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Raymond Allchin

9th July 1923 - 4th June 2010

Appreciation by
Robin Coningham

Raymond Allchin, image 1
Raymond Allchin at the Great Stupa of Butkara I in the Swat Valley, Pakistan.

Raymond Allchin, Fellow of the British Academy and Reader Emeritus in Indian Studies at the University of Cambridge, has died at the age of 86. Successfully manoeuvring against the threatened extinction of the academic study of South Asian archaeology in the UK in the aftermath of independence, he recruited and educated generations of the most able lecturers, field archaeologists and curators across the UK and Asia. That South Asian archaeology now forms part of the teaching and research portfolio at Cambridge, Durham, Leicester, Oxford and UCL, is a direct result of Allchin's success and his dedication to his field.

A major part of Allchin's success in making South Asian archaeology accessible was his raft of sole, joint and edited publications. Whilst the early volumes focused on the direct results and interpretation of his pioneering fieldwork in the Deccan Neolithic (Piklihal 1960 and Utnur 1961 & 1963), he published the first overview of prehistoric and protohistoric archaeological evidence set within the historical framework of the subcontinent with Bridget, his wife, in 1968. This synthetic volume, The birth of Indian civilisation, set such a successful and popular model that it was only later superseded by their Cambridge University Press volumes, The rise of Indian civilisation in India and Pakistan (1982) and The archaeology of early historic South Asia (1995). Allchin's own research interests were to remain, however, far broader than archaeology as illustrated by his critical translation of Tulsi Das' Sanskrit classic Kavitavali and scholarly papers on subjects ranging from epigraphy to the Indian origins of distillation.

Not only did these publications firmly propel South Asia into the mainstream of the English-speaking archaeological world but they also attracted research students and postdoctoral fellows from across the UK and Asia to Raymond's office in Sidgwick Avenue. One of his strengths as a supervisor was never to be surprised by new (and unexpected) archaeological results, which would swiftly be reviewed and either assimilated or rejected. This is the trait which, in combination with his suspicion of theoretical trends, also allowed him to update his publications and rethink his sequences as he acknowledge major discoveries such as the epre-pottery Neolithic sequence at Mehrgarh or the presence of pre-Asokan Brahmi at Anuradhapura. Tutored and tested by Allchin amongst sherds, sculpture and a particularly large and animated scene of an Indic hell, today these individuals form a formidably broad and diverse cohort of academics, keepers and curators of archaeology, ancient history, art and architecture, including Director-Generals of Archaeology in India and Sri Lanka and at least one Vice-Chancellor.

Raymond Allchin, image 2
Raymond Allchin at the megalithic cemetery of Ibankattuva in North Central province, Sri Lanka.

Born in Harrow in 1923, Raymond Allchin was educated at Westminster and had enrolled at the Regent Street Polytechnic to train as an architect but was posted to India with the Royal Corps of Signals towards the end of the war. Intrigued by the context of his surroundings and character of his south Indian troops, he quickly switched interests from architecture to the cultural history of South Asia and returned after the war to register for a BA in Hindi and Sanskrit at the School of Oriental and African Studies. This was swiftly followed by a PhD, which was completed in 1954, and his confirmation as Lecturer in Indian Archaeology at SOAS. He moved to Cambridge in 1959 and, following a career of fieldwork and research across India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, retired from Cambridge University with the title of Emeritus Reader in South Asian Archaeology in 1989. Distinguished by his appointment as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1981, it remained a puzzle to many of his colleagues and former students outside Cambridge, why he was never elevated to a personal chair.

Allchin remained concerned with the vagaries of continuing university funding for minority subjects and, now freed from administrative burdens, committed the next twenty years to enhancing the research profile of South Asian archaeology through the Ancient India and Iran Trust. Founded in 1987 by Raymond and Bridget Allchin, Professor Sir Harold Bailey, Professor Johanna van Lohuizen de Leeuw and Dr Jan van Lohuizen, the Trust amply replaced his Sidgwick Avenue office and provided visiting academics and students with open access to the founders' libraries, specialist seminars and lectures and tea parties of varying cleanliness. Debate and tea at the Trust would often be followed by supper at home in Barrington, where 'Uncle' and 'Auntie', as Raymond and Bridget were affectionately known across South Asia, would entertain as diverse a party as their own research interests. A legacy of enduring impact, the Trust continues to host academics from across Asia and independently champion South Asian and Iranian studies within the UK.

In 1951 Raymond married the Prehistorian Bridget Gordon, and is survived by her and their two children, Sushila & William.