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The Institute of Archaeology: the first 75 years

Creating the culture

Kathleen Kenyon

Wheeler was the first Director of the Institute from 1937, but as the second world war loomed, his itch to return to army life led him to form an anti-aircraft unit which included staff from the London Museum. In 1941 he was posted to north Africa, and by 1943 he was a brigadier involved in the invasion of Italy.

Meanwhile in his absence Kathleen Kenyon had been appointed Acting Director in 1942, having been secretary of the Institute since Tessa Wheeler’s death. Kenyon, like Wheeler, was a renowned field archaeologist; her excavations in Jericho and Jerusalem are amongst the most famous in the history of archaeology. However in 1942 she, like many of the Institute’s staff, had taken on war work in addition to their normal roles: in Kenyon’s case as a high-ranking officer in the Red Cross.

Wheeler formally resigned as Honorary Director in 1944 when he became Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India, and at the war’s end the Directorship was awarded to Childe. Following Childe’s retirement, this role passed to WF “Peter” Grimes, like Wheeler a former Director of the London Museum, and best known today for his 1954 excavation of the London Mithraeum. Following Grimes the Directorship has been held by the Mediterranean prehistorian John Evans, the geographer David Harris, and Peter Ucko, founder of the World Archaeological Congress; it is currently held by the prehistorian and evolutionary theorist Stephen Shennan.

Mortimer Wheeler at Maiden Castle which he excavated from 1934-37

The new building on Gordon Square was the first purpose-built department of archaeology, and from its foundation the Institute has found itself at the cutting edge of archaeology in all its forms. The high-quality archaeological photography pioneered by Cookson, who worked with Wheeler at Maiden Castle, formed a central component of training in a large and well-equipped photographic studio that, even in the age of digital imaging, is still a bustling and chaotic centre of teaching and research.

The archaeological conservation work pioneered in 1937 by Ione Gedye and Delia Parker remains one of the Institute’s main areas of training and, like photography, occupies a large purpose-built laboratory. One of the Institute’s most notable archaeological innovators was Joan du Plat Taylor, the librarian until her retirement in 1970. Together with pioneering underwater archaeologist Honor Frost, du Plat Taylor worked to bring nautical archaeology into the archaeological mainstream and develop training and standards for its practice. She helped to found the Council for Nautical Archaeology in 1964 and was the founding editor of its International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.


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