An actual TrowelBlazer mystery – solved! A brilliant case of science Scooby Doo by Amy Ramsey and the Corinth excavation team. While TrowelBlazers has found a fair few mystery females, this is one of the swiftest cases we’ve ever closed!

Meet Amy Ramsey, who did her PhD in archaeology at UC Berkeley; she’s the one who brought us the mystery:

Last year, a friend purchased three small cases of glass lantern slides at a nondescript yard sale in Hopedale, Massachusetts, intending to re-sell them from her antiques shop. There was no information about their original owner or how they ended up where they were. The slides were obviously old, with hand-written labels and indications that they once had been cataloged in lecture-sequence. Most were black-and-white photography or line drawings, but some had been beautifully hand colored. The collection contained images of artifacts and sites from the ancient Near East and Egypt; Stone Age cave paintings and tools; early hominids; and photographs of archaeologists at work. Knowing that I’m an archaeologist, my friend kindly offered me ‘first dibs’ on any slides that interested me. Looking through them, I was delighted to find a photograph slide that showed a female archaeologist “At Work in Corinth,” dressed in what looked like early 20th-century clothing. But she was unidentified! Queries among colleagues and friends produced no answers, so I turned to Trowelblazers for help (of course! – Ed.).
-Amy Ramsey

 Now, meet Ruth Sidall, a pretty TrowelBlazing lady herself, who has worked all around the Mediterranean-including the archaeological excavations at Corinth.

Turning to twitter as a quick (and much-needed) break, I was confronted by a black and white image, the scan of a lantern slide, of a very familiar landscape. Before I’d even read the caption written in green ink on the left hand side of the frame, I recognised the peculiar trees of Ancient Corinth and the distant whaleback ridge of Gerania in the distance. That was the first thing I noticed but then I read the tweet from Trowelblazers;

‘SUPER EXCITING MYSTERY KLAXON! So, mysterious image found – lantern slide. Can help? corinth 19th c?’ (NB to Team – we need to get a real klaxon -Ed)

and then I read the caption ‘No. 87D Archaeologists at work cataloguing at Corinth’. The image shows a woman, in 1930s clothing seated at a desk en plein air to the west of the main archaeological site. She is being shown what appears to be a marble architectural element by one of the Greek excavators and writing in a leather-bound notebook. Who is she?

In long standing excavations such as that conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens at Ancient Corinth, established in 1896, there is plenty of interest and opportunities to study the archeology of the archaeology. Many of us who have worked at Hill House in Ancient Corinth have spent an evening pouring over the photo albums in the saloni and stared for ages at the photo wall in the library (when it was too hot to work …). Over the last century many people have contributed to the excavation, description and analysis of finds including many worthy of being TrowelBlazers; Agnes Newhall, Dorothy Burr Thompson, Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, Ida Thallon Hill, Alice Leslie Walker and Gladys Weinberg (we’re going to need a bigger boat! site! -Ed. ) are just a few names of the women who worked at the excavations during the first half of the 20th Century and there have been many more since.

The ancient Roman Fountain at Corinth (wikipedia).

from wikipedia

So in response to the call of the SUPER EXCITING MYSTERY KLAXON, I decided to hit that tried and tested academic research tool Facebook and reposted the image there, tagging all the Corinthian folks I know on that network. Within minutes the responses started coming in. First of all the place, from Director of Excavations Guy Sanders “Looking north. No temple hill visible. Looks as if it was taken at the dig house with the Odeion behind her head. Shadow on her back, long in the Zembil, so it was morning. I do not recognize her – so it is not Gladys Weinberg – and unfortunately the setting does not give a clue to where the material is from and, therefore, not to the individuals and date. We should be able to come up with a short list of women.”

Kostis Kourelis (Art History, Franklin & Marshall College) was able to rule out Agnes Newhall or Dorothy Burr Thompson, and then John Lavezzi (Fine Arts, Bowling Green State University) suggested Isabelle Raubitschek. Guy was quick to respond with the following: ‘John has a point. Looks very like the older version of IKR and her dissertation was on Ionic architecture and that marble looks very Ionic. The date should be about 1938. The setting is Hill House parking lot or there abouts’.

So we cannot be certain, but Isabelle Kelly Raubitschek is certainly a good match for the woman in this lantern slide, and her clothing and haircut fit the 1938 date. Isabelle was born in Boston in 1914 and went on to study at Barnard College under Margaret Bieber. She then went on to Columbia where she was supervised by William Bell Dinsmoor and through him met the then Director of Excavations at Corinth, Oscar Broneer. Isabelle worked at Corinth and neighbouring Isthmia, on and off for the rest of her life. She had four children and took motherhood very seriously and was a highly respected academic. A wonder woman of her time. She became Professor of Art at Stanford University, and died in 1988. Her husband, Toni Raubitschek completed the publication of her life work, the volume Isthmia, VII: The Metal Objects (1952-1989), published in 1998.

– Ruth Siddall

Editor’s note: This is pretty much the best thing that TrowelBlazers can be – a tool for bringing people together to not only to figure out who ‘the lady in the picture’ really was, but to collect the personal, collegiate memories of the people whose lives they touched. This is a great story not only because the mystery is probably solved, but because an entire excavation team banded together to solve it, and gave us a list of even more TrowelBlazing women to look for in the future. A massive, massive thank you to Amy for bringing us the mystery and to Ruth for coordinating the crack Corinth cold case squad.

Now, if you need a bit more mystery in your life… we still have a few!

Know any of these women?

And could this be Mary Anning?

Read More:

A full and detailed biography of Isabelle Kelly Raubitschek is available here  as part of Brown University’s excellent  ‘Breaking Ground: Women in Old world Archaeology’ project.

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