Michael D. Coe
1929 - 2019
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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.

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Published in The New Haven Register on Sep. 28, 2019.
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9 entries
September 22, 2020
he was a good friend ans i miss him very much
bruce Curtis
November 14, 2019
Michael was one of a kind, a true gentleman, and kind soul, I will miss him dearly and remember him fondly
vincent simeone
October 11, 2019
I knew Mike when he was at the University of Tennessee and went into the field with him in west TN in 1959. I went on to Yale where I continued our relationship. Years later my wife and I joined him on a tour of Turkey. A wonderful person and consumate scholar. We have lost a giant.
Jeff Chapman
October 8, 2019
Michael was a wonderful man, a fine teacher and a great philanthropist. He will be missed.
Rich Gibney RLA
Richard Gibney
October 2, 2019
Dr Coe was a long time, loyal customer of Jet Cleaners, my family business. Always a gentleman, I so enjoyed our conversations. He was such an interesting man who would converse on many topics. After seeing him on a History Channel show The History of Chocolate, I affectionately began calling him Dr Chocolate when he dropped off his shirts. After seeing him smile, I knew he got a kick out of it. He would tell me of his fly fishing or archaeology trips with great enthusiasm. He will be missed. RIP Doc
Michael Amore
October 1, 2019
A great human being a light for the world
Natalia Lasa
September 30, 2019
Peter and family,

We are so sorry for your loss, and hoping that happy memories will comfort you in the days to come.

Love and good wishes - Catherine Spain and Rashi Soni
September 30, 2019
Michael was a good and a wonderful person he will be missed
Bruce Curtis
September 28, 2019
He was unstintingly generous with his knowledge. A giant in the field.
Linda Schildkraut
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