Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Women in Archaeology: Theresa Goell

From the Jewish Women's Archive (online): Biographical Information: Theresa Goell, an archaeologist best known for her work as the the director of the Nemrud Dagh excavations in southeastern Turkey. was born in New York City on July 17, 1901. She grew up in Brooklyn and spend summers at the family's house in the Catskills Mountains. After graduating from Erasmus High School in Brooklyn, Goell entered Syracuse University; she later transferred to Radcliffe College, from there she graduated, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1923. While at Radcliffe, she experienced permanent hearing loss, diagnosed as otosclerosis. She initially overcame this handicap by learning lip reading; as technology developed, she took to wearing hearing aids. During her junior year at Radcliffe she married Cyrus Levinthal; after her graduation, they both studied at Cambridge University. They had one son, Jay, and were divorced in the late 1930s or early 1940s. Having earned the equivalent standard B.A. in architecture from Cambridge in 1933-35, Goell began doing archaeological field work in Jerusalem and Gerasa, Trans-Jordan, under the auspices of the American School of Oriental Research. In Jerusalem she made drawings of ceramics and restored terra-cottas, and worked as an architectural assistant. Theresa returned to New York in the late 1930s. She did interior architectural design and display work at department stores in the Bronx and in Newark, New Jersey. During World War II she did drafting for Naval Contractors in New York City and Brooklyn. While working, she took courses in prehistoric and European art at Columbia University, 1944-45. It was Professor Hartley Lehman at New York University who suggested that she look into the heretofore little studied contents at Mt. Nimrud on the Anatolian plateau of southeastern Turkey. Her own NYU Research from this period led to her life long pursuit to excavate this site, now known as Nemrud Dagh. Goell undertook her first professional archaeological field work during 1946 to 1953; it included a position at Tarsus as the architectural and archaeological assistant the the professor of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University and work with other archaeological expeditions in Palestine, Jordan and Turkey. An active Zionist, Goell worked on numerous buildings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Goell's first arduous journey to Mt. Nimrud was in 1947; she returned for a second visit in 1951. Little was known about this site before she began excavations there in 1953. The Bollingen Foundation and the National Geographic Society supported the excavation; in March 1961 The National Geographic published an article about Nemrud Dagh and later the National Geographic Society produced a film about it. Goell became the Director of Excavations at Samosata, the city of Antiochus I of Commagene. In 1973, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, the Cultural Ministry of Turkey awarded Goell in recognition of her contributions to Anatolian culture and art. She died in New York City in 1985, after a long illness.
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This information about Goell is from a summary on a documentary film produced by Goell's niece in 2005, "Queen of the Mountain": Theresa Goell embarked on her career as an archaeologist with four strikes against her: She was a woman, divorced, extremely hard of hearing and a Jew working with Muslims. But all that didn't deter her. Born in 1901, she could have had a comfortable life as the wife of a lawyer and the sister-in-law of a prominent rabbi in Brooklyn, but she left her husband and son for a lifelong adventure that led her to a desolate mountain in Southeast Turkey. Martha Goell Lubell, who has lived in Wynnewood for the last 28 years, chronicled the life of her aunt Theresa, a pioneer female archaeologist, in a new documentary, Queen of the Mountain, filmed mostly on location in Turkey. Since Goell was hard-of-hearing, the film will be screened with open captioning to make the film accessible to hard-of-hearing and deaf viewers. Acclaimed actress Tovah Feldshuh, who recently starred in Golda’s Balcony on Broadway, is the voice of Theresa Goell. In addition to Lubell, who produced and directed the film, others from the Philadelphia area who had a role in the film were Sharon Mullally, the editor and writer; Carol Rosenbaum, who did additional writing; John Anthony, the sound designer; Kevin Diehl, the graphic designer, and Sumi Tonooka, who wrote the music. Lubell says, “I started hearing stories about my aunt’s exploits when I was a little girl growing up in New York.” The idea of putting the saga on film occurred to her while she was making her last film, Daring to Resist, which she produced with Bala Cynwyd filmmaker Barbara Attie. After Theresa Goell’s brother died in the late 1990s, Lubell’s cousins found boxes full of photos, letters, audio tapes and film relating to Theresa’s unusual career as well as her personal struggles: Theresa was nearly deaf, divorced, pursuing a career in what was then a man’s field and a Jewish woman working in a Muslim country. “There was a film in those boxes,” says Lubell. “And I decided to make a film about my aunt, knowing it would take me to those places that I had heard about from her decades before.” Theresa excavated the spectacular burial site of King Antiochus on Nemrud Dagh, a 7,000-foot-high mountain three days’ walk from the nearest post office. Antiochus ruled the kingdom of Commagene, and controlled the trade routes across the Euphrates River in the century before the birth of Christ. Theresa first learned of the site when she wrote a paper in graduate school in 1938. “Finding the tomb of Antiochus at Nemrud Dagh was always something Theresa wanted to do,” reports Donald Sanders, editor of a book on her work at Nemrud Dagh. “We know Antiochus was a very wealthy person. He would have had very elaborate materials buried with him. The contents of the tomb could have rivaled that of King Tut.” Theresa was determined to get to Nemrud Dagh and it took her six years to get permission to excavate, raise money for her excavations, find scholars to collaborate with her and equip a mountaintop camp for 50 people. In 1953, at age 50, she finally got there and kept working there over the next twenty years. Theresa was to work very closely with the Kurdish villagers who became the backbone of her excavations and were almost like her family. “They treat me like a mother,” Goell remarks in her oral history, “ And they’re very kind to me.” “She was thinking on all different levels,” according to Martha Sharp Joukowsky, a professor of archaeology at Brown University who is featured in the film. “Not only of what had to be done in the archaeological sense but also in the human sense, of the people who worked for her and were so devoted to her.” She brought clothing and medicine from New York and treated the medical problems of her workers and their families, and taught their wives hygiene and birth control. Her nephew, Jon Goell, relates: “She was considered queen of the mountain.” Goell never found the tomb but Nemrud Dagh has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous archaeological destinations in Turkey.

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