The Monuments Men

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John Manuel Cook ( 1910-1994 )

Archaeologist, linguist, and historian, John Manuel Cook was born in Sheffield, England in 1910. He studied Classics at King’s College, Cambridge University, earning multiple prestigious awards for his Greek odes and Latin essays. Cook spent the next two years living in Athens researching early Attic poetry at the British School of Archaeology at Athens, hiking to the summit of Mount Olympus, and becoming fluent in Greek. He returned to the United Kingdom in 1936 as Assistant to the Professor in Humanities, and later Lecturer in Classical Archaeology, at Edinburgh University.

During World War II, Cook served with The Royal Scots and the British Army Intelligence Corps. His selection in 1943 as an Officer of the British Military Mission in occupied Greece placed him alongside the andartes (Greek resistance fighters) in Epirus and the Valtos. Following the violent escalation of hostilities during the Greek Civil War, conditions became too dangerous; Cook was extracted and placed in charge of a secret landing pad in Neraida, Greece.

In October 1944 Monuments Man Lt. Col. Sir Leonard Woolley, Archaeological Advisor to the War Office, recommended that Cook be appointed as a senior officer attached to the General Staff to act as a liaison between Greek officials and the War Office. Due to his extensive knowledge of Greek art and his contacts with Greek officials, Cook was uniquely equipped to help oversee the conservation of Greek monuments and sites. In his November 1944 report to the War Office, he highlighted the importance of cross-cultural collaboration between the British and the Greeks: “The Greek Ministry of Education is unable, in the disturbed state of the country, to look after the antiquities in Greece. Not only must this department encourage and help the Ministry of Education, but it must through its own officers initiate and supervise the work of checking up on losses and damage and administer first aid to damaged antiquities.”

Cook managed MFAA operations in Greece following the departure of its director, Monuments Man Lt. Col. Thomas J. Dunbabin in December 1945. Exactly one year later, Cook was appointed Director of the British School of Archaeology at Athens. He immediately began plans to reopen the school to students and visitors, making much needed repairs and welcoming outside researchers to the library. Due to his efforts, the British School of Archaeology at Athens was the first school to become fully operational in Greece following World War II. Cook’s success motivated other nearby schools, leading many to credit him with minimizing the disruption of scholarly research in Greece despite years of armed conflict and political unrest. He remained in Athens until 1954, when he became Reader in Classical Archaeology at the University of Bristol. In the two decades before his retirement in 1976, Cook received appointments to Chair in Ancient History and Classical Archaeology, Dean of Arts, and Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

Cook continued to remain active in the field, returning to Greece on multiple occasions for excavations and survey expeditions. Most notably, he led excavations at Bayraklı Höyüğü (commonly referred to as Old Smyrna), the site of an ancient Anatolian settlement on the Turkish coast whose founding dates to the 11th century B.C. His publications include The Persian Empire (1983) and chapters in The Cambridge History of Iran and The Cambridge Ancient History. He was named Fellow of the British Academy in 1974.

J.M. Cook died in Stirling, Scotland on January 2, 1994.