“…her enthusiasm being as always an inspiration” (John Garstang, Prehistoric Mersin)
Born in Toulouse, France around 1880, the daughter of a farmer, little is currently known of Marie Louise Bergès’ life before her marriage to archaeologist John Garstang in 1907. However, it is clear that from the time of their marriage she took an active role in archaeology. She joined her husband on site in Egypt and at Meroe in Sudan, where he was directed a team on behalf of the Sudan Excavations Committee of Liverpool University between 1909 and 1914. She gained experience and specialist skills in pottery analysis and repair, as seen in this image from the Garstang Museum. Another shows her working alongside her husband in a deep trench, surrounded by statues and statue fragments in situ.
During the First World War she served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse while her husband served in the Red Cross in France. After the war, much of Garstang’s work was quasi-diplomatic in nature; he held (concurrently) the positions of Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and Director of the Palestine Antiquities Department between 1919 and 1926. Conducting important visitors around excavation sites to a certain extent went with the territory – the Garstangs had welcomed Consul General in Egypt Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, and Governor General of Sudan Sir Reginald Wingate and Lady Catherine Wingate to Meroe, for example. In the early days of the Palestine Mandate, however, Garstang was in charge of a Government Department and social engagements with administrators and other members of the British community in Jerusalem were a regular occurrence.
John Garstang resigned both posts in 1926, but the Garstangs returned to Palestine in 1930 to undertake excavations at Jericho, 30 miles northeast of Jerusalem. They brought their teenage daughter Meroe, who had spent her childhood with her parents in Jerusalem, with them. Marie Louise Garstang ran the camp and laboratory, where she was involved in analysing and repairing pottery found on site. The reconstruction of the Jericho “snake vase”, done under her supervision, involved piecing together over 70 fragments. In his 1934 field report John Garstang specially credited Marie Louise for her supervision of the conservation workshop, emphasizing her skill in reconstructing fragmented pottery. Meroe, meanwhile, was in charge of records as well as assisting in the field – particularly tomb clearing. Dorothy Garrod, Dorothy Crowfoot’s sister Joan Crowfoot, and Veronica Seton-Williams also contributed in various ways to the excavation and interpretation of Jericho.
The Garstangs moved on to Turkey in 1937 with funding from philanthropist Francis Neilson. They spent three seasons in the plain of Cilicia on the southern coast, looking for a prehistoric link with Jericho and excavating Yümük Tepe, near the port town of Mersin. Veronica Seton-Williams (among others) joined them on site. The Garstangs remained involved with Turkey during the Second World War, as part of an Anglo-Turkish Relief Committee set up to help Turkish victims of a major earthquake at Erzincan in early 1940. They resumed excavation work in Turkey in 1946, and for the following years worked on establishing the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, which opened in 1947. John Garstang was appointed Honorary Director. Marie Louise Garstang died in 1949; at her death their partnership and her role in archaeological work was noted in her obituaries.
Marie Louise Bergès Garstang and John Garstang join a host of other archaeological couples working during the late 19th or early 20th centuries: Agnes Conway Horsfield and George Horsfield, Tessa Verney Wheeler and Mortimer Wheeler, Margaret Collingridge Wheeler and Mortimer Wheeler, Hilda Urlin Petrie and Flinders Petrie, Molly Hood Crowfoot and John Crowfoot, Annie Pirie Quibell and James Edward Quibell, Katharine Keeling Woolley and Leonard Woolley, Freda Hansard Firth and Cecil Firth, Winifred Newberry Brunton and Guy Brunton (and the list goes on.) These were marriages in which both partners worked alongside each other in the field and at home. As the wives of Antiquities Inspectors/Directors Marie Bergès Garstang, Agnes Conway Horsfield, Annie Pirie Quibell and Winifred Hansard Firth also played their own role in facilitating the (imperial) framework for managing archaeology during the earl 20th century.
It’s been difficult to extricate Marie Garstang’s contribution to archaeology from her husband’s – while she is recognised in the introductions to his publications and field reports with there are few specific details about her day to day life on site, making her seem a rather enigmatic figure. The images that remain, though, tell a different story.
Garstang, J. et al. Liverpool Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology Vols 19-23. Jericho Reports, 1932-1936.
Garstang, J. 1934. The City of Jericho: its History and its Fall. The Scotsman. 5 Nov. p. 8.
Garstang, J. & Garstang J. B. E. 1940. The Story of Jericho. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Garstang, J. 1953. Prehistoric Mersin: Yümük Tepe in Southern Turkey. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Holiday, J. C. (Ed.). 1997. Letters from Jerusalem during the Palestine Mandate. London: Radcliffe Press.
Seton-Williams, V. 1986. The Road to El Aguzein. London: Kegan Paul International.
The Times. 1949. Mrs John Garstang. 30 July. p. 7.
The Times. 1949. Mrs John Garstang. 3 Aug. p. 7.
Guest Post by Amara Thornton (OBT and Raising Horizons featured TrowelBlazer)
Image of Marie Garstang at Jericho courtesy the Palestine Exploration Fund.