Ivor Noël Hume, famed archaeologist, dies at 89

Famed archaeologist Ivor Noël Hume, who established historical archaeology within the discipline, passed away at his home Saturday surrounded by family. He was 89 years old.

Noël Hume will be remembered for his contributions to archaeology, but his family wants to make sure no one forgets the impact he made beyond his craft.

“He was a lot more than just a master of his craft,” his stepdaughter Kristen Welch said. “I will remember him for being the only dad that I’ve ever known. I will remember his unbelievable ability to find humor in anything, and will remember him for his unbelievable way of saying the most amazing things in three words or less.”

Born in London, Noël Hume made his name in the U.S. as Colonial Williamsburg’s chief archaeologist, a position he held for three decades, from his move to the area in the 1950s. He was a research associate for the Smithsonian Institution and in 1964 took the helm of Colonial Williamsburg’s Department of Archaeology.

Among his long list of recognitions was being named an Officer of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992.

One of his most notable discoveries was of a 1600s settlement at Carter’s Grove, unearthed in the 1970s. Nick Luccketti, an archaeologist with the James River Institute and First Colony Foundation, helped with that excavation.

“He was brilliant,” Luccketti said. “Everyone in the preservation community should be grateful that he chose our field to spend his life in. He would have been brilliant at any career path that he may have chosen, so we were fortunate to have him as part of the archaeological community.”

Born in 1927, Noël Hume studied in England at Framlingham College and St. Lawrence College, and served with the Indian Army in World War II. His archaeology career took off when he was hired at London’s Guildhall Museum in 1949, before he moved to Colonial Williamsburg in 1957.

Luccketti kept in touch with Noël Hume, always asking for his advice over the years. They worked together again investigating the “Lost Colony” on Roanoke Island in North Carolina after Noël Hume retired from Colonial Williamsburg.

Noël Hume’s legacy goes far beyond mid-Atlantic archaeology circles, Luccketti said.

“He’s the Babe Ruth of historical archaeology,” Luccketti said. “But the principals he espoused in his books about how to conduct proper archaeology pertained to the discipline as a whole.”

And as for books, Noël Hume wrote dozens of them. A curator for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Bly Straube said his writing was eloquent, and he had a knack for making history and research understandable to everyone.

“He made it so accessible to the general public — history, archaeology,” Straube said. “We all tried to emulate him in that way.”

He is the reason Straube pursued a career in the field. As a young, “wannabe archaeologist” in 1973, she wrote him a letter — and he wrote back.

“He’s the kind of person where you are amazed that you’re living in the same space and time with him, he’s a legend,” Straube said.

Noël Hume’s first wife Audrey was also an archeologist and curator and worked alongside him at Colonial Williamsburg. The couple never had any children, and after her death in 1993, he married Carol Grazier.

“His darling Carol was the love of his life,” Welch said, paraphrasing a line from one of his books. “When he and my mother got married, all of a sudden he had four children.”

At the time of his death, Noël Hume had four stepchildren and nine grandchildren, one of whom considered him her best friend. The two were so close that when Brandin Welch got engaged, she planned the wedding in five weeks so her grandfather could attend.

She said it will go on as planned on Feb. 25; he wouldn’t have wanted her to change her plans now.At the ceremony, in the seat reserved for Noël Hume, will sit his picture instead.

“I took him fishing out on his dock about four or five months ago and I have this picture of him standing in the kitchen with his bright white tennis shoes, standing so tall, holding a fishing pole with the biggest smile on his face,” Brandin Welch said.

She and her mother, Kristen, both lived locally, which meant they visited often. Kristen Welch was with Noël Hume when he died.

“One of the things he told me in the last final days was that he finally had a family,” Kristen Welch said.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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