Paul Lemen Cooper was born February 11, 1909 in Cuba City, Wisconsin. Shortly after receiving his B. A. in sociology and anthropology from the University of Wisconsin in 1931, Cooper traveled to the Southwest as part of an archaeological expedition from the Field Museum of Natural History. This experience piqued his interest in archaeology, and for the next two decades he would spend at least a portion of each year conducting field work.
During the 1930s Cooper's field research was largely conducted in Illinois, the Tennessee Valley, and Nebraska. He specifically worked as an archaeologist with the Nebraska State Historical Society under the direction of A. T. Hill, with whom he collaborated on several publications. It was also at this time that Cooper developed the site numbering system still used in archaeology today. In addition, Cooper also worked for a time as a graduate assistant in the Anthropology Department at the University of Nebraska.
In 1938, Cooper was designated the Supervisor and State Director of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Archaeological, Paleontological and Museum Project. It was here that he gained the necessary skills to create an adequate laboratory and administration with a limited budget, skills that would become necessary in later field research. After three years with the WPA, Cooper returned to school. He worked as an assistant at Columbia University, while completing coursework towards a Ph.D. At the same time, Cooper also acted as editorial assistant for the Society for American Archaeology.
From 1946 to 1954 Cooper devoted the majority of his time to the Missouri Basin Project of the River Basin Survey (RBS) in Lincoln, Nebraska. A large portion of his research and publications reflect his work in this particular area. From 1950 to 1952, Cooper was the Field Director of the Missouri Basin Project under the Director of the RBS, Frank H. H. Roberts, Jr. Despite some minor problems Cooper faced with personnel, he was able to appraise entire sites on the basis of a limited collection, as well as work proficiently on a small budget.
Cooper spent the last few years of his life in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, working with the firm of Robert G. Cooper and Associates. He passed away on April 14, 1961, at the age of 52.
Sources Consulted: Kivett, Marvin, F. 1962. Paul Lemen Cooper 1909-1961. American Antiquity 27(4): 571-572.
Archaeology of Certain Sites in Cedar County, Nebraska. Chapters in Nebraska Archaeology 1(1): 5-145.
with A. T. Hill. The Schrader, Champe, and Fremont I Sites. Nebraska History Magazine 17(4): 221-292.
with A. T. Hill. The Archaeological Campaign of 1937. Nebraska History Magazine 18(4): 237-359.
Report of Explorations. Nebraska History Magazine 20(2): 94-151.
The Institute Explores the Norton Site. Cranbrook Institute of Science News Letter 15(6):71-73.
Recent Investigations in Fort Randall and Oahe Reservoirs, South Dakota. American Antiquity 14(4): 300-310
An Archaeological Survey of the Fort Randall Reservoir, South Dakota. Proceedings of the Fifth Plains Conference for Archaeology, University of Nebraska Laboratory of Anthropology, Note Book 1.
The Archaeological and Paleontological Salvage Program in the Missouri Basin, 1950-1951. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 126(2).
Archaeological Investigations in the Heart Butte Reservoir area, North Dakota. River Basin Surveys Papers No. 9, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 169: 1-40.
Born February 11 in Cuba City, Wisconsin
Works in the Southwest as a member of the archaeological expedition from the Field Museum of Natural History
Receives B.A. from the University of Wisconsin in Sociology and Anthropology
Conducts field research in Illinois
Graduate assistant in Anthropology at the University of Nebraska
Serves as archaeologist for the Nebraska State Historical Society, where he originates the site numbering system
Supervisor and State Director of the WPA Archaeological, Paleontological and Museum Project
Acts as an assistant in Anthropology at Columbia University while completing his Ph.D.
Editorial Assistant for the Society of American Archaeology
Archaeologist with the Missouri Basin Project of the River Basin Survey in Lincoln, Nebraska
Acts as Field Director to the Missouri Basin Project
Associated with the firm of Robert G. Cooper Associates of Rice Lake, Wisconsin
Dies on April 14 at the age of 52