Tuesday, December 3, 2013


C. H. Emilie Haspels, I Am the Last of the Travelers: Midas City Excavations and Surveys in the Highlands of Phrygia. (Edited by Dietrich Berndt with contributions by Halet Çambel; 2nd revised and enlarged edition). Istanbul: Archaeology and Art Publications, 2012. Pp. 196; 52 p. of plates. ISBN 9786053960294.

Reviewed by Brendan Burke, University of Victoria (bburke@uvic.ca)

Version at BMCR home site

Several voices permeate the book I Am the Last of the Travelers: Midas City Excavations and Surveys in the Highlands of Phrygia. Primarily it is Emilie Haspels, intrepid explorer and archaeologist of central Anatolia, mainly known for her excavations at the Phrygian sanctuary of Yazılı Kaya (Midas City). In addition to Haspels, the book includes annotations and clarifications by her former student and lifelong friend Halet Çambel. And we hear additional contextual comments by the dedicated editor, Dietrich Berndt, an accomplished scholar of ancient Phrygia. This book heroically untangles a great deal of information and anecdotes about important archaeological research and rural living in central Anatolia from the 1937-1950 as experienced by Haspels. It transports the reader to the Phrygian highlands and recreates an exciting period of great discovery in the history of Turkish archaeology. There are difficulties in the writing but the ultimate objective of the editor is accomplished, to provide the rich, colorful memoirs of Haspels to a wide readership.

The Dutch archaeologist Emilie Haspels began her professional career as a specialist in Greek vase painting, studying at Oxford and in Athens at the École française d'Athènes. A student of John Beazley, Haspels published her Attic Black-figured Lekythoi  in 1936. The work is considered a ground-breaking standard of ceramic studies and was awarded the Prix Ambatiélos de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in Paris in 1937. Citing Haspels' expertise in Greek ceramic analysis, Albert Gabriel, director of the Institut d'Archéologie d'Istanbul, invited her to direct the excavations of a central Anatolian site that had only been explored briefly by a French team in 1936. The site, Yazılı Kaya, had long been known by early travelers because of the impressive rock-cut facades and stepped monuments of the Phrygians, but the remains were poorly understood because no excavation had been done previously.

The origins of book date to the beginning of Haspels' explorations in central Anatolia, including her excavations at Midas City. Haspels' conducted campaigns from 1937 to 1939, the last of which was abbreviated at the outbreak of World War II. Although nominally Gabriel was director of the project, and the funds for the project came through the Institut d'Archéologie d'Istanbul, Haspels managed the scholarly investigation and excavations. The first half of the book describes Haspels' many challenges. These include establishing a living and work area in the small rural village by the site, acquiring senior staff to help her in the project, and directing the crew of workers from the village, where internal politics made labor management a special challenge. Anyone who has directed an excavation can sympathize with Haspels' troubles and admire her fortitude and level-headedness. In addition to the complicated archaeology faced in the field, relatively straightforward activities, like acquiring cash for paying the workers and getting enough food in the rural Turkish village, was difficult.

The second half of the book describes regional reconnoitering expeditions in the Phrygian highlands after WWII. Through the descriptions one grows to appreciate the forbearance of Haspels, what she had to endure as a foreign woman exploring very isolated parts of central Turkey. Her inquisitiveness and her appreciation for the Turkish people she came in contact with during her excavation and travels comes through clearly in this book: she loved the highlands of Phrygia and its ancient and modern inhabitants.

The editorial comments, noted in italics, by Halet Çambel add a great deal of clarity to the sometimes puzzling references and obscure phrases in English by Haspels. The secondary perspective on events and people with whom Çambel also had familiarity as an accomplished scholar of Turkish archaeology adds great value to this work. Berndt also does a great service to Haspels by compiling this material into a monograph, and it should be noted that this is the second edition of Haspels' memoirs, with corrections of the English from the original published in 2008/2009. I have not seen the first edition, but it should be said that more editing of the text would improve this book even further. There are difficulties in phrasing, errors of spelling and grammar that may retain the original writing of Haspels, but for a finished book, it creates a distraction for the modern reader. Still, I would recommend this book for anyone who has travelled and excavated in central Anatolia and been fascinated by the rock-cut monuments of the Phrygians. This book does not provide archaeological information on the Phrygians and their fascinating monuments, but it greatly contributes to our understanding of how we know what we do about these ancient people. It vividly recreates an important period of research and the explorations and investigations of a unique and indefatigable scholar, Emilie Haspels.

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