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Dr. Anna Marguerite McCann Taggart

May 11, 1933 - February 12, 2017

Anna Marguerite McCann Taggart died peacefully in the presence of family on February 12, 2017, in Sleepy Hollow, New York. She was 83 years old.

Dr. McCann (as she was professionally known) was the first American woman underwater archaeologist. She was a scuba diver who participated in and led underwater archaeological expeditions in the Mediterranean Sea, especially off the coast of Italy. She specialized in the study of ancient Roman harbors, and she was also noted for her deep-sea explorations using advanced robotic technology.

Born on May 11, 1933, in Mamaroneck, New York, to Richard and Dorothy McCann, she grew up in Rye, New York, and attended the Rye Country Day School and Wellesley College. After graduating from Wellesley with honors in art history and a minor in classical Greek, she received a Fulbright fellowship to study at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Her experience in Greece deepened her interest in the ancient world. Anna received her master's degree at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University in 1957, and obtained her doctorate from the University of Indiana in 1965. She married her childhood sweetheart, Robert D. Taggart, in 1973, and they were happily married until her husband's death last year. Anna and Bob divided their time between an apartment on the Upper East Side of New York City and a farm in Pawlet, Vermont, where they enjoyed gardening, hiking, skiing, and swimming. They were both noted for their great generosity to educational and charitable causes.

When Anna McCann entered the profession in the early 1960s, underwater archaeology was in its infancy and was an entirely male-dominated field. Her first professional diving experiences were with Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team exploring two ancient Roman shipwrecks by the Grand Congloué, a rock off Marseilles harbor, in France. The team brought up a clay jar still full of wine, 2,200 years old, and tasted it-the world's oldest vintage. (Anna recalled that the wine turned out to be cheap-tasting "retsina" and was a bit of a disappointment.) In 1961-62, she was a diver and team member with the National Geographic/University of Pennsylvania excavation of the Yassi Ada shipwreck, a seventh-century C.E. wreck at a depth of 125 feet off Yassi Ada island in Turkey.

In 1964, she was awarded the Rome Prize Fellowship in Classical Studies by the American Academy in Rome. At the ancient site of Cosa, (modern day Ansedonia), on the coast of Tuscany, Italy, while she was working as a photographer for land excavations at the hilltop ruins of Cosa, she discovered an ancient, half-buried underwater pier in the sea below the hilltop. Her find was initially dismissed as unimportant by the director of the American Academy, but she raised funds to press forward with mapping and underwater excavation of the port area of Cosa; it had flourished during the period of the Roman Republic, when it was an important trading port in Italy. She directed the work herself, using grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Missouri, and she would go on to direct underwater and land excavations of the port and fishery of Cosa for twenty-two years. This resulted in a monumental work, with the contributions of several dozen collaborators, entitled The Roman Port and Fishery of Cosa: A Center of Ancient Trade, which was published in 1987 by Princeton University Press.

In 1973, Anna McCann and her team from the American Academy in Rome formed a collaboration with the Istituto Internazionali di Studi Liguri to map and explore the ancient harbor at Populonia, Italy, where they found the only known remains of an Etruscan ship. At the coastal site of Pyrgi (Santa Severa), in Italy, Dr. McCann and the team discovered part of an ancient Roman city that had subsided into the sea during earthquakes, including roads and broken columns; this mysterious underwater site remains unexcavated since its discovery.

Dr. McCann taught art history and archaeology at the University of Missouri and at the University of California at Berkeley, as well as at Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1974, she joined the curatorial staff at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in order to catalog its Roman sculptures. She published that research in her book, Roman Sarcophagi in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which received the National Outstanding Book Award in 1978 from the American Association of University Presses.

Another significant archeological project undertaken by Dr. McCann was in collaboration with Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. She became the Archeological Director of the JASON Project, in 1989, which was established to help educate children in technology and the sciences. Dr. McCann and Ballard utilized the same ROV technology Ballard had used to discover the Titanic to explore the deep Mediterranean sea-bed along ancient trade routes between Carthage and Rome. She and their team discovered and surveyed many previously unknown ancient shipwrecks lying in extremely deep water in the Mediterranean Basin, using real time technology, with the images of the discoveries being broadcast live to students in the U.S.

In 1998 Dr. McCann was awarded the first Gold Medal of the Archaeological Institute of America for her lifetime achievements in archaeology.

Anna McCann Taggart is survived by her loving sister, Dorothy M. Preston, and her three devoted nephews, Richard, Douglas, and David Preston, as well as grand-nieces and nephews.


2017 Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child