08 Mar 2023

Celebrating Beatrice de Cardi on International Women’s Day

Celebrating Beatrice de Cardi on International Women’s Day

Beatrice de Cardi is an extremely important figure in the history of the Council of British Archaeology (CBA), in many ways shaping what the organisation is today. Her impact on British archaeology and heritage cannot be overstated, hence why we still honour her yearly with our Beatrice de Cardi lecture.

Beatrice De Cardi was born in 1914 in London to a family who nurtured her early love of archaeology. She studied Latin and economics at University College London, and out of college, had a number of exciting jobs curating London Museum along with Margot Eates during the war and travelling to China and Pakistan while working for the government.

It was while working abroad that Beatrice received an offer to become assistant secretary of the CBA in 1949. She recounts being surprised to receive the telegram about the job, as the telegram included no details about the role other than a call to apply. Thus the position at the CBA was very much what she made it. It was her ingenuity that made the role what it became.

She also had to work within the confines of a limited budget. Beatrice states that they “were operating on shoestring”, with £3000 allocated for her salary, and any other money being allocated for grants. The CBA had no permanent office, and as such, she had to operate out of the particularly cold attic of the Kensington home she was living. Despite these early adversities, she thrived in the role, helping navigate British archaeology in the post-war years.

Beatrice was keen to promote and enable research, for professionals and amateurs alike. She created six period-based Research Committees, devolving power to specific committees to create exhibitions and initiatives, allowing for a versatile organisation fit for the modern age. In her 20-year tenure in charge of the Council of Archaeology Beatrice championed greater utilisation and training of volunteers, helped the birth of industrial archaeology and ensured that archaeology featured more prominently in education. In that time, she had a tremendous impact on worldwide archaeology and helped shape what the CBA became.

Beatrice does reflect on some opposition to her as a woman in archaeology, noting there could be resilience to her having a prominent role in leading organisations and excavations in a male-dominated environment. Any disagreements were met with an insistence from Beatrice that she be viewed only on her professional merits, regularly being heard saying “I am not a woman, I am an archaeologist!”. The fact that she could command such prominent roles in archaeology at a time when it was undeniably a male-dominated industry illustrates not only her tenacity but her ability to be a trailblazer.

In her later years, Beatrice continued to be involved in archaeology, becoming the world’s oldest practising archaeologist, being just one of her many accolades that included an OBE. Beatrice had a huge impact on the Council of British Archaeology and archaeology as a whole, thus it seems fitting that the headquarters of the very organisation she helped grow is named after her.

Want to find out more about Women in Archaeology? Read more on Trowelblazers, a blog outlining other women who broke boundaries for women in the profession: https://trowelblazers.com/