Encounters with the Orient – Emilie Haspels” is an exhibition running at the Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands until 18 September 2016.

Treading in the footsteps of the 19th-century travellers, Professor Emilie Haspels (1894-1980), a pioneering Dutch archaeologist, organised four expeditions into the inhospitable highlands of Phrygia in central Turkey between 1946 and 1958. Her original plan was to publish only the Phrygian fortresses and the religious rock-cut monuments of the highlands, but when she came across remains of both earlier and later periods, she decided that she had to include them in her publication. As she wrote in The Highlands of Phrygia. Sites and Monuments (Princeton, 1971): ‘I had to record what I found: I am the last of the travelers.’ It took her more than 20 years to complete her research. She described, recorded and photographed all the fortresses and religious and sepulchral monuments in the Phrygian Highlands, from the prehistoric to Ottoman periods, often under very primitive circumstances, travelling with one assistant or alone, by ox or horse cart, and lacking proper food and other basic necessities.

Emilie Haspels, in Midas City (Yazılı Kaya), Turkey, 1938

Emilie Haspels was born into a literate, artistic Dutch family in 1894. She was an independent young woman, and in the late 1920s she travelled to China, Canada and the United States. After majoring in classics and minoring in archaeology and ancient history at the University of Amsterdam, she focused on Greek pottery under the supervision of Sir John Beazley at Oxford for her PhD research. In the summer months of the early 1930s, she stayed at the French School in Athens as a ‘foreign member’ and participated in archaeological excavations organised by the British, French and German institutes in Greece. This is also the period during which she became good friends with other female pioneers, including Winifred Lamb and Lucy Talcott. The expanded version of her PhD dissertation, Attic Black-Figured Lekythoi, which was published by the French School in Athens in 1936, is still considered a masterpiece.

Emilie Haspels at the Broken Lion Tomb in Köhnüş Valley, Phrygia, 1953

Impressed by her field experience and expertise in pottery studies, the French Archaeological Institute in Istanbul asked Haspels to direct the excavations at Midas City (Yazılı Kaya), Turkey. She was the first Dutch female archaeologist to lead excavation campaigns in Anatolia (no less than five between 1937 and 1939). This is also how she became acquainted with the Phrygian Highlands. Following Beazley’s advice, she kept a diary during her fieldwork in Turkey. Her observations about the region and its inhabitants – a mixture of Circassian and Balkan immigrants, nomads and indigenous Turks – still have sociological and historical value. During her last campaign (1939), which was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, she was assisted by another trowelblazer, Halet Çambel.

The German occupation of the Netherlands made it impossible for Haspels to return home and she spent the war years in Turkey. In order to survive in Istanbul, she taught part time at the Istanbul University and also worked as a translator for the war office of the American Consulate. After the liberation of the Netherlands, she was finally able to return home. Soon after, she was appointed as the first female professor of archaeology at the University of Amsterdam and the first female director of the Allard Pierson Museum. She devoted the rest of her academic career to reconnoitring and recording the monuments in the Phrygian Highlands. Her pioneering work, as well as her diachronic, regional approach, is still appreciated by scholars. Her monumental publication The Highlands of Phrygia. Sites and Monuments remains the standard reference work for the sites and cultic landscape of Phrygia.

Photograph taken on her 64th birthday. ‘There it all lies now. Seen from here, the world is small. And isn’t this my world? Hasn’t it been since I first came here, 21 years ago now? For it holds on to you like nothing else; it won’t let you go; you’re captured by it, and then you surrender, and you lose yourself in it.’ (Emilie Haspels, quotation from her unpublished diary Boekie)

Jaap M. Hemelrijk was Haspels’s assistant on her last two expeditions and later succeeded her as professor of classical archaeology and museum director at 1965. He described Haspels thus: ‘She was an archaeologist of the old type, a type that has all died out now, one of those with a deep belief in the significance of their activities, with an absolute and unrelenting devotion to their destinies, gifted with great courage and surprising ability to “rough it” as she would say. Fundamentally they were adventurers and there clearly was a streak of the romantic in them.’ (J.M. Hemelrijk, In Memoriam Professor C.H.E. Haspels (15 September 1894–25 December 1980), BaBesch 56, 1981)

Written by Filiz Songu and René van Beek

Edited and posted by Shelby Watts

Images provided by the Allard Pierson Museum Archive and used with permission. 

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