In Memoriam – Peter Gathercole

Last month, one of our esteemed colleagues – Peter Gathercole – passed away, aged 81. Born in Norfolk in 1929, Peter was educated at the Universities of Cambridge and London. He then trained as a curaror in Birmingham, working for two years at the Scunthorpe Museum and eventually moved to New Zealand to teach in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Otago from 1958 to 1968 where he also worked at the Otago Museum alongside HD Skinner. Under their guidance the Department grew from a partly employed single lecturer to an independent and fully functioning four fields Anthropology & Archaeology Department.
Peter returned to England to work as Lecturer in Ethnology at Oxford, jointly with the Pitt Rivers Museum until he became the Principal Curator of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge from 1970 to 1981, subsequently taking up the position of Dean at Darwin College.
He was an inspiration and much loved by many who worked in the ethnographic museums communities of the Pacific as well as the UK. He was a founding member of the Pacific Arts Association and equally, as its first Chair, co-founded the Museum Ethnographers Group. An ever-supportive mentor to many junior curators and researchers, the twenty-eight MEG conference in 2004 (hosted by Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) was held in his honour.
Over the years Peter Gathercole wrote a number of papers, reviews and books. Appreciations of his life and work are scheduled to be published in the MEG Newsletter and Journal in due course. He was interviewed by Alan Macfarlane and Ami Henare on 8 May 2003 (Anthropology Ancestors).
Peter retired to Veryan, Cornwall, where he died on the evening of 11 October. His funeral was held on Friday 5 November at the Cambridge City Crematorium and there was a reception at Darwin College afterwards.
Two appreciation comments, one from his partner Bobbie Wells, the other from David Lowenthal, can be read on Antiquity’s website.
Selected Bibliography
Gathercole, Peter 2009. Childe, Marxism, and Knowledge. European Journal of Archaeology,12: 181-91.
Gathercole, Peter 2006. Fifty years of the New Zealand Archaeological Association. Antiquity, 80 (308): 459-62.
Gathercole, Peter, Laskey R.A. & Patricia Fara (Eds). 1996. The Changing World. Cambridge: Univ. Press.
Gathercole, Peter, Irving, T.H. & Gregory Melleuish (Eds). 1995. Childe and Australia: Archaeology, Politics, and Ideas. St Lucia: Univ. of Queensland Press.
Gathercole, Peter & David Lowenthal (Eds). 1990. Politics of the Past. London: Unwin Hyman.
Gathercole, P. 1988. Contexts of Maori Moko. In Marks of Civilization. Rubin, A. (Ed). LA: Univ. of California Press.
Gathercole, Peter 1987. Childe after 30 years. Antiquity. 61 (223): 450-51.
Gathercole, Peter, Kaeppler, Adrienne L. & Douglas Newton. 1979. The Art of the Pacific Islands. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art.
Gathercole, Peter & Alison Clarke. 1979. Survey of Oceanian Collections in Museums in the UK and the Irish Republic. Paris: UNESCO.
Gathercole, Peter 1978. Hau, Mauri and Utu: A Re-examination. Mankind, 17: 334-40.


  1. I knew Peter when I was a student at Cambridge, and what I would add to this was that he was a real `character’ full of colour and vitality, never a part of an establishment he liked to free to enthuse about his academic interests, I lost touch long ago but am sad to hear this news.

  2. Peter was a wonderful teacher and a remarkable man, who combined infectious enthusiasm with very deep principles and a remarkable kindness and generosity. He wanted his students to love their work as he did his, to treat the past as an adventure, and never to stop questioning the present. Naha ke kanaka, ka hale o ke aloha.

  3. I was lucky enough to get to know Peter in Cornwall, through his Presidentship of the Cornwall Archaeological Society. Over many lunches, at many pubs, we became friends. He had an amazing life and told great stories (socialism, Cambridge, Africa, Pitcairn….). He’ll be remembered with great fondness and very much missed.

  4. I too met Peter for the first time in Cornwall, at the RAI’s ‘Periphery & Policy’ conference in 2006. He commented that the pun in my paper title, something about a Cornish pastiche, was almost unforgivable… I guess it’s fair to say that I liked him immediately. We met up several times after that, mostly in London. I remember our last conversation with most fondness. We were drinking at his local in Veryan and he coached me through some survival tips for moving to NZ which I was about to do the following week.

  5. I knew Peter in the the mid 1950’s when he regularly came to visit his mother here in my home village of Lakenheath in Suffolk. In 1955 when I was 11 years old I fondly remember him taking me in his old Austin car to Grimes Graves in Norfolk that visit firing up my interest in all things ancient that remains with me to this day He will be greatly missed in the world of Archaeology.

  6. I knew Peter since 2001 – quite by chance in the tea room of the Cambridge Archaeology Dept. – we shared a common interest in the archaeological work done by Childe, Wheeler and other British archaeologists of the interwar years. I was and am working on ‘colonial’ archaeology in India. Since then we did keep in touch and I met him in 2009 during my stay at Cambridge. Despite the time and space distance Peter was one of the most lovable, generous, kind and wonderful human beings I have known or will know. He took great interest in my historiography work but could not see its completion. I miss you my friend.

  7. I too knew Peter in Cambridge. He was Dean at Darwin, although I already knew him quite well, when I did my MPhil there. We shared our very different view of Marx to many other people and believed there was alternative way in this world to the aggressive capitalism that destroyed so much he valued. Wherever you are my friend, see you there later!

  8. I met Peter at the first World Archaeological Congress in Southampton in 1986 while teaching at Howard. I was honored when he came to dinner in my little apartment in Washington, DC later that year. What a nice man with firm points of view given with kindness. And he listened so well. I felt mentored immediately. I hope his last days were happy ones.

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