William C. Sturtevant, a curator emeritus of North American ethnology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and a leading scholar on the traditional cultures of North American tribes, died March 2 at a nursing home in Rockville, Md. He was 80 and had emphysema.
Sturtevant's career with the Smithsonian spanned half a century, beginning in 1956 as an ethnologist at the Bureau of American Ethnology. When the bureau closed nearly 10 years later, Sturtevant became a curator in the anthropology department at the natural history museum, a position he held until retiring in January.
Among his colleagues and peers, he was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the material culture of Native Americans and the importance of clothing, cooking utensils, tools and art as identity markers.
His research encompassed fieldwork, archival and museum research, and the search for and interpretation of early drawings and paintings.
Sturtevant, an anthropologist by training, was recognized as a pioneer in the interdisciplinary fields of ethnohistory and ethnoscience.
He published more than 200 articles and, in 1970, headed the planning of the Smithsonian's Handbook of North American Indians, a 20-volume encyclopedia covering language, culture and history. He served as the handbook's general editor until his death.