Friday, August 28, 2009

Gertrude Bell, Shaper of Nations and Archaeologist

I thought it might be interesting to do a series of biographical sketches of people who have contributed to Near Eastern Archaeology. Anyone can find their way to a biography of Flinders Petrie or Howard Carter, so I thought that mentioning some lesser known, but still very important archaeologists might be in order.

Gertrude Bell (7/14/1868 - 7/12/1926) was a British writer, traveller, political analyst and archaeologist. She is today best remembered for her role is creating the Hashemite Dynasty in Jordan and for drawing the borders of modern Iraq, but it is her work as an archaeologist that concerns us here.

She was educated at Oxford University and travelled to Persia (modern Iran) to se her uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles, who was the British Minister in Tehran. She wrote the book "Persian Pictures" about her experiences on this trip.

Miss Bell became fascinated with the Middle East and would visit the Hittite city of Carchemish, Palmyra, Jerusalem, Cairo and Babylon. She advised archaeologists working at Carchemish, one of whom was T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). She also founded the Baghdad Archaeological Museum (which opened in June of 1926) and was given the title "Honorary Director of Antiquities". Some of her archaeological work was published in the "Reveue Archaologique". Her archaeological work with Sir William Ramsey was published by her in the book "A Thusand and One Churches".

Gertrude Bell was also a mountain climber (in the Rockies and the Alps) and visited Shanghai, Tokyo, India and Seoul among many other places in her full and fascinating life.

Wallach, Janet. "Desert Queen: the Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell", Random House, 1999.
Howell, Georgina. "Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert", Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2007.

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