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Philip Rahtz

11 March 1921 — 2 June 2011

Appreciations by:




Appreciation by
Catherine Hills

Philip Rahtz at Sutton Hoo
Philip Rahtz at Sutton Hoo

I met Philip Rahtz in the 1960s, when I went as a student to dig on his excavation at Beckery chapel at Glastonbury. Long before Glastonbury became synonymous with music and mud, it was a place where strange ideas and people flourished: it was said that the signs of the zodiac could be read across the Somerset landscape — and ancient man could levitate himself to view them; the room where the Last Supper took place had been recreated by a reincarnation of someone who had been present at it — in what capacity was not known; a fellow troweller one day sat up and asked if I had noticed Glastonbury Tor and Wells cathedral were in a straight line, so I suggested that it was equally significant that South Cadbury would make it a triangle... Philip took a practical view about all this, he was happy to listen, and to explore such ideas through excavation, but then usually showed they did not stand up: the Chalice Well was part of the monastic waterworks (its waters did not flow from the Holy Grail): yes, he did find 'Arthurian' period pottery on top of the Tor, but not King Arthur.

The Beckery dig, and Philip, were unlike the previous excavations and directors I had known. As a school-girl I dug on Sundays at Epperstone near Nottingham, where a small team led by Stan Revill slowly dug a Roman villa. At Fishbourne and Winchester, I was one of the hordes of trowellers at the base of hierarchical pyramids at whose apices respectively were Barry Cunliffe and Martin Biddle, distant and eminent figures who came by sometimes with an entourage to inspect our efforts. Beckery was much better as an introduction to field method. Philip was constantly active, digging, explaining, discussing with everyone on the site. He also welcomed the numerous visitors, among them Andrew and Wendy Selkirk in a camper van, just starting Current Archaeology, and Charles Ralegh Radford who arrived on a wet day, with long macintosh over bare knobbly knees, to discuss with Philip for a very long time in the rain the significance of a few stones which might have been Dark Age. I learnt there most of what I know about south-western Britain in the sub Roman/Dark Age/ Arthurian/ fifth century AD. We went to visit Alcock at South Cadbury and on trips to the sea, where some younger diggers followed Philip's example of swimming naked — much to the surprise of the middle-aged volunteers.

Swimming was always a feature of Philip's life— he plunged into the sea wherever he was. Nudism was also a persistent feature: when professor at York, living in a flat in the King's Manor, visitors were obliged to pass a large photo of Philip wearing no clothes. Somehow swimming, nudity, digging, the Dark Ages and other novel things like muesli, were all mixed up in my mind as new and interesting ways of doing things, some of which have stayed with me.

Later memories are mostly of visiting sites to find Philip digging — in a deep hole at Repton, at Deerhurst and Sutton Hoo — and more recently at Kirkdale where he is now buried. The years when he became steadily less physically capable must have been extremely hard, both for Philip and Lorna. Philip was a great communicator, a lecturer and writer with a forceful rather than an elegant style of writing, a practical approach rather than abstract theory. He read widely, especially in later years, and could be led into a good argument about some aspect of archaeology — or almost anything else — almost to his last months.

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Appreciation by
Terry Barry

I was an undergraduate student of Philip's from 1967 to 1970 in the University of Birmingham. Looking back from the perspective of over 40 years we were a pretty exceptional year in academic terms as two of my contemporaries who were in Ancient and Medieval History rather than in my programme of Medieval and Modern History, John Haldon, now at Princeton, and Margaret Mullett, also in the USA, have both become experts in the field of Byzantine history and archaeology. I also teach medieval archaeology here in Trinity College Dublin. Then in the year below me were Lorna Watts who became Philip's second wife, and who looked after him so well until his death earlier this year, and also Grenville Astill now in the University of Reading, and Sue Wright who works in the Museum of London. Also, largely unbeknownst to us then there was Chris Dyer, who was a research student of Rodney Hilton, one of the finest intellects in the University. Also, in the Department of Geography a few years before me, was Mick Aston of 'Time Team' fame who was also taught by Philip. So Birmingham then was a real powerhouse of research into the medieval past of the vast majority of that population who were not literate.

I can still remember the Special Subjects that Philip taught on medieval archaeology in which we examined in great detail the excavations of some of his most important medieval sites, such as Cheddar Anglo-Saxon palace. We also did another on DMVs in which Rodney Hilton, the greatest expert on the medieval peasant in Britain, joined Philip. Only later on did I realise how privileged I was to have sat through such a combination of talents on the subject. In some ways, they were even better possibly than the more famous Hurst and Beresford combination at Wharram Percy. Indeed, I was with Philip at Upton DMV in Gloucestershire when his excavation, which he did in tandem with Hilton, was infilled.

But Philip was undoubtedly at his best in the field: indeed he was certainly the finest archaeologist I have ever had the privilege of working with in my long career. He instinctively seemed to know where to look for a particular context or stratigraphical level. He also is the only archaeologist I have worked with who used a garden fork as a particular excavation tool. One particularly important excavation I took part in was his examination of part of the Anglo-Saxon defences of Hereford City. It was thrilling as a young 19-year-old undergraduate to be part of a well-organised excavation team, led by one of the greatest medieval archaeologists, as we excavated such a complex and important site.

He also took me and other undergraduates to other famous sites, such as the Middle Saxon settlement site at West Stow in Suffolk, where I remember having to sleep under his bed in his Land Rover. It was an icy night as it was in November and I can still remember how cold the metal floor of the vehicle felt, made worse by the fact that I couldn't turn all night long! Stanley West, the excavator, took us around the grubenhauser there, which were so easy to see because of their red and yellowish fills. This was so unlike the situation at Mucking in Essex, where I was a site supervisor in 1970, as it was so difficult there to identify the Anglo-Saxon structures from the natural gravel horizons! Before I went up to Birmingham I was already interested in archaeology, but what Philip did so well was to encourage and develop this interest. Not only did he share his incredible knowledge of archaeology with us, but also he treated us as members of his archaeological family. His love of classical music also rubbed off on me as well. He always played music while he was working on his reports, and he will be one of the very few archaeologists who had such an active career in the field, but who has published virtually all his excavations. Philip may have gone but his influence on archaeology will remain for many, many years. It was so fortunate for me, and for many other students as well, to have known one of the truly great medieval archaeologists in Britain.

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Appreciation by
Max Adams

Philip Rahtz: a memoir
In the autumn of 1979 I went for interviews at York and Durham. I wanted to be a field archaeologist. Rosemary Cramp was authoritative, intellectual, grave and kind; Durham offered certainty, an established record of excellence, a sense of its own place in the past. Philip interviewed me in York's chemistry department; his own didn't exist yet, he admitted. What he seemed to be selling was a chance to help build his vision from scratch, to develop a curriculum for training field archaeologists by a complete intellectual, physical and aesthetic submersion in the past. An honours degree in polymathematics seemed to be on offer. That was good enough for me.

Philip had chosen his colleagues well. Tania Dickinson had precisely the right forensic mind and rigorous style to keep Philip — and us — on the straight and narrow. The visiting lecturers, and there seemed to be dozens of them, included Richard Morris, Harold Taylor, Phillip Barker, Dominic Powlesland and Richard Bradley. They worked us pretty hard in term and out. Sixteen weeks' digging: both summer holidays. He was determined that we should be sound exponents of our craft, and so we gave our own seminars and lectures and our essays had to be literate, interesting, rhetorically compelling. Looking back, the whole atmosphere was that of a finishing school: excellence was expected and the tiny student body, just twelve in my year, were in competition for his approbation. Each student brought something different to the party, as if Philip had hand-picked us.

Philip's teaching style was provocative, exploratory, mischievous. He threw things at us to keep us off guard; he could be brutally honest. He was equally generous: I remembering him handing me an offprint of an article he had written — he had quoted and credited one of my essays. Chiefly his genius was in encouraging us all to think independently and critically, above all to think creatively. He once suggested offering an MA in Archaeology and science fiction; he was only half-joking. At an end-of-year party on Middle-East theme he came as a North York Moor. Music, literature, art, comedy, the ridiculous, all mattered to him because they were essential components of what he thought of as the humanities; none was worthwhile without the others. And archaeology, as Philip understood it, was the humanities.

Philip sometimes struggled to see brilliance in an area that he did not himself understand. He could misjudge personality; he often left one infuriatingly up in the air. A conversation would trail off leaving one without an answer to a question; he would lose interest in people.

Philip's graduates were all archaeologists: we looked, and look at the world as archaeologists. But Philip also knew, and made damn sure we understood, that the world is more than a mere interest in the material past.

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Appreciation by
Peter Addyman

Self-taught archaeologist who pioneered investigation of medieval sites and excavated King Alfred's palace at Cheddar.

A self-taught archaeologist whose excavations in the 1950s and 1960s did much to demonstrate the potential of the emerging discipline of medieval archaeology, Philip Rahtz became the founding Professor of Archaeology at the University of York and one of the most productive and energetic excavators of his time.

Philip Arthur Rahtz, born in Bristol in 1921, the son of a schoolmaster and grandson of a quarry manager from Gdansk, left Bristol Grammar School at 16 and was articled to chartered accountants until called up into the RAF in 1941. Serving as an electrical technician he met a co-conscript, the archaeologist Ernest Greenfield, who introduced him to the archaeology of Somerset and Wiltshire where they were stationed. He ended his RAF career as an educational and vocational training instructor and on demobilisation in 1946 decided to become a teacher, meanwhile setting up a professional photography business, Studio Rahtz, in Bristol while awaiting a training course.

He and his wife Wendy, both deeply interested in archaeology though with no experience, armed themselves with a copy of RJC Atkinson's Field Archaeology, and began to excavate a prized local site, thought to be a Bronze Age burial mound, at Butcombe, Somerset. The mound proved to be a medieval windmill base but their work attracted the attention first of concerned local experts then of Bryan O'Neil, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments. Despite their inexperience the pair had made a respectable job of the the Butcombe dig and O'Neil encouraged Rahtz to undertake other Somerset work and in spare time from teaching he excavated the Roman temple complex and well at Pagan's Hill near Chew Stoke. Construction of the Chew Valley Reservoir nearby meanwhile began to reveal extensive archaeology and he was asked by the Ministry of Works to carry out rescue excavations. These eventually became so extensive and productive that he decided to change careers yet again and try to make a living as a full-time excavator, working as a consultant to the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments.

The Chew Valley project, with Greenfield as co-director, became the first major archaeological landscape investigation in Britain. The area to be inundated produced evidence of occupation in the Neolithic, the Bronze Age, the Roman period - including a Roman villa - and the medieval period. These were early days for medieval archaeology but the supervising Ancient Monuments inspector was John Hurst, a formative figure in the discipline, and he encouraged and through the Ministry financed Rahtz to excavate the shrunken medieval village of Moreton, one of the first such sites to be investigated, and other medieval structures including a nunnery, chapel, mill and industrial remains.

For a number of years thereafter Rahtz led an itinerant life as a Ministry excavator of archaeological sites threatened by destruction, paid by the job, faced by anything from the Mesolithic to the medieval, and challenged to make sense of them in often quite short excavations carried out for the most part by unskilled labourers. Reports were expected but not paid for, so, needing every penny to finance a now-growing family, he developed a routine of writing each site up while excavating the next. To achieve this he devised an economical procedure of recording, photography, for which his Studio Rahtz experience proved invaluable, analysis, report writing and perceptive and lucid illustration. This soon led to a burgeoning list of publications and a growing reputation. The Bronze Age settlement at Shearplace Hill, Dorset, the Roman Villa at Downton, Wiltshire, the Anglian cemetery at Sewerby, East Yorkshire, King John's Hunting Lodge at Writtle, Essex, and many others, efficiently excavated and elegantly and often speedily published, established themselves in the literature as type sites.

Rahtz, still collaborating closely with John Hurst, became the Ministry's specialist excavator of post-Roman sites, travelling round England north, south, east and particularly west, wherever his skills were needed. Avowedly a free spirit, he took with enthusiasm to the itinerant life and the freedom and opportunities it gave, releasing him from the more immediate ties of family life, as his autobiography Living Archaeology (2001) makes clear. At a time when medieval archaeology was coming of age as a discipline, however, he did as much as anyone to show how the approaches and techniques of prehistoric and Roman archaeology, applied to medieval sites, could bring real rewards.

At the end of 1960 Rahtz was faced with one of his most important and difficult challenges, the excavation of the Anglo-Saxon and medieval royal palace at Cheddar, where a new school was to be built. He excavated it brilliantly over the next three years. Cheddar, mentioned in the will of Alfred the Great and the meeting place of the Witan in 941, 956 and 968, provided the first excavated evidence of the style and state of ninth century and later kings. It rapidly became one of the classic sites of Anglo-Saxon archaeology and established Rahtz as one of the great excavators of his day. He followed Cheddar by the excavation of a vast post-Roman cemetery at Cannington , at that time one of the largest cemetery excavations ever undertaken in Britain, a pathfinder in palaeodemography and another of his many major contributions to Somerset history and post-Roman archaeology.

Cooperation with Professor Rodney Hilton of the University of Birmingham over their excavation of the medieval village of Upton, Gloucestershire, revealed Rahtz' skill as an educator and led to his appointment, a man with no degree, as Assistant Lecturer in the School of History at the University. Learning rapidly as he went along - sometimes being given reading lists by sympathetic students - he developed one of the earliest taught courses in medieval archaeology, acquired an MA (from Bristol) for his Cheddar report, and progressed to a readership in the 1970s.

Fieldwork in these years, in addition to a term spent in Ghana and a medieval excavation in Yugoslavia, included several seasons of excavation near Glastonbury, including Glastonbury Tor, replacing Arthurian legend with hard archaeological fact. Work with Peter Fowler at Cadbury Congresbury, an Iron Age hillfort re-occupied in the post-Roman period, added further to knowledge of early medieval Somerset. He put his name and support, too, to the 1970s rescue archaeology campaign which drew attention to the burgeoning destruction of archaeological sites by development, motorway construction and intensive agriculture. Rahtz edited the Pelican Rescue Archaeology (1974) and the campaign achieved a 10-fold increase in government spending on rescue excavation. Rahtz also worked with the architectural historian Harold Taylor at the Anglo-Saxon church of St Mary, Deerhurst, demonstrating the power of coordinated study of standing structures and the archaeological deposits around them to elucidate even very well-known buildings. Bordesley Abbey within the new town of Reddich in Worcestershire, a massive excavation, provided further opportunities for technique development and training and a succession of able students came under his influence in these years including Professor Mick Aston of Time Team and several others who progressed to chairs.

Rahtz moved to the University of York in 1978 to set up a new Department of Archaeology where he devised thematically based, seminar-taught courses with a heavy emphasis towards medieval archaeology and on practical work, not everyone's idea of the best way of teaching the subject. The high calibre staff he assembled, however, supplied the necessary academic rigour and more vocationally-motivated students, as at Birmingham, went on to distinguished achievements. At York he had found the very active York Archaeological Trust on his doorstep, so diplomatically put the emphasis of his Department's fieldwork elsewhere. Joining forces with his old patron John Hurst, he took his students to the long-running excavations at the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy, developing new strategies, introducing new techniques and, as ever, generating a number of publications.

Rahtz saw his retirement in 1986 as an opportunity first to publish his many excavations and then to carry out further fieldwork, never doing more than he felt he could prepare for publication in the ensuing year. He now had time, too, for national archaeological affairs as President of the Council for British Archaeology. He had re-married in 1978 and he and Lorna Watts retired to Harome, on the edge of the North York Moors, life being enlivened by the arrival of their son Matthew, just 50 years, Rahtz liked to remark, after the arrival of his first child. They began to study St Gregory's church at Kirkdale nearby, a well-known Anglo-Saxon structure, with sculpture and a dated and inscribed 11th century sundial. Through years of limited but meticulous excavation and landscape study they made a convincing case for it having been an early Anglo-Saxon monastery. Latterly they turned their attention to the Roman milieu into which such places were set and during the early years of the twenty-first century, well into his eighties, Rahtz was still excavating - at a newly discovered Roman villa at Blandsby Park near Pickering.

He is survived by his second wife Lorna Watts, three sons and two daughters of his first marriage and one son of his second.

Professor Philip Rahtz, archaeologist, was born on March 11, 1921. He died on June 2nd 2011 aged 90.

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Appreciation by
Paul Stamper

I was the probably none-too effective assistant director at Wharram Percy when Philip arrived as his old friend John Hurst's Joint Director in 1981 for the last ten seasons of excavation. Thenceforward, each year Philip, Lorna, caravans, vintage Land Rovers and a cohort of York students would set up camp at the North Manor as a slightly arms-length independent excavation state.

At first treated by the Wharramites with some suspicion, a pageant written by Gus Milne and Warwick Burton on the theme of the Saxons (Wharramites) and the Vikings (Yorkies, as they were known) and their eventual integration did much to break down rivalries. Philip sat chortling in the front row during the performance wearing a saucepan-with-cardboard-horns Viking helmet. Weekly site tours introduced us all to Rahtzian theories and acronyms, such as LMZ for linear movement zone (or road in common parlance), as well as glimpses of his brilliance and independence of mind as excavator. One throwaway remark caught this for me: 'The fork is a very sensitive instrument', although the day he attacked a much cleaned and discussed grubenhaus with one during tea break (Fourses in Wharram parlance) caused much disquiet among his students.

A few times a week, during the afternoon, Philip would drive the 100 yards from his North Manor site to the South Manor where Bob Croft and I were excavating. Leaving the engine running Philip (often barely dressed) would straddle the barbed wire fence, chat in his distinctive way for a few minutes, always fascinatingly and usually chewing on a paper hanky which poked out of the corner of his mouth, and then wander off back across the fence, still mumbling, to drive off with the Land Rover door flapping open back to his caravan to watch Wimbledon on a miniscule battery-powered television.

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Appreciation by
Pat Ellison-Reed

Others can write of Philip's massive contribution to archaeology. This is personal. Philip, that wonderful man, a superb teacher and a true friend. His love of people, his love of learning and his delight in the various idiocies of life permeated every contact with him. I was one of his lucky students at York. The course, designed by him, deliberately had either Friday afternoon or Monday morning free "To allow homesick students to get home over the weekend".

His enthusiasm was palpable and infectious and he aimed to produce competent field archaeologists who also had the academic grounding to interpret their findings. He arranged the year carefully so that every Summer Term "got us out in the fresh air". We learned surveying, we were each issued with a church and a monastery to read up and to conduct a tour of (with our deficiencies in information tactfully made up by Philip).

We had a gruelling field trip around Somerset, his old stamping ground where the weather veered between baking heat and torrential storms. Philip bought us strawberries at a roadside stall to eat in the van. On this trip we slept in a caving hostel and, yes, we were each issued with a hillfort or site to read up on and conduct the tour. I got Priddy Lead Mine, enlivened by Philip asking is anyone wanted to join him swimming starkers in the lake.

After labouring up Glastonbury Tor Philip brought the landscape to life so that we saw winter floods, marshland, the Lake village, the summer bounty, all the lowland activity and then he brought us back with tales of his own excavations on the Tor itself. When torrential rain began we sheltered in the semi-roofless building and he produced a small whisky flask for us all to have a sip while he told tales of the witches who came to his digs and kept us entertained until it was time to slither back down the now treacherous path to the van.

His driving on field trips was both idiosyncratic and legendary. On one trip through the York Wolds I was in the second van, driven by Harold Mytum, following Philip. "Do you know the area well?" I asked. "Not really, but when I see Philip veering all over the road I know there is something that I should show you!"

On the way back from Somerset the van wipers failed and we had torrential rain. For much of the journey he functioned by having a student hang out of the window with a cloth, wiping away a patch to see through.

He loved knowledge for its own sake and nothing was beneath his notice. At Pagan's Hill we excavated the area around the well and he made friends with a local metal-detectorist, visiting his home to see the collection of coins and votive objects all carefully stored and labelled. This was in the mid-80s when metal detectors were 'The Enemy'. Those he knew he brought into the fold so that their knowledge was recorded.

He taught us, his students, to think and not to run on the 'accepted knowledge' tramlines. His advice was "Go back to the original Report, not later interpretations because the first report is the information from the horse's mouth." He also said "make sure you separate the evidence from your interpretation so that anyone can go back and re-assess it later."

Philip noticed, rewarded and encouraged any effort. I have a clutch of notes and cards saying "well done", "very thorough" etc. I treasure them. He also encouraged imagination based on facts, as shown by one assignment when we had to present 'A year in the life of a man/woman in Glastonbury Lake Village' for our ten minute contribution to the seminar, based solidly on the evidence.

As a student I was an experiment, in my mid-40s, having raised a family. I was the first mature student and older than my lecturers, in years at any rate, but Philip never treated me differently and I was grateful. Philip opened a window on to another world and I could never thank him enough. Because of him I spent 15 years in field archaeology and I loved it.

He and Lorna became friends and so, when Matthew was born, I went to stay for a few days to help out and it was lovely to see the love between them.

I think that may be the secret of why so many of us loved him. Yes, he was clever, musical, funny. Yes, he made a vast contribution to archaeology and instilled his enthusiasm, his thoroughness and his love of truth and devotion to 'The Evidence' into every student he taught. Yes, he spread himself across the world of archaeology like sunshine over mist, but, above all, he was a truly loveable man, and how many of us can be remembered as such.

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Appreciation by
Lawrence Butler

I first met Philip at Chew Valley Lake in summer 1954 and experienced excavating of the valley floor on the heroic scale, far removed from my previous society and undergraduate work. After that our paths converged on numerous occasions, whether excavating with him, collaborating on site or engaged in academic matters.

Martin Carver has called him "one of the great archaeological excavators of the twentieth century" and I can fully support that verdict. Philip always had a clear vision of how he should tackle a site and how to get the most out of his work force. He always explained his aims clearly, recorded his work precisely and had the flexibility to change his strategy when faced with unforeseen conditions. He also had the ability and experience to tackle all types of soil and all periods of site, though the early medieval remained his preference.

As a lecturer he provided the basic information with clear exposition laced with self-deprecating humour and a strong reliance upon his own experiences. At York he rose to the challenge of devising new university courses, strong on discussion and practical disciplines. However he immersed himself thoroughly in archaeological theory, though few students became enthusiastic about their exposure to volumes of Binford, Clarke and Hodder.

His skills as a writer were refined in a large number of excavation reports characterised by clear statements of observed fact, uncluttered diagrams, excellent photographs and well-considered interpretation. The responsibility to publish all his excavations was regarded as his prime obligation pursued with fierce determination. Later he branched into other types of writing, such as reviews, practical manuals and flow diagrams.

Philip gave his whole-hearted support to the foundation of Rescue, a political pressure group which raised the profile of the threatened past environment, but to meet that threat sought to widen employment opportunities for archaeologists and to strengthen their career opportunities. Philip's enthusiastic commitment and extensive field experience meant that he was the ideal editor of the Penguin publication Rescue Archaeology. When he became President of the Council for British Archaeology, he relished his three years in that post, not only in meeting people but also in writing the monthly 'President's Piece' which gave him a platform to advance provocative views and to widen that body's intellectual horizons and professional concerns. His autobiography Living Archaeology gave an impressive and sympathetic testimony to his wide range of interests and experiences in many centuries and countries.

I always admired his boundless energy and enquiring mind, his ready ability to make friends and to disarm his few enemies. I enjoyed many entertaining conversations with him and shared the solace of his eclectic choice of classical music. Reinforced by memories of camping within the ramparts of Badbury Rings and of Old Sarum, or seeing autumn mists rise over Cranborne Chase as we dug a site previously excavated by Pitt-Rivers, there are many facets of Philip which will continue to evoke his deep love of archaeology and of its practitioners.

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Appreciation by
John Blair

I first met Philip when I was an undergraduate at Oxford, a contemporary of his son Sebastian. In Sebastian's presidential term, Philip spoke to the University Archaeological Society on the Tamworth mill, illuminated with colourful ethnographic parallels: the photos of Mediterranean landscapes with nude climbers glimpsed fleetingly in the background weren't what we were normally shown in the early '70s, and they stick in the mind. So does the alcoholic late-night party on that or some other occasion, followed by (clothed) pillow-fighting.

Thereafter we lost touch for years, until I needed to write to Philip in the mid '90s about his Cheddar report. I concluded that he had stretched an essentially tenth-century chronology too far back into the ninth century, but thought it only fair to consult him before publication. I awaited his reaction with some nervousness, but he telephoned at once and with great warmth: `I'm so delighted that you have taken the trouble to look at it properly; nobody has ever bothered to go back to the site archive before'. That was the start of a friendship, even though we never agreed about Cheddar. It is in fact an outstanding merit of The Saxon and Medieval Palaces at Cheddar, and of Philip's other reports, that one can criticise them, and come to alternative conclusions: the stratigraphical information is presented fully and clearly, properly supported by both plans and sections, and kept separate from the interpretation. ('How different from the laziness of our own times', as Bede would say ...)

Latterly, it has been a great pleasure to keep in touch with Philip and Lorna's work at Kirkdale, where his combination of flair and luck yielded some remarkable evidence for the wealth and contacts of the mid-Saxon minster that was famously rebuilt by Orm Gamalsson's. Visits to that archaeologist's paradise, the Old School at Harome, have been unforgettable, as has been Lorna's selfless and devoted care for Philip in his decline. Although I only knew him well in his last years, I was able to appreciate the warmth, the complete lack of self-importance, and the genuine interest in other people and their concerns, that so many friends have found loveable.

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Appreciation by
Richard Kemp

Every so often one comes into contact with truly great people. They touch, inspire and move you forwards. They are often the people who give you confidence to do new things, open your world, invest in making you feel better about yourself and make you think you can achieve greater things than you did before you met them.

I have only known four or at most five people who have done that for me, amongst them the first Professor of Archaeology at the University of York, Philip Rahtz.

Philip was a maverick. He comfortably inhabited the world of esteemed archaeologists and academics but he somehow found the whole business of academia and its discourse rather funny. Re-read his classic How Likely is Likely — a brilliant wake-up call for archaeologists and quite good for laymen too. It is clever, witty, largely true, self-deprecating and moves us forwards through humour. Philip's autobiography Living Archaeology, is a true page-turner too. He loved humour, even at his own expense. I witnessed the encounter between Maurice Beresford and Philip on the first tea break of the first day's digging of the 1982 season at Wharram Percy — and one could instantly detect that stalwart Maurice was just tolerating Philip's presence with the wonderfully ambiguous — "First sod off Philip?" — Philip chuckled and mumbled distinctively... "yes, quite".

Philip offered me a place to study Archaeology at York and gave me my big break. I had no A levels (well one 'E' actually, as it happened at least in the subject) but he never asked why I'd failed them; I'd never written a proper essay and at that stage hardly read any academic books. But he clearly thought that five years digging under my belt and a passion for dirt was a good enough basis to take a chance. I wanted to move onwards, and Philip recognised this in me and made it happen.

He was a 'can-do' person, encouraging his student protégées to 'think outside the box' and go to exciting new places, not follow convention or bide their time. He loved you to stand up to him (or convention) — chuckling and mumbling and raising his eyebrows, but always able to let you speak, to offer that wild view; and uniquely I think - always able to admit you were right if it turned out you were! We used to call him academically generous. He didn't do any of that jostling for position and status, and he was clearly completely comfortable in his own unique skin.

And I guess what we all loved about him was the way he really couldn't care less about what others seemed to think. We students watched contemporary 'big names' in archaeology come and go, and many seemed deliciously uncomfortable in his presence. Perhaps it was his unpredictability and his 'way out' perspectives that made those who were wrapped up in their status and careers, question the shallowness of their situation.

What I'll appreciate in Philip more than anything was his lateral and unconventional way of looking at pretty much everything, bringing a freshness and humour to all subjects whether archaeological or otherwise.

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Appreciation by
Pete Wilson

As an Ancient and Medieval History student at Birmingham in the late 1970s I took Philip's Medieval Archaeology option and was also fortunate to have him as my personal tutor. I made what could have been a bad start when as a newly-arrived first year I introduced myself to him and asked if he was Mr 'Rats' — fortunately being Philip he laughed. During my second year, as I had started joining students from the Archaeology Department on occasional 'digging trips' to Beckford and the Sidbury site in Worcester, Philip asked if I wanted to take the optional 'Practical Year' of field archaeology. Being Philip he threw me in at the deep end — supervising part of the cloister at Bordesley Abbey under the very watchful eyes of himself and Sue Hirst — a sink-or-swim introduction to archaeological responsibility! Philip was always inspiring on site, although the 'finds viewing sessions' would now reduce most 'quantification-hungry' finds specialists to tears and some people might question his, very effective, use of a fork to excavate ditch deposits! Digging with Philip wasn't simply about 'the record', it was about understanding and that requirement extended to (almost) everyone on site, although some of the Manpower Service Commission-funded staff at Kenchester in 1977 were beyond even Philip's reach. Kenchester gave us the 'Rahtz maxims' (Current Archaeology 63: 127) — Philip's tongue-in-cheek and amusing commentary on his approach to archaeology and a very real homage to his friend Phil Barker.

Philip was responsible for me becoming an archaeologist and it was always a pleasure to coincide with him after we had both left Birmingham. An abiding memory of him is a visit to his excavations at St Gregory's Minster, Kirkdale where he is now buried. By then in his seventies he was happily directing the excavations from a deckchair surrounded by an all-female digging team!

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Appreciation by
Kenneth J. Barton

I first met Philip Rahtz when I worked for the Ministry of Works, now the Department of the Environment. Employed as a technician, I was sent to help lift a Romano-British tessellated pavement from the garden of a house by the railway line at Downton, near Salisbury. The pavement, which is a testament to Philip's work, is exhibited in the Salisbury Museum.

I went in the company of J.G. Hurst, the Inspector in charge, and we travelled by train being met by Philip in a car that was, to say the least, dilapidated. The greeting was warm as it was always to be for the rest of our relationship. That is the characteristic that is most memorable. Philip was always a gentlemen, charming and pleasant; to see him or work with him was always a joy.

I then moved to work at the City Museum, Bristol. Having seen Philip several times at the M.O.W. I told him of my move and was invited to see him in Clifton where he was born and brought up. We remained in touch for the next 60 years.

His venture into serious archaeology preceded mine but we travelled on parallel lines in the field of medieval studies. It was he who rescued the Ham Green pottery fragments which had been dumped on the site in a dozen rotting cardboard boxes. He brought them to me at Bristol Museum and asked me if I would like to publish them. This was a great bonanza for someone like me only newly involved in the medieval ceramic world. He continued to help me and on one occasion dug across the road from me, he at Baldwin Street and I at Back Hall.

And so he went on digging and in the process uncovered some of the realm of the Celtic Christians. His labour was profound and his publications immaculate and on time. Held in the greatest respect, his move to the University of York was no surprise; it was a just reward for his contribution to archaeology.

And so he continued. I never lost touch with him although it became less frequent but I was always greeted with friendship. He was a joy to know, a great archaeologist and a fine fellow!

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Appreciation by
David and Lynda Rollason

Our chief memory of Philip Rahtz is his irrepressible enthusiasm, open-heartedness, and sense of humour. When Lynda arrived at the University of Birmingham in 1972 as a first-year student, Philip took her seriously as an aspiring scholar and archaeologist in his unassuming and welcoming way, and the following summer saw her site-supervising with his old friend, Ernest Greenfield, at Witcombe Roman villa. David first met Philip at Cadbury Congresbury in the course of that summer, where he arrived as a volunteer before taking up his place as a doctoral student at Birmingham. Philip welcomed him as he always did, made him feel part of the team, and shared with him a series of insights about early secular and ecclesiastical sites which have remained with him ever since. It was the beginning of a fruitful association with Philip for us both. In his archaeology seminar at Birmingham that October, he introduced us to each other, so that our debt to him is personal as well. But in professional terms too he was an invaluable support and stimulus to two young students. We soon found ourselves plaster-stripping and drawing at Deerhurst alongside Harold Taylor, acting as almost the only site-assistants at the first season at Repton (the rest of the team consisted of Philip, Sue Hirst, Martin and Birthe Biddle, and Harold Taylor), and digging the interior of the church at Bordesley Abbey with Mick Aston, Sue Wright, and Grenville Astill as the team there. Philip made each and every one of these excavations exciting and stimulating, and also fun. One of our favourite recollections of his humour is his sharing with us, as he drove us down to hear Harold Taylor lecture at Tewkesbury, the information that the theme of Elgar's Enigma Variations was the silhouette of the Malvern Hills projected on to a musical stave. Our contacts with Philip were less frequent after our move to Durham, but we saw him from time to time at conferences and occasionally at his and Lorna Watts's home at Harome. We shall always treasure the memory of visiting them at the excavation at Kirkdale Church, one golden afternoon before Philip's health began to fail.

Much as we miss Philip personally, we are also very aware from our own perspective of the extent and range of his scholarly contribution. It is not only that he excavated and researched such a range of sites through his career, and not only-a very considerable achievement-that he brought 99.9% of them to full publication. (He and Lorna were concerned about the one site that had not been published, St Oswald's, Fulford, shortly before his death. One of Richard Hall's last actions was to collect the material from them, and it is very much to be hoped that the York Archaeological Trust or the Yorkshire Archaeological Society will soon publish this.) The real strength of Philip's work was the fecundity and depth of the ideas he brought to bear. Not for him the routine excavation of a site because it happened to be available, although he was a brilliant and inspired dirt archaeologist, who could reveal the most fugitive traces in the soil with the large trowel he used. Rather, each of his sites stands out as an important contribution which not only archaeologists but also historians, like ourselves, can use the results from. For Cannington, the importance of martyr-graves was explored; for Upton that he worked on with Rodney Hilton and Chris Dyer, and for Wharram Percy, the nature of medieval settlement and population; for Bordesley, the significance of liturgical arrangements; for Deerhurst, the patterns of early church development; for Cheddar and Writtle, the nature of royal sites (whatever niggles there may be about dating of the former, the excavation report remains an outstanding resource for understanding early palaces); and, for Cadbury Congresbury, the nature of the site. David still remembers, as if it was yesterday, the early evenings standing round the excavations at this last site with Philip and Peter Fowler and the others, pondering that issue. Was this a royal site? Was it a hermitage? Was it a monastery? Was it a trading centre? Was it possible to tell? Are the distinctions significant? As the evening sun set over the Somerset landscape which Philip had done so much to elucidate, the questions seemed then exciting and important to the highest degree; and they have stayed with David down the decades. Few scholars can have been more influential, more welcoming, and held in more affection.

Philip Rahtz and 'Cadcong'
Ian Burrow

Philip Rahtz at Cadbury Congresbury in 1973
Philip Rahtz at Cadbury Congresbury in 1973

This image of Philip Rahtz captures the essence of the man as I remember him. Here, dressed in his signature shorts and sandals, he is putting his early camera skills to the service of his later archaeological ones. He is photographing fifth- and sixth-century artefacts excavated from the technically challenging and functionally opaque site of Cadbury Congresbury, in his Somerset stamping-ground. Cadcong (as it was always called by its investigators to distinguish it from its more glitzy Arthurian neighbor to the south) encapsulates much of what Philip worked for and achieved in his distinguished career. At a time (c. 1970) when rescue archaeology was dominating the thoughts and efforts of archaeologists, Peter Fowler and Philip successfully implemented five seasons of pure research at this site, assembling an extraordinary and collegial team of outstanding amateurs and students to do so.

All of Philip's strengths were brought to bear on the Cadcong project. Using his tremendous insights into archaeological stratigraphy, he and Peter Fowler jointly worked out a methodology for teasing extraordinary structural evidence and complex sequences out of an unpromising shallow scatter of limestone rubble and reddish brown loam sitting on fractured bedrock. Above all things Philip was a naturally talented excavator, among the very best of the post-Wheeler generation.

The Cadcong team with Peter Fowler on the right
The Cadcong team with Peter Fowler on the right

Without imagination, however, even the best excavator will not produce much of interest. Philip was gifted with both a great curiosity of mind and an openness to other viewpoints and opinions that made him a stimulating and engaging mentor. At Cadcong, we were faced with a site that did not easily fit into any model of Dark Age Britain then current. Philip therefore led us on wide-ranging and freewheeling discussions of the many possibilities (and impossibilities) that the evidence could support. These were enlivened by his irrepressible sense of the absurd, which meant that there was frequently much merriment involved in these conversations (assisted by Philip's frequent provision of the juice of the vine or — in Somerset — the apple).

As an inevitably under-resourced research project, Cadcong ran the all-too-common risk of the oblivion of non-publication. As the team scattered and moved on, to full-time careers, to daily lives, and some, sadly, to their graves, this became ever more likely. One of Philip's most lasting achievements, however, is his astonishing commitment to the completion and publication of the numerous large-scale projects that he directed over more than 25 years. Cadcong was no exception. At his urging, and over several intensive analysis and writing campaigns, key members of the team were able to reassemble and complete the full report, which was published by BAR in 1993 (British series 223). It was of course illustrated by many of Phillip's characteristically clear and elegant plans and sections: yet another of his contributions to our discipline.

A Renaissance Man and a lover of life: we are diminished without him.