Gus Van Beek (1922–2012)

Gus Van Beek, archaeologist and Smithsonian curator, died in August. He was 90 years old.

Van Beek pioneered archaeological research in southern Arabia in the 1950s and 1960s before undertaking the excavation of Tell Jemmeh in Israel’s Negev Desert, just a few miles south of Gaza. Following in the footsteps of renowned archaeologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie at Tell Jemmeh, Van Beek led 12 seasons of work at the site, uncovering impressive remains of mud structures, including a unique vaulted mud-brick building from the seventh century B.C.E. and a large mud-brick grain silo dated to the third century B.C.E. These discoveries, coupled with his experience in southern Arabia, inspired Van Beek to research ancient and contemporary mud construction around the world. The resulting authoritative book, Glorious Mud! Ancient and Contemporary Earthen Design and Construction in North Africa, Western Europe, the Near East and Southwest Asia, was written in collaboration with his wife, Ora, who survives him.

Van Beek brought the pottery sherds from Tell Jemmeh back to Washington, DC, so that a dedicated team of volunteers could work on reconstructing them in the pottery lab of the Smithsonian Institute’s Natural History Museum, where Van Beek was curator of Old World archaeology for decades.

The final report of the Tell Jemmeh excavations is in preparation; authored by Van Beek and his Israeli colleague David Ben Shlomo, it will be published as part of the Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology series.

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