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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Year-in-Review: The Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts Project

Year one of the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts Project is nearly complete!




Ralph Solecki’s personal trowel.  Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

As you may recall from a previous, poetic post (Collection in Process: A Poem from the Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers), Ralph and Rose Solecki are paleoarchaeologists most famous for their excavations in the Near East, including the Shanidar Cave site in northern Iraq. During their excavations in the 1950s and 1960s, they uncovered the remains of nine Neanderthal individuals as well as a cemetery of twenty-six human burials dated to the 9th millennium BCE, just before the emergence of agriculture in the Near East [1, 2, 3].

Ralph Solecki’s field notebook entry from April 26th, 1957 describing the discovery of the Shanidar I Neanderthal, nicknamed “Nandy.” The Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki papers. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

In 2016, the Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology acquired the Soleckis’ personal papers as well as artifact collections including lithics, or stone tools, and other materials collected during their excavations. Funded by a grant from the Smithsonian's Collections Care and Preservation Fund, the first phase of the project began in the summer of 2017 with the processing of the archival papers. Comprising of nearly 35 cubic feet, the collection includes field notes, photographs, film, maps, illustrations, and more. I was tasked with rehousing, arranging, describing, and ultimately creating a finding aid for the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki papers.


Ralph and Rose Solecki examining artifacts from Shanidar Cave at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, Iraq, 1966. Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki papers. National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.


In January 2018, National Anthropological Archives staff visited the Soleckis again in order to acquire additional material. This new accession has added approximately 50 more boxes of material as well as archaeological field equipment used by the Soleckis, including Ralph Solecki’s personal trowel. During this visit, Diana Marsh, post-doctoral fellow in the National Anthropological Archives, and I conducted an oral history with Ralph and Rose Solecki, in which they discussed their careers, intellectual approaches, legacies, and views on the future of the field of archaeology.

Throughout this first year of the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts project, I have come to a deep understanding that the collections donated by Drs. Ralph and Rose Solecki are of great significance not only the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History but also to the field of archaeology as a whole. With research continuing at the site of Shanidar Cave [4] as well as the other sites in which the Soleckis worked, their field notes, excavation analysis, illustrations, photographs, film, and so much more will undoubtedly be a resource for researchers for years to come. Although the collection will not be ready for researchers by the summer of 2018, we expect them to be open for research by the summer of 2019.


Project Archivist Molly Kamph and Post-doctoral Fellow Diana Marsh (not pictured) conducted an oral history interview of Ralph and Rose Solecki in January 2018. Photographed by Diana Marsh.
What will the second year of the project bring? Thanks to another grant from the Smithsonian's Collections Care and Preservation Fund, the artifact collections donated by the Soleckis will be rehoused and catalogued within the museum’s collections database. Be sure to look out for more updates about the project and collections highlights over the course of the upcoming year!

Sincerest thank yous to Drs. Ralph, Rose, John, and William Solecki, Dr. Melinda Zeder, curator emeritus in the NMNH Department of Anthropology, and the staff of the National Anthropological Archives and the Department of Anthropology for continued support of the Ralph S. and Rose L. Solecki Papers and Artifacts Project.

Molly Kamph, Project Archivist
National Anthropological Archives

Sources
[1] The Ralph and Rose Solecki Papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
[2] Ralph S. Solecki, Shanidar, The First Flower People (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971).
[3] Ralph S. Solecki, Rose L. Solecki, and Anagnostis P. Agelarakis, The Proto- Neolithic Cemetery in Shanidar Cave (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University, 2004).
[4] Tim Reynolds, William Boismier, Lucy Farr, Chris Hunt, Dlshad Abdulmutalb and Graeme Barker, 2015. “New investigations at Shanidar Cave, Iraqi Kurdistan.” Antiquity: A Review of World Archaeology vol. 89, no. 348.

1 comment:

  1. Im very interested in this project. I was the only PhD student of the Soleckis when they were at Texas A&M University...unfortunate that they did not have more students, but fortunate for me as I was able to interact with them on a daily basis. Both served on my dissertation committee and provided me an opportunity to work on their Nahr Ibrahim material and a small grouping of material from Shanidar. Thanks so much to you for doing this much needed project.

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