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History of the Institute

Institute of Archaeology: 80 Years of history 1937 - 2017

The origin of the Institute of Archaeology goes back to Mortimer Wheeler’s vision of creating a centre for archaeological training in Britain, which he conceived in the 1920s. Thanks to his efforts and those of his wife, Tessa Verney Wheeler, his ambitions were realised when the Institute was officially opened in 1937, with Mortimer Wheeler as its first director.

Among its early members of staff were some of the founding ancestors of archaeology in Britain. Foremost among these, apart from Wheeler himself, was Gordon Childe, director from 1946 to 1957, but there were many others, including Kathleen Kenyon, excavator of Jericho, initially secretary then the Institute’s acting director during World War II; Frederick Zeuner, one of the founders of quaternary studies and of zooarchaeology; Joan du Plat Taylor, the Institute’s librarian for many years, who was a founder of underwater archaeology; and Max Mallowan, Professor of Western Asiatic Archaeology (and second husband of Agatha Christie).


Celebrating our 80th Anniversary

The Institute celebrated its 80th Anniversary in 2017.

Today the Institute remains at the forefront of research and teaching in world archaeology, archaeological sciences and heritage studies, focusing on the importance of the past in the present and for the future, and has a student body whose remarkable diversity is second to none.

Celebrating our 75th Anniversary

The Institute of Archaeology celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2012 and a number of events and activities were held to mark this milestone. Read some of the articles and coverage from this anniversary.

Our 75th Anniversary

More about our history

Initially the Institute was based in St John’s Lodge, Regent’s Park, but in 1958 it moved into purpose-built new premises in Gordon Square, next to UCL in the heart of Bloomsbury, where it remains to this day, ideally placed between the British Museum and the British Library and with its own outstanding library, laboratories and collections. Until the mid 1980s the Institute of Archaeology was an independent institute within the University of London but in 1986 it joined UCL.

Although the Institute is proud of its founding ancestors it has never rested on its laurels and today it is the largest Department of Archaeology in Britain, and one of the largest in the world. The Institute is at the forefront of research and teaching in world archaeology, archaeological sciences and heritage studies, focusing on the importance of the past in the present, and has a student body whose remarkable diversity is second to none. 

The Institute of Archaeology’s mission is:

  • to be internationally pre-eminent in the study, and comparative analysis, of world archaeology
  • to enhance its national and international reputation for the quality and breadth of its multi-disciplinary and thematic approach to the study of the human past
  • to promote best practice in the management of cultural heritage and in the study, care and preservation of archaeological artefacts
  • to promote awareness of the problems caused by illicit trade in antiquities and the destruction of archaeological heritage that it entails
  • to ensure that the social, political and economic contexts of the practice of archaeology are taught and appreciated
  • to be at the forefront of international research in archaeological sciences
  • to play a major role in furthering the understanding of London’s archaeological and historical past
  • to provide archaeological opportunities of the highest quality to all, regardless of background

Equality and Diversity

  • In 2015-16, the Institute of Archaeology signed the Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment pledge, making a commitment to challenge sexual harassment and support students and staff who experience it.
  • The Institute of Archaeology established its own Equality & Diversity Forum to provide a supportive and inclusive environment for discussion of any issues relating to Equality, Diversity, Gender and/or Sexuality.

Friends of Out@UCL campaign

Statement from Mary Fulbrook - Dean, UCL Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences

"Why is being an ally of particular importance to me? For many reasons. Professionally, I am a historian of Germany, and am appalled not only at how Nazis treated homosexuality but also at the continuing discrimination that persisted across Europe long after the end of the Third Reich.

Politically, discrimination still exists in many areas of the world, whether in official practices and legislation or in social relations in everyday life.

On a personal level, I am aware just how difficult things can be even in western society today, where recently won changes in conditions and increasing willingness to be open about and ‘own’ one’s identity nevertheless continually face challenges. We must stand together if we want diversity and humanity - in every sense of the word - to develop and flourish."