Dorothy Garrod and the skeletons
Dorothy Garrod was a fellow my college, a leading prehistorian (specialising in Neanderthals and the palaeolithic), and the first female professor in Cambridge. She was elected to the Disney chair of Archaeology in 1939. That was before women became full members of the university or were allowed to take degrees (although they could sit the exams).
Garrod doesn't seem to have been pushy or flamboyant. She wasn't another Jane Harrison and was described as "cripplingly shy" (how that "shyness" fits with running major excavations in Lebanon, Palestine and all over the place is a difficult question -- and one suspect the "shyness" may be a sexist put-down). Nasty Cambridge gossip said (and says) that she was only elected to keep the disreputable Mortimer Wheeler out. But then they often had (and have) some story about appointing women which have not much to do with their being clever or best for the job.
At Newnham we're celebrating the anniversary of her election to the chair -- but also an intriguing excavation she conducted not in the Middle East, but in the college garden.
It was when the air-raid shelters were being built in 1939 and, in the digging, some Anglo-Saxon burials came to light and -- as the bombs were about to fall -- the Newnham students and dons, under the direction of Garrod, set about a scientific excavation.
On Friday evening one of my colleagues gave us a brilliant lecture about this excavation. I have to confess that I only got there towards the end, but I know it was brilliant not just from what I heard, but from the looks on everyone's faces in the room and the barrage of questions. Catherine's talk had turned out to be a detective story, an archaeology of archaeology. It's not exactly clear where in our big gardens the dig was conducted, or where the stuff that was found went. But you can get some idea from (for example) the letters written home by the students (a lot appeared to hang on exactly what tree it was near...!).
After the talk,it was Friday night dinner, a Fellows' Formal Hall. I haven't 'dined' in college for ages. The truth is that Cambridge catering and hospitality can be wonderful, but most of us don't have the time to take advantage of it from one term to the next.
On Friday, I had a good time. I sat next to our ex-principal, Onora O'Neill who was in town for a conference to mark another anniversary -- the fortieth of IVF. She is always, to put it mildly, "good value".
If only I could do this kind of Cambridge experience more often. If only.