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Friday, April 5, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dr. Alex Krieger, Anthropologist

When Alex Krieger completed his doctoral examinations - in Spanish - at the University of Mexico in 1954, one of his professors presented him with a rare treasure.

It was the only printed copy in existence of the journal of a survivor of a harrowing expedition to the New World in the years 1528 to 1536.

Since he retired from the University of Washington in 1979, Dr. Krieger had worked at translating the journal, which was the basis of his doctoral dissertation, and reworking it into a book. The University of Texas Press had indicated interest.

But the work was still unfinished when Dr. Krieger, 79, died unexpectedly Monday.

The expedition, ordered by the king of Spain to "conquer and govern" the land bordering the north side of the Gulf of Mexico, came to grief repeatedly.

A hurricane wrecked its ships on the Cuban coast. Survivors reorganized and sailed to Florida where a landing group was attacked by Indians and deserted by shipmates.

They built barges to sail west along the gulf coastline, but another hurricane destroyed the craft near present-day Galveston, Texas. Survivors walked to Mexico's Pacific Coast and finally south to Mexico City. Only four made it.

Dr. Krieger's wife, Margery, hopes to arrange to have the project finished. His library will be donated to the Texas Archeological Survey, as he desired.

Before he joined the UW, Dr. Krieger had attained prominence for his work studying traces of early human occupations in the American Southwest.

"He made massive and timely contributions in establishing order where there had been chaos in classifying projectile points and ceramics in Texas," said Dr. Jesse Jennings of Siletz, Ore., a retired University of Utah anthropologist who now presents seminars at the University of Oregon.

"He was noted for his outstanding field work exploring caves in the Great Basin and North Texas."

In 1948, the Swedish government awarded Dr. Krieger the Viking Medal for archaeology. "At that time, no higher honor could have come to the man," Jennings said.

In 1964, Dr. Krieger contributed a chapter to a book edited by Jennings in which he proposed that a people who did not make stone projectile points had been in the New World before the Clovis people who are generally considered the first hunters in the Americas.

Clovis points appeared about 11,500 years ago. The theory was based on visits by Dr. Krieger to important archeological sites in Mexico and South America.

Dr. Krieger held to that theory throughout his life. The theory is still controversial. No supposed pre-Clovis sites are widely accepted by archaeologists.

But some consider it unlikely that hunting people with the fully developed Clovis points would have suddenly appeared without a preceding culture that did not use stone projectile points.

Dr. Krieger was born in Duluth, Minn. His undergraduate work was at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Oregon. He joined the University of Washington anthropology faculty in 1960. He was an affiliate curator at the Burke Museum on the campus.

Jennings hopes to present a tribute to Dr. Krieger at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archeology in New Orleans later this month during a program on East Texas archaeology, one of Dr. Krieger's fields of expertise.

Survivors are his wife; a son, Alex D. Krieger Jr., of Bangkok, Thailand; a daughter, Diane LaRue of Halifax, Nova Scotia; and six grandchildren.

There will be a memorial service at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Acacia Funeral Home.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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