Exploring the Lower Gulf, 1947-2007

Article excerpt


One of the few advantages of longevity for an archaeologist is the chance to review changes that have taken place in the discipline and also in the course of one's own activities. I realise with some surprise that I have led two disparate archaeological lives. Few of those I now meet overseas realise that for almost a quarter of a century (1949-1973) I administered the Council for British Archaeology. Nor are my former CBA colleagues likely to know much about my fieldwork in the countries of the lower Gulf--Baluchistan, south-eastern Iran, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman--the part of my life with which this reminiscence is concerned. My interest in the archaeology of Baluchistan began in 1947 while I was working in Pakistan and a brief explanation is necessary as to what took me there.

Serious ill-health cut short my education at St Paul's Girls' School. After a year's enforced rest I entered University College, London, where an innate interest in archaeology led me to spend several seasons working at Maiden Castle, Dorset, on the excavations directed by Dr R.E.M. Wheeler (Rik) who was to become a good friend and adviser. After graduating in history-related subjects in 1935 I joined the staff of the London Museum as Rik's secretary. Initially, I was terrified as my secretarial skills were meagre. However, we soon established a good working relationship and I gained invaluable experience from watching archaeological politics unfold. On the outbreak of the war, Rik immediately enlisted but retained his Keepership of the Museum until he resigned in 1944 and was released from the army to become Director General of Archaeology in India. At about the same time the museum dosed to the public. I was lent to the Foreign Office and sent to Chungking as personal assistant to a British official working on Sino-British financial aid agreements. He chanced to know Dr M.A. Cotton and my appointment was based on her assurance that I was unflappable. It was certainly an essential quality for much of our time was spent searching for cargoes that had gone astray in a territory extending from Karachi to Assam and over 'the Hump' into western China.


When the war with Japan ended I found that my post at the museum had been filled, but by then I had developed a taste for foreign travel. I promptly transferred to the Board of Trade and returned to Delhi as an Assistant UK Trade Commissioner. When Partition was in the air in 1947 I opted to serve in Pakistan and moved to Karachi, lured by the thought of visiting sites of the Indus civilisation. Rik was still in India where we had met only infrequently but he made sure that I received copies of his new periodical, Ancient India, and it was a paper by Stuart Piggott, entitled 'A new prehistoric ceramic from Baluchistan' that prompted my first archaeological survey. Piggott's war-service had been spent examining air-photographs in Delhi and when off duty he had browsed among the reserve collections of the Central Asian Antiquities Museum. There he had spotted sherds painted in a distinctive style which had been collected from sites near Quetta in Baluchistan (Figure 2). Knowing only the place-names on the labels attached to the pottery, he had visited Quetta and tracked down the sites, discovering a fifth while he was there (Piggott 1947).

My reaction to that paper was almost instantaneous. Quetta-ware, as he had termed the pottery, must have had a wider distribution, so I decided to use my local leave to see if I could find any additional sites. I wrote to Rik who at first opposed the idea of survey through tribal territory as being too dangerous, but realising I was adamant, he sent me the maps I needed which were unobtainable in Pakistan at that time. He also persuaded the newly-formed Pakistan Department of Archaeology to send one of its subordinate officials, Sadar Din, with me.


Sadar Din had been foreman on excavations by both Rik and Sir Leonard Woolley. …