Equipped with only dining hall spoons, the clothes on their backs, and pure archaeological curiosity, undergraduates at Cambridge’s Newnham College in 1939 were given a crash course in field work when their professor, Dorothy Garrod, led them through the excavation of skeletal remains that had been unearthed on campus as a result of air-raid shelter preparations.
As rudimentary as the excavation may have been, he said, “I’ve recently been involved with radiocarbon dating these skeletons, and have undertaken stable isotope analysis on their teeth as part of my PhD, so Professor Garrod’s legacy definitely still lives on!”
Elected as the prestigious Disney Professor of Archaeology in 1939, Garrod was the first prehistorian and woman to chair a department at either Oxford or Cambridge, at a time when women were still not considered full members of the universities.
In her work in the field, Garrod is credited with shifting the Eurocentric view of archaeology toward the Middle East, pioneering a new understanding of prehistory and relationships between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, and bringing a new scientific focus to a field that was still in the infancy of wide academic acceptance.
Garrod was born on May 5, 1892, to an intellectually elite family in London.
Though Garrod’s father and grandfathers studied medicine—two of them even treated Queen Victoria directly—Garrod entered Newnham College in 1913 to study ancient and classical history.