PROFESSOR PETER UCKO ; Maverick Archaeologist Who Oversaw a Revolution in the Structure and Outlook of His Profession
Ascherson, Neal, The Independent (London, England)
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 anthro-pology 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 Egyptianfigurines,hespent10moreyears at UCL lecturing with increasing brilliance and originality in anthropology.
In 1967 Ucko and his then partner Andree 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, rad- icalising 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 …
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Publication information: Article title: PROFESSOR PETER UCKO ; Maverick Archaeologist Who Oversaw a Revolution in the Structure and Outlook of His Profession. Contributors: Ascherson, Neal - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 21, 2007. Page number: Not available. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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