Obituary: Robert and Linda Braidwood

By Molly Schranz

Robert Braidwood, 1907-2003

Linda Braidwood, 1909-2003

Robert Braidwood, an archeologist who worked for the University for almost 70 years, and his wife and work partner, Linda, both died last Wednesday in Chicago. Robert was 95 years old; Linda was 93.

Robert Braidwood is responsible for changing archaeology from a profession focused on acquiring museum pieces to an academic and interdisciplinary study. Some say he was the real life inspiration for Indiana Jones.

“He is one of my heroes,” said Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute where Braidwood worked beginning in1933.

“You wouldn’t believe the outpouring of sympathy from Turkey, France, everywhere,” Stein said in response to their death. “It really is the end of an era.”

Both Robert and Linda were born in Michigan and attended the University of Michigan, graduating with bachelor’s degrees.

Robert was originally interested in studying architecture but was not successful. He was much more adept at archeology, and after completing his first course in the subject he was asked by the professor to accompany a field team to Iraq.

Robert Braidwood went on to receive a master’s degree from Michigan and a Ph.D. from Chicago.

Linda Braidwood received her master’s from Chicago.

Working together in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, the Braidwoods discovered many important artifacts, including the oldest piece of cloth.

The Braidwoods were not only looking for artifacts but also for clues to the development of human civilization. Using field teams comprised of people from different disciplines the Braidwoods pieced together important information about the rise of agricultural civilization in the Fertile Crescent.

Much of the work they did was ahead of their time. On one occasion, while looking for places to excavate, the Braidwoods decided to search for the place where the oldest wheat could be found.

Many years later a Norwegian group doing DNA testing of wheat found the oldest samples just 50 miles from the Braidwood’s field site.

The Braidwoods frequently brought students along on their expeditions, which often involved sleeping in mud huts. “They had a remarkable knack for adopting his students. Many students who worked with him look on the Braidwoods as family. They say, ‘he was my archeological father,'” said Ray Tindel, registrar and senior curator at the Oriental Institute, who is married to the Braidwoods’ daughter.

Robert Braidwood is the author of the widely translated book Prehistoric Man and Linda Braidwood of Digging Beyond the Tigris. They collaborated on several other books.

“The Braidwoods were extremely fond of the University of Chicago,” Tindel said. “They arrived when was only three years old and lived to see it through its first renovation.”

The Braidwoods are survived by their children, Gretel and Douglas Braidwood, and three grandchildren.

A memorial service is being planned.