By Moss, Heritage Action.

Isobel Smith: Archaeologist (22 December 1912-18 November 2005).

Google her full name with the word “archaeology” and you will not find too many entries. Isobel Smith, who has died aged 92, would have giggled delightedly, but her contribution to archaeology will one day be recognised. She linked archaeologists of the early 20th century working at the world heritage site at Avebury, in Wiltshire, with those of today – salvaging her predecessors’ work and inspiring her successors. Thus our understanding of one of Europe’s two great stone circles is assured; the last century was less kind to Stonehenge.

Guardian obituary by Mike Pitts. 17th January 2006.

Though today we are more aware of woman archaeologists working in this science, through the medium of television and radio, but it was not always so.  As a profession,  archaeology has been mostly male dominated  from the 18th century onward, and it was not until the latter half of the 20th century that we begin to see the emergence of women archaeologists on a more equal footing!

Isabel Smith had a long life, born in Canada she became a British citizen in 1953, after doing a part-time diploma course in archaeology and a PhD under the supervision of Vere Gordon Childe, she was offered the job of writing up Alexander Keiller’s extensive notes on Windmill Hill, which was published in 1965 – the book was called  Windmill Hill and Avebury: excavations by Alexander Keiller, 1925-1939, now of course out of print.  It seems that after all this hard work she was rewarded with a permanent position with the Royal Commision on the Historical Monuments of England, and she stayed there until her retirement in 1978.

She lived in a small cottage in Avebury  after her retirement, and it is here that we must bring her back to our future, for she was very protective of  Avebury and its surrounding environment championing three causes which were set up to defend the intrusion of inappropiate development in the Avebury area.  The first was the building of a ‘themed’ hotel near to the Sanctuary circle in place of a transport cafe. The second, another large hotel to be built and replace West Kennet Farm (under which is a Neolithic monument) and the third cause was to join the opposition to the ‘Elizabethan themed park’ at Avebury Manor.  We need her again  today to champion the cause of yet another ‘development’ in Avebury by the National Trust.  There are rumoured plans afoot to turn a building in the High Street into ‘tearooms’ or at least an establishment serving food.                  

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