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Changes [Feb 27, 2009]Curriculum Vitae
"What a woman! Ice without and fire within!" - Jack Priestley’s first pronouncement on Jacquetta Hawkes captured her in an instant.
She was archaeology’s maverick; the daughter of a world-famous scientist, married first to a leading young prehistorian, then the mistress of a poet championed by Yeats, then married again to an acclaimed author and playwright, Jacquetta’s reputation could have been forged by her love-life alone.
And she was also brilliant: a writer, broadcaster and authority on archaeology whose range and depth kept her in the public eye for more than 30 years, during a crucial and challenging era for 20th century archaeology. She was in at the birth of UNESCO, distinguished for her role as archaeology advisor to the Festival of Britain, maintained a prolific output throughout her life. Her audiences were continually enthralled as she adeptly moved between academic forums, public talks, and airing her choices on Desert Island Discs. Not least, her contribution to communicating the past, the way we receive it, laid the foundations for our thirst for it today.
And yet, with her death she slipped into obscurity. Her obituaries were fullsome in their recognition of her life and work. But her name, not just in the circles of archaeology, but in the context of 20th century British lives, was decidedly unfamilar. Her works, so well received on publication, are rarely read and even more rarely cited in academic archaeology.
Of the huge range of her writings – from poetry, to guidebooks, to complex archaeological synthisis, to novels – none is currently in print in Britain. A first edition of her most celebrated work, A Land, with two illustrations by her friend Henry Moore, can be picked up in secondhand stores for a pound or two. Only in America is she still regarded, with an edition of A Land published by a small press in Boston ten years ago, prompted by the popularity of an excerpt in a nature anthology.
That someone so important can practically disappear is astonishing, particularly given the popular demand of archaeology and the growing importance of the history of the subject. Not least, Jacquetta’s message was to remind us, whether archaeologist or not, that we are part of an astonishingly long continuum, and our response to that fact is allowably, necessarily even, subjective.
As she watched archaeology becoming progressively more scientific, a move inspired by the wealth of innovation available for dating, analysis and reconstruction, Jacquetta thought the subject was being hijacked by those who did not appreciate the subtleties of individualism and interpretation. In her work she was never shy of using her lyrical style to beg the reader to consider the human element. The skeleton, lying asprawl on the slopes of Mount Carmel, was a human being not so dissimilar to those excavating it. The rooms at Skara Brae were still alive with Neolithic voices. The Lascaux cave paintings anticipated a Paleolithic hunter returning to complete another image. The marks left by antler-picks in Grimes’ Graves were fresh with chalk-dust.
Archaeology was not the sole cause of Jacquetta’s celebrity. She was a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmanent, a cause entitely in keeping with her unique perspective of human evolution from its fossil forms to its ability to create art and poetry. She feared for its future, and her knowledge of science was enough to reinforce in her the passion to raise public awareness of the threat of unchecked technological progress.
If she had a collaborator for her archaeology in Christopher Hawkes, in Jack Priestley she had a soulmate who understood her completely. She was his ‘honey of a girl’, with whom he shared the balance that his Jungian beliefs had helped him understand. His celebrated wartime broadcasts had already given hima captive audience. In article in the New Statesman in 1957 he expressed the concerns of thousands of people in post War Britain in a warning about rampant industrialization – ‘Patterns of living that have existed for thousands of years are destroyed within a generation’ he wrote, sharing a sensibilty of Jacquetta’s longue duree of humankind, with an impatience to get his words out and heard or read.
If Jacquetta had met her match in Jack, she had been made aware of the possibility of physical love a year before in a passionate affair with the poet and music critic, Walter Turner. This head-on meeting of intellectualism and physicality, mediated through her other great love of art in all its forms, inspired Jacquetta to poetry. The one slim volume she produced also illuminated her passion - ‘interest would be too cool a word’ she had always said - for the subject of archaeology.
Jacquetta meant, and means, different things to different people. Those who were close to Christopher at the time of their divorce never forgave her for it. A generation of archaeologists weaned on archaeology as pure science find her subjectivity embarrassing and demeaning; in private, if not in public, some esteemed academics regard her popularisation of the subject as self-centred and trivialising, and counter-productive to scientific advances.
And yet, there is a new rank of archaeologists with whom Jacquetta’s humanistic values is striking a chord. More often in emails and letters from America, people have made contact with me asking for more information about her, telling me how highly they regard her work. They also begun to refer to it in academic papers. Some enthusiasts say they never stopped believing in her, and hoped the time would turn again in Jacquetta’s favour. One result of the enormous interest in archaeology in universities, and in relationship with popular media, is that non- archaeologists - Jacquetta’s prime audience - are being encouraged to have contact with the past by simply walking through its landscapes, and encountering it by other ways than digging. In universities excited by Contemporary Archaeology, such as Stanford and Bristol, the teaching of landscape archaeology is enlivened with new concepts gathered from other disciplines among them film, art, drama and photography, with which Jacquetta Hawkes was engaging 50 years ago.
As I explain more fully in my author preface, this online version on Jacquetta is designed to provide a narrative of a lesser-known life: a literary excavation. It will be complemented by a full hard copy publication, which will include full references, illustrations, and quotations of archive material which requires special permissions, or is particularly sensitive. (Not least, this will include material not available in the archive). It will also complement the ongoing work being done in the University of Bradford's JB Priestley Library, Special Collections.
I thought it important to get Jacquetta "out there" after several years of finding no publisher interested even in the idea of a biography of this remarkable woman, mostly for the simple reason that people had not heard of her. With at least four Priestley biographies published, and one on Christopher Hawkes, I found this omission extraordinary. This biography-in-progress is a way of contextualising her major contribution to 21st century archaeology.
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