Thomas Athol Joyce

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Mr. T. A. Joyce, O.B.E.

The approaching retirement, to take effect early in August, is announced of Thomas Athol Joyce, deputy keeper in charge of the Sub-Department of Ethnography of the British Museum (Bloomsbury). Mr. Joyce was educated at Dulwich and Hertford College, Oxford. He was appointed in 1902 to the staff of the British Museum in the Department of British and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography, of which Mr. (later Sir) Charles Hercules Read was then keeper. Mr. Joyce during the Great War was attached to the War Office on the General Staff (Intelligence), attaining the honorary rank of captain, and being awarded the O.B.E. in 1918. In 1921, he was appointed deputy keeper of his department, and on its reorganization was placed in charge of the SubDepartment of Ethnography in 1932. In his departmental work, he had specialized in the ethnography of the peoples of Africa and the antiquities of America. His three books on the archaeology of South America, Mexico and Central America, appearing between 1912 and 1916, in which the evidence available up to that time was analysed critically, secured his position as an authority among scholars in both the Old World and the New. Consequently Mr. Joyce was inevitably chosen to lead the expeditions sent by the British Museum to British Honduras in 1925 and succeeding years up to 1931, to excavate the ruined Mayan cities of that region. In addition to a large number of contributions to the publications of learned societies and the more serious of the journals devoted to the arts, such as the Connoisseur, Mr. Joyce was the author, in collaboration with Mr. E. Torday, of “Les Bushongo” (1910), of a valuable little book on Mayan Art (1927), and of the official guide to the ethnographical collections of the British Museum (1910). He held office as honorary secretary of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1903-13, for two terms as vicepresident, and as president (1931-33), and was president of the Anthropological Section of the British Association in 1934.


This obituary first appeared as: “Mr. Thomas Athol. Joyce, O.B.E”. Nature 142, 146-146 (23 July 1938)


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“Mr. Thomas Athol. Joyce, O.B.E”. Nature 142, 146-146 (23 July 1938) (available online: