Wendell Phillips, dead at the age of 54, was surely the world’s richest archaeologist. The “riches” part of his rags-to-riches story resulted from hundred of oil leases which gave him the right to extract and sell the black gold. At his death, he was the largest individual holder of oil concessions in the world. Some time ago, his personal wealth was estimated in excess of $120 million.
Lowell Thomas, the radio commentator and explorer, once referred to Phillips as “the American Lawrence of Arabia”. Phillips knew and loved the Arabian desert like few other westerners. Of all his honors, he was proudest of the fact that he had been made a Bedouin sheikh—the only American so honored. In addition to his title as sheikh of the Bal-Harith tribe, Phillips was awarded honorary doctorates by 21 universities and colleges.
In the late forties, Phillips organized the American Foundation for the Study of Man “to conduct worldwide research on the origins, development and history of man”. The Foundation’s expeditions were led by Phillips himself. One of the world’s great salesmen, Phillips convinced major corporations—like United States Steel, Coca Cola, Chrysler Corporation and Pan American Airways—to sponsor and finance his efforts. He then convinced major scholars to join him on the expeditions.