Anthropologist and historian Ricardo Alegria, the founder and first director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, died Thursday in a San Juan hospital, those closest to him said. He was 90.

Alegria was admitted more than a month ago to San Juan's Cardiovascular Center suffering from serious heart trouble.

The intellectual was the person in charge of the renovation and restoration project for Old San Juan, the historic heart of the Puerto Rican capital.

The news of his death came as a blow to Puerto Ricans who considered Alegria to be the great defender of their identity and the so-called "father of modern Puerto Rican archaeology."

Until shortly before his death, Alegria had remained active in historical documentation projects with the aim of publishing several books he had in the works, his relatives said.

In addition to being the founder and first director of the culture institute, Alegria was the founder of the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean and the Museo de las Americas in San Juan.