Digging the Past

“… archaeology: The study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artefacts and other physical remains.” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

The School’s history doesn’t quite stretch back to prehistory – just the eighteenth century – but as a study of a particular element of human history, it makes for an endlessly fascinating metaphorical excavation to discover what is revealed when the surface is scraped back, the layers carefully exposed and considered in situ, the material sieved, the finds washed and labelled. All of which is a somewhat contrived way of connecting several different elements, all with an archaeological spin, related to RMSG history.

Let us begin, however, with pretend archaeology in the form of Indiana Jones. The first film in the sequence – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – had scenes filmed at the School. Given that the main buildings have a decided 1930s appearance and the film is set then, this is not so surprising.

The School represented Marshall College where Professor Jones was teaching. (In IJ3, The Last Crusade, the School represents Barnett College where Professor Jones was teaching. Funny how two different colleges have such a similar look …)

www.movie-locations.com tell us that Indiana “meets with the Army Intelligence guys in the school’s Great Hall, where he’s informed of the German archaeological dig at ‘Tanis’.” There were also other places used. The Professor climbs out of window on the ground floor, which was then the Deputy Head’s office – 4th window from the right in the above image. In a part of the School not shown in the above image, Professor Jones is giving a lecture. This was filmed in what was originally a Science lecture room when the School was first built although it subsequently became, and still is, a Maths room. Its banked seating has since been removed but it was here that Harrison Ford’s character looks in astonishment at one of his female students who, by a slow blink, reveals that she has ‘I love you’ written on her eyelids. (http://www.listal.com/viewimage/2939670)

Very shortly after this scene, Indiana was off on his adventures again – via the window.

None of the IJ films are set in Palestine but this is nevertheless our next port of call. This is where an archaeologist, whose daughters became pupils, was based. Sadly, and unlike the films, this story does not end well. James Leslie Starkey was field director of the Wellcome-Marston Archeological expedition in Palestine and was working there at ‘Tell ed-Duweir, identified as Biblical Lachish, an important city of the Kingdom of Judah.” as https://www.pef.org.uk/profiles/james-leslie-starkey-1895-1938 compiled by Ros Henry 2008 tells us. In 1938 he was murdered en route to the opening of the new Palestine Archaeological Museum in Jerusalem. Depending on the sources used, this was either Arab militants or a rebel commander or possibly a lone wolf with a grudge. He had grown a long beard whilst in Palestine and one source suggests ‘it may have been this that caused him to be singled out and killed (on the basis that he was Jewish)’ http://myrightword.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/starkeys-last-dig.html Wikipedia’s information declares that a rebel commander from the ad-Dhahiriya area was held responsible by the British authorities. In addition to a lack of agreement about who perpetrated the act, there is disagreement about the manner of his death, with some quite lurid versions of it (Aberdeen Press and Journal 15 April 1938 describes it as ‘brutally slain’ at Beit Jibrin) but his family affirms that he was shot twice in the chest. He was buried in the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion, Jerusalem, his funeral attended by hundreds of mourners and there was a memorial service in St Margaret’s Westminster in 1938 but, such was his impact, another memorial service was held in Jerusalem 50 years later.


Both of Starkey’s daughters subsequently arrived at the School, one leaving in 1948 and the other in 1951. It seems likely that their brother went to the Masonic Boys’ School as all three very much fitted the criterion for Masonic support.

It is possible, though unlikely, that during their time at the School, the Starkey girls encountered a member of staff called Elizabeth Wace. It is not clear when Miss Wace began teaching at the School but we know that she left in 1959. She became a member of the Old Girls’ Association which membership she retained until at least 1998. As she went from the School to become Director of the British School in Athens and then, subsequently to become ‘an authority in Mycenaean archaeology, especially pottery and terracotta figurines’ (Wikipedia), it seems probable she taught history. Whether the School was aware of her ‘pedigree’ is not recorded but Elizabeth was the daughter of Alan John Bayard Wace, a leading authority on Mycenae.

Professor A J B Wace, the archaeologist whose name will always be associated with the Mycenae excavations died on Saturday in Athens – The Times, 11 November 1957

When he first went to the British School at Athens early this century knowledge of Mycenaean civilization was still young (Dr F H Stubbings)


At the time Elizabeth Wace was listed as a member of staff at the School, the majority of the teaching staff were still former pupils although by this stage they were usually fully-trained. In earlier days, they became pupil teachers and learned their trade at the chalk face, as it were. Earlier in the 20th century, they began to undergo teacher training before returning to the School on the staff. But the days when the School attracted highly qualified professionals was yet to come. Elizabeth as the daughter and granddaughter (twice over) of professors may well have seemed like a flamingo amongst sparrows! Amongst other publications attributed to her is Well built Mycenae: the Helleno-British excavations within the citadel at Mycenae, 1959-1969 which has 70 editions between 1981-2013, as well as being published in translation in many countries. Her father had been appointed Director of the British School at Athens in 1914 and Elizabeth followed in his footsteps after leaving RMSG. Established in 1886, the BSA has been involved in a multitude of archaeological projects.


The final archaeological link with RMSG is archaeological fieldwork actually at the School. As part of Time Team’s Big Dig in June 2003, a group of pupils under the guidance of a local archaeologist set out to ascertain if the raised area of land on the Uppers really was part of a Roman road as had always been believed.

Following proper procedures, half a dozen or so girls began to explore the ground. The findings were all carefully recorded and any items washed and recorded. The girls discovered first hand that archaeological work is painstaking and time-consuming. Fortunately, the weather was kind. It might have been a very different story if it had been raining or scorching hot!

At the end of the day, the conclusion was that in all probability it was indeed a Roman road although the ‘classic’ elements of construction were absent. Later, a local archaeology group undertook a resistivity survey on the site and produced a report which concluded that all the evidence was in support of the view that it was Roman. Many years later, in a different part of the School, groundwork in preparation for an adventure playground showed what appeared to be a continuation of the road so that, long before the School was built – indeed long before anything was ever built in the parkland – a roadway crossed the site from north west to south east. As the current main road goes round the parkland, following boundaries established in the sixteenth century (with some adjustments over the years), it could be argued to be typical of Roman roads: don’t go round, go straight to your destination, without deviation. They probably wouldn’t have approved of this meandering, contrived account of RMSG archaeological connections!