Beatrice de Cardi
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Posted 11 July 2016 - 12:14 AM
"Beatrice de Cardi, the archaeologist, who has died aged 102, began as secretary to Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 1930s, and went on, after the war, to carry out pioneering fieldwork in areas such as Baluchistan and the lower Gulf, becoming, by the end of her career, the world’s oldest practising archaeologist.
I am not a woman or a man when I am working in the Gulf or anywhere else. I am a professional and they have always accepted that
Beatrice de Cardi
Described by the historian Michael Wood as “part-Miss Marple and part-Indiana Jones”, Beatrice de Cardi travelled to some of the world’s most inhospitable and dangerous places, where she coped with blistering heat, bandits and wild animals with an old-fashioned sang froid and down-to-earth practicality.
She disliked the comparison to Indiana Jones, explaining that she wanted to be thought of as an academic, not an explorer, and she claimed that she had never experienced any problems because of her sex: “I am not a woman or a man when I am working in the Gulf or anywhere else. I am a professional and they have always accepted that.”
As well as her work as a field archaeologist, Beatrice de Cardi also provided inspiration to generations of archaeologists in her role as assistant secretary, and later secretary, from 1949 to 1973, of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) which in 1974 established a series of lectures to honour her contribution to her field.
Beatrice Eileen de Cardi was born in London on June 5 1914, the daughter of a Corsican aristocrat and an American heiress of German origin, and grew up in an “enormous house” overlooking Ealing Common.
Ill health interrupted her education at St Paul’s Girls’ School but, following a year-long convalescence, she took a place at University College London, where she attended lectures by the famous archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler. She became “hooked” and joined Wheeler and his wife Tessa on excavations at the Iron Age fort of Maiden Castle, working on the classification of pottery, which became a lifelong interest. After graduation, Wheeler, then Keeper of the London Museum, offered her a job as as his secretary.
Following the outbreak of war Beatrice de Cardi, on account of her reputation for “unflappability”, found herself seconded to the Foreign Office who sent her out to Chungking, China, as a liaison officer to assist the British diplomatic effort in one of its most dangerous theatres. Much of her time, she recalled, was spent “searching for cargoes that had gone astray in a territory extending from Karachi to Assam and over 'the Hump’ into western China”."
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