graham Sumner

William Graham Sumner
Famous As: Anthropologist, Political scientist, Writer
Birthdate: October 30, 1840
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Paterson, New Jersey, United States
Died: April 12, 1910

William Graham Sumner was an American social scientist who held America's first professorship in sociology; he served as a professor of social sciences at Yale. Sumner, who wrote several essays and books on American history, political theory, sociology, and economic history, was one of the most popular and influential teachers at Yale. He also had an influence on American conservatism.

 26 Benjamin Lee Whorf

Benjamin Lee Whorf
Famous As: Anthropologist, Linguist
Birthdate: April 24, 1897
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Winthrop, Massachusetts
Died: July 26, 1941

Benjamin Lee Whorf was a linguist cum fire prevention engineer. Along with his mentor Edward Sapir, he developed what is frequently called the “Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.” Even though he was a chemical engineer by profession, he developed an early interest in linguistics and presented several papers at linguistics conferences. Unfortunately, he died at the relatively young age of 44. 

 27 Gayle Rubin

Gayle Rubin
Famous As: Cultural anthropologist best known as an activist and theorist of sex and gender politics
Birthdate: January 1, 1949
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: South Carolina, United States

Gayle Rubin is a cultural anthropologist known for writing on a wide range of topics, such as feminism, sadomasochism, prostitution, homosexuality, pedophilia, and pornography. She studied at the University of Michigan and was part of early feminist groups. After earning her Ph.D. in anthropology, she began her academic career. She is also associated with several feminist journals. 

 28 Ernest Becker

Ernest Becker
Famous As: Former anthropologist known for Eliciting the creation of Terror Management Theory
Birthdate: September 27, 1924
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States
Died: March 6, 1974

 29 Helen Fisher

Helen Fisher
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: May 31, 1945
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: United States

Best known for her research on the biological dynamics of love and sex, anthropologist Helen Fisher has also penned iconic self-help books such as Anatomy of Love and Why We Love. She has also worked with match.com, to develop a personality-based compatibility system and has been a TED speaker.

 30 Donald Johanson

Donald Johanson
Famous As: Anthropologist, Archaeologist, Prehistorian, Paleoanthropologist, University teacher
Birthdate: June 28, 1943
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Chicago

Donald Johanson is a paleoanthropologist. He collaborated with Yves Coppens and Maurice Taieb to discover the fossil of a female hominin australopithecine in the Afar Triangle region of Hadar, Ethiopia. This fossil was named “Lucy". As an academician, he established the Institute of Human Origins in Berkeley. He is the recipient of several awards and honors. 

 31 Marvin Harris

Marvin Harris
Famous As: Anthropologist, University teacher, Sociologist
Birthdate: August 18, 1927
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York City
Died: October 25, 2001

 32 Carleton S. Coon

Carleton S. Coon
Famous As: Anthropologist, Archaeologist, Prehistorian
Birthdate: June 23, 1904
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Wakefield
Died: June 3, 1981

Carleton S. Coon was an anthropologist who originated several theories on race. He had a successful academic career and served as the president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. He was awarded the Viking Medal in Physical Anthropology. Even though he was a famous anthropologist of his time, his racial theories are dismissed as pseudoscientific in modern anthropology. 

 33 Napoleon Chagnon

Napoleon Chagnon
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: August 27, 1938
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Port Austin, Michigan, United States
Died: September 21, 2019

Napoleon Chagnon was a cultural anthropologist considered a pioneer of scientific anthropology. He did long-term ethnographic fieldwork among the Yanomamö indigenous people, in which he used an evolutionary approach to understand social behavior. This work received both praise and criticism, making him a controversial figure. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2012. 

 34 Nancy Scheper-Hughes

Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Famous As: anthropologist
Birthdate: September 25, 1944
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: New York City

 35 Madison Grant

Madison Grant
Famous As: Lawyer, anthropologist, writer, and zoologist known primarily for his work as a eugenicist and conservationist
Birthdate: November 19, 1865
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: New York, United States
Died: May 30, 1937

A lawyer and a zoologist, Madison Grant is best remembered for his belief in eugenics and white supremacy, which he expressed through his best-selling book The Passing of the Great Race. He played a crucial role in the passing of immigration regulations in the U.S. He was also an avid conservationist.

 36 Ashley Montagu

Ashley Montagu
Famous As: Anthropologist, University teacher
Birthdate: June 28, 1905
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: London
Died: November 26, 1999

British-American anthropologist Ashley Montagu not only taught at Rutgers and The State University of New Jersey but also wrote UNESCO’s 1950 Statement on Race. He also dabbled in topics such as evolution and child care, and one of his best-known works is The Natural Superiority of Women.

 37 Harold Courlander

Harold Courlander
Birthdate: 0000 AD

Apart from being an anthropologist and folklorist, Harold Courlander was also a skilled author. After a trip to Haiti to conduct studies for his new novel, Courlander became attached to the country’s culture and preserved it in his books. Parts of his novel The African were later plagiarized by another author.

 38 Walter J. Ong

Walter J. Ong
Famous As: Anthropologist, Historian, Writer, University teacher, Catholic priest, Literary critic, Journalist
Birthdate: November 30, 1912
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Kansas City
Died: August 12, 2003

 39 Ralph Linton

Ralph Linton
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: February 27, 1893
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: December 24, 1953

 40 Alfred L. Kroeber

Alfred L. Kroeber
Famous As: Cultural Anthropologist
Birthdate: June 11, 1876
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Hoboken, New Jersey, United States
Died: October 5, 1960

 41 Loren Eiseley

Loren Eiseley
Famous As: Anthropologist, Philosopher, Poet
Birthdate: September 3, 1907
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Lincoln
Died: July 9, 1977

 42 Earnest Hooton

Earnest Hooton
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: November 20, 1887
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Oshkosh, Wisconsin, United States
Died: May 3, 1954

Earnest Hooton was a physical anthropologist. He worked extensively in the field of racial classification and used comparative anatomy to divide humanity up into races. He studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and took up a teaching career. A popular public figure, he was a co-founder of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. He also published poems and drawings. 

 43 Michael Tomasello

Michael Tomasello
Famous As: Anthropologist, Psychologist
Birthdate: January 18, 1950
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Bartow

 44 Eric Wolf

Eric Wolf
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: February 1, 1923
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Died: March 6, 1999

Anthropologist Eric Robert Wolf is noted for his studies of Latin America and peasants, and for advocating Marxist outlook within anthropology. Notable books of Wolf include The Hidden Frontier, his classic study of ethnography with his student John W. Cole; and Europe and the People Without History, where he focussed on the expansion of European societies in the modern era.  

 45 Dell Hymes

Dell Hymes
Famous As: Linguist, Anthropologist
Birthdate: June 7, 1927
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon, United States
Died: November 13, 2009

Dell Hymes was part of some of the pioneering studies on linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics, and later focused on ethnopoetics and the SPEAKING model. He also founded the journal Language in Society and served as its editor. In his later career, he was accused of sexual harassment.

 46 Loïc Wacquant

Loïc Wacquant
Famous As: Sociologist
Birthdate: August 26, 1960
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Montpellier, France

Urban sociologist Loïc Wacquant is best known for his work on topics such as the body, ethnography, and racial inequality. A University of California, Berkeley professor, he has also been a MacArthur Prize Fellow and a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows. He also co-founded the journal Ethnography.

 47 George Murdock

George Murdock
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: May 11, 1897
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Meriden, Connecticut, United States
Died: March 29, 1985

 48 Clyde Kluckhohn

Clyde Kluckhohn
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: January 11, 1905
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Le Mars, Iowa, United States
Died: July 28, 1960

 49 Scott Atran

Scott Atran
Famous As: anthropologist, political scientist
Birthdate: 1952 AD
Birthplace: New York City

 50 Leslie White

Leslie White
Famous As: Anthropologist
Birthdate: January 19, 1900
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Salida, Colorado, United States
Died: March 31, 1975