Obituary: Roger Moorey ; Scholar of near Eastern Archaeology

By Stephanie Dalley and Helen Whitehouse | The Independent (London, England), January 18, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Roger Moorey ; Scholar of near Eastern Archaeology


Stephanie Dalley and Helen Whitehouse, The Independent (London, England)


ROGER MOOREY was the foremost scholar of his generation in the archaeology of the ancient Near East. His personal reputation drew to Oxford, where he was Keeper in the Department of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum until 2002, students and researchers from all over the world.

He was born in 1937 in Bush Hill Park, Middlesex. The early loss of his parents perhaps helped to shape a singularly independent and resolute character. He attended Mill Hill School, followed in 1956 by National Service, spent in Cyprus as a member of the Intelligence Corps. The Army instilled in him lifelong habits: punctuality, self- discipline, the rapid daily walk from home to work, and the maintenance of brilliantly polished shoes.

Going up to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1958, he read Modern History, but an interest in the ancient Near East had already been kindled in his schooldays, and he was a leading light in the university's Archaeological Society.

His entire career was spent in Oxford University at the Ashmolean Museum; he resisted the temptation to cross the Atlantic for a prestigious chair. He joined the Department of Antiquities in 1961, his duties covering Egypt as well as the rest of the Near East, which gave him an unusually broad view of ancient connections. It was a flourishing department under the Keepership of Robert Hamilton, himself distinguished in Near Eastern archaeology and pursuing an active acquisitions policy. The museum could still help to sponsor excavations in the Near East in return for a share of small finds, and was also receiving significant donations. A series of exhibitions in the 1960s celebrated its links with generous collectors - most notably James Bomford - and a new Near Eastern gallery was installed.

At the end of the decade constitutional changes included the recommendation that the museum's curators should "assist in relevant teaching and research within the university": these were the activities closest to Roger Moorey's heart, and for almost 30 years he was a committed and influential teacher.

He was a good listener, whose breadth of interests, clear thinking, and humour could inspire his students and set them on course for their own achievements. He could communicate at all levels; a question from a member of the public was accorded as carefully considered an answer as a query from one of his professional peers, and he welcomed unreservedly the recent widening of the museum's involvement in public education.

He became Keeper of the Department of Antiquities in 1983, bringing to the post that wisdom and humanity which were equally esteemed at Wolfson College, where he was a Fellow from 1976, and in the university, as well as on the various national committees of which he was an eagerly sought member. He disliked confrontation and would work for a consensus. Latterly he acted for two periods as director of the museum, a post which he never wished for himself.

His prodigious output in writing and editing began even before the completion of his doctorate, awarded in 1967 for a catalogue of the museum's Persian bronzes which passed swiftly into print (Catalogue of the Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Ashmolean Museum, 1971).

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