At her memorial service in 1992 she was remembered as a redoubtable woman who made archaeology in the Middle East very much her own. And she had to. Veronica Seton-Williams faced considerable prejudice throughout her career.

Dr Veronica Seton-Williams  (1910-1992) devoted her life to teaching and excavation. She was born and educated in Australia, choosing to study the closest subject to archaeology that she could at Melbourne University: history and political science. In 1934 she moved to London where she enrolled at the Institute of Archaeology, giving her the opportunity to work under Tessa and Mortimer Wheeler at their famous Maiden Castle dig. It was thanks to Tessa Wheeler and another mentor of Seton-Williams, Margaret Murray, that she was chosen by the British School of Archaeology to join Flinders Petrie on his dig at Sheikh Zuweyed in Sinai (where Hilda Petrie was also working). Many more excavations were to follow: Jericho, Mersin (Turkey), Tell el-Duweir (Palestine) and in Ireland.  She completed a PhD on second millennium BC sites in Syria in 1957, but was disappointed not to be able to gain an academic foothold, narrowly missing being appointed to succeed Max Mallowan (husband of Agatha Christie) at the Institute of Archaeology.

At many of the sites Seton-Williams worked at, she took direction from the leading figures of the day, including Petrie, John Garstang,  John Starkey and Kathleen Kenyon, and she worked closely with a number of other trowelblazers, including Joan du Plat Taylor and Margaret Munn-Rankin. It was not until the mid-1960s, after considerable petitioning of the Committee by her students and colleagues, that the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) appointed her as a field director in her own right.

Ruins of mudbrick buildings on the northern mound of Buto-Desouk. Image: By Faris knight (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ruins of mudbrick buildings on the northern mound of Buto-Desouk. Image: By Faris knight (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Between 1964 and 1968 she took charge of the EES excavations at Buto, a site in the Egyptian Delta. Those that joined her during those seasons recall the tensions and personal hardships that she faced in this role. Seton-Williams, however, was committed to seeing the  work through because she believed that “as an archaeologist my main interest was in getting on with my job, to finish whatever I was doing, to record it, and, if possible, to publish the results”. She was still toiling over her final excavator’s report for Buto just before her death in 1992, labouring every day despite illness. It has never been published.

Veronica Seton-Williams at Buto, Egypt, sometime between 1965 and 1968. Photo courtesy of Joseph Clarke.

Veronica Seton-Williams at Buto, Egypt, sometime between 1965 and 1968. Photo courtesy of Joseph Clarke.

Written by Alice Stevenson, Curator of the Petrie Museum at UCL and on twitter as @alicestevenson

Editing and additional content by Tori and Becky

Further Reading: this wonderful extended biography of VSW by Barbara Lesko on the Breaking Ground website.

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