Like many a woman before and since, Yusra had a dream: to go up to Cambridge, and become a fellow at Newnham College.
But Yusra wasn’t your average dreamer. This was the woman who, in 1932, discovered the skull of a female Neandertal – the famous specimen Tabun 1 – in et-Tabun Cave on Mount Carmel.
Yusra was one of the many women from the villages of Ljsim and Jeba in the Wady el-Mughara region of Palestine who became part of Dorothy Garrod’s excavation team. Yusra was the most expert, her work deeply valued by Garrod. She stayed with the project through its full six-years, acting as excavation fore(wo)man – her trained eyes alert to stone tool and bone fragments.
Excavating at et-Tabun, alongside Jacquetta Hawkes, Yusra spotted a tooth. That tooth led to a crushed skull – one of the most important human fossils ever found.
Discoveries like hers are a once-in-a-career (and often career-making) event for a palaeontologist – just thinking about it makes my heart race.
Despite this, Yusra never made it to Cambridge. History intervened.
Ljsim Ijzim and Jeba Jaba were depopulated* following Operation Shoter in 1948, and – as of 2010 – the Palestinian component of Garrod’s team untraceable. I haven’t even been able to discover her surname.
But Yusra’s legacy lives on in the fine work that she did, and – thanks to the remarkable re-discovery of Dorothy Garrod’s archive – now her memory does too.
Yusra – I raise my trowel to you.
Post-Script: That we know anything at all about Yusra’s trowelblazing activities is owing to the work of people like Pamela Jane Smith, Jane Callander, Elizabeth Edwards and archivists in the Pitt Rivers Museum andMAN, Paris. All of the above is based on PJS’s original research – you can read about the thrilling rediscovery of Garrod’s “lost” papers (and more Garrod goodness) here.
Post-script 2: The original article was based on PJS’ research, but following comments on io9.com (see here), I’ve updated the post to give the correct spellings for the villages & changed ‘destroyed’ to ‘depopulated’. Both villages were attacked and shelled during Operation Shoter, but many of Ijzim buildings went on to be used by new immigrants post-1948. [I’ve kept the original spellings in place to help anyone following an internet paper trail, as suspect these spelling may reflect transliteration of original texts/early 20thC pubs]
Written & posted by Tori
Yusra (left) with Dorothy Garrod (right) at Mount Carmel in 1934.Image 1998.294.52, reproduced here with permission from the Dorothy Garrod Archive, Pitt Rivers Museum. All rights reserved.