66. A Magical Hare and a Crock of Gold: Jacquetta’s “First and Last” Dig,

This lovely photograph shows the archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes sitting on a rock, wearing wellingtons.  We believe it was taken in Ireland during the summer of 1939.

Jacquetta was in Ireland on her first excavation in sole charge: working on the megalithic Harristown Passage Tomb in County Waterford.  She had of course been involved in many other digs, including the one already discussed, at Mount Carmel.  This one was archaeologically productive but otherwise difficult and strange:  dull hotel full of priests whom (she felt) were hostile to her work, dreadful food, particularly unskilled workers …

It was also overshadowed by events in Europe.  Jacquetta wrote to her husband Christopher Hawkes that “there is certain to be a war because the Mahrs are packing up everything, and are obviously leaving in a hurry”.   Adolf Mahr was the German archaeologist in charge of Irish archaeology whose permission Jacquetta needed to do the dig; it later emerged that he had been head of Nazi intelligence in Ireland!

The builders of the tomb left little evidence (bones, an axe-amulet and a pebble), but later Bronze Age people had used the tomb to bury the cremated remains of their dead: the excavators found funeral urns plus “a pygmy cup, a bronze blade, stone bead and bone needles or pins”.

Last to leave on the day these finds were made, Jacquetta covered the urns and secured the tomb.  “As she bicycled back to the dreary hotel she was met to her surprise by a long procession of people making their way to the tomb  … rumour had spread that a magical hare, the guardian of the tomb, had been disturbed, and that a crock had been discovered which, on the stroke of midnight, would prove to be full of golden coins …”

This dig was to be her last.  As for so many people, the War which came completely changed the pattern of Jacquetta’s life.   She spent most of the time in  London with her husband Christopher Hawkes, who was working for the Ministry of Aircraft Production – their son Nicolas and his nanny remained in the relative safety of Cambridge.  Jacquetta also found work in the civil service (where she excelled).   However, she did not take this comfortable route post-war, nor did she return to academia and excavation.

Instead, she combined her formidable intellect and her considerable visual and artistic talents to become a rather new kind of archaeologist, still very much engaged with academic discoveries, but sharing her knowledge and passion for the subject in exciting new ways.  Poetry, journalism, film, radio and television, the Festival of Britain, and a great variety of published books, most notably the compelling and genre-transcending trio: A Land, Man on Earth, and Man and the Sun.

A note on sources
I am indebted for the above quotation and Jacquetta’s memories of the Waterford dig to Diana Collins’ Time and the Priestleys. An overview from an archaeological perspective can be found on the Prehistoric Waterford site.  Jacquetta’s scholarly article on her discoveries was published as “Excavation of a Megalithic tomb at Harristown, Co Waterford”  in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Seventh Series, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Dec. 31, 1941), pp. 130-147 (available here in electronic form to University of Bradford and other subscribers to JSTOR).

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