Tag Archives: Archaeology

99. Man – A Million Years Old? Minute-books of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia

In 1908 this circular was sent out to over 100 people in East Anglia inviting them to join an “East Anglian Society of Prehistorians”. The Hon Secretaries pro tem (W.A. Dutt and W.G. Clarke) had had the idea three years earlier, while flint-hunting in Thetford, but had decided to wait until they felt there was sufficient enthusiasm to sustain a Society.

Circular advertising the proposed East Anglian Society of Prehistorians, 1908.  From the Prehistoric Society minute-books (ref PRE 1).

Circular advertising the proposed East Anglian Society of Prehistorians, 1908. From the Prehistoric Society minute-books (ref PRE 1).

Their timing was right.  After the inaugural meeting, at the Norfolk and Norwich Library on 26 October 1908,  over seventy members signed up, paying a subscription of 1/6.

East Anglia was the ideal place for the Society to begin.   The region is rich in flint, which occurs in bands in chalk, and was used by early humans for tool-making.  The people who joined the Society, like Dutt and Clarke, were driven by their enthusiasm for collecting such flint tools.  Most were not professional archaeologists, who were few at this time, but amateurs, from the leisured classes.  Among them, the first President, Dr W. Allen Sturge, who bequeathed 100,000 flints to the British Museum, and Miss Nina Layard, who was well-known for her work at Foxhall Road in Ipswich.

Advertisement for excursion to Brandon Saturday 17 July 1909.  From the Prehistoric Society minute-books (ref PRE 1).

Advertisement for excursion to Brandon Saturday 17 July 1909. From the Prehistoric Society minute-books (ref PRE 1).

The Rules of the Society, created in 1909, changed its name to the “Prehistoric Society of East Anglia” and outlined its objects: “the study of prehistoric man in East Anglia, facilitating friendly intercourse between prehistorians, disseminating knowledge and preserving records and remains”.  As our minute-books show, the Society had regular meetings in which members gave papers and invited comments on their finds.  There were also annual excursions, ending with a visit to Icklingham Hall for tea and a chance to see Dr Sturge’s wonderful collection.

It is noticeable how many press cuttings have been pasted into these minute-books.  The Society’s members were media-aware and confident in promoting their activities.  Their first volume of Proceedings was published in 1911.  Its ambitious print run (500 – there were about 100 members at the time) allowed them to send out many review and complimentary copies, bringing the Society to audiences beyond East Anglia.

Press cutting Man, a million years old.  Daily Chronicle 17 October 1911.  From the Prehistoric Society minute-books (ref PRE 1).

Press cutting Man, a million years old. Daily Chronicle 17 October 1911. From the Prehistoric Society minute-books (ref PRE 1).

What interested readers of the newspapers and the Proceedings was the great question: when did “Man” come into existence?  Society members believed they could prove modern humans lived in East Anglia much earlier than previously thought.  Their evidence?  “Eoliths”, stones which appeared to be crudely shaped by humans.

The most famous eoliths linked to the Society were flints found on 3 October 1909 by James Reid Moir beneath a “Red Crag” layer of shelly sand in an Ipswich brickworks.  This “Sub-Crag” location suggested that humans able to make tools lived in East Anglia during the Tertiary period – over a million years ago.

A tailor from a humble background, Reid Moir was a combative and ambitious character.  He publicised his ideas widely, writing to the Times and other newspapers, lecturing, seeking support from eminent scholars such as Sir Edwin Ray Lankester, and, of course, publishing in the Proceedings.

In proclaiming these eoliths as proof of “Tertiary Man”, Moir and other Society members were engaging with a great controversy of the late 19th and early 20th century.  Were eoliths actually shaped by Men or were the markings the result of natural processes?  The press cuttings in the minute-books show us how people were keen to believe that eoliths were man-made, partly out of national and regional pride: how exciting to think that the first “Men” were English when prehistorians overseas, especially in France, were claiming them.  (This was also a factor in the ready acceptance of “Piltdown Man” in 1912).

However, many contemporaries were not convinced by Moir’s flints, or by “Ipswich Man”, a modern-looking skeleton he found in strata pre-dating the Ice Ages.  The heated debate continued well into the 1930s.  It is now accepted by most archaeologists that Moir’s eoliths were created naturally  and cannot be used as evidence of early humans in Norfolk and Suffolk, while his modern human skeleton was just that: an “intrusive burial” which had slipped by the shifting of soils into a far older deposit.

Nevertheless the involvement of the Society in the eolith controversy brought it to new academic and popular audiences.  The debate expanded the scope of ideas about prehistory, moving human existence much further back into the past.  It also helped archaeologists and geologists develop modern scientific practice in seeking to understand sedimentary deposits and the processes affecting them, and how to distinguish artefacts from geofacts.

After the First World War, the Society began to attract the new generation of professional archaeologists. Its wider membership and national interests were recognised in 1935 by the dropping of “East Anglia” from its name. The Prehistoric Society remains a focus for all prehistorians in Britain and worldwide. We are delighted to have acquired their wonderful archive – this is just one of the stories it has to tell.

Postscript. Their evidence may have been flawed, but Moir, Sturge et al. appear to have been right about the timescale of human occupation in East Anglia: finds at Happisburgh lead archaeologists to conclude that early humans lived there 800,000-1 million years ago …

This account is based on the early minute-books themselves (PRE 1) plus extensive research in secondary sources. The story of the Prehistoric Society has been told in many articles and papers.  I found the following particularly useful in writing this post:

“The Prehistoric Society: from East Anglia to the World”, by Grahame Clark and “The Prehistoric Society, Prehistory and Society”, by Robert Chapman, in vol. 51 (1985) of the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society.

Stuart Piggott’s Presidential Address in vol. 29 (1963) of the Proceedings is insightful on the milieu of the East Anglian flint collectors and their connections with late 19th century romanticism.

Many contemporary articles by and about members of the Society are readily available online or via electronic subscriptions (I recommend University of Bradford staff and students use Summon to find these – we have access to a fantastic range of material concerning this story).  Several modern scholars have examined the eolith controversy and the work of James Reid Moir e.g.  Anne O’Connor in Finding Time for the Old Stone Age, David Matless in Written on Stone and works by Roy Ellen and Marianne Sommer.

96. A Pattern of Invasions and Occupations: Jacquetta Hawkes and the Archaeology of Jersey

The Channel Island of Jersey is extraordinarily rich in archaeological remains.  Key sites include La Cotte de St Brelade (a cave filled with Neanderthal stone tools and the bones of mammoths and rhinos) and La Hougue Bie, a prehistoric grave mound topped by a medieval chapel.  Jacquetta Hawkes explored this heritage in her first book: The Archaeology of the Channel Islands: Volume II The Bailiwick of Jersey.

Pen drawings of flints from Les Quennevais and Le Pinacle (The Pinnacle), Jersey, published in The Bailiwick of Jersey by Jacquetta Hawkes pp 66 and 168. Archive ref HAW 1/14.

Pen drawings of flints from Les Quennevais and Le Pinacle (The Pinnacle), Jersey, published in The Bailiwick of Jersey, by Jacquetta Hawkes, pp 66 and 168. Archive reference HAW 1/14.

Volume I, covering the archaeology of Guernsey, had been published by Methuen in 1928.  Its author, Thomas Kendrick, worked at the British Museum, as did Jacquetta’s husband Christopher.  Kendrick had done much of the research for a second volume, on Jersey, by 1934, but “an increase in other work, and a growing distaste for the stones and bones of prehistory” meant that he was glad to put the task into Jacquetta’s “capable hands”.

Jacquetta had recently married Christopher; both were becoming known as exceptional young archaeologists.  Jacquetta was particularly well placed to take on the Jersey project. As J.G.D. Clark pointed out, “Her cave experience in Palestine  … made her sympathetic to one of Jersey’s chief glories, the Cotte de Brelade, while her own distinguished researches into the Neolithic pottery of France … equipped her to deal with the megalithic backbone of the island’s pre-history”.

From left, Christopher & Jacquetta Hawkes, with unknown man (possibly a Jersey connection?), 1930s.  Archive reference: HAW 18/3/46/1.

From left, Christopher & Jacquetta Hawkes, with unknown man (possibly a Jersey connection?), 1930s. Archive reference: HAW 18/3/46/1.

Part IV of The Bailiwick of Jersey, detailed descriptions of individual archaeological sites, was largely Kendrick’s work.  However, Parts I-III were written by Jacquetta herself and reflect changes in archaeological thought since the original volume: she took a more hypothetical and conceptual approach to the subject.  Although this volume was her first publication, she already demonstrated qualities that were to distinguish her writing in the future, bringing together a huge range of sources and ideas to create a coherent, clear and readable account.  Jacquetta’s biographer Dr Christine Finn observes the clarity and ambition of the green exercise book, “Jersey arch. Notes”, in which the book took shape, and the “lyrical” introduction.

Detail from the front cover of "Jersey Arch. Notes" the exercise book in which Jacquetta Hawkes planned The Bailiwick of Jersey.  Archive ref HAW 1/11

Detail from the front cover of “Jersey Arch. Notes” the exercise book in which Jacquetta Hawkes planned The Bailiwick of Jersey. Archive ref HAW 1/11

The Jersey volume is a fine example of Jacquetta collaborating with other archaeologists, as she did later on for the Festival of Britain.  In particular, she drew on the efforts of the Société Jersiaise (who published the book).  Jacquetta’s Archive documents her extensive correspondence with key researchers including Emile Guiton, responsible for the photographs in the book, N.V.L. Rybot, who created most of the line drawings, R.R. Marett, H.L. Stapleton, and Arthur Mourant.  She also gathered older research material which is now part of her Archive, notably an important collection of 1870s letters by Philippe Langlois on Jersey antiquities.

The Bailiwick of Jersey was well received by archaeologists.  It made Jacquetta’s name and enabled her to become a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.  The book remains an essential resource for anyone interested in the Island’s prehistory.

Front cover of The Archaeology of the Channel Islands.  Vol. II The Bailiwick of Jersey.  Tom Kendrick and Jacquetta Hawkes

The flints illustrated above lead us to another aspect of Jacquetta’s first book and of Jersey’s archaeology, which has been explored by Dr Finn.  The top row of flints came from “… a considerable piece of ground in the sandy terrain of the Lower Quennevais [which] is still scarred by the last traces of the Prisoners-of-War Camp which was established there during the Great War” and were revealed by “the disturbance of the occupation and dismantling of this camp, followed by a severe storm”.

The story of the flints and their finding exemplifies Jersey’s own turbulent story.  Its closeness to mainland Europe led to easy contact with other communities, often resulting in invasion, occupation and the presence of refugees.   Jacquetta paid particular attention to this narrative in her sections of The Bailiwick of Jersey.  Her approach seems horribly prescient given what was to come soon after the long-delayed publication of the volume, in 1939.  The Nazis invaded Jersey in June 1940 and it was occupied until the end of the Second World War.

Jacquetta’s book thus has an added value and resonance as the record of a landscape about to change forever, where (as at La Hougue Bie and many other sites) “gun emplacements, bunkers and other observation posts” were built on the same “exceptional vantage points” chosen by the prehistoric peoples for their buildings.

Quotations.  The Bailiwick of Jersey, Clark’s review in Man, Vol. 40 (July 1940), pp. 107-108 (available via JSTOR), Christine Finn’s articleArtefacts of Occupation” in Artefacts Consortium Publications Vol. 5 and her online biography of Jacquetta.

Note on dates: The Bailiwick of Jersey has no publication date.  Jacquetta’s Preface is dated April 1937, hence library catalogue records and bibliographies may give the date as 1937 or 1938.  The date of 1939 is correct, as far as I can ascertain.

Note on creator of drawings: In the absence of information on the flint drawings themselves, we have in the past attributed them to Jacquetta.  The pencil annotations are certainly hers.  However, the phrasing of her Preface to Bailiwick now leads me to think that the drawings might be by Rybot, but the sketchy nature of other drawings on the same graph paper brings me back to Jacquetta.  I will continue to investigate this.

92. The Story of Skeleton A8: Dr Calvin Wells and Leprosy in Saxon England

This week we look at one of the most influential articles written by Dr Calvin Wells, identifying a very early case of leprosy (Hansen’s disease): “as far as I know, the earliest British example to be described”.

Feet of Saxon leprosy case A8.

What remained of the feet of the Saxon man Dr Wells believed had leprosy. This image appeared with Dr Wells’ article. Copyright unknown, possibly Dr Wells though there is correspondence relating to photography of these bones by others.

Dr Wells, as we already saw, brought his medical training to the study of human bones, exploring the diseases and accidents from which past people suffered: palaeopathology.  He had often seen skeletons showing signs of possible leprosy, but he had been cautious in proclaiming them as cases of that disease.  There were so many other conditions that could produce a similar appearance in the bones of feet, hands or face.  In this case, however, having considered all the possibilities, he was sure.

CAL 1_16 Notes on leprosy Beckford A8 detail

Notes by Dr Calvin Wells on skeleton A8 at Beckford (archive ref: CAL 1/16). Note mention of small dogs, at the top.

The skeleton in question, known as A8, belonged to a very strong man aged between 25 and 35.  He died sometime around the year 500 AD.  Dr Wells reported that the bones of A8’s feet were badly damaged by infectious disease, with the phalanges and metatarsal heads entirely destroyed.  He concluded that “These feet are absolutely typical of advanced leprosy. Despite their Early Saxon date they could be used to illustrate a modern textbook of pathology.”

A8 was buried in an early Anglo-Saxon cemetery found at Beckford (near Evesham) during gravel-digging work in 1954.  Archaeologists quickly excavated the graves then the process of analysis began.  Dr Wells, as an expert in this subject, was asked to report on the human bones during the late 1950s.

He decided, with permission, to publicise the discovery of this almost certain case of leprosy in advance of publication of the excavation report.  The Calvin Wells Archive includes a letter from Vera Evison, the archaeologist who had dug the cemetery.  She had been “very puzzled at the absence of toes” on A8 so Dr Wells’ diagnosis made sense to her.

CAL 1_16 Letter from Evison 1960 re A8 p1

Detail of letter from Vera Evison who had excavated the graves, in which she explains that the absence of toes on A8 had puzzled her.

The full report was published in 1996 by the Council for British Archaeology.  It unites the story of A8’s leprosy with details of his grave and those of the people he lived with.  As if he did not have enough difficulties, it seems A8 also had spina bifida.

We get the faintest sense of him as a person from his grave-goods.  A8 was buried with various objects including a yew-wood bucket, a bronze ear-scoop and a spearhead.  As he had more goods than anyone else in the cemetery, he may have been an important person in his society.

A woman, A11, who died in her late twenties, was buried next to him.  She also had many goods in her grave (brooches and beads), showed possible signs of  leprosy and had similar back problems to A8: perhaps his sister?  Dr Wells noted that A8’s grave also  contained the bones of two small dogs “one about the size of a terrier, one the size of a whippet”.

A8, A11 and their companions would have led tough lives with little comfort and gritty food.  The report writers concluded that the Beckford community was poor, isolated and inbred.  It is not surprising therefore to find leprosy in such a setting: it is a disease most likely to be experienced by people living in poverty and difficult conditions.


  • The article: Wells, Calvin  “A Possible Case of Leprosy from a Saxon Cemetery at Beckford”.  Medical History, 1962 October; 6(4): 382–386.  Available online via Pub Med Central. (STOP PRESS 4 Oct – this link may not work as Pub Meb is affected by US government shut-down.  Apols if so, I am sure it will be back in due course).
  • The excavation report:  Evison, Vera I. and Hill, Prue.  Two Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries at Beckford, Hereford and Worcester.  Council for British Archaeology, 1996.  CBA Research Report 103.
  • File CAL 1/16 in the Calvin Wells Archive includes notes, typescripts and correspondence concerning the human bones from Beckford burials.
  • You can find out more about the impact of leprosy on bones and see many high-quality 3D images on the websites for University of Bradford projects From Cemetery to Clinic and Digitised Diseases.

Thanks to my colleagues Sarah George and Jo Buckberry for their assistance with this article.

90. Whither Archaeology? Jacquetta Hawkes versus the statniks

In 1968, Jacquetta Hawkes considered the future of archaeology in one of her most famous and controversial pieces of writing: “The Proper Study of Mankind”, published in the journal Antiquity.

Jacquetta Hawkes in a garden, 1969 (ref HAW 18/6/43).

Jacquetta Hawkes, 1969 (reference HAW 18/6/43).

In this article, Jacquetta warned against the dangers of scientific reductionism in archaeology.  She certainly was not against the use of technological aids, but she felt that these had taken over along with pseudo-scientific aims and methods:   archaeologists had become “statniks”, looking only at what could be quantified.

Too much archaeological writing was “swamped by a vast accumulation of insignificant facts, like a terrible tide of mud”.  In another geological simile, the “extreme precision of detail” combined with “endless uncertainty of interpretation” in archaeological reports was like “walking across coarse scree”.  Instead, archaeologists should be economical in presenting their data and “extract the essential historical meaning … set this out in clear, firm and humane language”.

Archaeologists were also paying less attention to human attainment, consciousness and individuality: “art and religion receive very little of the serious attention that is available in our world of archaeology”.  More could be learned from art historians, psychologists and folklore experts as well as natural scientists.

An editorial in the next issue of the journal observed that the article had “aroused widespread comment”, mainly from archaeologists over 40!  Antiquity therefore announced an essay competition for the under-40s: “Professors,  archaeological correspondents, Druids, moonrakers – anyone may put in”.   The essay title would be “Whither Archaeology?”  (the original holding title for Jacquetta’s piece).  The two prize winners were published in the journal in 1971.  One, by Glynn Isaac, is an interesting response to the points made by Jacquetta by an author who did not agree with her view of archaeology or its relationship to the humanities.

Further responses can be found in letters to Jacquetta in her Archive.  Whole-hearted praise:  “Three cheers … the statniks needed taking down a peg or two”.    A couple of writers observed that the archaeological research she criticised was bad science anyway: “many of the people would not be very good at any sort of research … you underrate the creative and selective role that a competent natural scientist plays.”

Over the next few years, Jacquetta became “an established champion of old-time humanist values in archaeology” as the debate continued.  Eloquent in writing and in person, and “a free-range individual with no academic eggs to break”, she wrote, lectured and appeared in discussions on radio and television.   In one television programme, she opposed Professor Lewis Binford, a founder of the “new” or “processual” archaeology.  “To me his long abstractions were almost without meaning, while to him I must have appeared as something out of the rotting woodwork”.

Jacquetta Hawkes outside Kissing Tree House, 1973 (reference HAW 18/7/8).

Jacquetta Hawkes outside the Priestleys’ home Kissing Tree House, 1973 (reference HAW 18/7/8).

This concern that she is “suffering from the sense of universal decay that so often invades the passing generation” appears in Jacquetta’s article.  To some younger archaeologists excited by the potential of the new models, Jacquetta’s ideas did indeed seem “desperately out of date” (Clive Gamble in his Guardian obituary of Binford).   However her approach appealed at least to some budding archaeologists: one letterwriter exclaimed, “Why couldn’t you have written the article two years ago?  You would have inspired at least a handful of originally enthusiastic undergraduates who are now reduced to a state of cowed apathy by the hot wind of turgid technological detail …”

Sources.  The articles in Antiquity can be read online by staff and students of the University of Bradford and other organisations which subscribe to the title.  Jacquetta quotations are from “Proper Study” or the preface to Nothing But or Something More, her John Danz lecture against reductionism.  Letters quoted are in HAW 3/14.

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).

31. “A Sense of Mystery and Drama”: Jacquetta Hawkes and the Festival of Britain

This week, the making of the Festival of Britain, as seen in the Archive of  archaeologist and writer Jacquetta Hawkes at the University of Bradford. The Festival, which took place in London in 1951, was a “people’s show” celebrating Britain’s cultural and industrial achievements; it is often seen as marking the end of post-war austerity and the beginnings of 1950s design.

Medal of the Order of the British Empire, awarded to Jacquetta HawkesHere is the medal of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), awarded to Jacquetta Hawkes in the 1952 New Year Honours.  She received it for her successful work as archaeology advisor to the Festival, in particular designing the opening section of an exhibition on the South Bank.  This told the story of Britain and its people, from the Old Stone Age to the present day.

Designing this was no easy task.  Jacquetta’s Archive at the University of Bradford contains a large wodge of correspondence documenting three years of work.  The displays had to be both historically/archaeologically accurate and appropriate for the exhibition.

Jacquetta's sketches of an Anglo-Saxon family

Jacquetta’s sketches of an Anglo-Saxon family

Fortunately, Jacquetta was ideal for the job.  She had academic credibility and knowledge, plus a talent for conveying “the thrill of archaeological excavation to a non-specialist audience, using almost theatrical aplomb” (as her biographer, Christine Finn, comments).  Jacquetta was also good at getting things done and, having been a civil servant during the Second World War, knew how to work with government departments.  She had the confidence to stand up for what she felt would work in her display although also to compromise where necessary.

The Archive shows how Jacquetta considered all aspects of exhibition design: the overall presentation of the displays, the impression they would make on their audience, how they would fit into the proposed spaces, and the archaeological detail used e.g. an extensive discussion on chariot harness.  Her approach is recognisable to everyone exhibiting heritage materials today.  She was aiming for something visually strong, with minimal words, “neither abstract nor austere”, with a sense of “mystery and drama” and keeping the overall story in mind throughout.

I particularly like a letter to Stuart Piggott in which she explains that there will be “some good, showy stuff such as the Sutton Hoo ship in a purple light …” but the “hard core” of the exhibition would be  family groups for each period (like the one above) which “can have some quiet occupation, but nothing very assertive”.  This quiet humour and detachment is very typical of Jacquetta’s correspondence and I think helped her to cope with the pressures of this high profile project.

16. The Skull and the Moonlight: Jacquetta Hawkes and the Dig at Mount Carmel

“When I was a girl, I took part in the excavation of a cave dwelling on the lowest slopes of Mount Carmel in Palestine”, so Jacquetta Hawkes began her book Man on Earth (1954).

Jacquetta (centre) and Dorothy Garrod (we think) on donkeys, from Jacquetta's photograph album of her Palestine experiences

Jacquetta (centre) and Dorothy Garrod (we think) on donkeys, from Jacquetta’s photograph album of her Palestine experiences

She was referring to excavations directed by Dorothy Garrod at a group of caves at Wadi el-Mughara.  Over seven seasons from 1929 to 1934 these sites yielded human remains and other evidence of 600,000 years of unbroken occupation.  Jacquetta (then Hopkins) assisted on the dig during the 1932 season; she had been awarded a travelling scholarship to work on this site following her achievement of first-class honours in the Tripos at Cambridge (Garrod was then a research fellow at Newnham, Jacquetta’s college; she was later to become the first female professor at Cambridge).

The Mount Carmel excavations had a lasting effect on Jacquetta.  In all her writing about this key part of her life, there is a sense of heightened emotion, an intensity.  This comes partly comes from the novelty of her first major dig, in a part of the world new to her,  and partly because she was in love with and deciding whether to marry fellow archaeologist Christopher Hawkes.  Two particular incidents stand out.

A skeleton, from Jacquetta's photograph album.

A skeleton, from Jacquetta’s photograph album. Not labelled, so we are not sure whether this is Tabun 1 or not. Archaeologists please comment!

A skeleton of a Neanderthal woman was found*, named Tabun 1 from the cave in which she was discovered.  Jacquetta felt a strange kinship with this ancestral figure whose fragile skull she held.  Despite their very different minds and experiences, both were part of the same stream of consciousness, “two atoms” in the millennial growth of the human brain.

Later, walking in the moonlight, Jacquetta found “an intense exaltation took possession of me.  It was as though the white goddess of the moon had thrown some bewitching power with her rays … the whole night was dancing … it seemed that my thoughts and feelings had been given a quite extraordinary clarity and truth”.  She climbed up a rock, looked across to the Mediterranean, and saw a procession of camels, feeling a unity with everything, past and present.

Detail from typescript of Man in Time

Ten years later, amidst the upheaval of the Second World War, Jacquetta drew on these experiences to create poems.  In To a Primitive Skeleton uncovered on Mount Carmel, she wrote of the kinship she felt with the dead “Woman, whose ancient cloak of flesh I wear”.  A longer poem, Man in Time, is often considered to be her finest.  It tells the  story of the dig and of the mystic experience that moonlit night.  Man in Time appeared in Jacquetta’s only published book of poems: Symbols and Speculations (1949).

Dustjacket of Man on EarthBut Jacquetta had not finished reflecting on Carmel.  As we have seen, she wrote about the experience again, this time in prose, in the introduction to Man on Earth, a kind of sequel to her masterpiece A Land (Object 5).  The work built on the ideas  she formed at Carmel.  As the blurb of the book said,  she “challenges the orthodox theory of evolution with her view of the whole of human history as a development of consciousness”, moving through the development of the Backbone, Blood, Culture, Brain, Civilisation, and Intellect.

One of the most exciting aspects of working with literary archives is seeing writers’ ideas develop, how they return again and again to themes that haunt or inspire them.  The Mount Carmel dig runs through Jacquetta Hawkes’s Archive: her photograph album, the drafts of poems, the published poems, and the later prose.

*by Yusra, whose story is told on the Trowelblazers site (postscript 10 June 2013).