September 24, 2023

Meet the President

Alasdair Whittle

 

I was brought up in Edinburgh, went to school at Sedbergh (then in the West Riding of Yorkshire) and read Literae Humaniores at Christ Church, Oxford. I have researched the Neolithic period in Europe for over fifty years, since beginning my doctorate at Oxford in the early 1970s, under the supervision of Humprey Case. I worked as a research assistant to Humphrey and then to Barry Cunliffe. I then held a post at Cardiff University from 1978 until my retirement at the end of 2017, ending as Distinguished Research Professor. I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1998. I continue to be research-active.

I began with a doctoral thesis on the beginnings of the southern British Neolithic and its continental background, and the establishment of the Neolithic across Europe has remained an enduring interest. My early excavations on the Shetland Islands and in Cambridgeshire were concerned with Neolithic settlement; detailed investigation of the Avebury area followed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, aimed at understanding the sequence and context of Neolithic monumentality. That produced major monographs on sites like the Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure, the West Kennet palisade enclosures and Silbury Hill. The latter involved publication of the fieldwork by Richard Atkinson; I also brought to publication other such fieldwork by him, at Dorchester-on-Thames, the Wayland’s Smithy long barrow and Parc le Breos Cwm. I had a hand in early fieldwork on the intertidal foreshore of the Gwent Levels, helping Derek Upton and Stephen Aldhouse-Green to establish the Mesolithic date of the footprints at Goldcliff. I helped John Evans to edit Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society for a spell.

I went on to excavate an early Neolithic site, Ecsegfalva, on the Great Hungarian Plain, and undertook small-scale investigations of the earliest LBK in Bavaria. I wrote two major syntheses of the Neolithic across Europe (published in 1985 and 1996), helped to host international conferences in Cardiff on European themes, and led a major scientific investigation of LBK lifeways in central Europe (published in 2013). I cooperated with Don Benson to bring his fieldwork at the Ascott-under-Wychwood long cairn to publication, and with Vicki Cummings on megaliths in Wales. For over twenty years now I have been engaged with creating more precise chronologies, using radiocarbon dates in a Bayesian statistical framework. That started with a study of southern British long barrows (with Alex Bayliss, published in 2007) and expanded into a major study of the early Neolithic causewayed enclosures of southern Britain and Ireland (with Alex Bayliss and Frances Healy, published in 2011 as Gathering Time). In turn that led on to the major ERC-funded project, The Times of Their Lives (co-led with Alex Bayliss), which from 2012–2017 examined a varied series of sites and contexts across Europe, again to achieve much more precise narratives for the lives of Neolithic people. We wrote lots of papers with the many colleagues with whom we cooperated, and I published a book about it all in 2018.

For most of my career I was heavily engaged with teaching, at all levels. I especially enjoyed supervising my research students and mentoring my research assistants, and am proud to have helped, among others, Josh Pollard, Mike Hamilton, Mick Wysocki, Rick Schulting, Dani Hofmann, Penny Bickle, Vicki Cummings, Bronwen Price, Lesley McFadyen, Andrew Cochrane, Jessica Mills, Oliver Harris, Seren Griffiths, Evita Kalogiropoulou, Dimitrios Kloukinas and Susan Greaney in the early stages of their careers.

In retirement, I have gone on working with Alex Bayliss on papers stemming from our joint European project, and with the help of Frances Healy we have embarked on a revision of the Gathering Time project for England and Wales. I helped Bill Britnell with the publication of his work at Penywyrlod and Gwernvale, which came out as a monograph in 2022. I have helped to edit recent volumes for the Neolithic Studies Group on aDNA and on Grooved Ware.