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Archaeology Matters

Beatrice de Cardi: A legacy of discovery

On 5 July we received the sad news that Beatrice de Cardi, distinguished archaeologist and founding Secretary of the Council for British Archaeology, passed away at the age of 102. Beatrice was well known and much loved at the CBA as our first ever member of staff and long-term supporter and inspiration. She was also widely admired for her achievements as an explorer of the archaeology of the countries of the lower Persian Gulf. A life as full of achievement and adventure as hers is difficult to summarise, but her is a brief overview of the life of an icon of archaeology.

Beatrice working at the CBA in 1966

Born in London in 1914, she discovered her passion for archaeology reading reports of the great discoveries in Egypt in her father’s newspapers and was soon dragging her family to archaeological sites during family outings. Whilst studying for a degree at University College London she took part in excavations at Maiden Castle, Dorset, which were being directed by Mortimer Wheeler - the father of scientific excavation. Immediately after finishing her studies, Beatrice worked as Secretary to Mortimer Wheeler and they remained good friends until his death. During the Second World War, due to the “assurance that I was unflappable” Beatrice was sent to China as personal assistant to a representative of the war cabinet. She then worked as Assistant UK trade commissioner in Delhi until 1947, when she moved over to Pakistan in order to investigate Indus civilization during her leave.

Following the Council for British Archaeology’s formation in 1944, Beatrice was invited to apply for the post of Secretary. Although predominantly an administrative role she made it her own and set up the CBA’s programme of publication, directed its research committees and lines of communication with the public, securing its foundations for the future. A great many archaeological careers were started after initial correspondence with Beatrice, when people wrote to the CBA to seek out fieldwork opportunities in the 1950s and 60s. One of her main concerns at the CBA was setting up the network of county based archaeologists, which formed the bedrock of the modern archaeological protection system through the planning system.

Beatrice in the field

During her time working at the CBA she pooled her leave in order to travel back out to Baluchistan in Pakistan and continue her research there.  Due to tribal unrest, Beatrice decided to head over the border into Iran and then Eastern Arabia. As a result of a report she published in 1971 she came to the attention of the Ruler of Rasal-Khaimah who invited her to put forward a research programme to establish a national museum.  Following its foundation, she was asked to select material for display in the new National Museum of Ras al-Khaimah. She then returned every year to catalogue and computerise new material from excavations.

Beatrice cataloguing new material

Even with her groundbreaking work in the Gulf, Beatrice always found time to support the work she began back in the UK.  A familiar face at CBA events, our annual lecture was renamed the Beatrice de Cardi Lecture in honour of this regular attendee and invaluable part of our development.  The CBA office was renamed Beatrice de Cardi House in her honour to celebrate her 100th Birthday and we were delighted to welcome her when she came to visit us last year.

"Beatrice was an inspiration to everyone associated with archaeology. She had amazing recall of her time working for the CBA and was always a wise source of comment and advice on topical archaeological issues. We'll treasure our memories of Beatrice joining us on our member weekend visits to different parts of the country in recent years - and she will be sadly missed at the annual lecture given in her name. It was a privilege to spend time in her company."

Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, Director of the Council for British Archaeology.

Beatrice devoted her life to archaeology and her enthusiasm was palpable and infectious. She has done so much to drive our discipline forward and inspire generations of archaeologists. She will be dearly missed.

Beatrice attends the 2015 De Cardi Lecture - an annual event named in her honour

For a detailed exploration of Beatrice's work in the Persian Gulf, there is an excellent article available in Antiquity: Beatrice de Cardi (2008). Exploring the lower Gulf, 1947-2007. Antiquity, 82, pp 165-177 doi:10.1017/S0003598X00096526


Beatrice de Cardi interview (2.5M, .PDF)
If you’d like to know more about Beatrice, here is an interview Mike Pitts, Editor of British Archaeology magazine, took with her in 2004.

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