June 08, 2020

In Remembrance: Robert J. Salzer, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology

Robert “Bob” Salzer, an influential Beloit mentor and professor of anthropology from 1964-2001, died at age 83 on March 11, 2020, in Madison, Wis.

Robert J. SalzerProfessor Salzer’s Beloit tenure included directing the renowned Logan Museum of Anthropology and teaching with an emphasis on fieldwork that influenced countless students to become archaeologists and anthropologists.

He led archaeological projects in the American Southwest and Midwest, most notably in northern Wisconsin, at the Cahokia site in Illinois, and at the Gottschall rockshelter in southwest Wisconsin, where he ran a summer dig starting in 1984.

The Gottschall site earned Professor Salzer and Beloit College international recognition because of the cave site’s detailed ancient pictographs, knives, arrowheads, and pottery fragments, and later for the discovery of a remarkable 10-inch tall carved and painted sandstone statue his team excavated in 1992. The sculpture, known in the anthropology department at the time as “Mr. Head,” was estimated to be about 1,000 years old and unique to the northern half of North America. It is believed to have been created by Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) and Ioway tribal members as part of a significant shrine.

Salzer co-wrote a book, published in 2000, about the excavation called The Gottschall Rockshelter: An Archaeological Mystery. He was the author of numerous reports on rock art, including a chapter in the “Wisconsin Archeology” issue of The Wisconsin Archeologist (1997).

He served on numerous boards for Native American site preservation, raised awareness of the Native American burial mounds on Beloit’s campus, and wrote more than 50 articles on Wisconsin Indian ethnography. He assisted in writing a Wisconsin bill that extended legal protection to all human burial sites in the state, which included the mounds on Beloit’s campus.

Salzer was born in Wausau, Wis., earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. At the time of this writing, a memorial service was pending.


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