Saturday, 6 August 2016
Trowelblazers - Beatrice de Cardi
Beatrice de Cardi died on July 5th this year, aged 102, and at the end of her career she was the world's oldest practicing archaeologist, as she continued to write up her excavations and catalogue pottery until after her 100th birthday. Her Who's Who entry lists her hobbies as "keeping up with archeological research".
And what a life she had!
She was born in London in 1914, the daughter of a Corsican aristocrat and an American heiress of German origin, and became interested in archaeology when she attended lectures at University College London given by Sir Mortimer Wheeler.
She went to work with Mortimer Wheeler and his wife Tessa at Maiden Castle, where she worked on the classification of the pottery. After her graduation from university, Sir Mortimer Wheeler offered her a job as his secretary - he was then Keeper of the London Museum.
During the Second World War she was seconded to the Foreign Office, which sent her out to Chungking, China. She also visited India as part of her work there, and after the war she got a job at the Board of Trade in Delhi, and later Karachi. There she read an article about some previously unknown pottery from Quetta in Baluchistan, written by a young Stuart Piggott.
Sir Mortimer Wheeler was now Director General of Archaeology in India, and Beatrice persuaded him to lend her a jeep and an assistant, Sadar Din, to look for archaeological sites in Baluchistan.
Michael Wood the historian described her as "part Miss Marple and part Indiana Jones". Baluchistan was a wild and dangerous area, and she had to deal with bandits and wild animals during her time there, but she and Sadar Din located 47 archaeological sites, many of which contained the pottery style she named Quetta Ware, and dated to 4th - 3rd millenium BC.
Unrest in the region meant that she had to return to London, where she worked on archaeology uncovered by the Luftwaffe's bombing raids in the Second World War, but she returned to Baluchistan under her own steam in the 1960s.
In 1973 she helped to set up the national museum of Qatar, as director of an archaeological expedition sent by the British Museum. She had ten weeks to produce a report on Qatar from the Stone Age to the Oil Age and she later wrote a book on the archaeology of Qatar.
From her obituary in the Telegraph: "In 1989 Beatrice de Cardi was awarded the Al Qasimi Medal for archaeological services to Ras al-Khaimah, and in 1993 the Burton Memorial Medal by the Royal Asiatic Society. In June 2014, she was awarded the Gold Medal of the Society of Antiquaries of London “for distinguished services to archaeology”. She was a fellow of the British Academy and was appointed OBE in 1973."