Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Robert John Braidwood

Academic journal article Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

Robert John Braidwood

Article excerpt

THE ANGLO-AMERICAN generation of archaeologists who spanned the period from pre-World War II through the mid-twentieth century included numerous giants in the field, such as J. Desmond Clark, Grahame Clark, V. Gordon Childe, Dorothy Garrod, Emil Haury, Jesse Jennings, Kathleen Kenyon, A.V. Kidder, Richard MacNeish, Stuart Piggott, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, Sir Leonard Woolley. All are gone. Robert John Braidwood, a central member of this illustrious group, died 15 January 2003.

Robert Braidwood was born in Detroit, Michigan, 29 July 1907. All four of his grandparents were Scottish immigrants to the United States. Braidwood's father was a pharmacist in whose shop young Bob Braidwood worked after school. Among other part-time jobs held during his adolescence, those as carpenter's helper were his favorites. He earned an apprentice card in a carpenter's union the summer after he graduated from high school, and made good use of these carpentry skills throughout his archaeological career, especially when setting up and taking down field camps in the rural areas of southwestern Asia where he carried out research for more than sixty years. Before turning to archaeology, however, Braidwood obtained an architectural degree at the University of Michigan (1929), and then spent one year in an architectural office before returning to the university to pursue course work in ancient history and anthropology. His architectural training in drafting and lettering (all rendered freehand in those days) earned him an invitation to join a Michigan expedition to Tell Umar (Seleucia-on-the-Tigris) south of Baghdad for the 1930-31 season. He spent nine months working as surveyor and artist for the Iraq Expedition, then returned to Ann Arbor, completing a B.A. (1932) and M.A. (1933) before signing on as field assistant for the Oriental Institute's Syrian Expedition to the Plain of Antioch, the Amuq (1933-38).

The Oriental Institute-directed by Egyptologist James Henry Breasted and sustained by Rockefeller money-consisted of a handsome stone building on the University of Chicago campus and a vigorous field program in western Asia and Egypt. Then as now, the Institute building housed scholarly offices, a research library, a lecture hall, and a museum. The field program of the 1930s included a total of twelve expeditions, working in Iran (1), Iraq (3), Syria (1), Palestine (1), and Egypt (6). The expedition staffs worked full-time during the field seasons (usually nine months long, fall to spring each year), but were not salaried by the Institute during the off-season part of the year.

Two aspects of Braidwood's work with the Syrian Amuq expedition are especially significant, and still stand as major contributions to the archaeology of western Asia. He was put in charge of deep soundings at very large mounds, and he carried out a comprehensive site survey for the entire Plain of Antioch (Braidwood 1937). The deep trenches yielded stratigraphie information enabling relative dating of the survey sites, as well as data for his dissertation. They also provided a basic time-space systematics framework for much of the northern Levant and northwestern Syria (Braidwood and Braidwood 1960). In fact, the Amuq phases defined by Braidwood in the 1930s are still central to chronological discussions for that part of Southwest Asia.

Braidwood's regional survey of the Amuq was highly innovative at the time, and especially impressive because the overwhelming emphasis within Near Eastern archaeology then, and for many decades afterward, was on long-term excavation of big single sites that could be linked to cities named in the Bible or in other ancient writings. Actual fieldwork designed to place these sites in their physical settings and in geographic relation to older, younger, and contemporaneous communities was virtually unheard of.

During Braidwood's return voyage to the United States from the Amuq in 1936, he encountered on shipboard a young woman, Linda Schreiber, whom he had first met when both were University of Michigan students. …

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