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Joe Ben Wheat papers

Identifier: JBW

Scope and Contents

This collection contains documents, photographs, and objects collected or created by Joe Ben Wheat (1916-1997), archaeologist and curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. Textual material in the collection includes correspondence, newspaper clippings, magazines, academic journal articles, student papers and dissertations, manuscripts, maps, archaeological site reports, professional society conference materials, and ephemera. Photographic material includes photographic prints, negatives, oversized photographs, x-rays, slides, and film reels. The collection also features a number of 3D objects including souvenirs and excavated objects which are not otherwise part of the museum's collections.


  • 1916-1997


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is currently unprocessed. The collection does not have a formal archival arrangement and materials are housed haphazardly in boxes which are stored in different rooms. For this reason it may not be possible to make the collection available for research. Contact for more information.

Biographical / Historical

Joe Ben Wheat was born in Van Horn, Texas in 1916 and received his BA from the University of California, Berkley in 1937. He then served in the Second World War before getting his Ph.D.

Joe Ben Wheat received a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Arizona in 1953, the first year in which the degree was awarded. In 1955, Wheat was hired as the first Curator of Anthropology for the University of Colorado Museum and was also an assistant professor of Natural History. He held this position for thirty-three years until his retirement in 1988. He conducted excavations and directed archaeology field schools at three sites in Yellow Jacket Canyon from 1954 until 1991 with few interruptions. The field schools at Yellow Jacket were not only notable for the archaeological work, but for the opportunities Joe Ben Wheat provided female archaeologists during the 1960s and 1970s. During this time, women were often not accepted into field schools, but the crews and crew chiefs at Yellow Jacket were predominantly female. Other notable excavations led or attended by Joe Ben Wheat include the Olsen-Chubbuck Bison Kill Site in 1958 and 1960, the Jurgens Paleoindian site in 1968 and 1970, and expeditions to Sudan and Tunisia in 1962, 1963, and 1966.

During his career, Joe Ben Wheat took part in significant collections development efforts at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History that resulted in the creation of research-quality collections and diverse comparative collections. Wheat's contributions to the museum collections include additions from his archaeological excavations including more than 1,333,560 individual items and hundreds of thousands of potsherds from Yellow Jacket alone. He also obtained both the Earl H. Morris and the Anna O. Shepard archives for the museum collections.

Joe Ben Wheat distinguished himself in Paleoindian studies, lithic technology, Southwestern archaeology, and especially Southwest textile research. He gained recognition for his work with Southwest textiles and weavings beginning in the 1970s, by analyzing the materials, dyes and structure used in Navajo and Pueblo textiles woven in the 19th century. This information helped determine when the objects had been woven, the types of dye used, and the source of the materials. Joe Ben Wheat authored several books on Southwest textiles including Navajo Blankets from the Collection of Anthony Berlant (1974), The Gift of Spiderwoman: Southwestern Textiles, the Navajo Tradition (1984), and Blanket Weaving in the Southwest (2003).

In addition to his professional work Joe Ben Wheat was also admired for his roles of teacher and mentor. He served on numerous graduate committees, worked with student interns in the museum, and remained accessible to his students, even after his retirement.

Joe Ben Wheat died at the age of 81 in 1997.


30 linear feet (The collection is currently housed in 13 filing cabinet drawers, 28 bankers boxes, three six-inch Hollinger boxes, and 31 slide cases. There are also approximately 112 loose maps. There are a total of 642 folders, 36 binders, 118 loose objects, and 7,034 slides. )

Language of Materials



Staff have identified seven potential series for the collection though it remains unprocessed.

Series 01: Correspondence
One section of correspondence is arranged alphabetically while another is arranged chronologically.

Series 02: Slides

Series 03: Personal papers
This series contains income tax documents, passports, a birth certificate, film reels, and photographs of a personal rather than professional nature.

Series 04: Teaching and academics
Student papers, faculty committee documents, and class preparation and teaching materials.

Series 05: Professional organizations

Series 06: Textile research and collecting

Series 07: Archaeology and anthropology research
>Research files related to Paleoindian, Southwest, and Plains archaeological sites.

Series 08: Jewelry research and collecting

Series 09: Jurgens Paleoindian site

Series 10: Olsen-Chubbuck Paleoindian site

Series 11: Museum administration

Series 12: Ephemera

Processing Information

Museum staff undertook a project to inventory the entirety of the collection and create basic descriptions in the first half of 2021 by building on prior, partial inventories. We opened every drawer and box containing material created or compiled by Joe Ben Wheat during this process and wrote a created a spreadsheet in which we wrote a description of the containers encountered and their contents. Folder titles or, in the case of loose material, derived titles were entered into a spreadsheet and correlated with box and location information. Several boxes had box inventories taped to the outside of the box or were placed inside the box. These inventories were checked for accuracy and then incorporated into the larger inventory.

Finding aid to the Joe Ben Wheat papers
Natalie A. Patton
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Colorado State Historical Fund

Repository Details

Part of the CU Museum of Natural History Repository

15th and Broadway
Henderson Building
University of Colorado at Boulder
Boulder Colorado 80302