Theresa Goell

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Theresa Goell
Born(1901-07-17)July 17, 1901
Manhattan, New York
DiedDecember 18, 1985(1985-12-18) (aged 84)
New York City
EducationB.A., Radcliffe College, 1923
B.A. architecture, Newnham College, Cambridge
Known forExcavations at Nemrud Dagh
Spouse(s)Cyrus Levinthal
Scientific career

Theresa Goell (July 17, 1901 – December 18, 1985) was an American archaeologist, best known for directing excavations at Nemrud Dagh in south-eastern Turkey. Born in New York, she earned a BA at Radcliffe College; she then graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge, and later studied at New York University and Columbia University in New York. In 1947, Goell visited Nemrud Dagh for the first time; excavations there would become her life's work. Goell was involved in excavations at a number of other Turkish sites over the course of her career, including at Tarsus, Jerasa, and Samosata. Goell's work in Turkey "nearly single-handedly opened up ancient Commagene to the world".[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Goell was born in Manhattan, New York, on 17 July 1901, the second-oldest daughter of Jacob and Mary Samowitz Goell, who had immigrated from Russia.[2][3] She was raised in Brooklyn and studied at Erasmus High School; after graduation, she studied for two years at Syracuse University before moving to Radcliffe College, where she earned a B.A. in 1923.[2] While at Radcliffe, Goell met and married her husband, Cyrus Levinthal.[2] Levinthal was the brother of the Goell family's rabbi and the match had been encouraged by Goell's father.[3] While still studying at Radcliffe, Goell had a son, Jay.[2] Also during her studies she began to lose her hearing due to otosclerosis and learned to lip-read in compensation.[2][3]

In 1926, Goell and her husband both moved to England and enrolled at Cambridge University; Goell studied art history, architecture, and archaeology at Newnham College, and achieved the equivalent of a BA in architecture (it was not until 1948 that women were permitted to become full members of the university and be granted degrees).[2]

Early work[edit]

By 1932, Goell and Levinthal had divorced.[2][4] In the spring of 1933, Goell went to Jerusalem and began to work for the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), drawing pottery for William F. Albright and Aage Schmidt, and doing general drawing for William Stinespring.[5][4] She continued to work under ASOR in Jerusalem in 1934, taking on more work from the expedition at Gerasa, including working on the reconstruction of finds from the dig.[5] Goell's work in Palestine also included contemporary architecture, and she was involved in the design of more than 200 buildings in cities such as Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem.[4] Goell's designs featured modernist styles resembling mansions in Brooklyn.[4]

In 1935, Goell returned to New York, and began to study at the New York University School of Fine and Applied Arts, believing that improving her drawing skills was necessary for her continued career in archaeology. For two years she was unable to obtain any further work in the field, and worked as an architectural and window display designer for a department store in New York and New Jersey.[5] In 1938 she enrolled at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York University, studying for a master's degree with Karl Lehmann as her advisor. Her thesis was to be on the relationship between Palmyrene sculpture and the sculpture of the Roman near east.[6] It was while studying there that Lehmann first suggested to Goell that she should explore Nemrud Dagh, the excavations of which were to become her life's work.[7] Goell continued to study at the Institute for Fine Arts and at Columbia until 1945. During the Second World War, she also worked to contribute to the American war effort, which interrupted her studies.[7]

Nemrud Dagh[edit]

After the war, Goell travelled to Tarsus in southern Turkey, having been invited by Hetty Goldman; she spent the next few months working on the excavations there.[8] In the summer of 1947, when the excavations at Tarsus broke for the summer, Goell visited Nemrud Dagh for the first time.[9] She described the state of the site on her first visit as "a complete shambles".[3]

In 1951, Goell returned to Nemrud Dagh, and began to arrange for an expedition there, hoping to be able to find and excavate the tomb of Antiochus I of Commagene.[4] She discovered that Friedrich Karl Dörner was also planning an expedition there, and agreed to collaborate with him.[10][4] In 1952, she began to raise funds and organise a team for an expedition;[11] the American Philosophical Society agreed to sponsor the dig, and the Bollingen Donation made a grant of $2,000.[12] Dörner and Goell agreed that she would lead the excavation at the top of Nemrud Dagh, with his assistance as an epigrapher; Dörner would excavate the settlement of Arsameia-on-the-Nymphaios at the foot of the mountain, and Goell would assist.[13]

1954 was the first full season of Goell's excavations at Nemrud Dagh.[14] Though the excavations were planned to conclude in 1955, a $10,000 grant from the Bollingen Foundation, and the prospect of more work to be done, persuaded Goell to plan a 1956 season at the site.[15] Goell spent 1957 away from the site, but excavations resumed in 1958, though they were hampered by the poor weather.[16] Goell's excavations uncovered the colossal stone heads for which Nemrud Dagh is now famed.[4]

In July 1960, Goell delivered a paper on the excavations at Nemrud Dagh to the Congress for Orientalists in Moscow.[17] In 1961, a survey of her work was published in the National Geographic.[17] The next year, she lectured on her work at the University of London, and was elected a corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. In the same year, Goell began two years of geophysical probing of the site around Nemrud Dagh, hoping to find the tomb of Antiochus I of Commagene; these attempts were however unsuccessful.[18]

Goell's work at Nemrud Dagh shed new light on religious trends during the reign of Antiochus I. At this period, the region's culture was affected by various traditions including Babylonian, Hellenistic and Anatolian cultures. Goell's excavations documented the influence of "salvation" mystery cults during this transitional period between paganism and Christianity.[4]


In 1964, Goell turned her attention to the ancient city of Samosata, directing an investigation into the stratigraphy of the mound; this was to be the first of three seasons she spent at the site.[19] In 1965, she narrated a film about Nemrud Dagh for the National Geographical Society, and spent much of the rest of the year trying to finish the Nemrud Dagh expedition report. She remained in New York in 1966, working on material from Samosata as well as the Nemrud Dagh expedition report.[20] In 1968, though William Albright encouraged Goell to publish the first volume of the Nemrud Dagh report, she did not, feeling that the contributions from Dörner and John Young (who was working on the sculpture from the site) were incomplete.[21] In the same year, she visited Iran to work on comparative material for the Samosata excavations and to go to Persepolis.[22]

Later life[edit]

In February 1970, Goell was told that ASOR had set a one-year time limit for completing the Nemrud Dagh publication. Goell spend much of 1971 and 1972 working on the manuscript for the report in New York.[23] The manuscript remained Goell's main concern in 1973 and 1974, though little progress was made; she did however manage to arrange with the Turkish Department of Antiquities for restoration works at Nemrud Dagh to begin.[24]

In 1976, Goell's legs became paralysed while she was in Germany; she was found to have a tumour on her spine which required immediate surgery. She recovered first in the hospital in Münster, later in her sister's house in Florida; only later in 1977 did she return to New York. There, she prepared a report on the excavations at Samosata for the National Geographical Society, and planned new expeditions to Nemrud Dagh.[25] In April 1978, doctors said that Goell was well enough to return to Turkey, where she spent the second half of the year working.[25]

Goell did not manage to publish the report on the excavations at Nemrud Dagh in her lifetime, nor did she discover the tomb of King Antiochus.[25] She died in New York City on 18 December 1985.[4][26] In 1990, Goell was posthumously awarded a master's degree in recognition of her work on Commagenian history.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 517.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 483.
  3. ^ a b c d Gates 2006.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Cook 1985.
  5. ^ a b c Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 484.
  6. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, pp. 484–5.
  7. ^ a b Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 485.
  8. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 486.
  9. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, pp. 486–7.
  10. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 493.
  11. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, pp. 493–4.
  12. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 494.
  13. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 495.
  14. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 498.
  15. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 499.
  16. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, pp. 502–3.
  17. ^ a b c Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 506.
  18. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, pp. 509–10.
  19. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, pp. 511–2.
  20. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 512.
  21. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 513.
  22. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, pp. 513–4.
  23. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 514.
  24. ^ Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 515.
  25. ^ a b c Sanders & Gill 2004, p. 516.
  26. ^ Jewish Women's Archive.


  • Cook, Joan (21 December 1985). "Theresa Goell, 84: Archeologist Known for Work in Turkey". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  • Gates, Anita (25 March 2006). "Examining the Life of Tess Goell, a Pioneering Archaeologist". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 October 2017.
  • Sanders, Donald H.; Gill, David W. J. (2004). Cohen, Getzel M.; Joukowsky, Martha Sharp, eds. Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 978-0-472-11372-9.
  • "Personal Information for Theresa Goell". Jewish Women's Archive. Archived from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 24 October 2017.

External links[edit]