Born in Canada, Gordon studied archaeology at Harvard and went on expeditions to Honduras. He directed excavations at Copan in a few of the seasons and later led ethnographic expeditions to Alaska. In 1903 Gordon became curator of General Ethnology at the University of Pennsylvania Museum (then called the Free Museum of Art and Science) and in the next year he became curator of American Archaeology. He rose to the position of director in 1910 and began the Museum Journal. He organized the Ur excavations in conjunction with British Museum director, Sir Frederic Kenyon, from 1919-1922. Unfortunately he did not see the end of the Ur excavations, nor even the discovery of the Royal Cemetery, as he died in an accident early in 1927.