Peter John Ucko

(1938—2007) archaeologist and anthropologist

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(1938–2007) [Bi]

Prehistorian and founder of the World Archaeological Congress. Born in London, Ucko attended Bryanston School before taking a degree in anthropology at University College, London. His subsequent Ph.D. was on Egyptian figurines, and from 1962 through to 1972 he was a lecturer in anthropology at UCL, where the study of ancient art continued to loom large and provided the theme for his first book, Palaeolithic cave art (with A. Rosenfeld, 1967, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson). Shortly afterwards, in 1972, he moved to Australia to become principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, where he instigated numerous reforms in order to integrate indigenous people fully into the running of the Institute. Back in Britain in 1981 he was appointed Professor of Archaeology in the University of Southampton and soon afterwards was persuaded to help organize the 11th congress of the International Union of Pre- and Proto-historic Sciences in Britain. After clashing with the officers of the IUPPS over the attendance at the congress of archaeologists from the Third World, and wanting a focus on global issues in a truly World Archaeological Congress, the problem of a South African contribution became a serious political issue, and in September 1985 the organizing committee banned South African participation in the Congress. This was followed soon after by a ban on Namibian participation as well. In January 1986 the IUPPS met in Paris and decided to expel the World Archaeological Congress and instead hold its eleventh meeting in Germany unless South African and Namibian participation was reinstated, a possibility that Ucko explored with the ANC and others. When negotiation for special recognition failed, Ucko and a small group of original national committee members reconstituted a new group of directors to run an independent World Archaeological Congress, which took place as planned, but without South African or Namibian participation, in Southampton on 1–6 September 1986. The full story is told in Ucko's book Academic freedom and apartheid (1987, London: Duckworth), but the whole affair established Ucko as a ‘world archaeologist’ and advocate of a new global order for archaeological science that has since proved very successful. The Southampton WAC was academically very fruitful, with the proceedings of many of the sessions being turned into thematic books. In 1996 Ucko was appointed Professor of Comparative Archaeology and Director of the Institute of Archaeology in the University of London. Here he continued his interest in world archaeology, and he made numerous trips to China and Russia through to retirement in 2006.

From The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Archaeology.

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