Theresa Howard Carter 1929 - 2015

Theresa Howard Carter, ("T.A.") distinguished archaeologist and scholar of the Ancient Near East, died at home in West Chester, Pennsylvania on April 19th.  She was 85 years old. 

Dr. Carter represents one of the last of a generation of intrepid, pioneering women archaeologists who excavated their way across the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and North Africa.  She worked during a time of enormous discovery and at some of the greatest archaeological sites dug during the twentieth century.  It was her flash camera that took the first photographs within the darkness of the Midas Tomb at Gordion in Turkey during the summer of 1957.  Here, she worked with director Rodney Young and his team from the University of Pennsylvania, alongside Machteld Mellink, Emily Vermeule, and Ellen Kohler.  

Dr. Carter’s field experience was enormously wide ranging.  She served as director, co-director, or field director at a host of excavations including Sybaris in Calabria, Italy; Lepcis Magna in Libya; Elmali in Turkey; the Euphrates Valley in Syria; Tell al-Rimah in Iraq; and Failaka in Kuwait.  She enjoyed a long association with the University of Pennsylvania Museum, first joining the staff in 1950 and, later, serving as research assistant and excavation team member on many projects initiated by Director Froelich Rainey.

“Dr. Carter was a superb field archaeologist, with wide ranging experience that few could match,” offered Joan Breton Connelly, Prof. of Classics and Art History at New York University, who was a member of Carter’s team in Kuwait during the 1980s.  “She knew how to build an effective team and inspire it, was enormously fun and superb company, blessed with an old school elegance and sharp wit.”

In 1965, Dr. Carter was appointed Annual Professor of the American School of Oriental Research in Baghdad.  She joined the faculty of The Johns Hopkins University Department of Near Eastern Studies in 1970.  From 1980-87, Dr. Carter served as Chief Advisor to the Kuwait National Museum and Director of the Kuwait Archaeological Survey.  In her landmark article “Dilmun: At Sea or Not at Sea,” (Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 1987), Carter proposed that the ancient civilization of Dilmun might be located at an unidentified tell near the Shatt al-Arab, between Qurnah and Basra in southern Iraq. The article remains a classic in the field.

Theresa Howard Carter was born in Millbrook, New York on May 15, 1929, the daughter of Clarence K. Howard and Anne Warren Howard.  She enjoyed a magical childhood, raised on the dairy farm of her grandfather, Beverly W. Howard, within a large extended family household including grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  Growing up in Mabbitsville, NY at the family farm Beverlydale, T.A. kept a menagerie of beloved cats, rabbits, and a Shetland pony named Dandy.  It was here that she developed her lifelong passion for animals and the environment, later manifest in her advocacy and volunteer work for the Philadelphia Zoo, the Wildlife Preservation Trust International, the Brandywine Conservancy, Bartram’s Gardens, the Forest Stewardship Incentive Program of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, and many other organizations.

Until the age of 13, Theresa was educated at Miss Howard’s School, run in her own home by her aunt Tess for whom she was named.  She went on to graduate from Millbrook Memorial School and took her A.B. in Anthropology at Syracuse University.  Dr. Carter completed an M.A. in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1954 and, in 1962, took her PhD in Near Eastern Archaeology, Classical Archaeology and Ancient History at Bryn Mawr College, where she also held a fellowship and teaching assistantship.  She wrote her doctoral dissertation on “Studies in Kassite History and Archaeology” under the supervision of Machteld Mellink who became her treasured and lifelong friend.

In 1990, Dr. Carter was awarded the Arents Pioneer Medal, the highest alumni award granted by Syracuse University for achievement in a professional field.  A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, London, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from Kuwait University in 1974.

A lady of great style, a brilliant hostess, accomplished cook, thoughtful gardener, tireless advocate for wildlife and nature conservation, keen traveller, pioneering researcher, generous mentor, treasured friend, and true “Bryn Mawr archaeologist,” Tess was an original and the world will never see anyone quite like her again. She was loved and cherished by a wide circle of friends, family, and colleagues.

Theresa Howard Carter was predeceased by her beloved daughter, Laura Coffin Carter.

Graveside services will be held 11:30 a.m. Friday, May 1, 2015 at St. David’s Episcopal Cemetery 763 South Valley Forge Road Wayne, PA 19087.