Remembering Peter Ucko


Dear colleagues,

It is with great sadness that I inform you that Professor Peter Ucko has passed away.

As I am sure you know, Peter was the driving force behind the founding of the World Archaeological Congress, and an inspiration to WAC Executives, both past and current, and to members, and non-members throughout the world.

Peter Ucko was awarded a BA Anthropology, from University College London in 1959, and a PhD in Prehistoric Archaeology and Egyptology, from University College London in 1962. He is a past Director of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and was Professor of Archaeology, Head of Department and then Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Southampton, UK. More recently, he was Executive Director of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, and when he retired he became Emeritus Professor.

Peter’s research interests included the analysis of art and images, the history of archaeology, and the interpretation of archaeological collections and of displays of sites. In retirement, he remained an active researcher, and was working on various publications until very recently. His recent publications include the eight volume set Encounters With Ancient Egypt. In 2006 A Future for Archaeology, edited by Robert Layton, Stephen Shennan, and Peter Stone, was published in Peter’s honor, to mark the unparalleled role he has played in promoting a socially engaged archaeology.

Peter Ucko was a visionary, dedicated to shaping world archaeology so that it actively engages with its social and political context. In addition to his enormous influence on archaeology globally, he has had tremendous impact on the growth of archaeology in a number of regions, notably Africa, Oceania and, most recently, Eastern Asia, especially China. His graduate students can be found in countries as diverse as Kenya, Japan, Australia, Poland and Argentina.

At the time of Peter’s passing the WAC Executive and the organisers of WAC-6 were discussing the instigation of a lecture to be named after him as the inspiration behind WAC, to be given at an appropriate point at every major WAC Congress from now on. We were also discussing the instigation of a ‘Peter Ucko Medal’ to be awarded at each major Congress to an individual who has made a major contribution to world archaeology.

Peter Ucko cannot be replaced, but he will be remembered.

Sincerely,

Claire Smith

 

Peter Ucko’s family have asked that anyone who wishes to remember Peter in a practical way should make a donation to a special fund for indigenous participation at WAC meetings.

Donation Amount: USD

Professor Peter UCKO – B.A. Hons., Ph.D.

* Emeritus Professor
* Executive Director of the ICCHA (Room B10 in the Institute of Archaeology)

Research Interests:
Analysis of prehistoric art and images. Interpretation of archaeological collections and of displays of sites. History of Archaeology.

Recent Publications:

Sully,D., Quirke,S., Ucko,P.J. (2006). Hathor, goddess of love and joy, a Norfolk wherry launched in 1905. Public Archaeology 5(1), 26-36. ISSN: 1465-5187

Ucko,P. (2006). Unprovenanced Material Culture and Freud’s Collection of Antiquities. Journal of Material Culture 6, 251-268. ISSN: 1359-1835

Ucko,P.J. (2006). Living Symbols of Ancient Egypt. Public Archaeology, 5 (1),. ISSN: 1465-5187

Ucko,P.J., Price,C., Quirke,S. (2006). A recent Egyptianizing house built on the bank of the Thames. Public Archaeology 5(1), 51-57. ISSN: 1465-5187

Ucko,P.J., Price,C., Quirke,S. (2006). The Earl’s Court Homebase car park facade. Public Archaeology 5(1), 42-50. ISSN: 1465-5187

Ucko,P.J., Quirke,S. (2006). 2004 advertisement for the TV version of Agatha Christie’s ‘Death on the Nile’ Public Archaeology 5(1), . ISSN: 1465-5187

Ucko,P.J., Quirke,S. (2006). Living Symbols of Ancient Egypt: Introduction. Public Archaeology 5(1), 5-14. ISSN: 1465-5187

Ucko,P.J., Quirke,S. (2006). The Petrie Medal. Public Archaeology 5(1), 15-25. ISSN: 1465-5187

Ucko,P.J., Quirke,S.Q., Sully,D. (2006). The past in the present and future: concluding thoughts. Public Archaeology 5(1), 58-72. ISSN: 1465-5187

Ucko, P and T. Champion, (2003). The Wisdom of Egypt: changing visions through the ages. London: UCL Press. One of eight books in the Encounters with Ancient Egypt series edited by Peter Ucko

Ucko, P, (2000). Enlivening a ‘dead’ past, Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites, 4, 67-92

Ucko, P, (1998). The Biography of a Collection: The Sir Flinders Petrie Palestinian Collection and the Role of University Museums, Museum Management and Curatorship, 17(4), 351-399

Ucko, P, (1996). Mother, are you there? Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 6, 300-4

Ucko, P, (1995). Introduction: archaeological interpretation in a world context, in P J Ucko (ed), Theory in Archaeology, 1-27. London: Routledge

Ucko, P, (1994). Museums and sites: cultures of the past within education Zimbabwe, some ten years on, in P Stone & Molyneux B (eds), The Presented Past: heritage, museums and education, 237-282. London: Routledge

Ucko, P, (199). Subjectivity and the recording of Palaeolithic Cave Art, in T Shay & J Clottes (eds), The Limitations of Archaeological Knowledge, 141-180. Liege: University of Liege Press

Collaborations:

* “Faces Across the North Sea”, with University of Trondheim, Norway
* Palaeolithic painted pebbles, with Musee de St Germain-en-Laye, Paris, France

Educational Background:

* BA Anthropology, UCL 1959
* PhD Prehistoric Archaeology and Egyptology, UCL 1962

 

Peter Ucko Obituaries:

David Wengrow, Institute of Archaeology, University College London

Neal Ascherson – The Independent

Robert Layton – Department of Anthropology, Durham University

Michael Rowlands – The Material World Blog

The Telegraph

SALON – the Society of Antiquaries of London Online Newsletter

Prof. Li Boqian, Former Director of School of Archaeology and Museology, Peking University

Times Online

Times Online – Lives Remembered

British Archaeology

Remembering Peter – Arkadiusz Marciniak

 

 

Maverick archaeologist who oversaw a revolution in the structure and outlook of his profession

Published: 21 June 2007 – The Independent

Peter John Ucko, archaeologist: born London 27 July 1938; Lecturer in Anthropology, University College London 1962-72, Director, Institute of Archaeology and Professor of Comparative Archaeology 1996-2006 (Emeritus); Principal, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies 1972-81; Professor of Archaeology, Southampton University 1981-96; died London 14 June 2007.

Peter Ucko was the most influential archaeologist of his time. Almost single-handed, he brought about a revolution which irrevocably changed the whole structure and outlook of international archaeology.

This upheaval began in 1986, when – in scenes of frantic drama and controversy – the profession’s international body exploded at its congress at Southampton University. Out of the smoke and debris there emerged the World Archaeological Congress, dedicated to new and radical principles which included the notion that archaeology was profoundly political and that the archaeology of indigenous peoples in post-colonial continents – societies for whom the relics of a distant past were still components of a living culture – was more significant than the academic and Eurocentric studies of “prehistory”.

With his tight curls and his powerful, mobile face, Peter Ucko resembled a small Roman emperor. Passionate and unpredictable in his loves and hates, he could put superhuman energy behind causes and people he believed in (he was still editing a book on Chinese archaeological training on his death-bed). His own formation was as much in anthropology as in archaeology, one of the sources of his gift for breaking through academic barriers. Anthropology also satisfied his need (as he put it) “to be taught by and to meet academics who had respect for the beliefs and activities . . . of the people of other cultures”. His antipathy to racism was always violent. As a friend wrote about him, “the reason Peter is such a good hater is the motivation which powers the hate – a deeply felt anger at unfairness and injustice”.

Peter John Ucko was born in 1938, the son of intellectual Jewish emigrants from Germany. From his father, a doctor, he inherited a lasting delight in music, especially opera. After the “progressive” public school of Bryanston, he began an anthropology degree at University College London in 1956, but always – so he later said – hoped to get into Egyptology, a lifelong craze which began when he collected figurines off antique stalls as a boy. After a PhD on Egyptian figurines, he spent 10 more years at UCL lecturing with increasing brilliance and originality in anthropology.

In 1967 Ucko and his then partner Andrée Rosenfeld published his first book, Palaeolithic Cave Art. Shortly afterwards, they moved to Australia where in 1972 he became principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. This was to be a decisive, radicalising experience. “I found that my Institute was a totally white institution – whites gave out money to whites, through white committees, to study the blacks . . . an untenable situation.” When he left in 1980, he made sure, against angry opposition, that his successor was an Aboriginal. It was in Australia that he met the anthropologist Jane Hubert, then married to Anthony Forge (who died in 1991), who was to become Ucko’s stout-hearted partner and counsellor for the rest of his life.

Back in Britain, in 1981 he became Professor of Archaeology at Southampton University. And it was here, in the 1980s, that he encountered the crisis of his professional life. The International Union of Pre- and Protohistoric Sciences (IUPPS) proposed to hold its 11th congress at Southampton and Ucko was persuaded to organise it. At that time (it has improved since), the IUPPS had decayed into a slovenly, deeply conservative and Eurocentric clique. To its horror, Ucko insisted that he wanted the conference to be a “World Archaeological Congress”, attended by archaeologists from “the Third World” and devoted to global themes rather than to the cosy comparison of excavations and discoveries.

After enormous exertions, he seemed to be getting his way when disaster struck. Unwisely, Ucko had pushed to the back of his mind the crisis of apartheid South Africa, and the existence of an international academic boycott. But in 1986, only months before the congress, the Southampton student union and then the municipal authorities declared that they would withdraw all facilities if South African archaeologists attended. Worse, many of the African and Asian delegates now threatened not to take part.

Well aware of the storm he would provoke, Ucko decided that the cause of a new “world archaeology” must not be abandoned. He declared that the South Africans would be disinvited. It was an act of outstanding courage. Uproar followed. Ucko was accused of betraying academic freedom. Funders withdrew; many of the leading archaeologists of Europe, Britain and America resigned from the congress and denounced him – sometimes with shameful abuse which they would now prefer to forget. The IUPP condemned him and pulled out.

But Ucko, urged by Jane to stand fast whenever his resolve faltered, stuck to his guns. In the end, over a thousand enthusiastic delegates arrived and Ucko’s dream of a new global order for a humanised science of the past was triumphantly realised. The first World Archaeological Congress (WAC-1) took off, and no fewer than 22 books were published from its sessions.

The cost was heavy, not least to Ucko’s health. He had lived off his nerves for 20 years, a heavy smoker with a generous wine intake; now appeared the first signs of the diabetes which was to end his life prematurely. And the crisis did not improve his confidence in his fellow humans. Students got the benefit of his tough humour and his adventurous, eccentric imagination. But colleagues had to tread warily; you were in or out. He could be childishly sullen and suspicious one day; brilliantly welcoming and lovable the next.

In 1996, he was appointed director of the Institute of Archaeology at UCL, Britain’s leading centre of teaching and research. There were grumbles from crusty colleagues. But the maverick Ucko was now, beyond challenge, the most creative figure in British archaeology. In 1997, he launched the first courses in Public Archaeology, typically redefining it as a critical audit of the profession’s ethics in areas as diverse as the handling of the indigenous dead and archaeology in the media.

He retired in 2006. Surprisingly, Ucko refused to accept the presidency of the WAC, but his master-work lives on, its vast congresses sparkling with fresh insights and theories. The 1980s were a decade in which British innovation in archaeology (for better or worse) led the world. Margaret Thatcher “privatised” the profession, while Ian Hodder, Chris Tilley and Michael Shanks invented “postprocessual” theory. But Ucko’s contribution will outlast them all: an irreversible, institutionalised commitment to an archaeology which happens now rather than in the past, and is concerned with the living as much as with the dead.

Neal Ascherson

Professor Peter John Ucko

By Robert Layton, Department of Anthropology, Durham University

Having developed a fascination with Egyptology as a child, Peter Ucko completed a first degree in Anthropology at University College London in 1959. Peter first made his name with innovative work integrating archaeology and anthropology in the study of material culture. He moved to the Institute of Archaeology (at that time independent of UCL) to write a PhD on Prehistoric human figurines from Western Asia and the Aegean that relied on comparative evidence from anthropology to dispute the common assumption that figurines were typically associated with fertility cults. Peter rejected piecemeal ethnographic parallels and instead sought to develop a systematic approach to correlations between social function and archaeological context.

On completion of his PhD in 1962 Peter Ucko returned to UCL to organise the teaching of material culture in the Anthropology programme. He dismantled any tendency his students might have to think that the term ‘primitive’ implied ‘inferior’, or that farmers inevitably followed hunters in a simple story of unilinear progress, and set out a general programme for assessing evidence of diffusion or independent invention. Peter’s early academic publications broke new ground in the study of material culture – penis sheaths, funerary remains, rock art. His World University Library book on Palaeolithic rock art (1967, co-authored with Andrée Rosenfeld) drew on ethnographic evidence from Australia, inaugurating the contacts that would lead him to be appointed Director of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies in Canberra in 1972. His genius for organisation became apparent in the organisation of landmark conferences on The origins of domestication and Urbanisation in the early 1970s, and flowered during his transformation of the Institute.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies had been established in 1962 with a remit to salvage records of what were assumed to be disappearing Aboriginal cultures. Its brief explicitly excluded study of the contemporary condition of indigenous communities, for fear these might jeopardise both the government funding on which the Institute depended and anthropologists’ future fieldwork at a time when access to Aboriginal communities was tightly regulated by government or church agencies. Peter was committed to improving the quality of research at the Institute, and soon organised a multi-disciplinary conference, but quickly came under attack from Aboriginal activists for not redirecting research toward contemporary, practical issues. The experience transformed Peter from an academic into a crusading politician. He secured Aboriginal participation in the Institute’s management structure, while his own publications virtually ceased as he set up an ambitious programme to recruit and promote a generation of social scientists who would investigate and publicise the contemporary conditions of Aboriginal life. This would not have been possible without a change of government in Australia. Both the new Whitlam government, and the Liberal regime of Fraser that succeeded it, were committed to negotiating with Aboriginal communities, although Peter’s provision of anthropologists to document Aboriginal land claims tested the limits of government tolerance. The Institute’s new publications programme included a substantial number of Aboriginal authors.

No one will know whether, on his return to the U.K. in 1981 to become head of the Archaeology Department at Southampton University, Peter intended to revert to a quiet academic life. He did initiate a new research project in Mediterranean archaeology, but this became less important as Peter again became involved in the politics of archaeology. In 1982, Peter Ucko became National Secretary of the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences, and developed an innovative programme for the Union’s next five-yearly international conference. True to his Australian experiences, he made arrangements to involve indigenous archaeologists from Africa, the Americas, Australia and Asia. Apartheid still ruled in South Africa, however, and the 1985 declaration of a state of emergency in the face of increasing Black opposition led the United Nations to call for sanctions against South Africa. The Southampton University students’ union and the City Council challenged Peter to preclude South African archaeologists from participating in the conference. Invitees from Sweden, Nigeria and India announced that they would withdraw if South Africans attended. It is no surprise, given his work in Australia, that Peter agreed to a boycott. Disowned by the UISPP, he created a new organisation, the World Archaeological Congress. The conference took place, with over 1,000 participants from almost 100 countries, and resulted in twenty two books whose topics ranged from the academic to the polemical. After shaky beginnings, WAC has become a major force in archaeology, transforming the discipline through its promotion of international collaboration and political awareness without sacrificing academic standards. Subsequent WAC congresses have taken place at five-year intervals in Venezuela, India, South Africa and the U.S.A. The One World Archaeology series inaugurated in Southampton now includes fifty volumes.

In 1996 Peter Ucko left Southampton to become Principal of the Institute of Archaeology where he had studied for his PhD thirty-five years earlier. Returning to his roots in more ways than one, he set about restructuring the Institute’s teaching programme to realise the integrated archaeological/anthropological approach he had championed in his days as a junior lecturer at UCL. Although standing back from the management of WAC, he continued for some years as series editor of One World Archaeology, and co-edited the volume on The archaeology and anthropology of landscape (1999). Retiring in 2005, he finally returned to his personal research interests, publishing nine papers in 2006, including one on Sigmund Freud’s artefact collection. In 1979 Peter Ucko was awarded the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Rivers medal for his sustained contribution to anthropological research. In recognition of his work on Palaeolithic rock art he was made membre d’honneur of the Prehistoric Society of Ariège in 1985. In 2005 he delivered the RAI’s Huxley Memorial Lecture.

Peter John Ucko. Born 27th July 1938, died 14th June 2007.

 

Peter Ucko (1938-2007)

Michael Rowlands provides some further reminiscences on the role Peter played in the rebirth of material culture studies in the British Anthropology scene of the 1960s.

Michael Rowlands, UCL

Peter was appointed to a lectureship in Anthropology at UCL in 1962 where he stayed until his move to become Principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies in 1972. During those ten years, he reinvented material culture studies at UCL and created the intellectual basis for what exists now as a major international centre. In many ways his was an unlikely appointment to be made in a predominantly British Social Anthropology department. Peter had just completed a PhD on Egyptian Predynastic figurines in which he disputed the general orthodoxy that they and other prehistoric figurines represented a general Mother Goddess religion. It must have been quite bizarre to many at the time that anyone bothering with such Frazerian ideas might still be appointed to a post Malinowskian revolution Anthropology department in the UK.

But Daryll Forde, the founder of the UCL Department, was a friend of Gordon Childe, a past Director of the Institute of Archaeology in London and had been trained in the tradition of Boasian anthropology in the US before taking up the chair at UCL. He appointed Peter, so he thought, to teach courses on Primitive Technology in order to show how people developed the technical knowledge to adapt to their environments. But almost immediately Peter spurned this narrow adaptationist idea of technology and developed new courses in art and material culture. He brought in people to help him teach the courses from the British Museum Ethnography Department and he teamed up with Anthony Forge at the LSE and with Peter Morton Williams at UCL to teach the first Anthropology of Art course in the UK.

He was a brilliant teacher – with tutorials held in the Marlborough Arms – that in ten years initiated the anthropological careers of several of my peers such as Brian Durrans, Bob Layton, Howard Morphy, Frances Morphy, Len Pole, Shelagh Weir and others. In this time, he edited the Duckworth series in the Anthropology of Art, publishing the volumes on Self Decoration in Mount Hagen by the Stratherns, Nuba Personal Art by James Faris and others. He developed joint teaching between Anthropology and Archaeology at UCL and held two immensely influential seminars at the time on the Domestication of Plants and Animals and Man, Settlement and Urbanism. The pattern of large, multidisciplinary edited volumes that became the hallmark of the WAC series was established at this time.

When he left UCL for Australia in 1972, there were three and a half posts in Material Culture in the Department of Anthropology. There are now six posts and certainly the subject has transformed from the focus then on Anthropology of Art and Technology. Yet the radical critique that Material Culture represented then for the ideals of a broader Anthropology that takes the past as constitutive of the present, and argues for the independence of material form remain enduring legacies that he went on to pursue elsewhere as well.

 

Professor Peter Ucko

The Telegraph, 25/06/2007

Professor Peter Ucko, the former director of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, who died on June 14 aged 68, helped to give a voice to the indigenous peoples of the world whose archaeological heritage had hitherto been the domain of white researchers with a Western, rather than a native, agenda.

Ucko was essentially a specialist in “material culture”, particularly prehistoric rock art and figurines.

But he was also a passionate anti-racist who was deeply disturbed at the way in which, as he saw it, Western elites had appropriated the archaeological heritage of poorer, less influential cultures as representing the inheritance of all mankind, often to the detriment of those to whom it really belonged.

While traditional archaeologists saw their endeavours as having little relevance to contemporary social and political life, Ucko saw politics as key.

While working as an adviser to the new Zimbabwean government in the early 1980s, he claimed to have found evidence of the way in which archaeologists working under the government of Ian Smith had manipulated archaeological evidence to support the white-led regime.

He became deeply committed to the idea of restructuring international archaeological networks to counteract this Western bias.

Matters came to a head in 1986 when, as national secretary of the British committee of the International Union for Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences (IUPPS), the only organisation at the time with an international responsibility for archaeology, Ucko announced that South African and Namibian delegates would not be invited to the IUPPS’s 11th congress, due to be held in Southampton that year.

The decision ignited a furious debate about academic freedom, with Ucko himself being pilloried by leading figures in the organisation who argued that the congress had to be open to all archaeologists and scientists “with no distinction of race, country or political persuasion”.

This position was supported by the influential Society for American Archaeology, and in the end the IUPPS disavowed the Southampton conference.

Instead, Ucko and his colleagues held the meeting under the title of the World Archaeological Conference (WAC), bringing together a new international organisation of archaeologists committed to “the explicit recognition of the historical and social role, and the political context, of archaeological enquiry”.

The emergence of WAC (which eventually came to dwarf its rival) symbolised a new approach to archaeology, sometimes called “engaged archaeology” – the idea that political commitment and ethical judgments matter in archaeology and constitute an important focus of enquiry.

Peter John Ucko was born in London on July 27 1938, the son of Jewish immigrants from Germany. His father was a professor of medicine who spent his evenings conducting orchestras and putting on operas.

Peter was sent to Bryanston, which he loathed, and from which he was eventually removed after provoking the school’s displeasure for refusing to play mixed doubles in a tennis match with a local girls’ school.

At North Western Polytechnic in London, where he went to complete his A-levels, he met many students from developing countries who, at that time, were obliged to take British A-levels before entering a university, no matter what their previous educational qualifications.

The experience inspired in Ucko an interest in anthropology and deepened his instinctive antipathy to racism. He went on to study Anthropology at University College London and, after taking a doctorate, spent 10 years at UCL as a lecturer in Anthropology, editing two books, The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals and Man, Settlement and Urbanism; both became standard texts.

In 1967 he and his girlfriend Andrée Rosenfeld published Palaeolithic Cave Art. The following year he developed his doctorate into a monograph, Anthropomorphic Figurines of Predynastic Egypt and Neolithic Crete, which challenged the idea that mother goddesses were worshipped in prehistoric Europe and the Near East.

Instead Ucko suggested that such figurines were more likely to be amulets of sympathetic magic or possibly children’s toys.

In 1972 Ucko was appointed principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies in Canberra, an organisation which was, as he later described it, devoted to paying white people to study black people.

He opened the Institute to Aboriginal involvement and turned it into a powerful engine of research and political involvement, launching a major project to describe the country’s indigenous cultures and languages called “Before It Is Too Late”.

When, in 1981, Ucko was appointed to succeed Colin Renfrew as Professor of Archaeology at the University of Southampton, he insisted against strong opposition that his successor at the Institute should be an Aboriginal.

In 1996 Ucko was headhunted for the post of Professor of Comparative Archaeology and director of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.

He worked to place the Institute at the centre of his vision for world archaeology, founding a new sub-discipline of “Public Archaeology” with a journal of the same name edited by the journalist Neal Acherson, in an attempt to reach a new audience among political leaders and opinion formers.

A new International Centre for Chinese Heritage and Archaeology was established to promote the exchange of archaeologists between Europe and China and to further collaboration in training and research.

Ucko was a combative, nervy man, with a tendency to become aggressive under pressure and to see the world in terms of friends and enemies. But he inspired a strong affection among colleagues and students, with whom he was genial and unpretentious – and always stimulating company.

When he retired in 2005 the Institute was the world’s largest archaeology department, with more than 70 academic staff and 600 students from some 40 different countries.

In 2006 he was presented with a festschrift in his honour, A Future for Archaeology, edited by Robert Layton, Stephen Shennan and Peter Stone.

Peter Ucko is survived by his long-term companion, Jane Hubert.

 

SALON – the Society of Antiquaries of London Online Newsletter

Salon 167: 25 June 2007

Peter Ucko, who died on 14 June 2007, was a Fellow until his retirement as Director of the UCL Institute of Archaeology in 2006. Peter’s funeral will take place on Tuesday 26 June at noon in St Michael’s Church, Highgate, followed by burial in Highgate cemetery, to be followed by a reception (about 2pm) in the Garden Room in UCL’s Wilkins Building.

Neal Ascherson, writing in the Independent, said that Ucko ‘was the most influential archaeologist of his time’ and that: ‘Almost single-handed, he brought about a revolution which irrevocably changed the whole structure and outlook of international archaeology.’ Ascherson’s obituary then went on to say: ‘This upheaval began in 1986, when – in scenes of frantic drama and controversy – the profession’s international body exploded at its congress at Southampton University. Out of the smoke and debris there emerged the World Archaeological Congress, dedicated to new and radical principles which included the notion that archaeology was profoundly political and that the archaeology of indigenous peoples in post-colonial continents – societies for whom the relics of a distant past were still components of a living culture – was more significant than the academic and Eurocentric studies of “prehistory”.

With his tight curls and his powerful, mobile face, Peter Ucko resembled a small Roman emperor. Passionate and unpredictable in his loves and hates, he could put superhuman energy behind causes and people he believed in (he was still editing a book on Chinese archaeological training on his death-bed). His own formation was as much in anthropology as in archaeology, one of the sources of his gift for breaking through academic barriers. Anthropology also satisfied his need (as he put it) “to be taught by and to meet academics who had respect for the beliefs and activities … of the people of other cultures”. His antipathy to racism was always violent. As a friend wrote about him, “the reason Peter is such a good hater is the motivation which powers the hate – a deeply felt anger at unfairness and injustice”.

Peter John Ucko was born in 1938, the son of intellectual Jewish emigrants from Germany. From his father, a doctor, he inherited a lasting delight in music, especially opera. After the “progressive” public school of Bryanston, he began an anthropology degree at University College London in 1956, but always – so he later said – hoped to get into Egyptology, a lifelong craze which began when he collected figurines off antique stalls as a boy. After a PhD on Egyptian figurines, he spent ten more years at UCL lecturing with increasing brilliance and originality in anthropology.

‘In 1967 Ucko and his then partner Andrée Rosenfeld published his first book, Palaeolithic Cave Art. Shortly afterwards, they moved to Australia where in 1972 he became principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. This was to be a decisive, radicalising experience. “I found that my Institute was a totally white institution, whites gave out money to whites, through white committees, to study the blacks … an untenable situation.” When he left in 1980, he made sure, against angry opposition, that his successor was an Aboriginal. It was in Australia that he met the anthropologist Jane Hubert, then married to Anthony Forge (who died in 1991), who was to become Ucko’s stout-hearted partner and counsellor for the rest of his life.

Back in Britain, in 1981 he became Professor of Archaeology at Southampton University. And it was here, in the 1980s, that he encountered the crisis of his professional life. The International Union of Pre- and Protohistoric Sciences (IUPPS) proposed to hold its 11th congress at Southampton and Ucko was persuaded to organise it. At that time (it has improved since), the IUPPS had decayed into a slovenly, deeply conservative and Eurocentric clique. To its horror, Ucko insisted that he wanted the conference to be a “World Archaeological Congress, attended by archaeologists from the Third World and devoted to global themes rather than to the cosy comparison of excavations and discoveries.

After enormous exertions, he seemed to be getting his way when disaster struck. Unwisely, Ucko had pushed to the back of his mind the crisis of apartheid South Africa, and the existence of an international academic boycott. But in 1986, only months before the congress, the Southampton student union and then the municipal authorities declared that they would withdraw all facilities if South African archaeologists attended. Worse, many of the African and Asian delegates now threatened not to take part.

Well aware of the storm he would provoke, Ucko decided that the cause of a new “world archaeology” must not be abandoned. He declared that the South Africans would be disinvited. It was an act of outstanding courage. Uproar followed. Ucko was accused of betraying academic freedom. Funders withdrew; many of the leading archaeologists of Europe, Britain and America resigned from the congress and denounced him – sometimes with shameful abuse which they would now prefer to forget. The IUPPS condemned him and pulled out.

But Ucko, urged by Jane to stand fast whenever his resolve faltered, stuck to his guns. In the end, over a thousand enthusiastic delegates arrived and Ucko’s dream of a new global order for a humanised science of the past was triumphantly realised. The first World Archaeological Congress (WAC-1) took off, and no fewer than twenty-two books were published from its sessions.

The cost was heavy, not least to Ucko’s health. He had lived off his nerves for twenty years, a heavy smoker with a generous wine intake; now appeared the first signs of the diabetes which was to end his life prematurely. And the crisis did not improve his confidence in his fellow humans. Students got the benefit of his tough humour and his adventurous, eccentric imagination. But colleagues had to tread warily; you were in or out. He could be childishly sullen and suspicious one day; brilliantly welcoming and lovable the next.

In 1996, he was appointed director of the Institute of Archaeology at UCL, Britain’s leading centre of teaching and research. There were grumbles from crusty colleagues. But the maverick Ucko was now, beyond challenge, the most creative figure in British archaeology. In 1997, he launched the first courses in Public Archaeology, typically redefining it as a critical audit of the profession’s ethics in areas as diverse as the handling of the indigenous dead and archaeology in the media.

He retired in 2006. Surprisingly, Ucko refused to accept the presidency of the WAC, but his master-work lives on, its vast congresses sparkling with fresh insights and theories. The 1980s were a decade in which British innovation in archaeology (for better or worse) led the world. Margaret Thatcher “privatised” the profession, while Ian Hodder, Chris Tilley and Michael Shanks invented “postprocessual” theory. But Ucko’s contribution will outlast them all: an irreversible, institutionalised commitment to an archaeology which happens now rather than in the past, and is concerned with the living as much as with the dead.’

 

Continue Prof. Peter Ucko’s Work: Promoting international Collaborations between the two Universities

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I was really startled and grieved by Prof. Peter Ucko’s unfortunate death.

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Prof. Peter Ucko never flinched from his ethical duty, of fighting on the battlefield for the protection of culture heritage and archaeology of all peoples, even after his retirement from the directorship of the Institute of Archaeology at UCL. He dedicated his life to the career he loved. In recent years he made possible increased communication between Chinese and British Archaeology.

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I first met Prof. Peter Ucko about 7 or 8 years ago, when I visited IoA of UCL on the trip to the British Museum. Although it was only a very short visit and conversation, I could see his deep love for archaeology and his passion for developing academic communication between China and Britain. As the director of Archaeology Department of Peking University, I invited him to come to China, and he accepted.

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Based on my suggestion, he prepared the first trip very seriously, including 5 scholars in total. I still remember all the topics they talked about, himself, landscape archaeology, and others covering theory, archaeometallery, island archaeology, etc. This lecture tour made opened a door widely between Chinese academia and the world, helping our students in Peking University to understand more about the importance of Archaeology in the present world. In addition our friendship developed.

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About two years later, he organized a second lecture tour to Peking University and other Chinese universities. This delegation was also composed of 5 scholars, but with more additional preparation, and extended question and discussion time. I was impressed by the vehement arguments between that he and I on the relationship of archaeology and politics. At that time, I realized that Prof. Peter Ucko believed Archaeology can do more than just address its own subject, but can engage with politics and society to help these develop more healthily. This engagement was one of factors that drove him in his career with such passion.

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It was based on such communication and trust, that with his leadership, Peking Univeristy and UCL together founded the “International Center for the Chinese Culture Heritage and Archaeology” in 2003. The opening ceremony was conducted in Peking University, and the first steering committee meeting was held at the same time. On that meeting, we decided to send 2-3 students from China to UCL annually, to study on archaeology or conservation. So far, three groups have been sent out, from Master students at the beginning to the Ph.D students at the present. During the second steering committee meeting in UK, Prof. Peter Ucko also invited me to give a lecture in UCL about “the Course of Chinese Archaoelogy”.

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At this second meeting Prof. Peter Ucko proposed an international conference about field archaeology, theory and practice. After almost one year’s preparation, this conference was held in Peking University in last April, and involved about 50 representatives from 18 countries. Prof. Peter Ucko’s foresight for the development of world archaeology, and his dedication to developing a strategy that could be put into practice, impressed all the participants.

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Even thought I was unable to see him in the past year, I am sure that he would be still working hard on the projects he had created. I could not imagine that he would pass away such soon.

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Prof. Peter Ucko was a forthright person, a pure-hearted person, worthy of trust!

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Prof. Peter Ucko has left us, but the bridge he has made for communication between Chinese and British archaeology is wide and strong because of him.

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Prof. Peter Ucko has left us, but his passion and energy for archaeology will inspire the next generations.

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Prof. Peter Ucko has left us, but the profound friendship between us will be kept deep in our hearts for ever.
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Please rest in peace! My dear friend Prof. Peter Ucko!

Prof. Li Boqian
Former Director of School of Archaeology and Museology, Peking University
2007.6.21, at Houma, Shanxi province

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Professor Peter Ucko

Archaeologist who transformed Aboriginal studies and founded the World Archaeological Congress

Peter Ucko made an important contribution to academic archaeology, notably through his work on Palaeolithic rock art. But he also had a genius for organisation, and – as director of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies from 1972 to 1980, and the founder of the World Archaeological Congress (WAC), among other roles – he is perhaps better known as one of its crusading politicians.

Peter John Ucko was born to refugees from central Europe in London in 1938. Having developed a fascination with Egyptology as a child, he completed a first degree in anthropology at University College London in 1959. He first made his name with innovative work integrating archaeology and anthropology in the study of material culture.

He moved to the Institute of Archaeology (at that time independent of UCL) to write a PhD on prehistoric human figurines from Western Asia and the Aegean, relying on comparative evidence from anthropology to dispute the common assumption that figurines were typically associated with fertility cults. He rejected piecemeal ethnographic parallels and instead sought to develop a systematic approach to correlations between social function and archaeological context.

On completing his PhD in 1962 Ucko returned to UCL to organise the teaching of material culture in the anthropology programme. He dismantled any tendency among his students to presume that the term “primitive” implied “inferior”, or that farmers inevitably followed hunters in a simple story of unilinear progress; and he set out a general programme for assessing evidence of diffusion or independent invention.

Ucko’s early academic publications broke new ground in the study of material culture – penis sheaths, funerary remains, rock art. His World University Library book on Palaeolithic rock art (1967, co-authored with Andrée Rosenfeld) drew on ethnographic evidence from Australia, inaugurating the contacts that led to his appointment as director of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies in Canberra in 1972.

The institute (which was to become the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in 1989) had been established ten years before with a remit to salvage records of what were assumed to be disappearing Aboriginal cultures. Its brief explicitly excluded study of the contemporary condition of indigenous communities, for fear that these might jeopardise both the government funding on which the institute depended and anthropologists’ future fieldwork at a time when access to Aboriginal communities was tightly regulated by government or church agencies.

Ucko was committed to improving the quality of research at the institute, and soon organised a multi-disciplinary conference, but quickly came under attack from Aboriginal activists for not redirecting research towards contemporary, practical issues.

Ucko secured Aboriginal participation in the institute’s management. His own publications virtually ceased as he set up an ambitious programme to recruit and promote a generation of social scientists who would investigate and publicise the contemporary conditions of Aboriginal life. This would not have been possible without a change of government in Australia. Both the new Whitlam Government and the Liberal regime of Malcolm Fraser that succeeded it were committed to negotiating with Aboriginal communities, although Ucko’s provision of anthropologists to document Aboriginal land claims tested the limits of government tolerance. The institute’s new publications programme included a substantial number of Aboriginal authors.

On returning to the UK in 1981 to become head of the archaeology department at the University of Southampton, Ucko initiated a new research project in Mediterranean archaeology, but this became less important as he again became involved in the politics of archaeology. In 1982 Ucko became national secretary of the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences, and developed an innovative programme for the next five-yearly international conference.

He made arrangements to involve indigenous archaeologists from Africa, the Americas, Australia and Asia. Apartheid still ruled in South Africa, however, and the 1985 declaration of a state of emergency in the face of increasing black opposition led the United Nations to call for sanctions against South Africa. The University of Southampton students’ union and the city council challenged Ucko to preclude South African archaeologists from participating in the conference.

Invited participants from Sweden, Nigeria and India announced that they would withdraw if South Africans attended. It is no surprise, given his work in Australia, that Ucko agreed to a boycott. Disowned by the UISPP, he created a new organisation, the World Archaeological Congress. The conference took place, with more than 1,000 participants from almost 100 countries, and resulted in 22 books whose topics ranged from the academic to the polemical.

After shaky beginnings, the WAC has become a significant force in archaeology, transforming the discipline through its promotion of international collaboration and political awareness without sacrificing academic standards. Subsequent WAC congresses have taken place at five-year intervals in Venezuela, India, South Africa and the US. The One World Archaeology series inaugurated in Southampton now includes 50 volumes.

In 1996 Ucko left Southampton to return, as principal, to the Institute of Archaeology. He set about restructuring the institute’s teaching programme to realise the integrated archaeological/anthropological approach he had championed in his days as a junior lecturer at UCL.

Although standing back from the management of WAC he continued for some years as series editor of One World Archaeology, and co-edited the volume on The Archaeology and Anthropology of Landscape (1999). Retiring in 2005, he finally returned to research, publishing nine papers in 2006, including one on Sigmund Freud’s artefact collection.

In 1979 Ucko was awarded the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Rivers medal for his sustained contribution to anthropological research. In recognition of his work on Palaeolithic rock art he was made membre d’honneur of the Prehistoric Society of Ariège in 1985. In 2005 he delivered the RAI’s Huxley Memorial Lecture. He is survived by his partner, Jane Hubert.

Professor Peter Ucko, archaeologist, was born on July 27, 1938. He died of diabetic complications on June 14, 2007, aged 68

 

Peter Ucko – Remembered

Norman Hammond writes: Peter Ucko’s career of archaeological controversy began earlier than your obituary (June 26) describes, with the case of the Hacilar Fakes in 1969. A number of museums, among them the British Museum, the Ashmolean and the Louvre, had acquired Anatolian Neolithic painted anthropomorphic vessels, allegedly from the Hacilar site in southern Turkey and between 7,000 and 8,000 years old. Turkey’s antiquities laws forbade export, so the museums knew that they were purchasing apparently looted and smuggled objects.

Ucko had already been concerned about the pieces’ genuineness, and by stylistic analysis determined that a substantial number of the vessels were forgeries. A series of thermoluminescence tests by Martin Aitken and Teddy Hall showed that more than 70 per cent of the pots tested, including all of those fingered by Ucko, were modern fakes. A local peasant, Sevcet Cetimkaya, was arrested but freed when it was pointed out that exporting modern ceramics was not a crime.

Peter Ucko collaborated cheerfully on The Times’s front-page exclusive coverage (July 30, 1971), but later fell out with the paper over its views on the debacle of the 1986 UISPP Congress, when the banning of South Africa’s courageous archaeologists led to many others declining to attend. One Times leading article annoyed Ucko so much that when he quoted it in his book on the affair, he quietly altered the text to suit his purposes.

 

Archaeologist who fought for history’s underdogs dies

Peter Ucko, one of the great and controversial achievers in world archaeology, died on June 14 aged 68, at home in London in the city of his birth. He was not an excavator or a media performer, and to large sectors of the profession he was little known. But in others, particularly in academia and archaeological politics and human rights , he was a leading figure who changed forever the worlds he touched.

That force is best illustrated by his organisation of the 11th Congress of the International Union of Pre- and Proto-historic Sciences, a once important European archaeological forum. Head of the archaeology department at Southampton University, he had approval to do it his way, with a world focus and delegates from indigenous communities whose archaeology was being studied by others. In 1985, the year before the conference, the un called for a boycott of apartheid South Africa. In sympathy with the many attendants who would otherwise not come – and under pressure from the Southampton authorities and the student union – Ucko disinvited South African academics.

Ferment ensued. International media debated issues of free speech. A Times leader claimed the meeting would now be a “rump congress attended by a disreputable group of British Communists and ‘Third World’ archaeologists”. Most north American and all Israeli archaeologists withdrew, the IUPPS itself pulled out and Ucko created a new executive committee after most of its members resigned. The subsequent World Archaeological Congress was a success, and is now established as a major four-yearly event (WAC6 will be in Dublin next year). Its impact has been profound, creating a strong voice for an archaeology beyond artefacts and antiquity, that engages with values, people and politics.

Ucko used his anthropological training to study near eastern figurines for his PhD at UCL, leading to publications critical of the “mother goddess” and simplistic interpretations of ancient art. After lecturing at UCL Anthropology, in 1972 he became principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra. He moved to Southampton in 1981, and in 1996 became heAD of UCL Institute of Archaeology.

He cared deeply for his students, and as chair of the CBA’s education committee, he pushed hard for archaeology to be included in the national curriculum. Though keen on public archaeology and a lover of TV soap opera, Ucko did not understand modern media. His many publications (which included an edited study of 18th century Avebury manuscripts, a rare excursion into the British field) were typically unaffordable to most of those for whom he wrote; emails, which he always printed, were “a waste of trees”.

His personality mixed shyness and unstoppable determination to further an important cause, with selfless concern for others and an unwitting ability to be cruel to those whose actions he deplored or did not understand. He challenged those who said there were no strong characters left in archaeology

See also Times online article.

 

Remembering Peter

Arkadiusz Marciniak
Institute of Prehistory
University of Poznan

I first met Peter Ucko at Southampton bus station on a rainy October day in 1989. I had come to the UK for a short fellowship visit, taking the first available opportunity to do so following the collapse of communist rule in Central Europe and the fall of the Iron Curtain. The very circumstances of this trip to Southampton defined the way we met in years to come. Despite having never spoken to him before I called him; I wanted to talk to the man well known in my country as a controversial figure in world archaeology in the post-1986 conference era. After two minutes or so of the phone conversation, he said ‘Why don’t you come down here?’ and after a few seconds thought I replied ‘why not?’ And this is how the story begins.

This first encounter marked and stigmatized the following eighteen years. I shared with Peter my then quickly developing conviction that virtually nothing is impossible to achieve, irrespective how difficult it may appear; and the more complex and impossible seeming the better. For example he invited me to teach a graduate course at UCL and, considering and I was unable to be in London for a consecutive three months or so, he immediately suggested flying me over once a week. I did it and it worked perfectly fine, we were both very satisfied. Or asking me a couple of weeks in advance if I could make it to the London meeting on August 2. The list goes on.

I had the honour and pleasure of getting to know Peter and ultimately it was my privilege to become his friend. My memories are of both fun and challenging experiences, all of which have greatly enriched my life. I enjoyed immensely countless conversations over a bottle of fizzy wine; a drink which in fact I had never liked before. His warmth, wit, energy, passion for archaeology or, more precicely, archaeologies, were always much in evidence and I always enjoyed seeing the twinkle to his eye as he tried to provoke me.

Peter never sought to shepherd a flock of all-believing, uncritical followers and in return, unequivocally help them out. We disagreed on a number of issues and he certainly would not have taken the same academic path as I eventually did. Our professional interests differed, often considerably. His fascination with ancient Egypt contrasted with my Neolithic endeavours, his figurine studies with my faunal investigations, his deep affection for Aboriginal studies with my interest in the history of archaeological thought in Central Europe, and sometimes he tried to push me gently in a direction I was not comfortable with. Considering all these, if he had lost interest in maintaining contact with me, I would have easily understood. However all these differences did not change his attitude to me at all and I was always aware of and very much appreciated this. His trust in me was incredibly gratifying and I did my best to earn that trust. Moreover, his help continued; he was always truly interested in what I had been doing since we had last met and wanted to know what plans for the future I had. We had common plans for the coming years as well, which should have been discussed roughly at the time that this piece will appear in print. They will never be materialized, as they cannot be realized without you Peter, …quite.

The last dinner I had the pleasure to have with him and Jane was, surprisingly, the first occasion we spent with my entire family there; I and my family were on holiday in London. He took us to a restaurant, the main attraction of which was the chance for children to throw and break the plates. My daughters were pretty scared hearing about it and they reluctantly started to play the game on Peter’s insistence. When they evenually enjoyed it, he regarded them with genuine satisfaction and affection. I did not have the good fortune to see Peter during my visit to the UK in early May this year. He was in hospital and did not feel well enough. But I promised to come again in August.

In January 2006, two weeks after the London conference at which Peter was presented with a festschrift I was, yet again, a guest in his London flat. As a contributor to the special book I was due to recieve a complimentary copy from the publisher a couple of weeks later. However, to my surprise Peter insisted on handing one of his own copies over to me and there was no way to stop him. I was astonished to see what he wrote as a dedication: ‘to remember so many experiences together that I cannot remember the details of all of them! You have made the past years very memorable…’ I was certainly pleased to have these very special words written to me but at the same time I felt we had so many more common experiences in front of us, some of them quite concrete and specific, that these words sounding like a farewell were said far too early. But as I see now Peter was right again; we managed to add only two more encounters to these many experiences and now I am the only now who will try remember the details of all of them. I will cherish these memories and still cannot come to terms with the awareness that no new ones will be added. I will miss you greatly Peter…

Peter Ucko examining a brew, as part of a range of field experiments in early technology, Easter, 1968. Photo: Peter Drewett

Peter examining rock art

Peter in Sri Lanka

Peter in a boat on a rock art expedition

Peter Ucko, Paul Sinclair, Gustav Trotzig, Mohamed Isahakia (then Director, National Museums of Kenya), Richard Leakey, George Abungu, Lorna Abungu, Gilbert Pwiti

WAC Executive meeting at the WAC InterCongress in Mombasa, Kenya, 1993.
From left: Peter Stone (Secretariat), Peter Ucko (acting Secretary), Jack Golson (President) and Sue Bulmer (Treasurer)

On the beach at Jumba la Mtwana. Peter Ucko and Lorna Abungu talking/eating

Peter Ucko and Geo Chongwen, at the ‘From concepts of the past to practical strategies: the teaching of archaeological field techniques’ conference, Peking University, April 2006

Peter Ucko and Geo Chongwen, at the ‘From concepts of the past to practical strategies: the teaching of archaeological field techniques’ conference, Peking University, April 2006

Peter Ucko and Arek Marciniak, Munich airport April 2006

Peter Ucko, Munich airport April 2006

With Bassey Andah WAC 1993 Mombasa

With Jack Golson, WAC Venezuela

Interviewing students, China 2006

WAC, South Dakota, 1980

Australia early 1970s.

Peter with Mike Rowlands in August 1973, taken in Santander (Northern Spain) during a day off from the Hornos de la Pena rock art project.