Papers of Sir Archibald Laurence Patrick Kirwan

Scope and Content

Papers of Sir Laurence Kirwan, 1933-1998, dating mainly from the 1960s-1970s, comprising collected cuttings, offprints and publications, 1933-1995, including newspapers, magazines, and academic journals, on archaeology and related subjects in Africa, largely East Africa, and Arabia, including some by Sir Laurence Kirwan; slides and photographs, 1960s-1970s (some undated), showing artefacts, archaeological finds and other subjects relating to archaeology, including some from Kirwan's tours of Ethiopia, East Africa and Arabia; papers, 1967-1974, including lecture notes, maps, itineraries, correspondence and printed information, relating to a series of lectures delivered as a guest lecturer on a Swan's tour of Ethiopia (1973); miscellaneous reports and correspondence, 1997-1998, relating to Kirwan's report on archaeology in Aden (1939); notebook [1960s] on the excavations at Axum (Aksum), including miscellaneous inserted notes, photographs, correspondence and maps, 1960-1974 (some undated).

Administrative / Biographical History

(Archibald) Laurence Patrick Kirwan was born in Galloway on May 13th 1907, and was educated at Wimbledon College and Merton College, Oxford.

His first field appointment was as Assistant Director of the Oxford expedition to Nubia (1929-34). Here he was involved with the discovery, excavation and publication of the great fourth and fifth century AD burial mounds at Ballana and Qustul, containing undisturbed royal graves. Kirwan carried out excavations at Kawa, Sudan, from 1935-36, uncovering temples built by Tutankhamun and Taharqo.

In the later 1930's, Laurence Kirwan held the Tweedie fellowship in archaeology and anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, and he continued his research in the archaeology of Africa and Arabia, including the Nile Valley.

He was appointed as the Librarian and then the Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, ending in 1978. Kirwan was also involved with the sponsoring by the British Academy of the British Institute in East Africa to undertake research into history and archaeology there. He was President of the British Institute in East Asia from 1961-1981, and remained Life President until his death. He supported many surveys and excavations to increase knowledge of the East African Coast. In the 1960s he visited the Aksumite port of Adulis, on the coast of Eritrea.

Sir Laurence Kirwan received the KCB and was knighted in 1972. He was married to Stella and had one daughter. He died on Wednesday 16th April 1999, aged 91.

Publications: Some Roman Mummy Tickets [1933?]; Christianity and the Kura'an [1934]; A Sudanese of the Saite Period (1934); Notes on the Topography of the Christian Nubian Kingdoms [1935]; The Oxford University Excavations in Nubia, 1934-1935 [1935]; with Walter B Emery, The Excavations and Survey between Wadi­es-­Sebua and Adindan, 1929-1931 (1935); with Walter B Emery, The Royal Tombs of Ballana and Qustal (1938); The Oxford University Excavations at Firka (1939); contributed to The Temples of Kawa, i: The Inscriptions (1949), ii: History and Archaeology of the Site (1955); The White Road: a survey of polar exploration (1959); A History of Polar Exploration (1962); chapters in Miles Frederick Laming Macadam, Temples of Kawa (undated); papers on archaeology, historical and political geography, and exploration, in scientific and other publications.


Arranged in five sections: Publications; Slides and photographs; Ethiopia - Swan's Tours; Miscellaneous reports and correspondence; Notebook on excavations at Axum.

Conditions Governing Access


Acquisition Information

Papers donated by Derek A Welsby of the Sudan Archaeological Trust in August 1999 as per the instructions of Sir Laurence Kirwan and his family.

Other Finding Aids

Unpublished handlist

Related Material

Royal Geographical Society - personal papers of of Sir Laurence Kirwan, 1956-75 archaeological papers relating to, Nubia, papers relating to visits to Sudan

Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts: Sir Laurence Kirwan letters to O. G. S. Crawford, 1945-57 [Reference: MSS Crawford]