Robert J. Sharer, 72, of Landenberg, an archaeologist and authority on Mayan history and culture, and an emeritus curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, died Thursday, Sept. 20, of pancreatic cancer at a hospice in Delaware.

Mr. Sharer, a professor emeritus, spent 40 years as a professor of anthropology at Penn and conducted research in Central America for nearly five decades. He was the author, coauthor, editor, or coeditor of more than 20 books and monographs.

In 2006, Mr. Sharer coauthored The Ancient Maya (Sixth Edition) with his wife and collaborator, Loa P. Traxler. The book is widely used at colleges across the country.

Museum officials said Mr. Sharer's research career focused on two major Penn Museum excavation projects at two UNESCO World Heritage Maya sites: Quirigua in Guatemala from 1974 through 1979 and Copan in Honduras from 1988 through 2003.

"His work at Quirigua and Copan really gave shape to how we understand the formation of Maya kingdoms and the establishment of royal dynasties," said Traxler, associate deputy director of the Penn Museum and an adjunct professor at the university.

Mr. Sharer helped organize a current exhibit at the museum, Maya 2012: The Lords of Time.

Robert W. Preucel, professor and chair of anthropology at the university and curator-in-charge of the American section at the museum, said Mr. Sharer was dedicated to teaching students about archaeology.

Mr. Sharer was "really interested in the formative period and the emergence of Maya polities," Preucel said. "He did work with the Olmec, a culture that predates the Maya, so he was really interested in the notion of kingship and origin of Maya lords and leaders."

Born in Battle Creek, Mich., on March 16, 1940, Mr. Sharer was the son of Robert E. Sharer and Jessie Tyler. He was raised in East Lansing, where his father was head of the Evening College at Michigan State University.

Mr. Sharer earned a bachelor's degree in history and anthropology at Michigan State in 1961, and a master's degree in 1963 and his doctorate in 1968, both in anthropology, at Penn.

He served in the Army as a photograph interpreter in Washington from 1963 to 1965. He attained the rank of major in the Army Reserve.

His first faculty position was at Pitzer College in California.

Mr. Sharer joined the Penn faculty as a professor of anthropology and curator at the museum. He met his future wife at the university in the 1980s and they married in 1997. He retired in 2009.

Traxler said Mr. Sharer enjoyed spending his summers in northern lower Michigan, where he had a home on Lake Charlevoix.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Sharer is survived by children Jon Daniel, Michael, and Lisa Matusiak, and his first wife, Judith Sharer.

A memorial is being planned for later in the fall at the museum, Traxler said.

Contact Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or