This special post is brought to you by Steve Roskams, who brings the larger-than-life legend that is Beatrice de Cardi back to a slightly more human scale for us. His recollections are a wonderful reminder that for every amazing TrowelBlazer, doing astonishing and incredible things, there is a real woman inspiring real people to do real science.
An appreciation of Beatrice De Cardi
Beatrice (born June 5th, 1914), is in a long tradition of ‘grand old ladies’ of British archaeology, bridging the pre-WWII era and the creation of a fieldwork profession from the 1960s. Early in her career she worked with trowelblazers Tessa Verney Wheeler and Veronica Seton-Williams at Maiden Castle in the 1930s, and assisted Mortimer Wheeler. I worked with her on survey and excavation in Oman in the 1970s, part of her contribution to a range of research in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf. By this time, she had already run two careers in parallel. While a government administrator in India, helping to sort out the impact of WWII, she also carried out field surveys in the region (she mentioned, in her usual understated way, that she had once travelled by camel across Baluchistan [Ed: sounds remarkably like Gertrude Bell!].
After this she was instrumental in laying the foundations of British archaeology, as the first Secretary of the Council for British Archaeology, serving for nearly 15 years (1949 to 1973), and actively promoting archaeology both to the government of the day and at the grassroots, community level.
Yet it was fieldwork that remained her passion, often in wild, and occasionally dangerous, landscapes. Thus I found myself camped with her in the bed of a waadi in the desert between Oman and Saudi Arabia, sitting in the evening cool outside a tent after a hard day’s work, eating a meal made from reconstituted dried egg (a wartime legacy) and sipping, incongruously- and perhaps illegally- cherry brandy that she had somehow procured. Beatrice has retained her enthusiasm for fieldwork despite her 102 years, and I am proud to have played a part, albeit it very small one, in her huge contribution to our discipline.
We have had a post on Beatrice in the works for a long time, and we aimed to get it up to celebrate the birthday of this AMAZING woman. We almost managed! But either way we raise a glass of cherry brandy to the First Lady of the Field, Beatrice de Cardi!
Edited by Brenna, Becky, and Suzie
The black and white portrait was provided by the Council for British Archaeology and used with permission. Additional photo credits are provided in the captions and are provided courtesy the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia and the Society of Antiquaries of London.