Dawn of the Gods

The brilliant Jacquetta Hawkes was first and foremost an archaeologist, but was also a writer, feminist, active member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and the first woman to study archaeology at Cambridge University. Her deep interest in ancient civilisations, their artefacts and the peculiar temporal resonances of discreet histories, lead her to digs and excavations across the world, but her primary focus and interest was in ancient Britain. Dawn of the Gods is her major work on the Cultures of Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece – finding in their union the source of Classical Greek culture. Particularly noteworthy is her study of Minoan culture; a Bronze Age civilization on the island of Crete and other Aegean Islands which flourished between about 2600 – 1100 BC. Hawkes was the first archaeologist to suggest that the culture was matriarchal, almost solely worshipping goddesses, and informed by equal status of men and women in society and politics, with women overseeing all social activity. Women’s primary duty was not childcare (as the tradition held that a mother’s brother was responsible for bringing up her children, excellent), but developing their skills of craftsmanship, and training as warriors. The idea had been discussed long before by historians of culture and religion (for instance Joseph Campbell), and outside of the academic community, but had been largely overlooked within the field itself. I am also fairly certain it was the inspiration for the more than slightly dubious recent remake of the film Wonder Woman.

This is typical of Hawkes’ multidisciplinary approach – and her later shift into more experimental, personal and deeply moving writing was fuelled in part by her dissatisfaction with the restrictions of scholarly writing and approaches to unearthing information. She was also archaeological advisor to the Festival of Britain between 1949 – 51, Governor of the British Film Institute, and vice president of the Council for British Archaeology. Dawn of the Gods includes full colour reproductions of ancient craftsmanship and masterly ceramic art, as well as beautiful domestic and culinary artefacts, including a giant ceramic oil jar (approx. 6 feet high) from the entrance to the Palace of Nestor, which looks a great deal like an impending entry to the design collection at Lawson Park. Her close attention to the enduring significance of these artifacts and their peculiarly consistent appeal can be read in her sensitive, pithy captions – e.g. ‘Excellence in a domestic utensil’ to categorize a particularly refined ancient spoon. Hawkes was a wonderfully astute writer and a pioneering scholar – her work deserves fresh attention and is finally beginning to receive it. The Minoan’s dedication to ornament as well as utility is closely accounted for too - tiaras made for the dead to wear as they enter their graves also make a carefully charted appearance.

Jacquetta Hawkes

Lawson Park Electronic Library is a Guestroom project for Grizedale Arts, designed and built by Dorian Moore