Nancy Sandars in June 2013
Nancy Katharine Sandars
29 June 1914
Little Tew, Oxfordshire, England
|Died||20 November 2015(aged 101)|
|Other names||N. K. Sandars|
|Awards||Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (1957) |
Fellow of the British Academy (1984)
|Education||By governesses at home and at Wychwood School|
|Alma mater||Institute of Archaeology |
St Hugh's College, Oxford
|Sub-discipline||Bronze Age Europe |
Ancient Near East
Nancy Katharine Sandars, FSA, FBA (29 June 1914 - 20 November 2015) was a British archaeologist and prehistorian. As an independent scholar, she was never a university academic, she wrote a number of books and a popular translation of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Sandars was born on 29 June 1914 in The Manor House, Little Tew, Oxfordshire, England. Her parents were Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Sandars and Gertrude Sandars (née Phipps): her father was a British Army officer who had served in the Boer War and during World War I, and her mother served with the Voluntary Aid Detachment. Through her mother, she was a descendant of James Ramsay, the 18th Century anti-slavery campaigner.
Sandars was educated at home by a governess in her early years, and then at Wychwood School, an all-girls independent school in Oxford. She was a sickly child, ill with tuberculosis; this had affected her eyes, but she was successfully treated at a sanatorium in Switzerland. As her education was interrupted by illness, she left school without any qualifications.
After the end of World War II, Sandars decided to attend university. With no school qualifications, she had to take the 'London Matric'; she passed and was therefore qualified for study at the University of London. In 1947, she entered the Institute of Archaeology to study for a postgraduate diploma in Western European archaeology. The course covered the Palaeolithic, and Iron Age periods, and also the archaeology of the Celts. The diploma took her three years to complete because of periods of illness.
Sandars spent a year at the British School at Athens. She then undertook postgraduate research at St Hugh's College, Oxford. She worked with Christopher Hawkes, the then Professor of European Prehistory. She graduated from the University of Oxford with a Bachelor of Letters (BLitt) degree. Her thesis for her BLitt was edited and became her first book, Bronze Age Cultures in France.
Sandars took part in her first archaeological excavation in the 1930s after her sister had introduced her to Kathleen Kenyon. In 1939, Nancy joined Kenyon to work at her excavation of an Iron Age hill fort at The Wrekin, Shropshire. She had also been planning to join an excavation in Normandy run by Mortimer Wheeler, but was stopped by the outbreak of World War II. Instead, she went to London with Kenyon and assisted in the moving of artefacts at the Institute of Archaeology into its basement for protection.
|"||I remember I stood at the top of the stairs and threw pots and sherds to Kath standing at the bottom to put them in packing cases. She was a good catcher and I don't think there were any casualties.||"|
|-- Sandars describing the moving of artefacts at the Institute of Archaeology during WW2|
In 1952, Sandars travelled to Greece to work on an excavation on the island of Chios. This dig was led by Sinclair Hood; Sandars and Hood had studied together, with both being at the Institute of Archaeology in 1947.
As part of her research, Sandars undertook a number of trips exploring archaeological sites throughout Europe. In 1954, she toured Greece, visiting Athens and Crete. In 1958, she once more toured Greece and also Turkey as part of research into the Aegean Bronze Age; she was accompanied by the anthropologist John Campbell and classical archaeologist Dorothea Gray. In 1960, she travelled to Romania and Bulgaria with Stuart Piggott, Terence Powell and John Cowen. She had received a grant from St Hugh's College, Oxford (her alma mater) to research the European Neolithic. As these countries were behind the Iron Curtain which few Western Europeans had been able to cross, she was required to report to the Foreign Office when she returned to England.
Sandars translated the Epic of Gilgamesh from cuneiform to English in the 1950s and this was published by Penguin Books in 1960. Her prose translation proved very popular and sold over one million copies.
Sandars began World War II as a pacifist; she had been influenced by the poetry of Wilfred Owen and her memories of World War I. For the first few months of the war, she was a volunteer nurse at various hospitals in Oxfordshire.
Sandars's attitudes changed after experiencing The Blitz, and after the Fall of France in June 1940. Following this change of perspective, she became an army motorcycle despatch rider and later still, was involved in clandestine intelligence work before pursuing a pre-War interest in archaeology.