George Armelagos

Goodrich C. White Professor Emeritus

In Memoriam


A wide network of friends and family mourn the death of Professor George J. Armelagos. He was one of his generation’s most celebrated anthropologists.  Armelagos made many significant contributions to anthropology and the intersection of human biology, archaeology, and culture.

George Armelagos was born in Detroit on May 22, 1936.  He died peacefully at home in Atlanta on May 15, 2014, only one week after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  He is survived by brothers, Nick and James Armelagos of Detroit, as well as numerous family, friends, former students, and colleagues throughout the world.

Armelagos received a B.A. with honors from the University of Michigan in 1958 and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Colorado in 1968.  His career included teaching positions at the University of Utah, the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and the University of Florida.  He came to Emory University in 1993 as the Goodrich C. White distinguished professor of Anthropology, and he served as chair of the Anthropology Department from 2003 to 2009.  He continued to teach, mentor and publish until his death.

His contributions to the field of Anthropology were immense, particularly in the bio-cultural approach to the discipline.  He pioneered the field of paleopathology, the analysis of skeletal remains to reconstruct how cultural changes lead to changing patterns of disease and nutrition in ancient populations.  His contributions included a new understanding of the biological consequences of early agriculture and the evolutionary history of infectious diseases like syphilis.  From early in his career he wrote courageously about the myth of “race” as a biological concept, and the reality of racism as a social fact that affects health.  He had a lifetime interest in food and nutrition.  In addition to writing about food, he was a master chef who relished sharing food and conversation with his numerous students and friends.  Armelagos was a prolific researcher and author, often collaborating with his students and colleagues.  He published thirteen books and monographs and well over 250 journal articles.

He was awarded the highest honors for his scholarship and service to Anthropology, including the Viking Medal from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Charles Darwin Award for Lifetime Achievement to Biological Anthropology from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and the Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology from the American Anthropological Association. The Universities of Massachusetts and Emory both presented him with awards for this teaching and mentoring.  Most importantly, George was a much beloved teacher and friend to thousands of undergraduates and hundreds of graduate students. He was cherished for his generosity, encouragement, humility, and humor.

New York Times obituary