28 October, 1917- 12 September 2010
Honor Frost was an early pioneer in the field of underwater archaeology. Born in Cyprus in 1917 she became the ward of the London solicitor Wilfred Evill after the death of her parents. Her love of diving started in a Wimbledon garden when she submerged herself in a ‘well’ as described in her first book ‘Under the Mediterranean’ (1963).
Honor studied at the Central School of Art in London and the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford and later worked as a designer for the Ballet Rambert and was director of publications at the Tate Gallery. In the 1940s she designed a ballet, Khadra, which was choreographed by Celia Franca for the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet to music by Sibelius.
Honor’s artistic calling came to a halt after she fully fell in love with ‘diving’ in Marseilles, where in the early 1950s she began training with the Club Alpin Sous-Marin in Cannes. This was the start of her passionate and deep interest in ‘under the sea’ and her mentor was the archaeologist Frédéric Dumas. Dumas took her on her first dive on the wreck of a Roman ship at Antheor, later known as the Chrétienne A, on the south coast of France. Later, she was able to develop and consolidate archaeological skills, when she joined Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho as a draftsman for the excavations in 1957.
Honor realised quickly that the discipline of ‘on land’ archaeology was not her calling but she felt that many of her skills could be adapted to underwater archaeology. She was able to use these carefully learned methods of meticulous record-keeping in many of her future projects. She moved to Lebanon from Jericho and explored the ancient harbours of Byblos, Sidon and Tyre, where she developed her special interest in ports, harbours and anchors under the auspices of the Institut Français d’Archéologie in Beirut. She particularly felt that anchors could play a key role in identifying wrecks and showing patterns of trade and they continued to fascinate her throughout her career.
She took part in 1960 in the beginning stages of the excavations of a Bronze Age ship off the coast of Turkey at Gelidonya with George Bass and Peter Throckmorton, whom she met by chance while visiting Bodrum with her ‘bottle’ (aqualung). This was the first excavation of a shipwreck that utilised systematic excavation techniques, Honor contributed to the first season by her underwater recording of the site. These excavations played a crucial role in the development of underwater archaeology. She was involved in the UNESCO sponsored preliminary project to survey the Pharos (lighthouse) site in the Port of Alexandria in 1968 and identified that the submerged remains were those of the lost palace of Alexander and Ptolemy thus establishing the great historical and international importance of the ruins.
In collaboration with the Sicilian authorities and the British School at Rome she directed the excavations and recovery of a Punic shipwreck, believed to have been ‘longship’ (perhaps an auxiliary military supply vessel) used by Carthage in the Battle of the Aegates Islands (241BC), the last battle of the First Punic War. For several years Honor and her team of archaeologists worked on the site. The Punic ship was restored for display in a local building requisitioned for its museum display.
In addition to her excavation work, she was instrumental in promoting marine archaeology as a discipline: she helped found the Council for Nautical Archaeology; was on the Council for the Society for Nautical Research for many years; and played a part in establishing the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology in 1972. She was active in her contacts with academics and officials to ensure that the field was held up to the high standards that she believed in. She was made a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1969.
Honor Frost Bequest
In keeping with her love of the Mediterranean, she acquired a house in Malta as her second home, but when in London she lived in her Marylebone house, inherited from Wilfred Evill. The flat was filled with an outstanding collection of paintings of 20th- century British artists, particularly Stanley Spencer, acquired by her guardian in the inter-war years. She entertained friends and family on a regular basis amidst the unique setting of this major collection of art, which was only very occasionally loaned out for special exhibits during Honor’s lifetime.
Towards the end of her life, she decided to leave her valuable collection to establish a foundation to promote maritime archaeology with a focus on the Eastern Mediterranean. She entrusted the responsibility of running the charitable foundation to seven trustees, whom she knew well through many different spheres and times of her life, but all with close ties to her. The Evill/Frost collection was sold after her death in June 2011 at Sotheby’s and raised more than twice what had been expected and a portion of these funds make up the Honor Frost Foundation’s endowment.
The trustees intend to carry on promoting the interests of maritime archaeology and related fields, ensuring that the Honor Frost Foundation achieves a lasting legacy to reflect her dedication to the field she loved so much.