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History

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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).

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, at the forefront of research and teaching in world archaeology, archaeological sciences and heritage studies, with 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

The Institute celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2012 and a number of events and activities were organised to mark the occasion. Further details are available on the dedicated 75th anniversary webpage


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