Celebrate Ernst Herzfeld’s Birthday with the Freer and Sackler Archives
Today marks the 142nd birthday of the German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld—a fine occasion to highlight the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives’ Ernst Herzfeld Papers. The papers consist of Herzfeld’s journals, sketchbooks, notebooks, photographic materials, maps, drawings, squeezes (reversed impressions of inscriptions), and archaeological expedition records. The collection documents the activities that established Herzfeld as a pioneer in Ancient Near East studies—particularly in Iranian studies.
Ernst Herzfeld was born July 23, 1879 in Celle, Germany. He went on to a distinguished career as an archaeologist, making major contributions to Iranian studies in the process. Herzfeld was active in fieldwork from the early 1900s to the mid-1930s, participating in or leading excavations at sites including Samarra, Persepolis, Pasargadae, and Aleppo.
His work in Iran in the 1920s and 1930s was especially significant; in addition to his own research, he helped to shape the first antiquities laws in the country.
Of Jewish heritage, Herzfeld was forced out of his academic position in 1935 due to Nazi purges of the civil service. He then immigrated to the United States, teaching at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study from 1936 to 1944. He continued researching, writing, and lecturing until he died in Basel, Switzerland on January 20, 1948.
In 1946, Herzfeld offered his papers to the Freer Gallery of Art, which were accepted and placed in the study collection. The papers were later transferred to the Freer and Sackler Archives, following its establishment in 1987. Today, the Herzfeld Papers are one of the most widely used and cited collections in the Archives. They are a rich resource for researchers interested in archaeology and the Ancient Near East and attract varied inquiries, such as those about the layouts of gardens excavated in Pasargadae.
The collection can be a challenge to access, as much of the material is in Herzfeld’s native German as well as in historical and modern languages used in the regions he studied, including Persian, Arabic, and Aramaic. However, the collection is also a rich visual resource, with extensive photography, drawings, sketches, and squeezes that will interest the scholar and casual explorer alike.
Spend some of Ernst Herzfeld’s birthday exploring his papers and learning about his work and legacy! Head over to the collection finding aid on the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA). To see digitized content, click over to the “Contents” tab and look for the blue box icon.
For more information on the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives, visit our homepage, or check out our available finding aids on SOVA. For inquiries, please email AVRreference@si.edu.