Elizabeth Walker

Elizabeth Walker is a principal curator at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales; her responsibilities include Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeological collections, prehistoric stone tools and archaeological archives.

As an undergraduate, Walker studied archaeology at Lancaster University under Roger Jacobi in the 1980s. She spent her vacations digging, as a volunteer attached to the National Museum of Wales. Her supervisor, Stephen Aldhouse-Green, was working on the Palaeolithic Settlement of Wales Research Project. It was at this time that Aldhouse-Green introduced Walker to the significant collection of stone tools found at Pontnewydd Cave, near St Asaph in Denbighshire. (Pontnewydd is the most north-westerly site in Europe to hold evidence of the fossil remains of early Neanderthals. These early prehistoric finds include human teeth and a jaw fragment from at least five individuals along with over a thousand stone tools made by these people). The next Spring, Walker was a member of the Museum’s team who excavated at Hoyle’s Mouth Cave, at Penally in Pembrokeshire.  

Pontnewydd Cave

Picture: Pontnewydd Cave, By Llywelyn2000 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34715326

Walker’s first experience of paid employment was spending four weeks measuring the Pontnewydd Cave artefacts. After that in 1987, she joined the Department of Archaeology & Numismatics at the National Museum permanently, as curatorial assistant. She has remained there ever since, gradually going up the career ladder. 

Walker’s MA, awarded by the University of Wales Lampeter in 2007, and her PhD, awarded by UWTSD in 2017, both dealt with the practice of archaeology in Wales. Her MA was entitled ‘Aspects of change in museum collecting practice during the twentieth century: some south Welsh archaeological collections.’ Her PhD was ‘Collecting the past: aspects of historiography and lithic artefact analysis for the creation of narratives for the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology of Wales.’

In direct progression from her undergraduate days, Walker’s research still focuses on the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology of Wales, (c. 250 000 – 4 000 BCE). As well as continuing to work on Pontnewydd and Hoyle’s Mouth, she has excavated in many other caves round Wales. In particular, she has directed her own excavations on two sites on the Gower Peninsular: Cathole Cave, a site used as shelter by Late Glacial and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, and Burry Holms, an early Mesolithic campsite.  

Alongside her outdoor field work, Walker has worked on existing museum collections. She comments ‘Our Welsh museums hold a wealth of material recovered from caves and sites of all periods of archaeology … Museum collections hold considerable potential to release new data about the past.’ Through recording museum holdings, she has been able to bring together all the finds of Palaeolithic age from south-east Wales. She published her results in No stone unturned: papers in honour of Roger Jacobi, edited by Nick Ashton and Claire Harris, (Lithic Studies Society, [2015]). In a similar way, she has collected the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic finds from Pembrokeshire for Prehistoric, Roman and early Medieval Pembrokeshire (Pembrokeshire County History, vol. I), (Pembrokeshire County History Trust, 2016). 

Walker is the co-author with Stephen Aldhouse-Green of Ice age hunters: Neanderthals and early modern hunters in Wales, (National Museum of Wales, 1991). Together with Aldhouse-Green and Rick Peterson, she edited Neanderthals in Wales: Pontnewydd and the Elwy Valley Caves, (Oxbow Books and National Museum of Wales Books, 2012). The volume outlines the results of research done over twenty years, describing the traces of occupation left by early Neanderthals around 225 000 years ago.  Walker has also written numerous journal articles and book chapters, for instance on Snail Cave rock shelter on the Great Orme, just outside Llandudno, Foxhole Cave in the Gower Peninsular, and Ffynnon Beuno and Cae Gwyn caves in Denbighshire.

Walker contributed to Iolo Williams’ television programme, Iolo’s Natural History of Wales, explaining the cave bear, rhinoceros and leopard bones found at Pontnewydd. 

The Cambrian Archaeological Association awarded Walker the GT Clark prize for prehistory in 2017. These awards are made every five years to the archaeologists and historians judged to have produced the most significant academic works on Welsh subjects. She is currently chair of the National Panel for Archaeological Archives in Wales. She is also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and an associate member of the Museums Association.

Sources

National Museum Wales (n.d.) Staff Profile Dr Elizabeth Walker Principal Curator Collections & Access. Retrieved March 12 2021 from https://museum.wales/staff/77/Dr-Elizabeth-Walker/#:~:text=Elizabeth%27s%20research%20interests%20are%20focused,excavations%20in%20Cathole%20Cave%2C%20Gower.

Walker, E.A. (2021). Elizabeth A. Walker. Principal Curator Collections & Access at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales [LinkedIn page]. LinkedIn. Retrieved March 12 2021 from https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabeth-a-walker-39661915/

Cambrian Archaeological Association. (2021, February 19). The Cambrian Archaeological Association is 175 years old! [Blog post] Retrieved March 12 2021 from https://cambrians.org.uk/the-cambrian-archaeological-association-is-175-years-old/

PALAEOLITHIC and MESOLITHIC AGES, The (Old and Middle Stone Ages; c.250,000-4000 bc). (2008). In J. Davies, N. Jenkins, M. Baines, & et. al., The Welsh academy encyclopedia of Wales. Retrieved March 15 2021 from https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/waencywales/palaeolithic_and_mesolithic_ages_the_old_and_middle_stone_ages_c_250_000_4000_bc/0?institutionId=1794

Contributors (2012). In: S. Aldhouse-Green, R. Peterson & E.A. Walker (Eds.) Neanderthals in Wales: Pontnewydd and the Elwy Valley caves (pp. vii-xi). Retrieved March 15 2021 from https://web-b-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/ehost/ebookviewer/ebook/bmxlYmtfXzU1MTk5MF9fQU41?sid=79f59457-9c66-4d3a-a50d-fda8a3bab815@sessionmgr101&vid=0&format=EB&rid=1

Williams, I. (presenter). (2010, October 20). Wales in the Ice Age. [TV series episode]. In Iolo’s Natural History of Wales. Retrieved March 15 2021 from https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00bpl7j