Milestones: Martha Sharp Joukowsky (1936–2022)

Leading figure in the archaeology of Petra and the ancient world

Martha Joukowsky. Photo courtesy of the family of Martha Joukowsky.

On January 7, 2022, Martha Joukowsky died at the age of 85 at her home in Providence, Rhode Island, near the Brown University campus where she taught from 1982 to 2002. In addition to being a professor of archaeology and anthropology, she and her late husband, Artemis (“Artie”) Joukowsky, were instrumental in the funding and creation of Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, a leading institute in the archaeology of the classical and Near Eastern worlds. Martha’s career in archaeology spanned five decades, during which she participated in or led excavation projects in Greece, Hong Kong, Italy, Lebanon, and Tukey, though she is perhaps best known for directing the long-running Great Temple excavations in the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.

Martha Content Sharp was born to Martha and Waitstill Sharp, who in 1939 went to Europe to help Jewish refugees as documented in the book and PBS film Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War. She attended Pembroke College, where she also met Artie, and the two were married in 1956, thus starting a life mixed with familial and academic milestones. Artie’s career with American International Group took them to Milan in 1960 with their three young children, Nina, Artemis, and Michael. In 1966, they moved to Beirut and lived there until 1972, and it was during this period that she earned her M.A. in Archaeology from the American University of Beirut (AUB). She was an active participant in excavations at Tell el Ghassil, an AUB Museum project led by Dimitri Baramki and Leila Badr and wrote her master’s thesis on the Bronze and Iron Age ceramics from that site. She was also a member of the excavation team at the Phoenician site of Sarafand directed by James B. Pritchard of the University of Pennsylvania.

The next move was to Hong Kong where she led the excavations of Neolithic Sham Wan in 1973. The Joukowsky family returned to the U.S. in 1974. She was involved with the New York University excavations in Turkey at Aphrodisias under Kenan Erim from 1975 to 1986 and received her Doctorat d’État from Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne in 1982 based on her dissertation on prehistoric Aphrodisias.

In 1982, she joined the Brown University faculty of the Center for Old World Archaeology and Art and the Department of Anthropology. She and her husband received honorary doctorates from Brown in 1985 and, in 2005, the Rosenberg medal, the highest Brown faculty award. She directed fieldwork for Brown excavations at the Early Bronze Age site of La Muculufa in Sicily (1982–1985) and the Kasfiki site on Corfu (1987–1990). Her commitment to the field of archaeology was manifest in many ways, including taking on the presidency of the Archaeological Institute of America (1989–1993). Martha also served as the Vice President for ASOR (then American Schools of Oriental Research) from 2001 to 2005.

The last phase of her archaeological career was focused in Jordan. In 1992, she started a major excavation program at the Great Temple in Petra, a project that served as a training ground for many students whom she mentored over the years. Three major final publications (vols. I–III, 1998, 2007, 2017) were produced as well as a legion of articles. This partially restored, multi-level temple complex is now a major feature in the Petra city center. A massive amount of data was collected and the archaeological material not included in the final publications can be found on Open Context. The Joukowsky Family Foundation established in the early 1980s supported many individual researchers and archaeological projects, including restoration activities in the Petra Great Temple.

During the Petra Great Temple years (1992–2009), the Joukowskys came to Jordan annually. ACOR (then American Center of Oriental Research, now American Center of Research) in Amman was their base before and after the excavations. Artie Joukowsky became the ACOR Board President in 1992 and from the start improved its governance and financial status in conjunction with ACOR Director Pierre Bikai. Pierre and his wife Patricia were close friends from the Lebanon years when the Joukowskys’ interest in the Middle East was kindled and which continued to expand over the ensuing decades.

In all the places that she and her family lived (including excavations), they made life-long friends. Martha retained a remarkable curiosity about the world—ancient and modern—and had the ability to engage people of all ages and interests to the end.


Barbara A. Porter is the former director of the American Center of Research (ACOR) in Amman, Jordan, and current ACOR Ambassador.


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