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Welcome to the memorial page for

Dr. John Paul Cook

January 17, 1938 ~ December 22, 2017 (age 79)

John Paul Cook left this life in the early morning of December 22, 2017, at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, with his wife Elizabeth at his side.  John began his life journey in Paris, France January 17, 1938. He was born to Audrey Gilman Ames, from Yakima WA, and John Joseph Cook, from Cedar Rapids IA.  John’s mother was a correspondent for an American newspaper and his father was an airplane mechanic, serving in the US Army Air Corps, and attached to the American Embassy.   John skipped town a few months before the Germans invaded and, along with a nanny, traveled to New York City.  Gradually, the rest of the family arrived, bouncing around the US finally settling in Maryland on the Potomac River, when John was 8.


The neighborhood was mostly corn and tobacco fields, once the location of prehistoric encampments, and littered with arrowheads and other Native Americans artifacts.  The delight in finding these relics of former inhabitants fueled John’s desire to become an archeologist and took him to Dartmouth College after high school.  There, he was quite literally pointed north by his professors Robert McKennan and Elmer Harp.  John graduated in 1959 and was immediately inducted into the US Air Force, assigned to Ladd Field near Fairbanks, and stationed at Unalakleet Air Force Station. Following military service, John’s professional career blossomed.


From 1962 until 1966, with fieldwork in Newfoundland, Yukon Territory, and Onion Portage, Alaska, John earned a Masters degree at Brown University and began work on his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin.   For his dissertation project, Prof. McKennan suggested that John investigate the pre-history of Healy Lake, Alaska, a location that had been utilized by prehistoric peoples for thousands of years. In 1969, John’s first reports of the age of the earliest use of the area, 13,000 years, were greeted with strong skepticism.   However subsequent research by other investigators at other locations in interior Alaska has proved John to be correct revising the pre-history of Alaska.


In 1968 John began work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where - in addition to a full teaching load - he eventually was in charge of all archaeological surveys and excavations north of Glennallen, before and during construction along the route of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.  The pipeline project was the first large wage-paying project for archeologists in the US, employing more than 70 professional archaeologists and students who had a great time discovering and mitigating construction impacts to more than 300 prehistoric and historic sites. Also in the summer of 1971 John directed salvage excavations at Amchitka Island in advance of the last nuclear blast there.


In the early 1970’s John co-founded the Alaska Anthropological Association, an organization intended to serve professionals, amateurs, and the public alike, through the dissemination of information about Alaska’s history and publication of original research findings.  The organization has thrived, and – this year -will be holding its 45th Annual Conference.  His knowledge and thoughtfulness were useful to other organizations he served, among them the Alaska State Historical Commission, Fairbanks’ Borough Commission for Historic Preservation, Canadian Archeological Association, Alaska Quaternary Center, and the Society for American Archeology.  


In mid-1978, with a National Science Foundation grant, John pioneered the use of x-ray fluorescence and instrumental neutron activation analysis testing the possibility of determining pre-historic trade routes by analyzing and “fingerprinting” obsidian found in archeological sites.


John went to work at the Bureau of Land Management in 1980.  Over the next nearly two decades, he dealt with investigation and management of cultural resources – historic and pre-historic, in the 40 Mile country, the Trans-Alaska pipeline corridor, and Interior Alaska lands controlled by the US Army and Air Force.


John’s great gifts to his students and colleagues were his generosity and friendship.  If he had carried out a piece of research and had data to share, he made the information available to anyone who could use it.  He did not “toot his own horn”, but encouraged others to develop their talents.  He was an advocate for making science appealing and available to anyone who was interested - from his professional colleagues, to students in the classroom, to pipeline construction workers, and men and women working gold mining claims in remote Alaska.  


John is survived by his sister, Ellen Ames Tipton (Clarence, deceased); brother, Joel Townsend Cook (Joann); wife, Elizabeth Fields Cook; former wife, Nancy Wolens Cook Ziembo; sons, Timothy Alan Cook (Nancy), and Benjamin Gabriel Cook (Lindsey Eberhard); step-son, Frederick Michael Clarke; and grandchildren, Evan Michael and Joel.


Donations in John’s memory may be made to the Alaska Anthropological Association.  At John’s request, there will be no formal service, but plans for a celebration of his life are underway.


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