“Luther Cressman, Quest for First People” Airs May 12 at 9:00 p.m. on OPB TV; Advance Public Screenings in Eugene & Klamath Falls

Oregon Experience continues its season with the premiere of a new, one-hour special “Luther Cressman, Quest for First People.” The program explores the life and work of Dr. Luther Cressman, known as the “Father of Oregon Archaeology,” and his controversial theories about America’s ancient populations. The documentary airs Monday, May 12, at 9 p.m. on OPB TV.

More than 70 years ago, University of Oregon Professor Cressman and his students made a groundbreaking discovery that continues to have a profound effect on science today.

They uncovered a cache of 10,000-year-old sagebrush sandals—the oldest footwear ever discovered. Over the next 30 years, Cressman would challenge the prevailing ideas about when and how humans first arrived in the Americas.

Cressman was a one-time Episcopal priest and the former husband of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead. After switching his teaching focus from sociology to anthropology, in the 1930s he became the state’s self-taught archaeological expert. He went on to establish the University of Oregon’s Department of Anthropology where he was the director for 30 years.

When the radiocarbon dating process was invented, Cressman persuaded scientists to conduct some of their first tests on lava flows from the Mount Mazama eruption. The dates from those tests allowed him to finally pinpoint the age of Oregon’s earliest-known human settlements—thousands of years earlier than previously thought. The idea was radical.

Many researchers and institutions dismissed Cressman’s work, but he would not be deterred. Working with scientists and laymen in a variety of fields, Cressman continued to make discoveries in ancient sites around Oregon.

Today, the latest scientific testing could prove Cressman’s controversial theories correct.

The new Oregon Experience documentary “Luther Cressman, Quest for First People” examines Cressman’s lifelong search for America’s ancient populations. It features rare footage from the 1938 excavations at Fort Rock and historic images. It also includes interviews with internationally-renowned archaeologists.

The program was written and produced by Kami Horton and edited by Lisa Suinn Kallem. It airs Monday, May 12 at 9 p.m. on OPB TV. For more information, please visit http://www.opb.org/television/programs/oregonexperience.

OPB will be hosting two free, public screening events for the community in advance of the premiere:

Both screenings will feature the full-length documentary and a special Q&A with producer Kami Horton. More on this story is available at www.opb.org/television/programs/oregonexperience/segment/luther-cressman-quest-for-first-people.


About Oregon Experience
Oregon Experience is an exciting history series on OPB TV that brings to life stories that help us understand this place where we live and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. Co-produced with the Oregon Historical Society, the series draws upon the Society’s skilled researchers and extensive photography and moving-image archives. The program also incorporates OPB’s own film and video resources and the expertise of some of Oregon’s finest historians. Each episode features captivating characters – both familiar and forgotten – who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home. This program is supported in part by the Robert D. and Marcia H. Randall Charitable Trust, the Oregon Cultural Trust, the Clark Foundation and The Roundhouse Foundation. For more information, please visit http://www.opb.org/programs/oregonexperience.

About OPB  

OPB is the largest cultural and education institution in the region, delivering excellence in public broadcasting to 1.5 million people each week through television, radio and the Internet. Widely recognized as a national leader in the public broadcasting arena, OPB is a major contributor to the program schedule that serves the entire country. OPB is one of the most-used and most-supported public broadcasting services in the country and is generously supported by members across Oregon and southern Washington. For more information, visit www.opb.org.


Press Images

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Luther Cressman at Fort Rock Cave.

John Atherton

Luther Cressman at Fort Rock Cave.

In 1966, Luther Cressman at Fort Rock Cave.

John Atherton

In 1966, Luther Cressman at Fort Rock Cave.

Luther Cressman

University of Oregon, Special Collections and University Archives

Luther Cressman

In 1932, Luther Cressman and Howard Stafford surveying Oregon indigenous rock art. 

Oregon Historical Society

In 1932, Luther Cressman and Howard Stafford surveying Oregon indigenous rock art. 

Luther Cressman

University of Oregon, Special Collections and University Archives

Luther Cressman

Fort Rock Style Sandal

Natural and Cultural History Museum, University of Oregon

Fort Rock Style Sandal