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Colin Brian Burgess

3 September 1938 – 18 November 2014

Appreciation by
Pete Topping

Colin Brian Burgess
Colin Burgess at his festschrift presentation in the Museum of Antiquities at Newcastle University in 2007 (photo: P Topping)

Colin Burgess was a Londoner by birth, hailing from the borough of Fulham. He will be remembered for his major contributions to Bronze Age studies, particularly concerning the typo-chronological analysis of metalwork which laid the foundations for much of the current research into this period. His detailed knowledge of the technology of the period—and its context of discovery—was then put to good use in reconstructing a periodisation of the British Bronze Age, encapsulated in his seminal work The Age of Stonehenge which, although published in 1980, continues to be referenced in bibliographies today.

The beginnings of Colin's academic career lay in Cardiff where he studied Welsh bronze artefacts in considerable detail, developing an archive which eventually allowed him to produce ground-breaking overviews of metalworking traditions in the UK and beyond. An early indicator of Colin's academic approach lay in his first journal publication (1962) where he not only recorded and contextualised a socketed axe from Monmouthshire but went on to discuss its wider significance for Bronze Age studies in Wales. The late 1960s and the 1970s were a particularly productive period, when Colin researched and published a series of influential papers that not only developed detailed chronological frameworks for the Bronze Age nationally (e.g. 1968a; 1969; 1974) but also focused upon more regionalised studies (e.g. 1968b) and developed the early indicators of an interest in international subjects (e.g. 1968a; 1970). During the 1980s Colin also produced three major volumes in the Prähistorische Bronzefunde series on Scottish and northern English axes with Peter Schmidt, dirks and rapiers with Sabine Gerloff (1981), and a volume collating and analysing all of the British swords with Ian Colquhoun (1988).

Colin's career took him from Cardiff to Newcastle in 1963 as a Sir James Knott Fellow, which eventually led to his appointment to the Extra-Mural Department at Newcastle University in 1966l this was to be his work base until his retirement. Here he worked alongside George Jobey, who had developed a focus upon the survey and excavation of prehistoric settlements and burial monuments in the Borders region. Colin followed suit, in parallel with his Bronze Age researches, and initiated survey and excavation projects at the Bronze Age rockshelter at Goatscrag, the palisaded settlement/hillfort at Fenton Hill, a scooped settlement at Hetha Burn and the palisaded settlement/hillfort at Ell's Knowe. His earlier involvement in fieldwork on Islay in the Inner Hebrides led to a re-engagement with the island's archaeology in the early 1970s. To facilitate a new phase of fieldwork, Colin established the Northumberland Archaeological Group (which still exists today and excavates in the Cheviots) to fund-raise for the project and, importantly, to provide the blend of amateur and professional archaeologists for the excavations. Two lengthy seasons of fieldwork in 1973 and 1976 explored the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age settlement evidence at Kilellan Farm and at Ardnave Point in the north-west of the island. Alongside this Hebridean project, Colin was also invited to excavate a large pit-defined enclosure with an interesting pitted entrance avenue at Meldon Bridge, near Peebles. This project identified the chronological context of this unusual enclosure, something of its functionality, and the discovery of a new sub-class of later Neolithic Impressed Ware ceramic related to the Peterborough tradition that was associated with the site. More recently Colin set up and led a seven-year landscape project in the Evora region of Portugal, heralding a new interest in the archaeology of the Iberian Penninsula and the western Mediterranean in general.

Apart from his personal research forming a means of furthering Bronze Age studies, Colin was also instrumental in establishing the Bronze Age Studies Group in 1976 when he invited friends and colleagues to an informal gathering at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, which led to the foundation of this now pan-European network of researchers. Colin's personal enthusiasm for his subject and tireless championing of the Bronze Age also led him to mentor many archaeologists over the years, a strategy which has helped a good number into their early career positions.

After taking early retirement Colin emigrated to France, where he continued to regularly publish his research on European and Mediterranean subjects. He was also a very active archaeological tour leader for many years, taking groups around Europe—and occasionally further afield to experience such non-European subjects as Aztec sites, Native American Ancestral Puebloan sites and landscapes, and the classic sites of the Ancient Egyptians, to name but a few. He had a long-standing passion for wine, crime fiction, and a great enthusiasm for classical music, especially the works of Shostakovich and Mahler.

Colin will be remembered for his peerless knowledge of the British and European Bronze Age, and his friendship and helpfulness to so many archaeologists and students for over half a century. He is survived by his wife Norma and sons Christopher and Simon.