Coe, Michael D.
Michael D. Coe, a retired Yale professor and one of the leading figures in Mesoamerican archaeology, died Wednesday at age 90. Born on May 14, 1929 in New York City, he attended Fay School and St. Paul's School before entering Harvard, graduating in the class of 1950. He served with the Central Intelligence Agency in Taiwan, where he fell in love with Chinese food. However, he decided that his true interest lay in archaeology, and he returned to Harvard to pursue a PhD. In a physical anthropology class, he met Sophie Dobzhansky, daughter of a noted geneticist, and they married in 1955. They produced five children, his sons Nicholas, Andrew, and Peter, and his daughters Sarah and Natalie.
After teaching for two years at the University of Tennessee, he was given the post of assistant professor at Yale's Department of Anthropology. He and Sophie purchased a house on St. Ronan Street, which became his home until he died. He rose to full professor, acted as chairman of the department during the turbulent years on the 1960s and 1970s, and was also a curator of the Peabody Museum of Natural History. He taught thousands of students, his courses ranging from Anthro 1 and the cultures of Native America to the translation of Mayan hieroglyphs. He remained close to many of his students, who themselves became noted experts in the study of the ancient New World.
His research interests were wide, and he possessed boundless curiosity and enthusiasm. He excavated sites in Guatemala and Veracruz, Mexico, unearthing Olmec colossal heads and other monuments that illuminated the earliest cultures of Mesoamerica. He and his wife Sophie made important contributions to the effort that finally broke the code of Mayan hieroglyphic writing. They purchased a farm in Heath, Massachusetts, and soon he was excavating a nearby French and Indian War fort. He became an avid fly fisherman, traveling around the world with his sons and fishing buddies. He took great pride in an exhibition on the history of fly fishing that he curated for the Peabody. He wrote well over a dozen books, covering topics such as Mexico and the Maya, ancient Khmer civilization, and his own life and career. After Sophie was diagnosed with cancer, he completed the book that she had started, called "The True History of Chocolate." He was writing and communicating with colleagues right up to the day he entered the hospital. In addition to his children, he is survived by six grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Millicent Library, 45 Center St., Fairhaven, MA.
A memorial service will be announced at a later date.
Published in The New Haven Register on Sep. 28, 2019.