We have all heard stories of the lost city of Atlantis, or have marvelled at the possibility of exploring the sunken Titanic, but not many of us have heard of the name ‘Honor Frost’. Frost is responsible for helping the possibility of such adventures being realised (well, perhaps not the exploration of Atlantis) as a pioneer of deep-sea archaeology.
Born on 28 October 1917 in Cyprus, Frost was raised by a solicitor in London after her parent’s deaths. She was a woman of many talents, even before her deep-sea discovering days: she attended the Central School of Art, London, and Oxford’s Ruskin School of Art. She was accomplished at designing ballets and was the director of publications at the Tate Gallery in London. An impressive woman, by all accounts.
Her initiation into diving shows what a character she was: during a friend’s party in the 1940s she had been offered the chance to try on a WWII diving suit. Naturally, her response was to use it to dive into the 17th century well in their back garden; in the snow. Frost describes this infamous trip down a well in her book Under the Mediterranean (1963): “I reached the bottom of that well in a state of euphoria and sat, until I remembered I had promised to give four flashes to show I was all right… When the light finally shone I became so fascinated by my surroundings that I forgot the signals. Had those on the surface been nervous, there was nothing they could have done.” She left everyone shivering outside for twenty minutes waiting for her to re-emerge.
From this moment on she began to work on underwater archaeology all over the world, from Beirut, to Jericho, to France, to Turkey. Her excavations and meticulous recordings of wreckages played a crucial part in developing the underwater archaeology techniques that are being further developed today. Thanks to Frost underwater archaeology is now a well-honed discipline, according to the Honor Frost Foundation “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.”
Frost even identified in 1968 that the remains off of the Port of Alexandria were the lost palace of Alexander and Ptolemy, and won for it a French government medal for pioneering submarine archaeology in Egypt in 1997.
Frost sadly died in 2010 at the age of 92, but her book, Under the Mediterranean, is still available for free as an ebook via the Honor Frost foundation’s website and her findings were recently showcased at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum’s ‘Storms, War and Shipwrecks’ Exhibit.
Written for Sheroes of History by Roxanne Douglas
Find out more…
Download Honor Frost’s book Under the Mediterranean here .
Listen to an interview with Dr Alexandria Sofroniew about Honor, on BBC Radio’s Women’s Hour programme
John Carswell recorded a talk called In honour of Honor: the birth of underwater Archaeology at the British Academy in June 2014. Listen to the talk here