Yours ever... or who was Katherine Brown? Investigations of prehistoric Vinča and British influences during and after World War I

  • Miroslav Vujović Department of Archaeology Faculty of Philosophy University of Belgrade
  • Jasna Vuković Department of Archaeology Faculty of Philosophy University of Belgrade
Vinča, Miloje Vasić, John Lynton Myres, Alec Brown, Catherine Brown, Great Britain


As the 110th anniversary of the beginning of the excavations at Vinča is nearing, the question arises as to how much we really know about the role and motives of a number of British subjects who in various ways played decisive roles in the research and the international affirmation of this important Late Neolithic site. It is possible, on the basis of archives and personal correspondence of Miloje M. Vasić, to view the investigations of Vinča in the wider context of political and military relations, influencing the general situation in the Kingdom of The Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later Yugoslavia. John Lynton Myres was a professor at the universities in Oxford and Liverpool, the founder and editor of the Journal Man and the director of the British Archaeological School in Athens. During the World War I, between 1916 and 1919, he was an officer of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, first in the Navy Intelligence Service, and then in Military Control Office in Athens. The Browns, Alec and Catherine, also played an important role. Alec Brown, a left-oriented writer, translator and correspondent, arrived to Serbia as a Cambridge graduate, aiming at the post of an English language teacher in high schools. In the period from 1929 to 1931 he took part in the excavations at Vinča, taking this setting as the base for the plot of one of his books. His wife, Elsie Catherine Brown, whose life is very poorly documented, served in the British Embassy in Belgrade between the wars. Vasić dedicated the third volume of Prehistoric Vinča to her, for her devoted work in the British medical mission and the care she took of the Serbian soldiers near Thessalonica, but also for her part played in the establishment of the initial contact with Sir Charles Hyde. The life of Catherine Brown may be seen as one of the many exceptional stories about the noble British ladies, celebrated in Serbia for over a century. However, one should bear in mind that the events and characters (Myres, Hyde, the Browns) linked to the research in Vinča may be a part of a larger scene, and a consequence of other, equally important circumstances of a more direct involvement of Great Britain in the political situation in Yugoslavia between the wars. Myres, a man close to the scientific, intelligence and diplomatic circles, is the key person in the initial contact between Vasić and Catherine Brown. Since his first encounter with Vasić in 1918 in Athens, on the occasion of his return from France to Serbia, Myres himself or through Catherine Brown, worked to establish the collaboration and keep the contact with Vasić. It is possible that the Athens meeting, initiated by Myres, was a consequence not only of the scholarly interest, but also the growing British involvement in the Balkans. After the same line of reasoning, the arrival of Alec Brown in Belgrade cannot be understood solely as a consequence of the individual ambition of a young Slavic scholar, but as well as a part of the strategy of deepening the British influences over the region traditionally more inclined towards France, due to the political and cultural ties and military alliances. After the war, many Serbian linguists were posted as teachers of the language at the most prestigious British universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, where Alec Brown earned his degree. His application to the post of English teacher in Serbia is closely preceded by the recommendation of Earl Curzon of Kedleston, British Foreign Secretary, to secure teaching English in the Yugoslav schools, and not only French, as it was previously the case.  The collaboration between British and Serbian intellectuals was surely a very suitable context for the establishment of intimate contacts and spreading of cultural and political influences. As illustrated by the case of the Near East, archaeology and archaeologists are particularly useful in this respect. Their long sojourns and mobility in the field, command of the language, enabled them to gain the confidence of the locals, learn about the customs, and gain information, just like Myres the Blackbeard did, and more or less successfully Catherine and Alec Brown as well. Regardless of the real or clandestine motifs, in the case of the investigations of Vinča, this collaboration made possible the publication the four-volume work of Vasić – Prehistoric Vinča, exceptional in many respects, and the international recognition of Vinča as one of the most important Late Neolithic settlements in South-eastern Europe.


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How to Cite
Vujović, Miroslav, and Jasna Vuković. 2016. “Yours Ever. Or Who Was Katherine Brown? Investigations of Prehistoric Vinča and British Influences During and After World War I”. Issues in Ethnology and Anthropology 11 (3), 809–830.