Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Our First Issues September 1, 1998
by Mark Rose


The cover of ARCHAEOLOGY's first issue

50 Years Ago...

The first issues of ARCHAEOLOGY, which was born scarcely three years after the defeat of the Axis powers, are filled with evocative articles that convey not only the nature of archaeology a half-century ago but also how archaeologists assessed their wartime experiences, commemorated their fallen colleagues, and regrouped and resumed work. In the pages of the magazine one can find a last glimmer of pre-war optimism and the lengthening shadow of the Cold War. Much of the writing has an enduring literary quality, even if the authors' interpretations have long since been discarded. Here, as part of the online coverage of our 50th anniversary, we look back at those first issues.

Fanfare & Fakery

Our first issue, Spring 1948, began with an essay by Sterling Dow, president of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), detailing the magazine's descent from the defunct Art and Archaeology and the institute's newsletter. "As this page opens," wrote Dow, "a new magazine makes its bow." It would be, according to the subtitle printed on the table of contents, "A Magazine Dealing With the Antiquity of the World."

On the first cover is a red-tinted photograph of an Etruscan terra-cotta sculpture of Mars. Purchased by the Metropolitan in 1921, it was the pride of the museum. Forty years later, however, even the Met had to concede that it was a fake. "Of all the thousands of art forgery conspiracies launched in the twentieth century," writes the museum's former director Thomas Hoving in his book False Impressions (1996), "the most entertaining has got to be the 'Etruscan' warriors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, because of the ridiculous nature of the fakes and the absolutely stupid actions on the part of those who purchased the bogus goods." How it and other terra cottas were faked, marketed, and finally exposed through a combination of detective work in Italy and testing in New York by the museum's Joseph V. Noble is a fascinating tale.

Blood on Their Hands & Forget Abu Simbel


Jotham Johnson

As ARCHAEOLOGY's first editor, Jotham Johnson guided the magazine from 1948 through 1951. Other than a mere mention of his name in Sterling Dow's essay, however, Johnson was not introduced to the readers of the magazine. Johnson taught classics at New York University, and a press release issued by NYU after his death on February 8, 1967, provides some details of his career. Born in Newark, NJ, in 1905, he earned his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1931. From that year through 1934, he headed the University of Pennsylvania Museum Expedition to Minturnae, a Roman colony founded in 295 B.C. on the Appian Way in coastal Campania. Johnson also worked in Greece, Syria, and Turkey. During the war years, 1942-1945, he was on active duty in the United States Naval Reserve and rose to the rank of lieutenant commander. He began teaching at NYU in 1946, and from 1961 through 1964 served as president of the AIA.

On December 1, 1947, when the galley proofs of the first issue of ARCHAEOLOGY reached him, Johnson wrote to the secretaries of local chapters of the AIA, telling them that they would soon receive the magazine and asking that

Of another commodity I beg all editors and secretaries to be unstinting: criticism. As soon as you have received and carefully read the first issue, please sit down at your typewriters and tear it to shreds. ARCHAEOLOGY has one fixed policy: any policy which will not bear the light of day will go into the ashcan, and the editor has long since lost his capacity for embarassment or dismay, so pitch into it.

Johnson's no-nonsense attitude was undoubtedly a virtue in getting the magazine off the ground, but it also got Johnson into hot water when, prompted by the publication of James T. Rorimer's Survival: The Salvage and Protection of Art in War (1950), he wrote a long editorial about the need to save human lives during war regardless of the sacrifice of monuments and sites (Autumn 1950, pages 130-131). Rorimer, then curator of Medieval Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and later the museum's director, had served as a Monuments and Fine Arts Officer in Europe, and the book was an account of his work protecting monuments during the war and tracing stolen and missing art afterward. The role of the Monuments and Fine Arts Officers has recently been documented and praised in publications such as Lynn Nicholas' The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (1994) and The Spoils of War: World War II and Its Aftermath: The Loss, Reappearance, and Recovery of Cultural Property (1997), edited by Elizabeth Simpson. In the face of such accolades, Johnson's criticism seems harsh, but it is difficult to argue with his reasoning:

Just as, in the stratification of the pictorial arts, a photograph of a work of art is an echo, a shadow, a reflection--use any metaphor you will--in any case, irrevocably the inferior of the work it represents, so, we submit, on the next rung of the ladder, an original work of art is bound to be inferior to humanity itself. Whether it represents one aspect of humanity or some common experience of mankind, in any context where the potection of a work of art endangers or delays the safety of human lives the human lives must come first.

The war cost about seven thousand lives a day. If the total effect of the Monuments and Fine Arts personnel in the European theater was to postpone by so much as one day the end of carnage, they have on their hands the blood of thousands who might have been spared.

Not everybody agreed with Johnson's forcefully worded opinion. A reprimand followed, in the guise of a letter to the editor written by William B. Dinsmoor, who had been instrumental in establishing the Monuments and Fine Arts Officers to begin with and was honorary president of the AIA (Spring 1951, page 2):

It is with mixed emotions and genuine astonishment that some of the readers of Archaeology have perused a book review, disguised as an Editorial and given undue prominence in a recent issue of this excellent periodical. To some of us, at least, it would appear to be a betrayal of the principles of the Archaeological Institute of America, founded to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge of the artistic creations of man's genius in the past.

A letter in the AIA archives shows that Johnson's willingness to argue for what he felt was right, regardless of popular opinion, was an integral part of his character. Dated September 25, 1961, the letter is in response to an inquiry about raising funds to preserve the Eygptian and Nubian monuments threatened by the Aswan Dam. Johnson believed that saving the colossal statues at Abu Simbel--an undertaking later glorified in National Geographic and commemorated on postage stamps--was misguided. "For one thing," wrote Johnson, "the Abu Simbel temples have been fully, exhaustively, and repeatedly photographed, mapped, planned, drawn, and surveyed; raising them would not reveal a single scientific fact not already known." The funds required for doing that, he felt, could support

100 excavations every year, in perpetuity all over the world, and the gain to our knowledge of the past would be incalculable. Which boils down to this suggestion: decide to collect contributions to help in Nubia, I suggest that you devote them to an institution which is planning to work not on the Abu Simbel project but at unexplored primitive village sites about which nothing is known--new frontiers.

At times, Johnson's independent nature must have made him seem enigmatic if not downright eccentric. He devised, for example, a 31-letter alphabet because he thought that the current 26-letter one was inadequate for written English. His departure from the magazine, scarcely noted in its pages, was in character. On page 249 of the Winter 1951 issue a small box titled "Ex-Editor" notes simply that "The resignation of Jotham Johnson from the editorship of Archaeology takes effect with this issue."

Humor: A Good Thing

Not everything in ARCHAEOLOGY's early issues was of great consequence. Jotham Johnson was an editor with a sense of humor and he included humorous bits to fill out pages. Some, like a brief comment on the critics' reaction to the production of a classical tragedy (Spring 1948, page 55), are unsigned but were presumably written by him. Under the laconic title "Medea Panned," it reads,

Robin Jeffers' poetic adaptation of Euripides Medea opened at the National Theater, New York, on October 20, 1947, with Judith Anderson as Medea, John Gielgud as Jason, Florence Reed as the nurse, Albert Hecht as Creon, and three slow-witted women of Corinth as a token chorus. Before the doors of a grey megaron, Medea enacts the horrid story of her culminating vengeance with frightening sincerity.

[image] Johnson charitably let go without comment the use of Minoan columns and "horns of consecration" in this set depicting the palace at Corinth.

The reviewers, frankly apalled at the torrents of passion released by Miss Anderson, found Mr. Gielgud unconvincing. Euripides can be proud of them all. No student of drama need wonder any longer how profoundly Attic Tragedy moved its hearers; he can now see for himself, and be shocked into mute horror by a portrayal no Athenian Medea can have surpassed.

Other humorous pieces were taken from newspaper clippings or letters sent in by readers, such as an item titled "Cholera and Archaeology" (Spring 1948, page 56):

From a correspondent in Alexandria, whose anonymity apparently should be guarded, we learn that as of October 2, "Wace has had to stop his Kom el Dik dig as the area is inside an army camp and until the cholera scare is over the Egyptian army does not want to be civilians."

Destruction, Opportunity, & a Fallen Hero

Many of the first articles in the magazine deal with the return of archaeologists to their excavations in Europe after the war. Writing from Pompeii in August 1947, Karl Lehmann of New York University sent in a bleak report (Spring 1948, pages 44-49) on the state of antiquities at Samothrace, where he had been investigating one of the classical world's most important sanctuaries:

This summer's brief visit to Samothrace aimed above all to secure by autopsy and personal inquiry a clear and detailed picture of the present status of affairs in Samothrace, of the causes and the range of destruction, and of the needs for immediate salvage and future protection of the antiquities there. Damage to the ruins in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods has been very considerable and it may be assumed that this site has suffered more from the war than any other major excavation site in Greece.


Bulgarian forces occupying Samothrace whiled away the hours by cutting their names into the island's ancient monuments.

Elsewhere the war provided opportunities for archaeological investigations, as Jacquetta Hawkes, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries, wrote (Spring 1948, pages 50-51):

In Britain, intensity of military preparation was out of proportion to the small area of the country. Thus the construction of airfields, and the appropriation of open land for bombing grounds and artillery ranges, were certain to cause the frequent destruction of antiquities. Fortunately, however, collaboration was achieved between the various Service Ministries and the Department for Ancient Monuments of the Ministry of Works. This made possible the survey and excavation of almost all such threatened sites before they were destroyed.

Investigations of a different kind were made possible as a direct result of enemy action. All these activities are concerned with Roman antiquities. The sites of most Roman British provincial towns have been continuously occupied from Saxon or mediaeval times. High-explosive bombs frequently removed the accumulated building of centuries and made it possible to reach the underlying Roman foundations.

In addition to Roman London, rescue excavations during and after the war included Neolithic barrows in the Cotswolds, more than 100 Bronze Age round barrows, an Iron Age temple on Hounslow Heath (where a wartime airfield was being expanded into what we now call Heathrow), and a Roman villa at Welwyn, Hertfordshire.

War surplus provided more opportunities for archaeologists. Eugene Vanderpool wrote proudly of the two jeeps and six trailers acquired by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens from the U.S. Army in 1946 (Winter 1948, pages 196-197):

Most important of all, it has been found that the jeep and trailer combination can be used as a light dump truck in the School's excavations. During the 1947 season in the Agora over 10,000 tons of earth were moved by the jeeps and trailers. With its accessory, the standard trailer, the jeep can serve all the transportation needs of an archaeological expedition.


Pendlebury's cenotaph

Not all was progress, measured in tons or by any other gauge, in Greece during 1947. The country was embroiled in a civil war as communist guerillas, who were among those who had fought the occupying German forces, tried to take over. A brief notice in ARCHAEOLOGY (Summer 1948, page 117) describes a memorial service on Crete that same year:

When the Germans captured Crete by air, in May 1941, John D.S. Pendlebury, Sir Arthur Evan's lieutenant at Knossos, was on duty at Heraklion, as a captain in the British Army. During the fighting near the Canea gate, he was wounded by German parachutists, and later murdered. Where his body was first buried (the Germans later transferred it to the cemetery at St. Constantine), the people of Heraklion erected a wooden cross, appropriately inscribed. At this point, on March 2, 1947, Greek and British officials and scholars paid tribute to his achievements in archaeology and to his heroic death in defense of Crete. The inscription reads, in Greek, with the name repeated in roman letters, Captain John Pendlebury, He fell fighting, 21/5/41.

Pendlebury, excavator of the Minoan site of Karphi, served as curator at Knossos from 1928 to 1934. For many years his Archaeology of Crete (1939) was the best survey of Minoan archaeology. Though dated, it remains a classic.

Time Capsule or Archaeo-Sputnik


Anthony Koenig, glass worker at the Bloomfield, New Jersey plant of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, seals the 6-foot pyrex glass inner crypt of the time capsule.

The tenth anniversary of the burial of a time capsule on the site of the New York World's Fair was observed in the Autumn 1948 issue (pages 165-167). ARCHAEOLOGY's account begins with a speculative telling of how the capsule might be recovered and opened in A.D. 6939, at the end of its scheduled 5,000-year interment:

Early in September, 6939 A.D., if all goes well, a party of archaeologists, geologists, and surveyors from the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, will travel to what is now Forest Park, Borough of Queens, New York. With well-drilling equipment, the party will...dig a shaft in the sandy soil, lining its crumbling sides with metal tubing as they go. High-speed pumps will draw off seeping ground water. Near the fifty-foot level, magnetic detectors will indicate the presence of a large metal object in the damp earth. The drilling equipment will be withdrawn and work will proceed by hand. Some hours later a shout will announce the finding of IT--a long metal bottle, thickly encrusted with green corrosion and the slime of ages, fitted at one end with a ring for lifting. This is the Time Capsule.

Inside the time capsule were placed documents and artifacts chosen to best describe life in the United States in the 1930s. Among the microfilmed literature included were the Lord's Prayer in 300 languages, a dictionary, the Constitution of the United States, Encyclopaedia Britannica articles on the arts and sciences and industries, popular magazines including Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, True Confessions, Detective Story, American Mercury, Reader's Digest, Harper's, and Atlantic Monthly. To represent music, scores of Finlandia, Stars and Stripes Forever, and Flat-Foot Floogie were placed in the capsule. Two novels were put in: Arrowsmith and Gone With The Wind. Lilly Dache designed a time capsule hat and Edgar Lee Masters contributed a time capsule poem. Articles of common use put in the capsule included a baseball; can opener; cosmetic kit; costume jewelry; eyeglasses; fountain pen; golf ball and tee; knife, fork, and spoon; money; nail file; padlock and keys; mechanical pencil; playing cards and poker chips; slide rule and instructions for use; tape measure; telephone headset; tooth brush and powder; toys; and wrist watch.

[image] [image] Employees of the East Pittsburgh plant of the Westinghouse Company with the burnished 800-pound, seven-foot-six-inch, outer container of the time capsule.

The time capsule, brainchild of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, was a harmless endeavor, which embodied the sense of progress and a glorious future that existed before the world was plunged into war. Its innocence was not universally accepted, however, as was noted in the Winter 1948 issue (page 224):

In our Autumn issue we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the burial of the Time Capsule ("Journey Into Time," ARCHAEOLOGY 1.165-168). A correspondent has reminded us that this was by no means the unique enterprise of its kind, as witness the following dispatch, date 1938, from Moscow:

Palace of Soviet Adopts N.Y. 'Time Capsule' Idea

Russians Say Theirs Will Be Bigger and Better

Moscow, Dec. 12 (UP).--A "time capsule," which Russian scientists said will be bigger and better than that buried at the New York World's Fair 1939, will be placed in the fountain of the Palace of the Soviet, it was learned today. Professor N.M. Pikhumov, of the Academy of Friends of the Soviet Union, wrote in the newspaper "Izvestia" that the capsule will contain a record of the development of Socialism and Communism. He criticized the New York "time capsule" as a publicity stunt and said it contained only the "bourgeois" concepts of what would be valuable and interesting 5,000 years hence.

The Soviet Union no longer exists, nor does Westinghouse. Their time capsules, presumably, remain waiting for future archaeologists to recover and open them.

Noah vs. the Reds

The Cold War wasn't fought with time capsules alone. In the Winter 1948 issue (page 223), Jotham Johnson couldn't resist poking fun at an attempt to find Noah's Ark:

We suppose there is some misunderstanding somewhere, but an Associated Press dispatch of June 30, 1948, from Greensboro, North Carolina, quoted Miss Bethel Smith, daughter of Dr. A.J. Smith, dean of the People's Bible School near Greensboro, as saying Dr. Smith was one of a group planning an expedition to eastern Turkey to locate and identify the petrified wreckage of Noah's Ark, which they believe is still to be seen on Mount Ararat.

The report was apparently also seen by the Soviets, who took the expedition more seriously than Johnson, and in doing so raised an amusing story to the level of farce. The matter was duly recorded in our Summer 1949 issue (page 107) under the title, "Spy Plot?" Taken from April 13 newspaper accounts, it noted that Pravda had identified the British, American, and Dutch expedition members as "intelligence agents of the Anglo-American military bloc." "It is only necessary to look at the map," said Pravda, "to understand the real meaning of the Biblical preoccupations of the Anglo-American imperialists. Under the guise of an archaeological expedition, a group of dyed-in-the-wool spies is heading for the northeastern frontier region of Turkey." Johnson's assessment of the expedition and the Soviet reaction to it was delivered in deadpan prose:

The Russians have overestimated our military intelligence services, if they think we are astute enough to tap an amateur Biblical archaeologist from North Carolina for a dangerous secret mission within sight of Armenia. However, for once we can agree with Pravda in part: the scientific results of the expedition will be inconclusive at best.

Price Cut!

With the first issue of 1949, the price for a subscription to ARCHAEOLOGY dropped. This is probably the first and last time such a thing happened; our current publisher requested that it be made clear that this was an anomaly and not a precedent.

Mark Rose is managing editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

(Note: the photographs in our first issues were not credited; we hope that their inclusion herein will not offend anyone.) Research on Jotham Johnson in the AIA archives was kindly undertaken by the Institute's Assistant Director Wendy O'Brien.