Obituary: Donald Harden

Donald Benjamin Harden, archaeologist, museum curator: born Dublin 8 July 1901; Assistant Keeper and Keeper, Department of Antiquities, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1929-56; Director, London Museum 1956-65; Acting Director, Museum of London 1965-70; married 1934 Cecil Harriss (died 1963; one daughter), 1965 Dorothy McDonald; died 13 April 1994.

Donald Harden's life was devoted in equal measure to museums and archaeology, with an interest centred more on artefacts than

excavation.

Born in Dublin in 1901, Harden was of Anglo-Irish descent (his father was Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry). He was educated at Kilkenny College, Westminster School, and Trinity College, Cambridge. He pursued his interests in classical archaeology with travels in Italy and Tunisia in 1923-24, and, after a brief spell in the Department of Humanity at Aberdeen University, he became Commonwealth Fund Fellow at the University of Michigan, where he devoted himself to the study of the Roman glass from the university excavation of the Faiyum site of Karanis, in Egypt, and took part in the Michigan Archaeological Expedition to Egypt in 1928-29. His work on the Karanis glass became a doctoral thesis and was later published (in 1936) in a volume, Roman Glass from Karanis, which set new standards in the study of this attractive product of antiquity.

Harden's professional career opened with a long spell at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, first as assistant keeper and then as keeper in the Department of Antiquities from 1929 to 1956, with a break during the Second World War as a temporary civil servant. In 1956 he was appointed director of the London Museum at Kensington Palace, after its move there from Lancaster House; in pre-war years Mortimer Wheeler had established high standards of research and publication at the museum, and Harden, in active collaboration with Norman Cook of the Guildhall Museum, devoted his energies to the foundation of the new Museum of London, combining the two institutions, a natural consequence of the hectic campaign of the bombed sites of the City, before (sometimes as) they were destroyed by development. It was fitting that he should serve as acting director from 1965 until his retirement in 1970.

Harden's interests were not narrowly confined to ancient glass; a successful study, The Phoenicians (1962), revived an earlier interest and was twice re-issued, while Harden was a valued member of the committee superintending the British participation in the international excavation of Carthage. His numerous offices and duties to some extent limited his scholarly output; but retirement released his full energies for the study of ancient glass, of which he had long been recognised as the international master, following in the steps of the greatest German scholars in the field, Anton Kisa and Fritz Fremersdorf, but with a far wider range.

Harden's book on the Roman glass from Karanis was the first to treat systematically the finds from a single important site. This was the beginning of a lifetime's study of all aspects of ancient glass, ranging geographically over Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean, Europe, Britain and Ireland, and chronologically from prehistoric and Roman times to the Middle Ages. A list of his publications fills many pages; but some of the most important were the essays encapsulating his unsurpassed view of the history of Roman glass, which were written at the age of 86 for the catalogue of Glass of the Caesars (an exhibition of master works of Roman glass, shown in Corning, New York State, London, Cologne and Rome, in 1987-88).

In person Donald Harden displayed a neat, almost dapper appearance. His contributions to committees, especially on publication, were distinguished by a shrewd and well-balanced approach (sometimes trenchantly expressed), based on a wide knowledge of British and Mediterranean archaeology and its practitioners.

He had an extremely happy family life, and this was perhaps one reason why no young scholar appealed to him in vain.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn