“Home of the Heroes”. An Interview with Sinclair Hood (part 2)
The second part of Sinclair Hood’s interview focuses on the period from his arrival in Greece in 1947 until today. All black and white photographs come from the album of Joan Laing, now housed in the British School at Athens. Once again, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Duncan Howitt-Marshall, who made the very difficult task of transcribing the interview from the audio recordings, to the BSA archivist Amalia Kakissis, as well as to the Director of the BSA Prof. Catherine Morgan for giving me the permission to publish the photographs here.
So, in 1947 you went to Greece as a student of the British School at Athens in order to teach them Wheeler’s new excavating methods?
Well, when I got to Greece as a student, people had already accepted this at the British School . I didn’t go out of my way to, you know, say, “Hi, this is how it should be done”, or anything. But John Cook, my Director  when I was a student, and later I was his Assistant Director, was excavating in Smyrna at the time and he just put me in the biggest trench; it was a big house which was just the right sort of thing.
I recall an amusing story. When the French were being driven out of Indochina, as it was called then , a distinguished archaeologist, his name I forget , had been working on a famous Buddhist sanctuary until he was turned out, as all the French were. He turned up at the French School at Athens, and he had worked with Wheeler in India. We were on very good terms with the French – we sort of teased each other about things – but the French Assistant Director told me that they had adopted ‘Le Square’ from Sir Mortimer Wheeler at Argos in the big excavations they were doing there at the time. I said, “Oh, well, we’ve been digging with the ‘Square Wheeler’ at Chios and now at Knossos”. Well, we had anticipated them by a short time but, usually, they were well ahead of us in everything.
Fig. 1. Members of the BSA at the entrance of the School in 1947. Sinclair Hood is sitting at the back row, second from the right. At the front row (from the left): P. Corbett, the director J. Cook, E. Cook, V. Desborough, D. Hereward (courtesy of the BSA).
How was your collaboration with the French archaeologists?
Monsieur Georges Daux was the Director in my time and he was great fun, I must say . Once, I don’t know why, there was a young girl in the service who was in charge of Euboea at the time, and she very kindly gave me a report of some discovery that she didn’t give to the French. I remember Monsieur Daux coming to me and saying, “Oh, my dear Sinclair. I congratulate you”. He spoke excellent English with a French accent. “You have published this information which we did not have for the Chroniques de Fouilles, but, you have spelt the archaeologist’s name wrong” which I had ! He was great fun. He was a great Epigraphist but not an excavator, I don’t think, at all.
Did you also excavate with Alan Wace?
Yes, I did. Well, I didn’t teach him. He wouldn’t have liked that at all! But he left one alone to do things in one’s own way, as one had been taught. One year he couldn’t come out to Mycenae, so he left me entirely in charge. I excavated some building outside the citadel that had been partly excavated but had a succession of earlier floors below a fill of stone which had levelled-up to a floor on a higher level that had gone. I excavated it in the best Wheeler manner showing each floor as a step, but he wasn’t very pleased.
Fig. 2. Sinclair Hood at an excavation on Penteli, December 1947 (courtesy of the BSA).
Fig. 3. “Sunbathing” on the terrace of the British School at Athens in 1947. From right to left: Sinclair Hood, Dick Nicholls and Peter Corbett (courtesy of the BSA).
Do you have any interesting anecdotes from your excavations in Turkey?
I was always being arrested as a spy! Firstly, because they had been told during the War to haul-in any foreigner, and secondly, they were still living in the time of Lawrence of Arabia, and they regarded him as a spy, which he was, I think. I worked for Sir Leonard Woolley in his last two years and I heard a lot about Lawrence of Arabia. I remember Woolley was not very pleased with him. Instead of directing the excavation he would sit on the ground with the Arab workmen around him learning all he could about their ways and customs. He did his thesis on the medieval Crusader castles of that area, Syria and Palestine.
Anyway, I remember I was on one excavation in Turkey for a year at a place called Sakçe-Gözü. It was out in the country, miles from anywhere, where there had been previous work but not very well done. A team from London were working there and asked me to go . I thought I would be put in charge of a trench or something, but not at all. I found myself doing all the drawing. In the publication they look ludicrous, but that’s another story.
I remember there was a very nice Turkish girl who was in charge of us as a representative of the Turkish archaeological set-up. She was the daughter of a former governor of the province, so, she was quite somebody . I was sent off with her on the bus to the nearest town to do something for the excavation and she said, “Tell me, Mr. Hood, surely all archaeologists are spies?”
Lawrence of Arabia made a very deep impression in Turkey. Woolley told me, and I think he published it in his autobiography, that he had also worked as a spy during one expedition in the Near East . He maintained that all his work had been archaeological, but he was asked to do one particular journey for the purpose of espionage. He said that he combined it with archaeological work but that was not the primary purpose. It was the only case where he had consciously acted as a spy; but obviously if you have worked in an area like the Near East or Greece or anywhere, you come to know the area well, and that in a time of war is helpful. Like Pendlebury, his travels in Crete obviously meant that he knew the island and the people very well. When it came to the German invasion and subsequent occupation, he was invaluable to the Cretan resistance .
Fig. 4. Sinclair Hood at Megara (ancient Aegosthena) in 1948 (courtesy of the BSA).
Did you ever meet Arthur Evans?
Not to my knowledge, no. I say not to my knowledge because as a student , and Evans was alive in the 1930s, he might very well have come into the museum but I wouldn’t have known. I don’t remember going to the famous exhibition which Michael Ventris went to. I may have done but if I did, it left no impression. No, I’m not conscious that I ever saw him. Of course, my uncle John knew all those people very well. He knew Evans and Mackenzie, but I never asked him about them.
Michael Ventris was the architect at your excavations on Chios. But, if I am not wrong, you never agreed with his decipherment.
I remember Michael Ventris very well . He was a good friend and a very great helper. He came to Chios and drew the plans for us after the decipherment. He knew I didn’t agree with him about it, but I don’t think he really minded. He was simply interested in the technical decipherment of the script and not in any of the implications nor anything about the Mycenaean culture. I think he would have been the last person to be concerned if someone didn’t accept it. Mylonas has somewhere stated – I don’t know if I can ever find the reference again – that he suggested to Michael to try for a Greek solution , and I suspect there may have been many people, not just Americans, who thought that the language ought to be Greek. I think that Michael decided to give it a go and see if he could make it into Greek, and he did. I mean, it doesn’t convince me but he did carry out the suggestion that he should try to make it into Greek. Anyway, in those days there were quite a lot of people who didn’t believe it was Greek, but now I don’t know anyone who doesn’t accept it. I still find it impossible to see how it could be accepted.
Fig. 5. Sinclair Hood on Chios in 1952 (courtesy of the BSA).
From 1954 until 1962 you served as Director of the British School at Athens. How was it being the BSA Director?
Yes, that’s right. Well, I’m afraid I’ve been told by somebody who was a student then that I was known as the ‘Absentee Director’ – always away travelling or excavating. There were no strings attached in those days. Now they insist on the Director being present at as many committee meetings in London as possible, but in those days there was no particular reason to attend meetings. In any case, I often found myself in angry disagreement with the Committee. I think I was very much in the tradition of former Directors. My predecessor John Cook had his troubles, and, of course, Wace had plenty, too. I think the only one who never had any trouble was Humfry Payne.
But Humfry Payne died very young…!
Indeed, he died very young . I never heard a hint that he had any trouble with the Committee, but in those days it was a regular feature of life. I have never been very good at ‘household matters’. The one thing I did put in was a shower because the very nice school master who, as a very young man taught me Classics at Harrow, came out on a visit and became aware of the lack of a shower. He therefore gave the School a shower, which we duly installed. I think it’s probably gone now and been replaced by a better one. But, no, it was no trouble in those days. It was a wonderful chance to do excavations, travel, and see things. It got me interested in tholos tombs and I went round looking at them .
It was during this period when you bought Schliemann’s Mycenae albums. Do you remember how you got them?
Yes, a dealer brought them to me. They were very heavy. I can’t recollect whether he brought one and then the others afterwards, but he brought the one which had the oil painting in. Being of a suspicious nature I thought at first they were probably forgeries, but when I saw the painting I knew they weren’t. I realised they couldn’t be anything else. I had always wanted to see the painting. I can remember seeing it when I went to Greece for a fortnight with a friend just before the War. The mummy was in the same gallery of the National Museum where the Mycenae things are still today. I remember seeing this sort of mass on a bottom shelf. It didn’t make a great impression on me but I knew enough to know what it was. I was interested in the question of the mummy, and whether it was one or not. But that question still remains, as no one has seen it since the War. Anyway, when the dealer brought the albums, I was there with the director of the Swedish School in my time, Dr. Åkerström. Once I saw the painting I bought the albums and later Åkerström told me that if I hadn’t bought them he would have done .
Fig. 6. Members of the BSA at Raphina (January 8, 1956). In the middle Sinclair Hood, at the left Richard Hope Simpson (courtesy of the BSA).
How was your collaboration with the Greeks at that time?
Excellent. First of all, I had Marinatos. It was in the middle of the Cyprus troubles . I know Marinatos had many enemies in Greece, deservedly or not, I won’t say, but he was absolutely correct with us on the issue of Cyprus. The troubles came about just as we were planning to do the excavations which I am working on now, the Royal Road North, a big excavation. He had given verbal permission already for it and his blessing, but he called me to his office and said, “Look, in this climate of ill-feeling, especially in Crete, I really think I can’t give you a permit for this year. Will you delay it a year, please?” He wasn’t a warm man, but he was absolutely correct.
One never felt that one was being unfairly treated in Greece, but nobody would come near us, except two friends of the School who didn’t feel any inhibitions about coming. I remember we had a meeting and I think it was Professor Dodds who was giving a lecture . He had many Greek friends but none of them came. There was, however, one Greek girl there whom none of us had ever seen before and we had no idea who she was, so I ventured to ask her as she was coming out of the meeting, who are you and why did you come? She said, “Well, I’m not an archaeologist but I was so angry when our professor told us not to come to this meeting that I thought I’d come!” That was very fair minded, you know.
The first person who accepted to come in to the Upper House when things were calming down was the person I greatly admired and to whom I owe a very great deal, Professor Platon. He was with a very nice old man called Kistopoulos, I think .
Yes, Kontantinos Kistopoulos. He was interested in Linear B.
Indeed, he was interested in Linear scripts, but he was not in a position at the university or anything. They were coming back from a meeting which I’d been to with them, and I just on the spur of the moment said, “Come in and have an ouzo”, and they came in. Platon, to his credit, upright man that he was, wouldn’t accept a drink, but he did come in. Ktistopoulos had no inhibitions, though, but he wasn’t an official. Platon was always a wonderful person to have in charge of you. I remember Jack Caskey when the American School ran into deep trouble over the new museum in Argos, which they paid for. I remember him saying how lucky we were in Crete to have Platon in charge of us, over which I heartily agree. He was the most just and upright person.
When did you meet your wife, Rachel?
Rachel asked the Committee if I could take her on an excavation on Chios . She was ideal. She had had experience of excavating in England on the site of a Roman villa, and she had also travelled in Greece and liked it very much. I like to have people who, like myself, had had some training in England and, from my point, knew what they were doing. But in fact I think she was the only person who had that at all!
Anyway, I put her in an area where it was most interesting on the site, and she ran it very well. When the girl who was in charge of the Commissariat had to leave to go back to England, she asked Rachel if she would take on the role, which she did very effectively. It meant getting up at a very early hour of the morning to wake up the lady to milk the cow so we could have milk for breakfast. She helped me on the small finds, pottery, and the drawing. It was quite a long time before we got married, which we eventually did in 1957. We celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary a few years ago.
Did you settle in Oxford immediately afterwards?
We came to Oxford after we left Greece in the early 1960s . And then, of course, we went back for two winters working on finds, but by then we had the three children . We decided to try and find somewhere to live near either Oxford, which I preferred marginally because I knew the library there from before the War, or Cambridge. We did look a bit there because Rachel was at Cambridge, so she knew that area well. In the end, one of the agents we had been using, who owned some small houses in the village here , heard that this Old Vicarage was shortly coming on the market and kindly let us know. We had made up our minds at once that this was what we wanted. Rachel is very interested in gardening, and this house had obvious possibilities from our point of view. It was built in 1867 and replaced a perfectly nice-looking house from the early Eighteenth Century – early Georgian or Queen Anne; a neoclassical building with three floors.
Fig. 7. (From left to right) John and Evelyn Evans, and Sinclair and Rachel Hood at Chondros Viannou in 1958 (courtesy of the BSA).
Did you ever want to become a Professor at Oxford University, or at least work at the Ashmolean Museum?
No, not really. Well, I was asked to put in for the job to run the Ashmolean but I decided not to go for it.
Laziness, I suspect! [He laughs] Well, I mean, you can’t do everything. As it is, I am saddled with a terrible backlog of excavation reports. At least they are all now in one place in Knossos and not scattered all over Greece. I have to get some of them done. The Royal Road North is the biggest and most important, so it would be very good to get that done.
At the moment, we are concentrating on the biggest part of the excavations, which is Royal Road North. This area is very complicated because it ended up being used as a quarry at the very end of the Bronze Age. I don’t precisely know how long the quarrying took. I think the Mycenaeans came in and started quarrying after the end of LM IB, I don’t know, but the latest pottery, large parts of big craters, is certainly LM IIIC.
Fig. 8. Easter at the BSA in 1960. Little Martin turns the spit with the roasted lamb under the watchful eye of his mother Rachel and with the help of Dr Robert Rodden (Director of the University of Cambridge’s excavations at the early Neolithic site of Nea Nikomedeia) (courtesy of the BSA).
Is the publication almost ready?
No, nowhere near! I am working on it. Don Evely is working on the obsidian. Hugh Sackett, who was in charge of that area at the time the ivories were found, noted that there was a large amount of obsidian in that horizon, and suggested they might have been tools used in the ivory carving. I don’t know whether Don will come to that conclusion or not, but he is also doing the study of all the obsidian we found, including the Early Minoan levels . It would be interesting to see if there is any evidence of a development.
I am also working with Gerald Cadogan. There was a teacher who taught me Classics in the Sixth Form at Harrow when he was a young man, and he also taught Gerald at Harrow shortly before he retired. I kept in touch with him and he was a wonderful person. He knew Gerald was interested in Cretan archaeology and sent him to Knossos to help me.
Other people are sorting out the other material. I think Helen Brock is doing the beads, Keith Branigan is doing the metal, and Peter Warren the stone vases such as there are. Well, there are a lot of fragments of them but nothing really spectacular as far as I can remember. The seals are being done by Olga Krzyszkowska, and the Linear B tablets by Lisa Bendall.
It is very much a matter of observation, of looking with your eyes. It is extraordinary what you may find which other people just simply haven’t seen because they haven’t looked or not looked thoroughly enough or in the right place.
What advice would you give to young aspiring archaeologists?
Well, to think for themselves and not take anything for granted. And to look at things; to look at the originals as much as you can, and also at the countryside where things are. It is very much a matter of observation, of looking with your eyes. It is extraordinary what you may find which other people just simply haven’t seen because they haven’t looked or not looked thoroughly enough or in the right place. It is very much a matter of looking.
1. Hood was student of the British School at Athens during the years 1947-1948 and 1951-1953. From 1949 until 1951 he served as Assistant Director of the School. He was the Director of the School from 1954 until 1962.
2. John Cook (1910-1994) was the Director of British School at Athens from 1946 until 1954; on Cook see N.G.L. Hammond, Professor J. M. Cook, The Independent, Friday 7 January 1994.
4. The archaeologist was Bernard Philippe Groslier (1926-1986). He was a member of the École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO). Groslier together with Paul Courbin excavated in Argos in 1955 introducing Wheeler’s new excavating methods; Paul Corbin became one of the principal French advocates of Wheeler’s system. On Groslier see the obituary written by E. Moore in Asian Perspectives, XXVII (2), 1986-1987 (also available online).
5. Georges Daux (1899-1988) was director of the French School at Athens (École française d’Athènes) from 1950 until 1969. On Daux see M.P. Amandry, Notice sur la vie et les travaux de Georges Daux, membre de l’Académie, Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 1995, vol. 139, 886-904 (online)
7. The excavation took place in the summer of 1949. The party consisted of John Waechter, Joan du Plat Taylor and Marjory Veronica Seton-Williams. A full report of their excavation appeared in the journal Iraq: J. du Plat Taylor, M.V. Seton-Williams & J. Waechter, The Excavations at Sakce Gözü, Iraq 12 (1950), 53-138.
11. In the 1930s Hood studied Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford. He received his degree in 1938. See D. Evely, H. Hughes-Brock & N. Momigliano (eds), Knossos. A Labyrinth of History. Papers Presented in Honour of Sinclair Hood(Oxford 1994), xix.
12. On Michael Ventris: A. Robinson, The Man who deciphered Linear B; the Story of Michael Ventris, London (2002). See also the online article at the website of the University of Cambridge.
13. It was in 1951 when Mylonas met Ventris accompanied by Ktistopoulos at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. See Mylonas’s article ‘The Luvian Invasions of Greece’, Hesperia Vol. 31, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1962), 284-309 (online).
14. On Humfry Gilbert Garth Payne (1902-1936) see A. Mantis, Humfry Payne. A Description of Greece. Archaeology and Modern Greece between the two World Wars, Athens (2009), (http://www.aegeussociety.org/en/index.php/new-books/humfry-payne/).
16. Schliemann’s Mycenae albums consist of three large volumes with photographs and drawings of the 1876 excavations. They are now housed in the National Library of Scotland, which acquired them in August 2008, from the Knossos Trust to which Hood had given them in 1990. On the history of Schliemann’s albums see Hood’s article ‘Schliemann’s Mycenae Albums’, published electronically in 2012.
17. Cyprus was a protectorate of the United Kingdom from 1878 until 1960. In 1955, Greek Cypriots created EOKA (National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters) to perform union (enosis) of Cyprus with Greece. During the years 1955-1959, EOKA waged a military campaign against the British authorities, which finally led to the independence of Cyprus on 16th August 1960.
24. The Early Minoan levels were published in 2011, as M.S.F. Hood & G. Cadogan, Knossos Excavations 1957-61: Early Minoan, London (for a book presentation see the following link http://www.aegeussociety.org/en/index.php/new-books/knossos-early-minoan/)