Dorothy Garrod, First Woman Professor at Cambridge

By Smith, Pamela Jane | Antiquity, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Dorothy Garrod, First Woman Professor at Cambridge


Smith, Pamela Jane, Antiquity


Key-words: Dorothy Garrod, women, Cambridge, archaeology, universities

In May 1939, the accomplished Palaeolithic archaeologist, Dorothy Garrod, was elected Cambridge's Professor of Archaeology -- the first woman to hold a Chair at either Cambridge or Oxford. Garrod was well qualified for the position in several ways. Trained by R.R. Marett at Oxford and the Abbe Henri Breuil in France, she was renowned for her excavations in Gibraltar, Palestine, Southern Kurdistan and Bulgaria. By 1939, Garrod was one of Britain's finest archaeologists. She had discovered the well-preserved skull fragments of 'Abel', a Neanderthal child, in Gibraltar, identified the Natufian culture while excavating Shukbah near Jerusalem, directed the large, long-term excavations at Mt Carmel, established the Palaeolithic succession for that crucial region and then travelled, in 1938, to explore the important Palaeolithic cave of Bacho Kiro in Bulgaria. Published reports of her excavations had appeared promptly and were very favourably reviewed. The pre-historian, Grahame Clark, who was to succeed her to the Disney Chair in 1952, described Garrod's The Stone Age of Mount Carmel (1937) as 'pure gold' (Clark 1937: 488).

Garrod's papers

Regardless of her accomplishments, Garrod has remained a shadowy figure. Until recently, persistent rumours suggested she had burnt her literary remains. However, as part of my Ph.D research into the institution of prehistory at Cambridge University, I located, with Paul Bahn's and Genevieve Pincon's help, a vast store of Garrod's unpublished and unsorted material held in the Bibliotheque du Musee des Antiquites Nationales outside Paris (Smith et al. 1997). This material is kept under the name of French archaeologist Suzanne Cassou de Saint-Mathurin, who had excavated with Garrod in France and Lebanon. When Saint-Mathurin died in 1991, boxes of Garrod's diaries, letters, field notes, photographs and manuscripts were bequeathed to the MAN along with Saint-Mathurin's papers.

Reserved, assured, delightful

These unpublished papers, along with personal recollections of colleagues and former students, reveal a contrast between Garrod's personality as Professor and her behaviour in every other context. In the field she is at ease and gently humorous; reserved but fun. In the Faculty, however, she is described as 'cripplingly shy' -- dry, distant, difficult to know. Excerpts from her correspondence and field diaries and comments of her contemporaries document this striking contrast. Garrod's earliest letters, long before her Professorship, show a spontaneous, joyful attitude toward life and work.

'My dear Jean', wrote Garrod to her cousin in 1921, 'The last week in France was great fun. It was really almost too moving to be true. You crawl on your stomach for hours ... climbing up yawning abysses (lighted only by an acetylene lamp ...) and get knocked on the head by stalactites and on the legs by [stalag]mites, and in the end arrive at all sorts of wonders; bison modelled in clay, and portraits of sorcerers, and footprints of Magdalenian man'. Garrod was about to meet her life-long mentor, the renowned pre-historian, Abbe Henri Breuil. 'Comte Begouen, our host ... is a dear, and we also met the Abbe Breuil who ... explores impossible caves in a Roman collar and bathing dress. He got an Hon. degree at Cambridge last year, but more fully clothed'. The humour and joie de vivre evident in this letter are typical of Garrod (Box 72: MAN).

'She was eager, fastidious, apparently not robust, but with a clear sense of values ... and courage ... hence the very strenuous field work [in] --France, Spain, Palestine, Kurdistan ... caves and underground rivers', Garrod's cousin, Jean Smith wrote in 1968 (Box 72, MAN). Garrod's notebooks and diaries from the very strenuous excavations at Mount Carmel Caves, Palestine, from 1929-1934, document bonhomie and courage under stress.

Field conditions were harsh. …

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