Hetty Goldman: Work & Legacy

Hetty Goldman’s dedication to archaeology began with excavation. Many significant artifacts were discovered under her direction. In the beginning of her career, the excavation of more than 280 graves near Halai allowed her to establish a clear chronology for the style of terracotta figures in the area. The brief excavation in Colophon revealed some of the earliest known Greek houses, a drainage system of terracotta pipes below the ancient streets, and, most intriguing, a tomb with pottery of a late-Minoan design. The Tarsus excavation uncovered a miniature crystal statue of a fine and unusual Hittite design, as well as bilingual treaties and seals that demonstrated the history of the city’s rulers and written language.

Hetty Goldman at Halai, circa 1912
Bryn Mawr College Library
Hetty Goldman at Halai, circa 1912

However, Goldman’s most significant contributions to archaeology came from her skills as a strategist and analyst. Her approach to excavation was thorough and yet efficient, always with the goal of tracing the complete history of a site. Some area was always left untouched so that it might be checked later. Each of her sites was selected with care, not to yield dramatic finds from famous monuments, but to reveal the richest possible slice of the cultural existence of ancient peoples.

Goldman became increasingly interested in the prehistorical period and in the mutual influence of diverse cultures on one another. The Tarsus site, known as Gözlü Kule, was chosen as a point at which many cultures, including the Hittite, the Mycenaean, and the Syrian, may have come together. This was verified by the excavation’s findings. In the first year of work, Goldman reported that the goal of many archaeologists to find a site where Hittite and Greek cultures came together “has now actually been fulfilled by our work at Tarsus. For we found this year a sealed deposit in which there were both Hittite royal seals, a Hittite royal deed and Mycenaean pottery, much of which was imported from the Greek mainland.”

Goldman was generally quick to publish interim reports during excavations, and she compiled final publications that became invaluable tools to other archaeologists and historians. In her writing, she demonstrated a striking ability to look deeply into archaeological fragments and draw from them a story about their role and the societal forces at play in their creation.

Grotesque and realistic terracotta figurines discovered at Tarsus.
Bryn Mawr College Library
Grotesque and realistic terracotta figurines discovered at Tarsus. “Old age with its fallen eyelids and pendulous, glabrous lips is given to the life in Nos. 327 and 337,” Goldman wrote in Excavations at Gözlü Kule, Tarsus I (Princeton University Press, 1950)

The three volumes Goldman published on the Tarsus excavation were among the most thorough to date, with rich, poetic analyses of the findings. A remnant of a terracotta representation of a mythological character is described in the catalogue as having a “furrowed forehead, wide-eyed, anxious look, lined face, iris and pupil hollowed.” The description goes on to argue that the figure portrays an actor wearing a mask, “one of those with closed mouth and great beauty of countenance such as Lucian describes in his eulogy of the pantomimic dance. . . . The eyes, instead of being small, narrow and with only slight or no indication of the iris, are wide open with deep concave iris such as might very well represent the hollow eyes of a mask. Then, too, the tragic tension in the face is favorable to the idea of a mask, for it is in striking contrast both to the suave Augustan style and to the exaggeration of Anatolian caricature.”

Goldman’s introduction to the terracotta findings goes into broader interpretation as well, seeing in certain realistic and grotesque faces representing deformity and old age the response of Greeks coming for the first time to the crowded cities of Asia Minor. “The contrast between rich and poor, slave and free, was more striking than in earlier and simpler days, when pessimism, freely expressed by poet and sage, was philosophic and embodied in aphorisms of general application,” she writes. “The world stood upon the threshold of Christianity, and in the eastern Mediterranean, where it was born, there was an immense awareness of the sufferings and the tragic fate not only of man, but of individual men.” As Goldman’s colleague George M. A. Hanfmann pointed out, this passage brings to mind Goldman’s own visceral experiences with suffering people in the Balkan Wars and after the First World War.

It also serves to underline the assessment of Homer Thompson, who succeeded Herzfeld and Goldman at the Institute and who gave high visibility to archaeology as Director of the Agora excavations in Athens. “She was not interested primarily in finding beautiful objects,” Thompson said of Goldman. “Nor yet in accumulating masses of archaeological data for their own sake. Her purpose was to learn all that the soil could be made to tell about the history of an ancient settlement, of how its inhabitants lived, and of what they thought and felt.”

Caricature of Hetty Goldman by Piet de Jong, 1925
Rachel Hood/Leopard's Head Press
Caricature of Hetty Goldman by Piet de Jong, 1925

Hetty Goldman’s publications alone would have been enough to make a lasting impact on field archaeology and on Greek and Near Eastern history. A year after her death, a symposium in her memory recounted her influence in Classical, prehistoric, and Near Eastern studies. Her account of the excavation of Eutresis was called “a basic building-block in all subsequent studies of the Bronze Age in Greece.” Her chronology of Tarsus has served as a guide for archaeologists trying to link prehistoric sites in Egypt with the West and for those trying to establish linkages between the Euphrates basin and Anatolia. Excavations at Halai resumed in 1990 based on Goldman’s demonstration of its significance as a coastal community in several eras. Goldman’s focus on cross-cultural influences and on the lives of common people are now prevalent throughout historical studies. Archaeologists have named her reports and publications as models of thoroughness and style that they have sought to live up to in their work.

Goldman’s legacy goes beyond the influence of her own studies, however. She was not one to keep her views, experience, or resources to herself. Beginning with the excavation of Colophon in 1922, Goldman served as teacher and mentor to dozens of young archaeologists, many of them women. Though the Institute has no undergraduate or graduate students, Goldman worked with students through arrangements with Bryn Mawr and with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. At the Institute, she worked with scholars at more advanced stages. “For me this opportunity of exchanging ideas with younger scholars while pursuing my own studies constitutes one of the most attractive features of life and work at our Institute,” she wrote to Aydelotte. “I know of no other place in America where it is possible on quite the same terms, for only here are we all free from the pressure of teaching and extra-curricular duties.”

To younger generations of archaeologists, Goldman advocated decisive action and thought. “The field archaeologist must have the courage both to collect and to interpret wisely and boldly,” she advised Bryn Mawr students in 1955. “Better a theory if the data at all allow, which may eventually be proven inadequate or false, for it will stimulate the imagination and awaken speculation in others who may well reach more acceptable results.”

When Goldman was preparing for retirement, she wrote at length to Aydelotte about the proper role of the field archaeologist: “His chief function is to be the intelligence in which the results of the excavation are synthesized and in which what has been destroyed continues to exist. For the process of excavation is of course in part a process of destruction especially where a number of superimposed towns and cultures are to be studied. Although no excavation can be successful without a very careful scientific method of field work and of recording, this cannot make its success which, although there are many contributing factors, lies in the powers of interpretation, deduction, and synthesis of its head.”

Goldman’s views on the role of the archaeologist also extended to the preservation of local heritage. She was adamant that the vast majority of the antiquities excavated under her direction go to museums in their countries of origin, and she sought to train local people in their care. “We hope, when the excavations are over to leave Turkey not only the material of our finds but competent craftsmen to take their place in the museums of the country,” she wrote. Other archaeologists returning to the areas she had worked decades earlier reported finding particularly skilled workers whose fathers had worked on Goldman’s excavations.In this Goldman’s position was distinctive—field archaeology was an increasingly vigorous and fruitful academic pursuit, and many were eager to demonstrate its scientific legitimacy at the expense of attention to subjective interpretation.

Goldman’s legacy is also felt in American institutions, as she gave generously to the communities she benefited from. She donated her library, much of it inherited from Julius Sachs, to the Institute’s Historical Studies–Social Science Library, where it formed the core of its archaeological collection. In her will, she also set aside a fund to be directed to the endowment of the School of Historical Studies. This fund has been used to support visits to the Institute by young archaeologists and historians, who have followed the path Goldman blazed both in uncovering historical evidence and in discerning its meaning.

In addition to documents in the collection of the Shelby White and Leon Levy Archives Center at the Institute for Advanced Study, the following sources were consulted during the preparation of this profile:

John L. Caskey, Robert W. Ehrich, et al., A Symposium in Memory of Hetty Goldman, 1881–1972 (Institute for Advanced Study, 1974)

Hetty Goldman, Excavations at Gözlü Kule, Tarsus, 3 vols. (Princeton University Press, 1950–63)

Machteld J. Mellink and Kathleen M. Quinn, “Hetty Goldman, 1881–1972,” in Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists, ed. Getzel M. Cohn and Martha Sharp Joukowsky (University of Michigan Press, 2004)

Homer A. Thompson, “Preface,” in The Aegean and the Near East: Studies Presented to Hetty Goldman on the Occasion of her Seventy-fifth Birthday, ed. Saul S. Weinberg (J. J. Augustin, 1956)