Friday Five… Incurable Archaeological Romantics

Archaeological RomancesIt goes without saying that an archaeologist is married, first and foremost, to the job. Sure, it can be tedious and hard work (show us a marriage that isn’t!) but with commitment and trust, spiced up now and again with a candle lit finds assessment and romantic get away to a famous heritage attraction, divorce rates remain at an all time low.

But what happens when a real-life person tries to elbow in on the action? Believe it or not, it has been known to work, and proving the rule that two wrongs do in fact make a right, here are five famous archaeological couples that shared an unshakable passion for our collective significant other.

Happy Valentine’s Day…

Incurable archaeological romantics

1. The Binfords

The University of Chicago has itself to thank for the pairing of this power couple. Although Lewis was a serial monogamist working his way through a total of six wives in his lifetime, his third wife Sally made sure she wasn’t just another face in the crowd. “I’m not here to cook; I’m here to dig,” she famously declared, and together these two made big waves in the archaeology paddling pool. They introduced the immensely influential movement Processual Archaeology that promoted a more scientific approach (though the credit was mostly given to Lewis), and published the book New Perspectives in Archaeology. Though admitting she was wooed by Lewis’ charm and devilish good looks she also described him as “extremely crazy and aggressive”, a heavy drinker who couldn’t write grammatical English and had “a distressing tendency to ‘improve’ data”. Needless to say they didn’t last. Though maybe she guessed it would end that way as her reply to the marriage proposal was “Lew, marriage is not my thing. I’ve tried it twice and I’m not good at it.”

2. The Wheelers

Now we don’t need to tell you that archaeology is infectious, you already know that much. So it’s no surprise that when the great Sir Mortimer Wheeler married Tessa Verney in 1914 she was keen to get in on the digging. Together they worked on many excavations in England and Wales including Segontium, Verulamium and Maiden Castle, with Tessa even excavating Caerleon independently when Mortimer was made keeper of the London Museum.  Though Tessa was at first overshadowed by her husband they soon came to be recognised as team ‘Wheeler,’ with some even suggesting she was better at field work than her other half.

3. Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan

What better example of archaeological romance is there than Dame Agatha Christie – the great crime writer and, more importantly, keen archaeologist – and her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan. She first met Max on a visit to Ur where he was working as apprentice to Leonard Woolley. Their romance blossomed and the two married in 1930, remaining happily married until her death in 1976. She spent two decades living on excavation sites across the Middle East, helping out on site in between penning her greats. “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Death on the Nile,” and “Murder in Mesopotamia” were heavily influenced by her archaeological travel to far-flung places such as Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad. ‘An Archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have,’ she is reputed to have written, ‘the older she gets, the more interested he is in her.’ Quite.

4. The Leakey’s

A palaeoanthropologist power pairing (wow that’s a mouthful), Louis and Mary married in 1936 but not without some controversy. Louis was still married to wife Frida when he started living with Mary, a scandal which left his Cambridge career in ruins (pun intended), and married her as soon as a divorce had been filed. Both halves of this pair are notable in their own right, especially for their work at Olduvai Gorge. Decades later the Leakey family continue the family aim of piecing together the story of human origin.

5. Indiana and Marion

Now we’re getting serious. As far as adventures, amazing finds and near-death experiences come you can’t really top these two. Indiana first meets Marion in 1981 when he travels to Nepal to try gain possession of an artefact belonging to her father (his mentor), needed to locate the Ark of the Covenant. The two get close, so close they almost marry but flighty Jones gets cold feet and makes a swift getaway a mere one week before the wedding. Now we’re surprised Marion would ever talk to him again after that, but twenty-seven years and many blockbusters later, the pair is reunited once again.

The moral of this week’s Friday Five? Don’t try it on with civilians. It’ll only end in tears.

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Written by Aisling Serrant

An all round museum educator and enthusiast, Aisling's the Family Festival Coordinator at the Museum of London Docklands.

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