Mortimer Wheeler

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Mortimer Wheeler
Mortimer Wheeler.jpg
Mortimer Wheeler
Born Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler
10 September 1890
Glasgow, Scotland
Died 22 July 1976(1976-07-22) (aged 85)
London, England
Nationality British
Fields Archaeology
Influences Augustus Pitt-Rivers

Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler (10 September 1890 – 22 July 1976) was a British archaeologist. The founder of the Institute of Archaeology in London, he was recognised as a prominent populariser of archaeology in the United Kingdom, having authored an array of books on the subject.

Born in Glasgow to a middle-class family, Wheeler was raised largely in Yorkshire before relocating to London in his teenage years. After studying Classics at University College London (UCL), he began working professionally in archaeology, specialising in the Romano-British period. During World War I he volunteered for service in the Royal Artillery, being stationed on the Western Front, where he rose to the rank of major and was awarded the Military Cross. Returning to Britain, he obtained his doctorate from UCL before taking on a position at the National Museum of Wales, first as Keeper of Archaeology and then as Director, during which time he oversaw excavation at the Roman forts of Segontium, Y Gaer, and Isca Augusta with the aid of his first wife, Tessa Wheeler. Influenced by the archaeologist Augustus Pitt Rivers, Wheeler advocated a more scientific approach to excavation and the recording of stratigraphic context.

In 1926, he was appointed Keeper of the London Museum; there, he oversaw a re-organisation of the collection and successfully lobbied for increased funding. To encourage an interest in London archaeology, he also began lecturing on the subject at UCL. In 1934, he established the Institute of Archaeology as part of the federal University of London, adopting the position of Honourary Director. In this period, he oversaw excavations of the Roman sites at Lydney Park and Verulamium, and the Iron Age hillfort of Maidan Castle. After service in the Second World War, he was Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India. His appearances on television and radio, particularly Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, and his popular books helped to bring archaeology to a mass audience.

Wheeler is recognised as one of the most significant British archaeologists of the twentieth-century, responsible for successfully encouraging British public interest in the discipline and advancing methodologies of excavation and recording. Further, he is widely acclaimed as a major figure in the establishment of South Asian archaeology. However, many of his specific interpretations of archaeological sites have been discredited or reinterpreted, and in his personal life he was often criticised for bullying colleagues and sexually harassing young women.

Early life[edit]

Childhood: 1890–1907[edit]

Mortimer Wheeler was born on 10 September 1890 in the city of Glasgow, Scotland.[1] He was the first child of the journalist Robert Mortimer Wheeler and his second wife Emily Wheeler (nee Baynes).[2] The son of a tea merchant based in Bristol, in youth Robert had considered becoming a Baptist minister, but instead became a staunch freethinker while studying at the University of Edinburgh. Initially working as a lecturer in English literature, Robert turned to journalism after his first wife died in childbirth.[3] His second wife, Emily, shared her husband's interest in English literature, being the niece of a Shakespearean scholar at St. Andrews University, Thomas Spencer Baynes.[2] Their marriage, however, was emotionally strained,[4] a situation exacerbated by their financial insecurity.[5] Within two years of their son's birth, the family moved to Edinburgh, where a daughter named Amy was born.[2] The couple gave their two children nicknames, with Mortimer being "Boberic" and Amy being "Totsy".[5]

During childhood, Wheeler took an interest in the prehistoric carvings of Ilkley Moor

When Wheeler was four, his father was appointed chief lead writer for the Bradford Observer. Thus, the family relocated to Saltaire, a village northwest of Bradford, a cosmopolitan city in Yorkshire, northeast England which was then in the midst of the wool trade boom.[6] Wheeler would be inspired by the moors surrounding Saltaire, being fascinated by the area's archaeology, later describing discovering a late prehistoric cup-marked stone, searching for lithics on Ilkley Moor, and digging into a barrow on Baildon Moor.[7] Although suffering from ill health, aided by a maid Emily Wheeler taught her two children up to the age of seven or eight.[5] However, Mortimer remained emotionally distant from his mother, instead being far closer to his father,[4] whose company he favoured over that of other children.[8] His father had a keen interest in natural history and a love of fishing and shooting, rural pursuits which he encouraged Mortimer to take part in.[9] Robert acquired many books for his son, particularly on the subject of art history,[10] with Wheeler loving to both read and paint.[11]

In 1899, Wheeler joined Bradford Grammar School shortly before his ninth birthday, where he proceeded straight to the second form.[12] Meanwhile, in 1902 Robert and Emily had a second daughter, whom they named Betty; Mortimer would show little interest in this younger sister.[13] In 1905, Robert agreed to take over as head of the Bradford Observer's London office, and so the family relocated to the southeast of the city in December, settling into a house named Carlton Lodge in South Croydon Road, West Dulwich.[14] In 1908 they relocated to 14 Rollescourt Avenue in nearby Herne Hill.[15] Wheeler's father was critical of formal education, thus instructing his 15 year old son to educate himself through spending time around London; subsequently doing so, Wheeler spent much of his time visiting The National Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.[16]

University and early career: 1907–14[edit]

Wheeler undertook his BA and MA at University College London (pictured)

In 1907, Wheeler was awarded a scholarship to read classical studies at University College London (UCL), commuting daily from his parental home to the university campus in Bloomsbury, central London.[17] At UCL, he was taught by the prominent classicist A. E. Housman.[18] During his undergraduate studies, he became editor of the Union Magazine, for whom he produced a number of illustrated cartoons.[19] Increasingly interested in art, he decided to switch from classical studies to a course at UCL's art school, the Slade School of Fine Art, however returned to his previous subject after coming to the opinion that – in his words – he would never become more than "a conventionally accomplished picture maker".[20] This interlude had adversely effected his classical studies however, and he received a second class BA on graduating.[21]

Wheeler proceeded to begin a Master of Arts degree in classical studies, which he attained in 1912.[22] During this period, he also gained employment as the personal secretary of the UCL Provost Gregory Foster,[23] although would later criticise Foster for transforming the university from "a college in the truly academic sense [into] a hypertrophied monstrosity as little like a college as a plesiosaurus is like a man".[24] It was also at this time of life that he met Tessa Verney, a student then studying history at UCL; they entered into a relationship, which would result in Wheeler's first marriage.[23]

During his studies, Wheeler had developed his love of archaeology, having joined an excavation of Viroconium Cornoviorum, a Romano-British settlement in Wroxeter, in 1913.[25] Considering a profession in the discipline, he won a studentship that had been established jointly by the University of London and the Society of Antiquaries in memory of Augustus Wollaston Franks. The prominent archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans doubled the amount of money that went with the studentship. Wheeler's proposed project had been to analyse Romano-Rhenish pottery, and with the grant he funded a trip to the Rhineland in Germany, there studying the Roman pottery housed in local museums; his research into this subject was never published.[26]

At this period, there were very few jobs available within British archaeology; as later archaeologist Stuart Piggott related, "the young Wheeler was looking for a professional job where the profession had yet to be created."[27] However, in 1913, Wheeler secured a position as junior investigator for the English Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, who were embarking on a project to assess the state of all structures in the nation that pre-dated 1714. As part of this, he was first sent to Stebbing in Essex to assess Late Medieval buildings, however once that was accomplished he focused on studying the Romano-British remains of that county.[28] In summer 1914 he married Tessa in a low-key wedding ceremony, before a son named Michael was born in January 1915.[29]

First World War: 1914–18[edit]

"I cannot attempt to describe the conditions under which we are fighting. Anything I could write about them would seem exaggeration but would in reality be miles below the truth. The whole battlefield for miles is a congested mess of sodden, rain-filled shell-holes, which are being added to every moment. The mud is not so much mud as fathomless sticky morass... If it were not for the cement pill boxes left by the Boche, not a thing could live many hours."

— Wheeler, in a letter to his wife, October 1917.[30]

After the United Kingdom's entry into World War I in 1914, Wheeler volunteered for the armed forces.[31] Although preferring solitary to group activities, Wheeler found that he greatly enjoyed soldiering.[32] For the next seven months, he was posted as an instructor in the University of London Officer Training Corps.[31] It was during this period that his son Michael was born.[33] In May 1915, he was moved to the Royal Field Artillery (Territorial Force) and shortly thereafter was appointed captain. In this position he was stationed at various bases across Britain, often bringing his wife and child with him; his responsibility was as a battery commander, initially of field guns and subsequently of howitzers.[34]

In October 1917 Wheeler was posted to the 76th Army Brigade RFA, who were then stationed in Belgium, where they had been engaged in the Battle of Passchendaele against German troops along the Western Front. There, he was immediately placed in charge of A Battery, replacing a major who had been poisoned by mustard gas. Being promoted to the position of acting major, he was part of the Left Group of arrtillery who covered the advancing Allied infantry in the Battle.[35] Throughout, he continued a correspondence with his wife, sister, and parents.[36] After Allied victory in the Battle, the Brigade were informed that they were to be sent to Italy.[37]

Wheeler and the Brigade arrived in Italy on 20 November, and proceeded through the Italian Riviera to reach Caporetto, where they were being sent to bolster the Italian troops against a German and Austro-Hungarian advance.[38] However, as the Russian Empire removed itself from the war, the Germany Army refocused its efforts on the Western Front, and so in March 1918 Wheeler's Brigade were ordered to leave Italy, getting a ship from Castelfranco to Vieux Rouen in France.[39] Back on the Western Front, the Brigade were assigned to the Second Division of Julian Byng's Third Army, reaching a stable area of the front in April. Here, he was engaged in artillery fire for several months, before the British went on the offensive in August. [40] On 24 August, in between the ruined villages of Achiet and Sapignies, that he led an expedition which captured two German field guns while under heavy fire from a castle mound; he would subsequently be awarded the Military Cross for this action.[41] Wheeler continued as part of the British forces pushing westward, resulting in the German surrender in November 1918.[42] Wheeler would not be demobilized for several months, instead being stationed at Pulheim in Germany until March; during this time he wrote up his earlier research on Romano-Rhenish poetry, making use of access to local museums, before returning to London in July 1919.[43]

Early career[edit]

National Museum of Wales: 1919–26[edit]

On returning to London, Wheeler moved into a top-floor flat near Gordon Square with his wife and child.[44] He returned to working for the Royal Commission, examining and cataloguing the historic structures of Essex.[44] In doing so, he produced his first publication, an academic paper on Colchester's Roman Balkerne Gate which was published in Essex Archaeological Society's Transactions in 1920.[45] He soon followed this with two papers in the Journal of Roman Studies; the first offered a wider analysis of Roman Colchester, while the latter outlined his discovery of the vaulting for the city's Temple of Claudius which was destroyed by Boudica's revolt. In doing so, he developed a reputation as a Roman archaeologist in Britain.[45] He then submitted his research on Romano-Rhenish pots to the University of London, on the basis of which he was awarded his Doctor of Letters; thenceforth until his knighthood he would style himself as Dr. Wheeler.[46] However, he was unsatisfied with his job in the Commission, unhappy that he was receiving less pay and a lower status than he had had in the army, and so began to seek out alternate employment.[47]

While Keeper of Antiquities, Wheeler oversaw excavation of the Roman forts at Segontium (left) and Y Gaer (right)

He obtained a post as the Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Wales, a job that also entailed becoming a lecturer in archaeology at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire. Taking up this position, he moved to Cardiff with his family in August 1920, although initially disliked the city.[48] The museum was in disarray; prior to the war, construction had begun on a new specially-designed to building to house the collections, although building had ceased during the conflict and it was left abandoned during Cardiff's post-war economic slump.[49] Wheeler recognised that Wales was very regionally divided, with many Welsh folk having little loyalty to Cardiff; thus, he made a point of touring the country, lecturing to local societies about archaeology.[50]

Wheeler was impatient to start excavations, and in July 1921 started a six-week project to excavate at the Roman fort of Segontium; accompanied by his wife, he used up his holiday in order to oversee the project. A second season of excavation at the site followed in 1922.[51] Greatly influenced by the writings of archaeologist Augustus Pitt-Rivers, Wheeler emphasised the need for a strong, developed methodology when undertaking an archaeological excavation, believing in the need for strategic planning, or what he termed "controlled discovery", with clear objectives in mind for a project.[52] Further emphasising the importance of prompt publication of research results, he authored full seasonal reports for Archaeologia Cambrensis before publishing a full report, Segontium and the Roman Occupation of Wales.[53] Keen on training new generations of archaeologists, two of the most prominent students to excavate with him at Segontium were Victor Nash-Williams and Ian Richmond.[54]

Over the field seasons of 1924 and 1925, Wheeler then ran excavations of the Roman fort of Y Gaer near Brecon, a project aided by his wife and two archaeological students, Nowell Myres and Christopher Hawkes.[55] During this project, he was visited by the prominent Egyptologist Flinders Petrie and his wife Hilda Petrie; Wheeler greatly admired Petrie's emphasis on strong archaeological methodologies.[56] Wheeler published the results of his excavation in The Roman Fort Near Brecon.[57] He then began excavations at Isca Augusta, a Roman site in Caerleon, where he focused on revealing the Roman amphitheatre. Intent on attracting press attention in order to both raise public awareness of archaeology and to attract new sources of funding, he contacted the press and organised a sponsorship of the excavation by tabloid newspaper, the Daily Mail. In doing so, he emphasised the folkloric and legendary associations that the site had with King Arthur.[58] In 1925, Oxford University Press published Wheeler's first book for a general audience, Prehistoric and Roman Wales.[59]

In 1924, the Director of the National Museum of Wales, William Evans Hoyle, resigned amid ill health.[60] Wheeler applied to take on the role of his replacement, providing supportive testimonials from Charles Peers, Robert Bosanquet, and H. J. Fleure.[60] Although he had no prior museum experience, he was successful in his application and was appointed Director.[61] He then employed a close friend, Cyril Fox, to take on the vacated position of Keeper of Arachaeology.[62] Wheeler's proposed reforms included extending the institution's reach and influence throughout Wales by building affiliations with regional museums, and focusing on fundraising to finance the completion of the new museum premises.[60] To do so, he travelled to Whitehall in London to urge the British Treasury to provide further funding for the museum; there, he developed a friendship with the treasurer, William Reardon Smith, who agreed to Wheeler's request.[63] As a result, construction on the museum's new building was able to continue, and it would be officially opened by King George V in 1927.[64]

London Museum: 1926–33[edit]

Lancaster House, where London Museum was based

Upon the retirement of the Keeper of the London Museum, Harmon Oates, Wheeler was invited to fill the vacancy. Having been considering a return to London for some time, he eagerly agreed, taking on the post, which was based at Lancaster House in the St James's area, in July 1926.[65] This move caused much ill feeling in Wales, where many felt that Wheeler had simply taken the directorship of the National Museum to advance his own career prospectives, and that he had abandoned them when a better offer came along. Wheeler himself disagreed, believing that he had left Fox at the Museum as his obvious successor, and that the reforms he had implemented would therefore continue.[66] The position initially provided Wheeler with an annual salary of £600, which resulted in a decline in living standards for his family, who moved into a flat near to Victoria Station.[67]

He expressed his opinion that the museum "had to be cleaned, expurgated, and catalogued; in general, turned from a junk shop into a tolerably rational institution."[68] Focusing on re-organising the exhibits and developing a more efficient method of cataloguing the artefacts, he also authored A Short Guide to the Collections, before using the items in the museum to write three books: London and the Vikings, London and the Saxons, and London and the Romans.[69] Upon his arrival, the treasury allocated the museum an annual budget of £5000, which Wheeler deemed insufficient for its needs.[70] In 1930, Wheeler convinced them to increase that budget, as he highlighted increasing visitor numbers, publications, and acquisitions, as well as a rise in the number of educational projects. With this additional funding, he was able to employ more staff and increase his own salary to £900.[71]

Wheeler excavated the temple of Nodens at Lydney Park

Soon after joining the Museum, Wheeler was elected to the council of the Society of Antiquaries.[72] Through the Society, he became involved in the debate as to who should finance archaeological supervision of building projects in Greater London; his argument was that the City of London Corporation should provide the funding, although in 1926 it was agreed that the Society itself would employ a director of excavation based in Lancaster House to take on the position.[73] Also involved in the largely moribund Royal Archaeological Institute, Wheeler organised its relocation to Lancaster House.[74] In 1927, Wheeler took on an unpaid lectureship at University College London, where he established a graduate diploma course on archaeology; one of the first to enroll was Stuart Piggott.[75] In 1928, he curated an exhibit at UCL on "Recent Work in British Archaeology", for which he attracted much press attention.[76]

Wheeler was keen to continue archaeological fieldwork outside of London, undertaking excavations every year from 1926 to 1939.[77] After completing his excavation of the Carlaeon amphitheatre in 1928, he began fieldwork at the Roman settlement and temple in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire, having been invited to do so by the aristocratic land owner, Charles Bathurst.[78] It was during these investigations that Wheeler personally discovered the Lydney Hoard of coinage.[79] Wheeler and his wife jointly published their excavation report in 1932 as Report on the Excavation of the Prehistoric, Roman and Post-Roman Site in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire.[80]

Institute of Archaeology: 1934–39[edit]

Wheeler had long desired to establish an academic institution devoted to archaeology that could be based in London; to this end, Petrie had donated much of his collection of Near Eastern artefacts to him, in the hope that it would be included in such an institution.[81] Wheeler was subsequently able to convince the University of London, a federation of institutions across the capital, to support the venture, and both he and Tessa began raising funds from wealthy backers.[82] In 1934, the Institute of Archaeology was officially opened, albeit at this point only existed on paper, with no premesis of academic staff; the first students to enroll were Rachel Clay and Barbara Parker, who went on to have careers in the discipline.[82] While Wheeler – who was still Keeper of the London Museum – took on the role of Honourary Director of the Institute, he installed the archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon as secretary of the Management Committee, describing her as "a level-headed person, with useful experience".[83]

St. John's Lodge in Regent's Park, the first building to house the Institute of Archaeology

In 1936, Wheeler proceeded on a visit to the Near East, sailing from Marseilles to Port Said, where he visited the Old Kingdom tombs of Sakkara. From there he went via Sinai to Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. During this trip, he visited various archaeological excavations, but was dismated by what he saw as their standards; in particular, he noted that the American-run excavation at Megiddo was adopting standards that had been rejected in the UK twenty-five years previously.[84] He was away for six weeks, and upon his return to Europe discovered that his wife Tessa had died of a pulmonary embolism.[85] Wheeler's father then died that winter.[86]

Wheeler was subsequently able to secure a premisis for his Institute: St. John's Lodge in Regent's Park, central London. Left empty since its use as a hospital during the First World War, the building was owned by the Crown and was controlled by the First Commissioner of Works, William Ormsby-Gore; Ormsby-Gore was very sympathetic to archaeology, and leased the building to them at a low rent.[87] The St. John's Lodge premesis would officially be opened in April 1937.[88]

The excavations at Maiden Castle, Dorset, in October 1937 were led by Mortimer Wheeler. Photograph by Major George Allen (1891–1940)

During this period, the Wheelers performed many major excavations within Britain, including that of the Roman villa at Lydney Park, Roman Verulamium (modern-day St Albans), and the late Iron Age hill-fort of Maiden Castle, Dorset. The excavation methods they used, for example the grid system (later developed further by Kathleen Kenyon and known as the Wheeler-Kenyon method), were significant advances in archaeological method, although later superseded. They were influenced greatly by the work of the archaeologist Lieutenant General Augustus Pitt Rivers (1827–1900). The two constant themes in their attempts to improve archaeological excavation were, first, to maintain strict stratigraphic control while excavating (for this purpose, the baulks between trenches served to retain a record of the strata that had been dug through), and, second, to publish the excavation promptly and in a form that would tell the story of the site to the intelligent reader such as in articles in the Illustrated London News, where he employed the services of the noted artist Alan Sorrell. They published their results quickly after the excavations concluded, and Mortimer proved adept at generating favourable publicity.

Second World War: 1939–45[edit]

When World War II was imminent, Wheeler returned from excavating Iron Age hill forts in Normandy during August 1939 to join the Middlesex Territorial Association at Enfield. He stayed there until 1941 when his unit was transferred into the regular army forces as the 48th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, which became a part of the 42nd Mobile Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment in the Royal Artillery. His son also served as a second lieutenant in the unit. He served with his unit with the 8th Army in North Africa, at the Second Battle of El Alamein. He was promoted to brigadier and commanded the 12th Anti-Aircraft Brigade during the landing of Allied Forces at Salerno, Italy, Operation Avalanche in September 1943.

Later career[edit]

The next year, now 54 years old, he retired from the Army to become Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India, exploring in detail the remains of the Indus Valley Civilization at Mohenjodaro, and other sites including Taxila, Arikamedu, Harappa, Brahmagiri and Chandravalli.

While in India, he founded a new journal, Ancient India, and he later wrote a volume of the Cambridge History of India, The Indus Civilization.

"Despite his very short stay as Director General, [Wheeler] infused an element of urgency into the Indian archaeological scene. With him archaeology in India became exciting, worth doing for its own sake. This excitement is apparent in the articles that he wrote, and still affects those who know the scene."

Dilip K. Chakrabarti, 1982[89]

Through his leadership of the Archaeological Survey of India between 1944 and 1948, Wheeler had a significant impact on the archaeology of the Indian subcontinent. Indian archaeologist Dilip K. Chakrabarti praised Wheeler's achievements in a 1982 volume of the World Archaeology journal, relating that he had helped to establish a "total view" of the region's development from the Palaeolithic onward. Chakrabarti also noted that Wheeler had introduced multiple archaeological techniques and methods that were then unknown in India, through his insistence on careful archaeological planning and his emphasis on properly understanding stratigraphy. Furthermore, Chakrabarti argued that Wheeler had benefited Indian archaeology by encouraging various Indian universities to begin archaeological research, recognising that the Archaeological Survey of India alone could not cover such a vast area. Ultimately, Chakrabarti was of the opinion that Wheeler had "prepared the archaeology of the subcontinent for its transition to modernity in the post-Partition period."[89]

Chakrabarti's opinions were echoed by another archaeologist focusing on India, Peter Johansen, in a 2003 paper published in Asian Perspectives. Johansen praised Wheeler for systematising and professionalising Indian archaeology, and for "instituting a clearly defined body of techniques and methods for field and laboratory work and training."[90]

Soon after he returned to England during 1948, he was made a professor at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London He spent part of the years 1949 and 1950 in Pakistan as Archaeological Adviser to the Government, helping to establish the Archaeological Department of Pakistan, and the National Museum of Pakistan at Karachi. He excavated the Stanwick Iron Age Fortifications in Yorkshire in 1951, and returned to Pakistan in 1956 to excavate Charsada.[citation needed] Wheeler described his intention that the Institute become "a laboratory: a laboratory of archaeological science".[91]

In 1958 he opened the extension to the Gloucester City Museum & Art Gallery which doubled its available space.[92]

He became known through his books and appearances on television and radio, helping to bring archaeology to a mass audience. Wheeler believed strongly that archaeology needed public support, and was assiduous in appearing on radio and television to promote it. In addition to this he collaborated with the artist and illustrator of books, Alan Sorrell, advising the artist on his archaeological reconstruction drawings. He appeared in three television series that aimed to bring archaeology to the public: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral (1952–60), which was a quiz game, an archaeological variant of Twenty Questions, Buried Treasure (1954–59), "Grandeur That Was Rome" (1960), and Chronicle (from 1966), and was named British TV Personality of the Year in 1954. He is known to have prepared in advance for Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by checking out the details of any objects that had recently been removed from display in upcoming locations.[93]

He became a fellow of the British Academy in 1941; and served as its Secretary from 1949 to 1968. He was also President of the Society of Antiquaries of London. He was knighted in 1952, became a Companion of Honour in 1967, and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1968.

In addition to his academic and popular works on archaeology, he published three memoirs. In 1969, along with Hugh Trevor-Roper and A. J. P. Taylor, he became a member of the editorial board of Sir Winston Churchill's four volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

Personal life[edit]

Bronze bust of Wheeler at the UCL Institute of Archaeology's library

Wheeler divided opinion among those who knew him, with some loving and others despising him.[94] During his lifetime he was often criticised on both scholarly and moral grounds.[95] The archaeologist Max Mallowan asserted that he "was a delightful, light-hearted and amusing companion, but those close to him knew that he could be a dangerous opponent if threatened with frustration."[96] His charm offensives were often condemned as being insincere.[97] He was known as "Rik" among friends.[98][99] During excavations, he was known as an authoritarian leader, but favoured those whom he thought exhibited bravery by standing up to his authority.[100] He was meticulous in his writings, and would repeatedly revise and re-write both pieces for publication and personal letters.[101]

Although he did not take a strong interest in politics, Wheeler was described by his biographer as "a natural conservative"; for instance, during his youth he was strongly critical of the Suffragettes and their cause of greater legal rights for women.[102]

In May 1914, Wheeler married Tessa Verney. Tessa became an accomplished archaeologist, and they collaborated until she died in 1936. Their only child, a son Michael, was born in January 1915. He became a barrister and judge.[citation needed] In 1939, he married Mavis de Vere Cole,[103] widow and second wife of the prankster Horace de Vere Cole (d. 1936)[104] and mistress-model of the painter Augustus John. Mavis was a Bright Young Thing (a socialite of the 1920s). The Churchills were invited to this wedding and sent a book as a wedding present. Wheeler divorced Mavis in 1942 after discovering her with a lover (although he was also sexually adventurous and unfaithful). There were no children of this second marriage.[105]

In 1945 Mortimer Wheeler married his third wife, Margaret Norfolk, in Simla, India but they became estranged in 1956.

He was well known for his conspicuous promiscuity, favouring young women for one night stands, many of whom were his students.[106] He was further known for having casual sex in public places.[107] This behaviour led to much emotional suffering among his various wives and mistresses, of which he was aware.[107] As a result of this behaviour, later archaeologist Gabriel Moshenska informed a reporter from the Daily Mail that Wheeler had developed a reputation as "a bit of a groper and a sex pest and an incredible bully as well".[108]

In 1976, after suffering a stroke, he died the following day at the home of his secretary, Molly Myres, in Leatherhead.

Legacy and influence[edit]

"He was a true innovator in archaeology, an inspired teacher, [and] had the dramatic gifts to enable him to spread his own enthusiasm among multitudes. He developed powers of command and creative administration that brought him extraordinary successes in energizing feeble institutions and creating new ones."

— Jacquetta Hawkes, 1982.[101]

Jacquetta Hawkes asserted that Wheeler was not an original thinker, but that he had "a vision of human history that enabled him to see each discovery of its traces, however small, in its widest significance."[101] She further noted that he was "sometimes too sure of being right, too ready to accept his own authority", thus making errors in his interpretation of archaeological evidence.[109] Similarly, Mallowan noted that "Immediate and swift presentation of results was more important to him than profound scholarship, although his critical sense made him conscious that it was necessary to maintain high standards and he would approve of nothing that was slipshod."[96]

In its 2013 obituary of the Englsh archaeologist Mick Aston, British Archaeology magazine – the publication of the Council for British Archaeology – described Aston as "the Mortimer Wheeler of our times" because despite the strong differences between their personalities, both had done much to bring archaeology to the British public.[110]

Academic publications[edit]

In 1982, the archaeologist Jacquetta Hawkes published her biography, Mortimer Wheeler: Adventurer in Archaeology. Hawkes admitted she had developed "a very great liking" for Wheeler, having first met him when she was an archaeology student at the University of Cambridge.[94] She believed that he had "a daemonic energy", with his accomplishments in India being "almost superhuman".[111] Ultimately, she thought of him as being "an epic hero in an anti-heroic age" in which growing social egalitarianism had stifled and condemned aspects of his greatness.[95]

In 2013, the Papers from the Institute of Archaeology issued a short comic strip by Gabriel Moshenska and Alex Salamunovich depicting Wheeler's activities in studying the archaeology of Libya during World War II.[112]


  • Segontium and the Roman Occupation of Wales (1923)
  • Prehistoric and Roman Wales (1925)
  • The Roman Fort Near Brecon (1926)
  • Report on the excavations of the prehistoric, Roman and post-Roman site in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire (1932)
  • Verulamium: a Belgic and Two Roman Cities (1936)
  • The excavation of Maiden Castle, Dorset : second interim report (1936)
  • Maiden Castle, Dorset (1943)
  • Five thousand years of Pakistan; an archaeological outline (1950)
  • Cambridge History of India: The Indus Civilization (1953)
  • Reports of the Research Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of London No.XVII: The Stanwick Fortifications, North Riding of Yorkshire (1954)
  • Archaeology from the Earth (1954)
  • Rome beyond the Imperial Frontiers (1954)
  • Still Digging (memoir) (1955)
  • Hillforts of Northern France (1957)
  • Charsada: a Metropolis of the North-West Frontier' (1962)
  • Roman art and architecture (1964)
  • Alms for Oblivion (memoir) (1966)
  • Civilizations of the Indus Valley and beyond (1966)
  • Roman Africa in Colour (with Roger Wood, 1966)
  • Flames over Persepolis: Turning point in history (1968)
  • The Indus Civilization (1968)
  • Early India and Pakistan: to Ashoka (1970)
  • My Archaeological Mission to India and Pakistan (memoir) 1976



  1. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 623; Hawkes 1982, p. 15.
  2. ^ a b c Hawkes 1982, p. 15.
  3. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 623; Hawkes 1982, pp. 15, 18.
  4. ^ a b Hawkes 1982, p. 20.
  5. ^ a b c Hawkes 1982, p. 19.
  6. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 623; Hawkes 1982, p. 16.
  7. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 17, 23.
  8. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 22.
  9. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 18.
  10. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 18, 29.
  11. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 623; Hawkes 1982, p. 21.
  12. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 623; Hawkes 1982, p. 26.
  13. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 26.
  14. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 623; Hawkes 1982, pp. 31–32.
  15. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 38.
  16. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 32–33.
  17. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 623; Hawkes 1982, p. 40.
  18. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 624; Hawkes 1982, p. 41.
  19. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 41–42.
  20. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 624; Hawkes 1982, pp. 43–44.
  21. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 45.
  22. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 624; Hawkes 1982, p. 45.
  23. ^ a b Hawkes 1982, p. 47.
  24. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 40.
  25. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 49.
  26. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 624; Hawkes 1982, pp. 49–51.
  27. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 625.
  28. ^ Piggott 1977, pp. 625–626; Hawkes 1982, pp. 51–52.
  29. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 626; Hawkes 1982, pp. 52–53.
  30. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 57–58.
  31. ^ a b Hawkes 1982, p. 53.
  32. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 626; Hawkes 1982, pp. 55.
  33. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 55.
  34. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 55–56.
  35. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 56–57.
  36. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 59.
  37. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 60.
  38. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 61–63.
  39. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 63.
  40. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 63–68.
  41. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 69–71.
  42. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 72–73.
  43. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 73–74.
  44. ^ a b Hawkes 1982, p. 77.
  45. ^ a b Hawkes 1982, p. 78.
  46. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 78–79.
  47. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 77, 79.
  48. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 626; Hawkes 1982, pp. 79, 83.
  49. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 80.
  50. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 84.
  51. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 626; Hawkes 1982, pp. 85–86.
  52. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 81.
  53. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 86.
  54. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 82.
  55. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 626; Hawkes 1982, p. 90.
  56. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 91.
  57. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 95.
  58. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 95–96.
  59. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 93.
  60. ^ a b c Hawkes 1982, p. 92.
  61. ^ Piggott 1977, p. 626; Hawkes 1982, p. 93.
  62. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 93–94.
  63. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 94.
  64. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 94–95.
  65. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 99–100.
  66. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 101.
  67. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 107.
  68. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 109.
  69. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 109–110.
  70. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 112.
  71. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 113.
  72. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 110.
  73. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 110–112.
  74. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 123–124.
  75. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 127–128.
  76. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 127.
  77. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 144.
  78. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 145.
  79. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 48–49.
  80. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 146.
  81. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 129.
  82. ^ a b Hawkes 1982, p. 130.
  83. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 132.
  84. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 133.
  85. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 134, 138.
  86. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 139.
  87. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 131–132.
  88. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 140.
  89. ^ a b Chakrabarti 1982. p. 337.
  90. ^ Johansen 2003. p. 197.
  91. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 6.
  92. ^ "Gloucester Museum Doubles Its Space" in The Times, 25 April 1958, p. 12.
  93. ^ Paul Bahn, The Bluffer's guide to archaeology, London, 1989, p.59
  94. ^ a b Hawkes 1982, p. 1.
  95. ^ a b Hawkes 1982, p. 2.
  96. ^ a b Mallowan 1977, p. vi.
  97. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 8.
  98. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 10.
  99. ^ "Alumni Reflections: Charles Thomas" in Archaeology International, Issue 15 (2011–2012), pp. 119–123.
  100. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 9–10.
  101. ^ a b c Hawkes 1982, p. 4.
  102. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 45–46.
  103. ^ Bassano portrait of the newly married couple, 1939
  104. ^ Cole (1881–1936) was brother-in-law to British politician and sometime Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain; his sister Anne de Vere Cole was Chamberlain's wife Annie.
  105. ^ After another set of adventures (including shooting her then lover Anthony Vivian, 5th Baron Vivian in 1954 for which she was jailed six months in Holloway). She died in 1970 and was survived by her son, Tristan de Vere Cole (b. 1935), who claims to be the natural son of Augustus John, who co-authored a book with Roderic Owen about his mother. See Darren Devine "Last illegitimate son of Augustus John on life with 'King of Bohemia'", Wales Online, 9 March 2012
  106. ^ Hawkes 1982, pp. 10–12.
  107. ^ a b Hawkes 1982, p. 12.
  108. ^ Pleasance 2014.
  109. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 99.
  110. ^ British Archaeology 2013, p. 16.
  111. ^ Hawkes 1982, p. 3.
  112. ^ Moshenska & Salamunovich 2013.


British Archaeology (2013). "A Life in Archaeology: Michael Antony Aston". British Archaeology 132. pp. 16–17. 
Carr, Lydia C. (2012). Tessa Verney Wheeler: Women and Archaeology Before World War Two. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-964022-5. 
Chakrabarti, Dilip K. (1982). "The Development of Archaeology in the Indian Subcontinent". World Archaeology 13 (3): 326–344. doi:10.1080/00438243.1982.9979837. JSTOR 124387. 
Guha, Sudeshna (2003a). "Imposing the Habit of Science: Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Indian Archaeology". Bulletin of the History of Archaeology 13 (1): 4–10. doi:10.5334/bha.13102. 
Guha, Sudeshna (2003b). "Mortimer Wheeler's Archaeology in South Asia and its Photographic Presentation". South Asian Studies 19 (1): 43–55. doi:10.1080/02666030.2003.9628620. 
Hawkes, Jacquetta (1982). Mortimer Wheeler: Adventurer in Archaeology. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0297780565. 
Johansen, P.G. (2003). "Recasting the Foundations: New approaches to regional understandings of South Asian archaeology and the problem of Culture History". Asian Perspectives 42 (2). 
Mallowan, Max (1977). "Sir Mortimer Wheeler". Iran 15: v–vi. JSTOR 4300558. 
Moshenska, Gabriel; Schadla-Hall, Tim (2011). "Mortimer Wheeler's Theatre of the Past". Public Archaeology 10 (1): 46–55. doi:10.1179/175355311x12991501673221. 
Moshenska, Gabriel; Salamunovich, Alex (2013). "Wheeler at War". Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 23 (1): 1–7. 
Piggott, Stuart (1977). "Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 23: 623–642. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1977.0023. JSTOR 769628. 
Pleasance, Chris (26 April 2014). "First Monuments Man revealed: The very complicated life of TV archaeologist who single-handedly saved Roman ruins in Libya from marauding soldiers during WWII". Daily Mail Online. 
Sankalia, H.D. (1977). "Sir Mortimer Wheeler 1890–1976". American Anthropologist 79 (4): 894–895. doi:10.1525/aa.1977.79.4.02a00090. JSTOR 673283. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Wheeler, Sir Mortimer Still Digging (Michael Joseph Ltd., 1955; re-published, slightly abridged by the author, by Pan Books Ltd., London, 1958, book number GP 94)
  • Clark, Ronald William Sir Mortimer Wheeler (Roy Publishers, New York, 1960)
  • Hugo Vickers. "Obituary: Daphne Fielding", The Independent (UK), 17 December 1997. (archived version) mentions her brother (Lord Vivian)'s misadventures with Mavis Wheeler. Other references can be found in the 5th Lord Vivian's obituary in The Guardian (2004) and in online Lord Bath's memoirs.
  • Jane McIntosh, 'Wheeler, Sir (Robert Eric) Mortimer (1890–1976)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2012 accessed 11 March 2013

External links[edit]