Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies

A tribute to Greg Perino (1914-2005)

Ray Fraser

 

Schaumburg, Illinois


Greg Perino, self-taught professional archaeologist, author, consultant and the last living founder of the Illinois State Archaeological Society, passed away in Owasso, Oklahoma on the 4th of July, 2005, at the age of 91. With his passing, a long and rich volume in the history of North American Archaeology has ended.

Born in North Carolina on February 25, 1914, Greg spent most of his early life in Belleville, Illinois. He attended public school in Belleville and graduated from Belleville Township High School in 1934. He married his High School sweetheart, Dorothy Green in 1937. The Perino's had four children and were married for 66 years until Dorothy's death in 2003.

Greg found his first arrowhead at about age seven. This discovery was the catalyst that led to a life-long curiosity about the American Indian, and a need to understand how Indian life had changed through time. He started exploring Cahokia and the surrounding Mississippi River bluffs as a teenager. His innate ability to locate and meticulously excavate prehistoric trash pits, cemeteries and burial mounds became known to local collectors and to archaeologists working in the area at that time.

One day in 1955, Thomas Gilcrease of the 'Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art' paid him a visit. Having heard of Greg's reputation as a talented field archaeologist and of his integrity and dedication to his work, he asked Greg to join the museum to handle its field excavations and archaeological collections.

It was during the years at Gilcrease that Greg's fieldwork became renown. His reports on excavations at sites like Banks, Cherry Valley, Schild, Peisker, and Klunk, to name but a few, had established Greg as a master in field techniques and an expert at comparative artifact analysis. While working on the Koster mound group in Greene County, Illinois, Greg was the first to recognize the potential for the village site at the base of the bluffs.

Also during his tenure at Gilcrease, Greg began his categorical study of projectile point typology. Collaborating with Robert Bell; Greg and Bell published a set of four volumes defining the known point types of that time. Greg was to follow several years later with his three-volume set of "Selected Preforms, Points and Knives of the North American Indians." These books represent a typological bedrock in our understanding of how projectile points changed through time and how they varied regionally. These books reside on the bookshelves of avocational and professional archaeologists alike.

After leaving Gilcrease in 1972, Greg went to work for the Center for American Archaeology in Kampsville, Illinois, as a field archaeologist and instructor for its field schools. His primary focus until he left in 1974 were mortuary sites in the lower Illinois River Valley like the Carter and Hacker mound groups.

Greg moved on from the lower Illinois River Valley to become the field archaeologist for the Museum of the Red River in Idabel, Oklahoma, where he worked until retirement. Greg's excavations and site reports added much to our understanding of the prehistoric Caddo in the Red River country. Many of his former field students followed Greg to Idabel to volunteer their time to work for this great gentleman.

It must be mentioned that Greg developed several specialized archaeological tools during the Gilcrease, Kampsville and Red River years. With his background as a machinist, Greg was able to engineer his own custom shovels with short handles and flat blades which could be used like an oversize trowel. Greg also made small bamboo picks to clean around and not damage the bone. The Red River screen was another invention.It was effective in the sandy ground of the Red River valley, it could be rocked like a cradle by one person.

In the late '80's Greg recognized a growing need for artifact authentication and analysis. He became the most recognized and respected authenticator that ever worked in that field. Many collections have been established supported by a "Perino paper." It is impossible to overstate what Greg Perino has meant to the field of archaeology, to countless avocational archaeologists, students and collectors, and followers who were always given his time freely and with sincerity.

To archaeologists, Greg and his work will live on and "continue to be a source of primary information with which one may address many topics ranging from material culture to the social dimensions of mortuary practices, and from mound construction to ancient world view."

For generations of collectors, Greg will live on in their further understanding of these ancient objects, which we all find so intriguing. He was our counselor and our conscience; one we could always turn to for an honest answer.

Before concluding, I'd like to relate a little story told to me by Steve Boles, who along with Mike Adamson, were probably the last two collectors to visit Greg before his death.

"Greg was left unable to walk after the stroke and his voice was weakened considerably, making it difficult to discern much of what he was saying. At one point , he said something that cracked us up. I was walking behind Greg guiding his wheelchair down the hall, when two nurses walked past. They were searching for one of the residents. One said, "we've got to find Miss Emma, it's time for her medication'. The other nurse replied, ' She climbsd into everybody's beds, she could be in any one of them.' Before I could even blink, loud enough for everyone to hear, Greg said,'That's hell of a hint.'We all got a good laugh. Greg had suffered a major stroke a few months before that, but he still had his quick wit about him that always made visiting him so enjoyable."

I picture something like this happening at the nursing home on July the 4th: At 2:10 a.m., Greg Perino awoke to find his room filled with Hopewell and Mississippian elite all decked out in their finest regalia, holding spuds, maces, dance swords, pipes, and scepters, dressed in pearls, ear spools, god masks and shell gorgets, with faces painted in red and yellow ochre, trailing capes of colorful feathers. The tallest spoke: "You have to come with us now; we have much to show you." With that, Greg got out of bed, put on fresh clean khakis, and with a big grin on his face, left this world.

We will miss you Greg.

 

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