Andrew Sherratt Remembered

Antiquity, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Andrew Sherratt Remembered


Andrew Sherratt was a scholar of world class and with worm interests, who will be missed as much for what he had yet to do, as for what he had already achieved. Andrew was a lively and influential director of Antiquity, someone to whom we turned for advice, enthusiasm, opinion, anecdote, perspicacity and persiflage--on subjects ranging from digital publication to the Nebra disk. Obituaries have appeared in a number of national newspapers and tributes have been printed in newsletters and heard on the radio. But away from the formal voices which try to nail a plaque on the wall of official memory, many sad, glad and affectionate exchanges go unrecorded, between colleague and colleague, student and student and among that broad, unseen, evening public. As Antiquity's thank offering, John O'Shea, Stephen Sherman and David Wengrow remember Andrew as teacher, inspiration and friend.

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To say that Andrew Sherratt was an archaeologist seems somehow inadequate. Andrew lived archaeology. His wife, Sue, is an accomplished archaeologist in her own right, and their house at Long Hanborough seemed permanently occupied by visiting researchers and students. And whether gossiping about archaeologists over coffee in the Oxford Playhouse lounge, or bouncing down a muddy track looking for some Koros settlement in east Hungary, he displayed the same sense of total absorption and enjoyment. We all became immersed in Andrew's world when he was with us, and that world was archaeology. Andrew's most enduring legacy will be his teaching. The enthusiasm for archaeology he imprinted on generations of students and colleagues will far outlast any particular piece of research or writing, which makes it all the more regrettable that he did not hold a normal teaching post until very late in his life.

Andrew loved maps, and firmly believed that something essential and fundamental about the past was encoded in the lines and dots of the typical archaeological distribution map. He avidly collected maps of all kinds and, well before there was either the idea or technology for modern GIS, he persuaded the British Science Research Council to fund a project to collect, digitize, and combine them. When Andrew began his field research in eastern Hungary, the central role of maps to archaeological understanding ran head-on into the Soviet-era map-paranoia. So, armed with captured World War II-era maps, colour pencils, and lots of tracing paper, Andrew and Sue spent countless hours kneeling on Nandor Kalicz's floor in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences tracing the newly reported site distributions off the forbidden 1:10 000 scale maps.

In retrospect, these efforts can be rightly seen as the opening of the modern era of collaborative research on the Great Hungarian Plain. The early years in Hungary were not, however, a model of Big Science. Rather than a majestic vision of the Neolithic, memories of those early field seasons revolve around thin stews made of onions and peppers with an occasional sardine, leaking mud-sodden pup tents, and a broken down Fiat van. Only the reassuring cadence of Andrew mimicking famous archaeologists (did Charles MacBurney really talk like that?) and non-stop streams of espresso kept morale from collapsing.

On my first visit to Andrew's Ashmolean Museum office in 19741 noticed a small picture of V.G. Childe on the wall, right above his desk. This was unexpected, since it was a time when much of Childe's work, such as the idea of a Neolithic Revolution, was being challenged by the New Archaeology. If there was to be a portrait, shouldn't it have been of Binford, or his friend and teacher David Clarke? But, like Childe, Andrew could convincingly claim an understanding of the whole of European prehistory--from the Baltic to the Aegean and from the British Isles to Bulgaria. And like Childe, this perspective was hard-won from an intimate knowledge of the specific types and finds coupled with an encyclopedic appreciation of the landscape over which the material was scattered. …

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