27 August 1916 |
Çambel was born in Berlin. Her father, Hasan Cemil Çambel, was closely associated with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic. Her mother, Remziye Hanim, was the daughter of the Turkish ambassador to Germany. (It was as a result of Ataturk's promotion of women's sports that she took up fencing.) She received undergraduate training in archaeology at the Sorbonne University in Paris and received a doctorate in 1940 at the University of Istanbul.
She competed in the women's individual foil event at the 1936 Summer Olympics. Çambel was the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics. Although invited by a "female German official" to meet Hitler, Çambel refused on political grounds.
On returning to Istanbul after the Olympics, she began her association with Nail Çakırhan, a Communist poet who became a celebrated architect. They were married for 70 years until his death in October 2008.
After World War II she began studying with German professor Helmuth Bossert. She played a key role in the understanding of Hittite hieroglyphics by discovering a tablet with the Phoenician alphabet, which permitted philologists to decipher the inscription. In 1947 she and professor Bossert began excavating Karatepe, the walled city of 12th century BCE late Hittite king Azatiwadda, located in the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey.
Çambel has also been active in promoting the preservation of Turkey's cultural heritage. In the 1950s she resisted the government's attempt to move the artifacts from Karatepe to a museum. The government eventually agreed and in 1960 established an outdoor museum (with some buildings designed by her husband) on the site. She also fought efforts to dam the Ceyhan River, which would have flooded many archaeological sites. She was able to have the proposed water level reduced sufficiently to save the sites.
In 2004 Çambel was one of the recipients of the Prince Claus Awards. The jury report cited her "for conducting rescue excavations of endangered heritage sites, introducing stone restoration and ensuring proper conservation of significant cultural heritage in Turkey," for founding a chair of prehistoric archaeology at Istanbul University, and "for her dedicated scholarship and for her unique role in expanding the possibilities for interaction between people and their cultural heritage."
She currently lives on the Bosporus waterfront in Istanbul.
- "An archaeologist digs through her life". Nature News, 7 July 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-09.
- "Halet Çambel Olympic Results". sports-reference.com. Retrieved 2010-06-06.
- "New fields to conquer for Muslim sportswomen" by Marium Sattar, The Daily Star (Lebanon), May 30, 2012, retrieved, June 20, 2012
- "The 2004 Prince Claus Awards - Report from the jury". Prince Claus Awards, 2004. Retrieved 2010-07-09.