Archaeologist Ivor Noël Hume uncovered major artifacts of early British settlements in Virginia.

Ivor Noël Hume, a would-be British playwright who uncovered some of the most important artifacts of early British settlements in Virginia and who, during his three decades leading archaeological studies in Williamsburg, Virginia, helped redefine his field in the public mind, died Feb. 4 at his Williamsburg home. He was 89.

His death was first reported by the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg.

Noël Hume began his career as a self-taught archaeologist in England before coming to Williamsburg, where he became the chief archaeologist of Virginia’s former Colonial capital in 1957. He led efforts that unearthed some of Williamsburg’s most important 18th-century structures, such as the Hay Cabinet Shop, the James Anderson House and the Public Hospital, the first institution on American soil for treating the mentally ill.

Scores of young archaeologists trained under Noël Hume, and he became an eloquent voice for archaeology in television appearances, magazine articles and more than a dozen books.

Historian Arthur Quinn, writing a New York Times review of Noël Hume’s 1994 book “The Virginia Adventure,” called him “unquestionably the foremost colonial archaeologist of his generation.”

Archaeological work began at Williamsburg in the 1920s, but when Noël Hume arrived three decades later he helped make it the country’s premier site for presenting the history of Colonial America. He freely admitted that he introduced a touch of showmanship, which he borrowed from his early experience as a dramatist.

“Coming out of the theater, my attitude was that this belongs to the public,” he told Mid-Atlantic magazine in 1995. “Why are we being paid to save this stuff if we don’t show it to the public?”

Before Noël Hume, many archaeologists examining early American history were content to dig out the foundations of buildings hidden in the earth and consider their work done. The bottles, pottery and metal objects found among those buildings were often ignored or even tossed back in the earth.

Noël Hume collected the pottery shards and made them his academic specialty. Moreover, he helped introduce research methods that brought a new emphasis to understanding people of the past through the objects they handled.

“The archaeologist’s function,” he wrote in “A Passion for the Past,” his 2010 autobiography, “is no different from that of the police detective asking, ‘Who done it?’ “

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