14 May 2001
(AP) – It took nearly a century, but it seems
the world finally is ready to accept that Raphael
Pumpelly knew what he was talking about when he
said ancient cities once thrived in ancient
Iranian homeland in central Asia.
died long before the world would recognize his
achievements, a Pennsylvania archaeologist is
making sure the Dublin explorer still gets credit
for his discoveries.
was like my hero,” said Fred Hiebert, an
archaeologist and assistant anthropology professor
at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in
A wealthy geologist
who summered in a stately Dublin home, Pumpelly
voyaged to Asia in 1903 at the age of 67, hoping
to augment his studies of the Chinese Empire.
14-hour days excavating an oasis plain in
Turkestan, a region near the border of Iran.
Sifting through the sand, his team found
fireplaces, skeletons, fragments of pottery,
beads, whorls and copper tools.
objects had little beauty,” Pumpelly wrote.
“The interest they aroused lay in the fact that
we were unearthing cultures of a remote past and
in an untouched field, far distant from the sites
of classical civilization.”
Before the dawn of
recorded history in Babylon and Egypt, Pumpelly
concluded, the people of Anau “already lived in
cities, cultivated wheat and barley, began the
domestication and breeding of the useful animals
which are our inheritance, and possessed the
fundamental individual arts.” But the Russian
government didn’t buy it.
By 1907, the
political climate had squelched any hopes of
further exploration in the region. Pumpelly died
in 1923, and his work was forgotten.
Almost. A prominent
figure in the community, Pumpelly left a permanent
mark on Dublin. The hill on which his house stood
now bears his name.
But it took almost
a century for science to realize the significance
of Pumpelly’s digs.
It was during his
doctoral studies at Harvard University that
Hiebert looked at Pumpelly’s work.
“I sort of got
the bug to see if he was correct or not,”
So in 1988, Hiebert
was able to travel to the now former Soviet Union
to excavate an area of central Asia known as the
Silk Road. There, he discovered ruins similar to
those recorded in Pumpelly’s writings.
find, a tiny seal stamped with four letter-like
symbols in an unidentified language, adds new
credence to Pumpelly’s claims.
always one of those hallmarks of civilizations,”
as his studies gain momentum, Hiebert hasn’t
forgotten his original inspiration. He’s met
numerous Pumpelly descendants in California, Rhode
Island and New Hampshire, and keeps in touch with
many of them.