‘Madame Labarre’ and Eléonore Colani: Two Unsung Heroines in the Shadow of Famous Archaeologists

Independent Scholar, Thailand

Very few will have heard of ‘Madame Labarre’ or Eléonore Colani. In 1920 Marguerite Célestine Surget (1892-1966) followed her husband Éloi Marie Adrien Labarre to the sandy dunes of Central Vietnam when he joined the French colonial service as customs officer of Quang-ngai province. Three years later she was entrusted with the excavations at Sa Huynh, earning a mention in the monograph by Henri Parmentier, the Head of the École Française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO) Archaeological Service under whose supervision she documented the prehistoric burial pots. In 1931-33, Eléonore Colani (1877-1943) assisted her famous elder sister Madeleine (1866-1943), a prehistorian with the EFEO charged with excavating the Plain of Jars of Laos. Eléonore served in an unofficial capacity, but archival documents paint her as a capable practitioner who liaised directly with museums and other learning institutions on research projects and artefacts exchanges. Although Marguerite documented the clay pots of Vietnam and Eléonore dealt with the stone jars of Laos, it was Madeleine who unwittingly connected these two little-known archaeologists in ways which neither could have envisaged, when she devised a theory encompassing an imaginary chain of megaliths stretching from northeast India to Sa Huynh via the Plain of Jars of Laos. My presentation will explore the lives of Marguerite Surget and Eléonore Colani and the contribution they made to the success of their famous supervisors.