Archeologist, Halet Çambel


Google Doddle, Turkey for HALET ÇAMBEL

Halet Çambel (27 August 1916 – 12 January 2014) was a Turkish fencer and archaeologist. She was the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympic Games.

Çambel was born in Berlin in 1916, as her mother, Remziye Hanım, was the daughter of Ibrahim Hakki Pasha, a former sadrazam and the Ottoman ambassador to Germany at the time. Her father, Hasan Cemil Çambel, was closely associated with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic.

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, Çambel 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 was also 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.”

On 12 January 2014, Çambel was found dead in her apartment in Istanbul.

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