Field at Work

Sheikh Fālih’’s mad’īf. PM 53-26-60/15921.374
Henry Field(?) measuring a Marsh Arab man's head. PM 53-26-60/15921.376
Henry Field(?) measuring a Marsh Arab man's jaw. PM 53-26-60/15921.377
Field at work; Shammar Jarbah man being observed. PM 53-26-60/15921.224
Henry Field, Winifred Smeaton, and S. Y. Showket examining Arabs from the Dulaim tribe. PM 53-26-60/15921.219
Next to Field is E. S. Drower, an Arabist studying the Mandaean dialect and author of numerous of books on Iraq. Behind them is S. Y. Showket of Basra, who acted as interpreter. PM 53-26-60/15921.332
Richard Martin, former curator of Near Eastern Archaeology at the Field Museum in Chicago, stands next to Arabs from the Dulaim tribe. Martin collected zoological specimens and was the expedition’s primary photographer. PM 53-26-60/15921.222

Influenced by the anthropology of Harvard’s E. A. Hooton and Oxford’s Sir Arthur Keath, and guided by Hrdlička’s methodological guidelines (1920), Field embarked on a comparative anthropometric study in the marshes. One of his guiding questions was: “Had the Basic population of Mesopotamia, now Iraq, remained unchanged during the past six thousand years?” (See Field 1940:7.) He collected 221 profiles of men, describing their physical characteristics and recording anthropometric measurements, and he constructed statistical tables. He noted, “The statistics . . . reveal that the majority possessed dark hair, medium to course in texture, with low waves. The eyes were brown, often with an outer bluish ring. The nose was straight but there was a concavo convex element in the population” (Field 1949:269).

In Sheikh Fālih’ al-S’aihūd’s camp, Henry Field converted the Sheikh’s guest house (mad’īf) into a makeshift laboratory in order to conduct measurements. However, Field was aware of the physical and cultural problems associated with this intrusive undertaking when he wrote, “Few people enjoy being measured, observed and photographed, and having their hair and blood samples taken. Apart from the slight physical discomfort, there are ancient and deeply rooted superstitions regarding the power invested in the foreigner possessing a photograph, a cutting of hair, or a drop of blood” (Field 1939:278). For Field, the first individual to be measured was always the most difficult.

They were rather mystified by all this equipment and showed interest and repugnance . . . I scanned the faces of the group squatting on the ground, looking at us none too pleasantly, until I spotted a youth with four beautiful braids. He was smiling and obviously enjoying the whole procedure.

Without giving him much chance to refuse, I took him by the arm, led him to the stool, sat him down, and recorded the observations on his hair—the form, quality, texture; his eye color; nasal profile; number of teeth; occlusion; and general dental condition.

I took the calipers, measured his head, face, nose, and ears, asked him to stand up so I could measure his stature and . . . his sitting height. The sequence was done rather deliberately in an unscientific manner, but one I thought would be most conducive to encouraging the others to submit.

Collecting so much data in a relatively short time is always difficult. . . . A great deal of information can be obtained in the first flush of curiosity which the arrival of foreigners always arouses. This curiosity and interest turned first to slight distrust, then to resentment.

Showket is an expert at handling Iraqis. . . . Thus, if I get a look from him indicating I’d better not go on, I follow it very rigidly. His judgment in these matters has proved excellent.

—Henry Field (The Track of Man, pp. 244-245)