Atarah in the Archives: Nelson Glueck’s Canine Companion

Posted in: Archives Month, ASOR
Tags: American Schools of Oriental Research, Archives, ASOR, Cynthia Rufo-McCormick, Dog Wedding, Nelson Glueck
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By: Cynthia Rufo-McCormick, ASOR Archivist and Website Manager

A few months ago, while transcribing diaries from the Nelson Glueck Papers, we came across a short, curious entry penned by Glueck on December 12, 1938:

 “Dec. 12, 1938.

Atarah was married at 3:00 P.M. to Nimrud, owned by Mr. Amitai. Unfortunately, it developed subsequently, that Atarah’s father is Nimrud’s grandfather, which makes for a sort of a first cousin or sister to her husband.”

Excerpt from Nelson Glueck’s journal.

We quickly learned from Glueck’s meticulously-captioned photos that Atarah was his Alsation – what we now call a German Shepherd. Atarah, who lived at ASOR’s Jerusalem School in the 1930’s, witnessed a fascinating period in the history of American archaeology and politics in the Near East. She pops up throughout Glueck’s diaries, reminding us that throughout his Indiana Jones-ian exploits in the field as a trailblazing archaeologist/rabbi/OSS government spy, Glueck always returned from the field to the Jerusalem School, where he was undoubtedly greeted by Atarah’s wagging tail.

Nelson Glueck and his wife Helen, with their dog Atarah at the ASOR Jerusalem School sometime between 1936-1939.

Glueck published many entries from his diaries as the ASOR newsletter, but even these “public” entries retain a personal (some might even say blog-like) feel, and the activities of Atarah often appear alongside larger ruminations on archaeological research and the political atmosphere of Jerusalem, as in this entry, describing the affect of the military presence in the neighborhood:

Feb. 12, 1939.

Sunday morning. At about 4:30 this morning all sorts of cars started buzzing around this neighborhood, and then marching troops. No one seemed to be entering our grounds, so I didn’t bother to get up. At 6:30 I let my dog out, and then found out what had happened, or was happening. The entire area parallel with a line back of our tennis court down to the Wadi Joz had been cordoned off by soldiers, with one of them stationed about ever 20 feet apart. A big search was going on. Men, women, and children were being roped in, searched, cross-examined, and some arrested. That kept up for several hours. There were special women-police to search the women. What the result of the search was, I don’t know. I do know what the immediate effect of the cumulative disorders in this quarter is. All the foreigners are moving out. The Jardines have left, the Fitzgeralds are going, and the Magneses are moving Tuesday. Dr. Magnes feels very unhappy about leaving this quarter, where he has resided for so many years. The murder of a Jewish chauffeur directly in front of his house recently made him decide to leave. “Snobs’ Corner,” as this particular district used to be known, is being rapidly emptied of its “snobs.” However, it has, temporarily, ten new residents. My Alsation bitch gave birth to ten puppies this morning.

Similarly, in January of 1938, Glueck noted a change in Atarah’s social circle, as an addendum to an update on the status of the beginning of the excavation seasons at Tell Balata (biblical Shechem, an excavation which was begun by Ernst Sellin in 1913, and completed in 2002 with almost a century of ASOR participation), and Tall al-Ajjul (which was excavation under the direction of the celebrated Sir Flinders Petrie):

“January 1938

Excavation permits have been issued by the Palestine Department of Antiquities to Dr. B. Maisler to continue his excavations at Sheikh Abrein, and to Prof. Sellin and Mr. Stekeweh to undertake some additional clearances at Balatah. On Jan. 11th, Dr. Ernest Mackay, Sir Flinders and Lady Petrie, and other members of their staff left the School for another season of excavations at Tell Ajjul. The permit for the excavations is in Dr. Mackay’s name. The rains have prevented much work being done thus far. A letter from Dr. Mackay announces the death of Lady Petrie’s cat. The interesting feud between the cat and our dog takes thus an untimely end.”

Though she stayed home during Glueck’s extended desert expeditions, Atarah accompanied him in the ASOR van on day trips to sites like Khirbet et-Tannur, a Nabatean temple site. In 1937, Glueck directed the excavation at Khirbet et-Tannur on behalf of ASOR and the Department of Antiquities of Transjordan. Findings at the site included a beautiful sculpted stone panel of a vegetation goddess, which decorated the shrine entrance.

Caption: Clarence Fisher, Carl Pape, Helen Glueck, Nelson Glueck, and S.J. Schweig pose behind the goddess sculpture, while Atarah reclines in front.

Caption: Clarence Fisher, Carl Pape, Helen Glueck, Nelson Glueck, and S.J. Schweig pose behind the goddess sculpture, while Atarah reclines in front.

Learn more about:

  • The Nelson Glueck Papers
  • The Nelson Glueck Photograph Collection
  • The Khirbet et-Tannur Collection
  • The Jerusalem School Collection
An unknown woman and an unknown dalmation (perhaps Atarah’s husband?) sunning in the courtyard of the Jerusalem School.

An unknown woman and an unknown dalmation (perhaps Atarah’s husband?) sunning in the courtyard of the Jerusalem School.


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