Thomas Dale Stewart was a curator of physical anthropology at the Smithsonian specializing in anthropometry, early man, and forensic anthropology. He worked in the Department of Anthropology for over seventy years. Born in Delta, Pennsylvania in 1901, Stewart moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue a degree at George Washington University. While attending school, he also began working at the Smithsonian in 1924 as a temporary substitute for John Baer, a family friend from Delta. After Baer died during conducting research in Panama, Stewart was invited to stay on as assistant to Ales Hrdlicka, curator of physical anthropology. Hrdlicka was impressed by Stewart’s abilities and quickly took him on as a student. Promised that he would succeed Hrdlicka one day if he obtained an M.D., Stewart enrolled at The Johns Hopkins University and graduated in 1931. After graduating, Stewart was rehired by the Smithsonian as an assistant curator.
Stewart rose through the ranks of the Department of Anthropology quickly, being promoted to associate curator in 1939 and curator in 1943 after the death of his mentor Hrdlicka. Stewart was appointed head curator of the department in 1960 and director of the Natural History Museum in 1962. He continued to work at the Smithsonian well after he retired in 1971, conducting research and producing a stream of publications well into his 90s. He died in 1997 at the age of 96. Many of Stewart’s early research interests matched those of his mentor: a focus on dental caries, separate neural arch and spondylolisthesis, ossuary excavation, cranial deformations, and other examinations of archaeological remains throughout North America. While Hrdlicka was alive, Stewart provided support for many of his research projects and publications. After Hrdlicka died, Stewart expanded his interests to include forensic topics and analysis of other archaeological remains.
Anthropometry was prominent in a great deal of his work. He was the first to describe Tepexpan Man from Mexico and Midland Man from Texas. He also studied the remains of Neanderthal specimens that Ralph S. Solecki, of the Bureau of American Ethnology, had uncovered at Shanidar Cave in Iraq. In forensic work, as Hrdlicka's heir, Stewart assumed work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement officials. Moreover, Stewart devised new methods and published books and articles concerning forensic analysis, including his Essentials of Forensic Anthropology. In closely related work during 1954-1955, the United States Army engaged Stewart to go to Japan to examine skeletal remains repatriated after the Korean War in a project called “Operation Glory.”
In terms of his areal specialization, Stewart was essentially an Americanist. In North America, he worked in Alaska with Henry B. Collins in 1927, and in subsequent years he excavated several ossuaries and other sites in the Washington, D.C., vicinity. These included a site on Potomac Creek in Virginia, Piscataway sites in Maryland, and the Townsend site in Delaware. He also carried out laboratory studies and prepared reports on skeletal remains uncovered by Smithsonian colleagues. In the 1940s and 1950s, Stewart conducted field work at archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru.
He was awarded the Viking Medal in Physical Anthropology in 1953, the Joseph Henry Medal of the Smithsonian Institution in 1967, and an award from the physical anthropology section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in 1981.
Sources: Ubelaker, Douglas H. "Thomas Dale Stewart, A Biographer Memoir,"
National Academy of Sciences
Pace, Eric. "T. Dale Stewart Dies at 96; Anthropologist at Smithsonian,"
The New York Times
Born in Delta, Pennsylvania.
Moved to Washington, D.C. and attended George Washington University.
Began working at the Smithsonian Institution.
Sent by Ales Hrdlicka to Alaska to collect skeletal remains with Henry Collins.
Graduated from The Johns Hopkins University with an M.D.
Appointed assistant curator at the Smithsonian under Hrdlicka.
Promoted to associate curator.
Field work in Mexico.
Taught at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Promoted to curator after Hrdlicka dies.
Began working on forensic cases for the F.B.I.
Field work in Mexico.
Field work in Guatemala.
Traveled to Japan to assist in the identification of skeletal remains from the Korean War (Operation Glory).
Taught at the George Washington University School of Medicine.
Served as head curator of the Department of Anthropology.
Served as the director of the National Museum of Natural History.
Assisted in the production of Smithsonian exhibits on physical anthropology.
Retired from administrative duties and appointed senior scientist.
Retired from the Smithsonian.
Died in Bethesda, Maryland.