Friday, 26 May 2017

Trowelblazers - Halet Çambel

Halet Çambel was a Turkish archaeologist - and an Olympic fencer! She was the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympic Games, in 1936, in Germany. She was invited to meet Adolf Hitler, but refused on political grounds. She had already been dubious about competing in the "Nazi Games" and felt that this was a compromise too far, according to her obituary in the Telegraph.


Here she is, third from the left.


She was born in Berlin in 1916, the daughter of a Turkish cultural attaché there. The family was very close to Kemal Ataturk, and they could not return to Turkey until the mid 1920s, when Turkey became a republic. She was a frail child so, inspired by German children's books about knights, she decided to learn fencing. Later she was educated in Turkey, and went on to study archaeology at the Sorbonne in Paris between 1933 and 1939. Returning to Turkey, she became a scientific assistant at Istanbul University in 1940. In 1944 she received a Doctorate and in 1947 she began lecturing there.
She also spent two years as visiting scholar at the University of Saarbrucken in Germany and did a lot to strengthen ties between the German and Turkish archaeological communities.
Later, she became a professor, and founded the Institute of Prehistory at Istanbul University. She married Nail Çakırhan, an architect and communist poet, who divorced his Russian first wife in 1937, and they remained together for seventy years.
She dug at Karatepe, in the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey, after the Second World War, with the German archaeologist Helmut Theodor Bossert, who was the professor of archaeology at Istanbul University. This was a site associated with the 12th Century BC Hittite king Azatiwada, and she played a key role in deciphering the Hittite hieroglyphics found at the site, with the help of the Phoenician alphabet. This site became her life's work - for over fifty years she spent about six months of every year there. She also spent time in the early days teaching the local children, as there were no schools in the remote area.
She was also active in preserving her country's cultural heritage, creating an outdoor museum at Karatepe in 1960, for which her husband designed some buildings. She also opposed the damming of the Ceyhan River, which would have drowned many archaeological sites. She was able to negotiate a compromise on the water level which saved the sites.
In 2004, she received the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands for her services to Turkish archaeology.
She died in 2014, aged 97.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Farewell, Roger Moore

He may have been 007 to most people (he starred in 7 James Bond movies, after all), but to me, he was the Saint.


Watching him in the 1960s series led me on to a love of the Leslie Charteris stories - I was even a member of the fan club for a while, just so I could carry the membership card around with me. This proclaims, on the back, in a message to the police:
"The bearer of this card is probably a person of hideous antecedents and low moral character, and upon apprehension for any cause should be immediately released in order to save other prisoners from contamination."

And then, later, he was Brett Sinclair in the Persuaders, co-starring with Tony Curtis:


But the thing he himself was proudest of was his work as Unicef ambassador, for which he was knighted.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Black Women in Science - Annie Easley


Annie Easley was a computer scientist, mathematician and rocket scientist. She worked for NASA at the Lewis Research Centre, where she was one of the first African-American computer scientists, and was part of the team which developed software for the Centaur rocket stage.
She went to Xavier University New Orleans, where she majored in pharmacy. At that time, in Alabama, in order for a black person to vote, they had to pass a difficult literacy test and pay a poll tax (this was 1954). According to Wikipedia, the person giving the tests saw that she had gone to Xavier University, and waived the test in her case, just charging her two dollars. Later, she helped other people prepare for the literacy test, which was only abolished in 1965.
Unable to continue her pharmacy studies when she married and moved to Cleveland, Ohio (the university there had recently stopped its pharmacy program), she heard that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NACA - the predecessor to NASA - was looking for "computers" and applied for a job. In 1955, a computer was a person who did the maths manually. She was one of only four African-Americans in a staff of 2,500. She spent 34 years working for them, on many different projects. Later at NASA, she also worked as an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor, where she educated supervisors about workplace discrimination on not just race and gender, but age as well.
She retired in 1989. She was also a founder member, and eventually president, of the NASA Lewis Ski Club. She learned to ski when she was 46.
She died in 2011.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Black Victorians - Walter Tull, footballer and First World War officer


Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888, but grew up in a Methodist Children's Home in Bethnal Green, along with his brother Edward, as his parents died when he was nine. His father Daniel Tull was a carpenter from Barbados, and his mother was Alice Elizabeth Palmer, from Kent. Edward went on to be adopted by the Warnock family in Glasgow, and became the first mixed race dentist in Britain.
In 1909, he joined Tottenham Hotspurs, playing inside forward. He was the third black player in the football league, the first being Arthur Wharton, who I wrote about a couple of years ago, and the second being Billy Clarke of Aston Villa.
He went on tour with the team to Argentina and Uruguay, becoming the first mixed race professional footballer from the UK to play in Latin America. However, in October 1909, while playing at Bristol City, he was subjected to serious racial abuse. The Football Star reporter at the match was so angered by this that his report on the match was entitled "Football and the Colour Prejudice", in which he praised Walter for his professional approach, and said that he had been the best forward in the game. This was probably the first time racial prejudice had been highlighted in the newspapers in British football. However, he was dropped from the A team, and in 1911 he transferred to Northampton Town.
During the First World War, Walter served with the Footballers' Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, where he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in 1917. He was recommended for promotion despite a rule against non-European soldiers becoming officers. He also fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, as a sergeant. In 1917, he was sent to Italy, where he was praised for his coolness under fire. He returned to France in 1918, and was killed during the Spring Offensive. His body was never found.
A memorial to him was unveiled at Northampton Town FC in 1999, and there is a Walter Tull Memorial Cup, which was won by Rangers in 2004, when they beat Tottenham Hotspurs 2- 0.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Librarians, Series 3 - Jenkins is Awesome!

I sent off for the DVD set of series 3 of The Librarians as soon as I heard it was available, and have been trying not to binge watch it. Some things need to be savoured, and there are only 10 episodes.
It's a brilliant season, though - the Big Bad, introduced in the first episode, is Apep, Egyptian God of Chaos, who wants to release Pure Evil into the world. Another complication for the Librarians is DOSA, the Department of Statistical Anomalies - the US government have become aware of magic in the world, and have created a department to deal with it. Unfortunately, they have noticed that when magical events take place, the Librarians are often there, and have leapt to the conclusion that the Librarians are causing the problems rather than trying to solve them - so they are also after the Librarians, treating them as domestic terrorists.
As if that wasn't enough, there's a theme running through the season about the use of magic and when it might be justified (Cassandra has always been a fan of using magic as a first, rather than a last, resort to solve problems).
Another theme running through the season is that of various characters coming to terms with their own death, particularly Cassandra, who has to deal with her brain tumour, and Flynn, who learns that the magical artefact which may stop Apep requires a human sacrifice for it to work.
And they meet vampires, return to Shangri La, meet the Monkey King, and Frost Giants, go to a carnival, infiltrate a cult, and discover a Lewis Carroll themed world. They discover that Charlene, last seen with Judson, shutting down the Library so it couldn't be accessed at the beginning of season one, is still alive.
And Jenkins is awesome! He saves the day several times, and gets to do some more sword fighting.
The best guest star of the season, for me, was Sean Astin, as the conjuror in charge of a magical carnival.

I understand that season 4 is being made - I'm looking forward to seeing where they go from here.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Trowelblazers - Hetty Goldman


Hetty Goldman has a very scanty biography on Wikipedia, but there's enough there to show that she was quite a remarkable woman. She was a member of the Goldman-Sachs banking family, born in 1881, and she took her BA in English at Bryn Mawr college in 1903, then decided that she would not follow a writing career because she felt she had nothing to say! She had already become interested in archaeology, and went on to gain her MA in archaeology and classical languages from Columbia University in 1910, when she had her first article published, The Orestia of Aeschylus as Illustrated by Greek Vase-Painting. This article was the major reason for her being the first woman to be awarded the Charles Eliot Norton Fellowship to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece. She worked and studied here from 1910 to 1912.
Her archaeological career was then disrupted by the Balkan Wars and First World War. She returned to New York City to work for the American Red Cross. She was asked by the American Joint Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to return to Greece for a report on the Jewish communities. However, she found time to gain her PhD in 1916, from Radcliffe College.
By 1922, she was working for the Fogg Museum, digging in Ionia and Central Greece. One of the sites she worked on was Colophon, then controlled by Turkey - and this dig was disrupted by the Greco-Turkish War! When the archaeologists returned to the site, they found that all the artefacts had been stolen. However, they had also discovered some of the earliest known Greek houses, and a drainage system of terracotta pipes.
She was the first woman to be appointed to run a dig by the Archaeological Institute of America. She dug widely across Turkey and the Mediterranean, and published many papers, including The Acropolis at Halae in 1940, showing the continuity between Semitic and Mediterranean cultures.
In 1936, she became one of the first professors of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. She became professor emerita in 1947, which was also the last year of her excavations at Tarsus. The site at Tarsus had been chosen specifically because it was likely to be a place where different cultures of the region had come together, an aim which was confirmed by the finding of Hittite royal seals and Mycenaean pottery in the same contexts.
In 1966 the Archaeological Institute of America awarded her a gold medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement.
She died at Princeton in 1972, aged 90.

Apart from archaeology, she was active in sponsoring Jewish refugees escaping from Nazi Germany. Her family origins were German-Jewish, of course.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Concerning the Crew of the Franklin

It's a well known folk song, among other things - the sad tale of the doomed expedition to the Arctic, all hands being lost to cold and starvation. The two ships commanded by Sir John Franklin, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, got stuck in the sea ice off Canada in 1846. Their final message, sent in April 1848, indicated that they were abandoning their ships to head south overland. The wreck of the Erebus was only found in 2014, and HMS Terror was found nearby in 2016.
Recently, remains of the crew have been found, both bones and mummified remains in the ice, scattered along the trail they took to try to reach safety. Researchers have been gathering DNA samples from the remains, identifying 24 individuals so far - and have found that at least 4 of the 129 crew members were women.