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Martha Sharp Joukowsky, 1936–2022

It is with the deepest sadness and a profound sense of loss that the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) mourns the passing, on 7 January 2022, of Martha Content Little Sharp Joukowsky at the age of 85. Martha was a distinguished scholar of the ancient Near East, president of the AIA from 1989 to 1993, vice president of the American School of Oriental Research (now the American Society of Overseas Research) from 2002 to 2006, and professor of archaeology at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, for more than 20 years until her retirement in 2002. Of course, retirement here is a relative term, since she was as busy as ever in the past two decades. Martha was an extraordinarily generous woman, teacher, and mentor, especially to female archaeologists, for whom she set a sterling example as a scholar who never let any obstacle stand in her way. Martha was always the most interesting person in the room, although anyone conversing with her might be faulted for thinking that they themselves were, so great was her inclination to hear other people’s stories. She had the widest smile, the heartiest laugh, and the warmest embrace.

Martha was born in Montague, Massachusetts, in 1936, the daughter of Waitstill Hastings Sharp, a Unitarian minister, and Martha Ingham Dickie Sharp, a humanitarian and social justice advocate. Before and during World War II, Martha’s parents were passionately committed to and highly active in efforts to provide relief and refuge to Jews—especially children—and intellectuals in Czechoslovakia endangered by Hitler’s 1938 occupation, and later to those living throughout southern Europe who were threatened by genocidal Nazi policies. In 2005, the Sharps were posthumously named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust remembrance organization—two of only five Americans to be honored thus—which Martha accepted on their behalf. Martha spoke of her parents with reverence, and it was in part the example they set that inspired her to be an advocate for and mentor and friend to her family, colleagues, students, and anyone who had the great fortune to know her.

Martha received her BA degree in 1958 from Brown University’s Pembroke College, where she had met her future husband, Artemis Joukowsky, two years earlier. During more than 60 years of marriage, it was nearly impossible to talk about one without the other as they crossed the globe following Artemis’ career and Martha’s excavations. The Joukowskys had three children, Nina Joukowsky Koprülü, Artemis Joukowsky III, and Michael Joukowsky; eight grandchildren; and dozens of beloved dogs. Their dogs included many highly energetic Westies, and several were named after figures from the ancient cultures Martha so loved. Notable among them were Dushara, named for the Nabataean god worshiped at Petra, Melqart for the Phoenician god, a Caesar, and a Pompey.

Martha’s devotion to the Middle East and its cultures began in college when she read Samuel Noah Kramer’s The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character1 and yearned to learn more. From 1961 to 1972, she and her family lived in Italy and then Lebanon, where she received her MA degree from the American University in Beirut. She regularly told stories about their time in Beirut, during a glamorous and enchanting period in Lebanon’s history, before civil war engulfed the country. She spoke with great regret over the archaeological potential that the country lost, but more often about friends and colleagues who were at risk during the war and the ensuing years of political instability. Her family’s time in Lebanon allowed Martha to travel extensively throughout the Levant, deepening her passion for the history of the region and her desire to devote her scholarly career to its study. In 1982, she earned her doctoral degree from the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Her work on the prehistory of Anatolia for her dissertation formed the basis of the influential two-volume Prehistoric Aphrodisias.2 In this work, she presented the long prehistory of the site of Aphrodisias, better known for its Hellenistic remains. Her studies filled in gaps in scholars’ understanding of the prehistory of southwest Anatolia and the contacts its inland peoples had with settlements on the Aegean coast. She subsequently received an honorary doctorate from Brown University in 1985.

Throughout her career, Martha conducted fieldwork across the world. While in Lebanon, she participated in the American University in Beirut’s excavations directed by Dimitri Baramki and Leila Badre at Tell el-Ghassil in the Beqaaa Valley and wrote her master’s thesis on Bronze Age and Iron Age ceramics found at the site. At the time, she also worked with James Pritchard of the University of Pennsylvania at Sarepta (modern Sarafand), a Phoenician city on the Lebanese coast. She went on to lead fieldwork in Hong Kong at the Neolithic site of Sham Wan. In Turkey, Martha was deeply involved in the New York University excavations directed by Kenan Erim at Aphrodisias for more than a decade, at a time when she had three teenage children and female archaeologists were not common in the country. She worked closely with R. Ross Holloway on the excavations at the Castelluccian village of La Muculufa in Sicily, a site dating to the end of the third millennium BCE. In addition to documenting 200 chamber tombs, the team excavated an Early Bronze Age sanctuary that was a meeting point not just for the local ancient community but also for other communities across the region. Martha also worked with Rolf Winkes on the excavations of Paleopolis (modern Kasfiki) on Corfu. Her ability to move seamlessly between such diverse locations and cultures, as well as historical periods, speaks to her boundless curiosity and indefatigable energy.

Martha found her final excavation home in Jordan, at the Nabataean city of Petra, where she became most noted for directing the Petra Great Temple Excavations from 1992 to 2009, leading hundreds of excavators even into her 70s. The enormous Great Temple, of which there was little to no physical evidence until Martha and her team began uncovering it in 1993, proved to be one of the city’s greatest monuments. Its excavation, documentation, and conservation stand as tremendous achievements. Among Martha’s favorite discoveries were the fragments of 120 sculpted elephant-headed capitals, which she admired not only for their beauty but also because they compelled scholars to ask new questions about the Nabataeans who built the temple, such as what the presence of images of Asian elephants in the Arabian desert might say about their culture’s reach. And, although she worked at Petra for more than 15 years, she never abandoned her commitment to prehistory. She remained a respected expert in Neolithic pottery, and in pottery studies in general, reminding her students year after year that the history of the world is evinced in quotidian artifacts. Whether in Hong Kong, Turkey, Sicily, or Jordan, she shared her belief in pottery as the foundation of archaeological study.

Martha also never shied away from new technologies for the archaeologist’s toolkit. Early on she was convinced of the potential of computers in the field, writing a 1978 article entitled “Computer Use in Pottery Studies at Aphrodisias.”3 It begins: “This article is intended primarily for archaeologists who may know little about computers, but suspect that the computer might be useful to them in their research.” Just short of 25 years later, she embraced the use of virtual reality at the Great Temple of Petra, recognizing the tremendous opportunities created by digital visualization to investigate the structure’s architectural chronology, function, and history of use.

Martha was an educator of countless undergraduate and graduate students whom she taught the best practices of archaeology, respect for the countries in which they worked, and a love for fieldwork. She was an especially staunch advocate for the place of women in archaeology, and coedited Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists4 with Getzel M. Cohen. The book honors the two generations of women archaeologists preceding her who contributed to the field of Mediterranean and Near Eastern archaeology in ways that made it possible for herself and future generations of women archaeologists to succeed.

After teaching at New York University and Hunter College in New York City, she returned to Brown in 1982 as a professor of archaeology and head of the Center for Old World Archaeology and Art (COWAA). She led many inspiring classes and cotaught a memorable introduction to archaeology course in which I participated as a first-year student. Martha challenged burgeoning archaeologists to look critically at ancient sources—in my case, how to evaluate the Bible as a historical source for the archaeology of the ancient Levant. She also served as faculty advisor for numerous honors theses, MA theses, and doctoral dissertations.

Martha loved to teach people how to dig, whether in sunny Petra or snowy Providence. At times, for her archaeology classes at Brown she would set up sandboxes containing buried potsherds in the basement of the COWAA, or even her own basement, to teach students proper excavation and recording techniques. She was determined to make sure they would be ready, whether they had the chance to go with her to Jordan or to dig elsewhere. Those who had the good fortune to accompany her to Petra remember it with fondness and gratitude. Martha was also dedicated to helping local people in the places she excavated, particularly in Jordan where she worked with local Bedouin women to create and sell their own jewelry.

The list of accolades, awards, and honors Martha collected in her lifetime is long. In 2005, she and Artemis received Brown University’s highest faculty award, the Susan Colver Rosenberger Medal of Honor. Martha was also awarded the King Hussein Gold Medal by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for her work at Petra and has been recognized by the World Monuments Fund and National Science Foundation for her contributions to the field. In 2010, Martha received the AIA’s Bandelier Award, which recognizes public service to archaeology.

Martha Sharp Joukowsky, 1936–2022

In the early 1980s, Martha and Artemis established the Joukowsky Family Foundation, which has supported archaeological endeavors ranging from individual grants to archaeologists to the restoration of the Great Temple of Petra. The Joukowskys were also steadfast supporters of the AIA. In 1993, the endowed President’s Lectureship was renamed the Martha Sharp Joukowsky Lectureship, and in 1997, one of the AIA’s highest honors, the Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes scholars who have furthered the AIA’s mission, was renamed in their honor. Martha was a trustee and trustee emerita of two of her alma maters, Brown University and the American University in Beirut. She was also a generous donor of both her time and resources to the city of Providence, her family’s hometown, and was involved with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra and Music School, the Girl Scouts of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island School for Progressive Education, and the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities. Martha was especially dedicated to Brown University, her first and last professional home, helping to create the Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. In 2004, she and Artemis founded and endowed the Artemis A.W. and Martha Sharp Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World (JIAAW), which has become one of the world’s leading archaeology departments and is the publisher of Joukowsky Institute Publications.

Martha and her family’s generosity to Brown students extended beyond the walls of COWAA and JIAAW, outside of which stands a replica of an elephant-headed column from Petra. For decades, she opened her beautiful home to students as a place to read, talk, use her extensive library, or have a warm beverage and cookies, which were always readily available. Many will remember her welcoming them there over the years for cocktail parties and graduation events, and even a student’s wedding. She greeted visitors at the door with her hair pulled back in a ponytail as if she were ready for the field, but always elegant in a brightly colored scarf and the large gold earrings she never seemed to take off. Martha always had a dozen questions about your life and career, and no matter how much time had passed, she always remembered the last thing you had told her—and made sure you knew she was there if you needed her. Martha Sharp Joukowsky led a truly remarkable life filled with scholarly accomplishments, a wonderful family, and the steadfast love of her husband of more than six decades. Professionally, she was an inspiration and support to generations of archaeologists. Personally, she was vivacious, curious, and loving, and she is and will always be greatly missed.


1 Kramer 1963.

2 Joukowsky 1996b.

3 Joukowsky 1978.

4 Cohen and Joukowsky 2004.


  • Acevedo, D., E. Vote, D.H. Laidlaw, M.S. Joukowsky. 2001. “Archaeological Data Visualization in VR: Analysis of Lamp Finds at the Great Temple of Petra, A Case Study.” In Visualization 2001: Proceedings, October 21–26, 2001, San Diego, California, 493–496. IEEE Computer Society.

  • Cohen, G., and M.S. Joukowsky, eds. 2004. Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

  • Joukowsky, M.S. 1978. “Computer Use in Pottery Studies at Aphrodisias.” JFA 5(4):431–42.

  • ———. 1980. A Complete Manual of Field Archaeology: Tools and Techniques of Field Work for Archaeologists. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

  • ———. 1988. The Young Archaeologist in the Oldest Port City in the World. Beirut: Dar el-Machreq.

  • ———, ed. 1992. The Heritage of Tyre: Essays on the History, Archaeology and Preservation of Tyre. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing.

  • ———. 1996a. Early Turkey: An Introduction to the Archaeology of Anatolia from Prehistory Through the Lydian Period. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing.

  • ———. 1996b. Prehistoric Aphrodisias: An Account of the Excavations and Artifact Studies. 2 vols. Providence: Brown University, Center for Old World Archaeology and Art.

  • ———. 1998. Petra Great Temple, Volume I: Brown University Excavations, 1993–1997. Providence: Brown University Petra Exploration Fund.

  • ———. 2007. Petra Great Temple, Volume II: Archaeological Contexts of the Remains and Excavations. Brown University Excavations in Jordan at the Petra Great Temple, 1993–2007. Providence: Brown University Petra Exploration Fund.

  • ———. 2017. Petra Great Temple, Volume III: Brown University Excavations, 1993–2008. Architecture and Material Culture. Providence: Brown University Petra Exploration Fund.

  • Kramer, S.N. 1963. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • Ward, W.A., M.S. Joukowsky, and P. Ảström, eds. 1992. The Crisis Years: The 12th Century B.C.: From Beyond the Danube to the Tigris. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing.