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University Mourns Loss of Distinguished Archeologist

Theresa Howard Carter ’50 took first photos of King Midas’ Tomb in Turkey

Jun 3, 2015 — Article by: Rob Enslin

Photo of Theresa Howard Carter in Turkey

Theresa Howard Carter '50 at the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna, 1960

Theresa Howard "Tess" Carter ‘50, a distinguished archeologist and scholar of the Near East, has died. A long-time resident of West Chester, Pa., she earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Syracuse University. She was 85.

Carter was part of a small, prominent team of postwar female archeologists who delved their way across the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and North Africa. She is perhaps best known for taking the first photographs of what is believed to be King Midas’ tomb in Gordion, Turkey, in 1957. Carter also proposed in a now-famous article in The Journal of Cuneiform Studies (The American Schools of Oriental Research, 1987) that the ancient civilization of Dilmun might be located in an unidentified mound near the Shatt al-Arab river in southern Iraq.

An experienced fieldworker, Carter served as director, co-director, or field director of a number of key digs, including those in the ancient Turkish cities of Polatli and Elmali; the Greek colony of Sybaris in southern Italy; the Roman city of Leptis Magna in Libya; the Euphrates Valley in Syria; the archeological site of Tell al-Rimah in Iraq; and the Kuwaiti island of Failaka.

"Dr. Carter was a superb field archaeologist, with wide-ranging experience that few could match," says Joan Breton Connelly, professor of classics at New York University, who worked with Carter in Kuwait during the Eighties. "She knew how to build an effective team and inspire it, was enormously fun and superb company, [and was] blessed with an old-school elegance and sharp wit."

Carter enjoyed a lengthy association with the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, whose staff she joined in 1950, while earning her master’s degree in anthropology. She eventually became a research assistant and excavation team member for the museum’s acclaimed director, Froelich Rainey. She later served as the museum's consulting scholar for Mesopotamia and the Gulf regions.

Carter also held faculty appointments at the American Schools of Oriental Research in Baghdad, Iran, and at The Johns Hopkins University. In the Eighties, she became chief advisor to the Kuwait National Museum and director of the Archeological Society of Kuwait. She was affiliated with multiple professional organizations, including the Archeological Institute of America, the American Oriental Society, and the Middle East Institute.  

A Fellow of both the Royal Geographical Society and Middle East Studies Association, Carter received the George Arents Pioneer Medal, Syracuse’s highest alumni award, in 1990 and Kuwait University’s Distinguished Service Award in 1974. She earned a Ph.D. in classical and Near East archeology from Bryn Mawr College.

“[She was] a lady of great style, a brilliant hostess, an accomplished cook, a thoughtful gardener, a tireless advocate for wildlife and nature conservation, a keen traveler, a pioneering researcher, and a generous mentor,” states her obituary in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

She also was an energetic volunteer, as evidenced by her work with the Philadelphia Zoo, EcoHealth Alliance, Brandywine Conservancy, Bartram's Gardens, and the Forest Stewardship Program (Northeastern Area) of the U.S. Forest Service.

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Rob Enslin