News your connection to The Boston Globe

William Sturtevant, curator and scholar at the Smithsonian

WASHINGTON -- William C. Sturtevant, a curator emeritus of North American ethnology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and a leading scholar on the traditional cultures of North American tribes, died March 2 at Collingswood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rockville, Md. He was 80 and had emphysema.

Mr. Sturtevant's career with the Smithsonian spanned half a century, beginning in 1956 as an ethnologist at the Bureau of American Ethnology. When the bureau closed nearly 10 years later, Sturtevant became a curator in the anthropology department at Natural History, a position he held until retiring in January.

He continued to work at his office until his death.

Among his colleagues and peers, he was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the material culture of Native Americans and the importance of clothing, cooking utensils, tools, and art as identity markers.

His research encompassed fieldwork, archival and museum research, and the search for and interpretation of early drawings and paintings.

Mr. Sturtevant, an anthropologist by training, was recognized as a pioneer in the interdisciplinary fields of ethnohistory and ethnoscience.

He published more than 200 articles and, in 1970, headed the planning of the Smithsonian's Handbook of North American Indians, a 20-volume encyclopedia covering language, culture, and history. He served as the handbook's general editor until his death.

He was past president of the American Society for Ethnohistory, the American Ethnological Society, the American Anthropological Association and the Anthropological Society of Washington.

Mr. Sturtevant, who lived in Washington, was born in Morristown, N.J. His father, Alfred H. Sturtevant, was a noted geneticist.