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Lawrence Barfield

11th June 1935 - 2nd July 2009

Appreciation by
Martin Biddle

Lawrence Barfield, Auvergne, 1952
Lawrence Barfield, Auvergne, 1952.

Lawrence: the making of an archaeologist

We were each other's oldest friends. The first time we met was in the 'Ark', the Archaeological Museum of Merchant Taylors' School, one January day in 1950. Lawrence, two years older, had entered school the year before. But even in the rigid hierarchy of a public school, that made no difference to us at all.

Lawrence was born on 11 June 1935, the youngest of the four sons of Dr. R.H. ('Harry') Barfield, electrical engineer, a pioneer in the development of high frequency direction finding, an important tool in the protection of the Atlantic convoys. The writer and philosopher, Owen Barfield, friend of C.S. Lewis and a founding member of the Inklings, was Lawrence's uncle. We saw little of Lawrence's father, but his factory on a round-about north of Watford carried emblazoned across its front the names WILD BARFIELD SAVAGE PARSONS, a source of repeated hilarity to friends of the gentle Lawrence.

Lawrence's mother, Nancy, was the only daughter of the orientalist Sir Thomas Arnold, close friend of Sir Aurel Stein, explorer and archaeologist of the lost civilisation along the Silk Route. Arnold and Stein were very real figures to Lawrence who followed his grandfather to Magdalene College, Cambridge, and inherited some of his collections.

Lawrence and his brother Tom lived with their aunts, Diana and Barbara Barfield, in a spacious house at Chalfont St. Giles. Here I often stayed and here Lawrence kept his growing collections, laid out on the sliding shelves of an antique linen-press. Extraordinary things could be had those days for next to nothing: Roman and Byzantine lamps for 2/6 each from a little shop near Chalfont station, and from a junk shop in Harrow, swords, daggers, spears, arrows, muzzle-loaders, and armour. Here Lawrence bought two Japanese short swords which experts at the V&A later found to have 14th-century blades signed by their makers. And in a shop below the castle in Windsor he bought for 10/- a Japanese helmet which later turned out to be so valuable that years later when he sold it he took Birthe and me out to dinner in Oxford because he thought I'd spotted it first and should have been given first choice.

One of the most striking items in Lawrence's collection, probably inherited from his grandfather, was a large and splendid mask of an Egyptian mummy which hung over his bed. When Lawrence was in his twenties - I have this on unimpeachable authority - his invitation to unsuspecting ladies, to 'come upstairs and meet my mummy', must rank as one of great chat-up lines of all time.

Soon after we first met we began to cycle all over south Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire looking for Roman sites, not least Sarratt Bottom, where excellent red-gloss 'Samian' ware was to be picked up in a constantly re-churned cow lick. We found a site at Hamper Mill, near the school, but could not get permission to dig. As second best, we decided to excavate the Manor of the More, also near the school, and here for the next four years (for the last two of which Lawrence was in the army), we carried out one of the first excavations ever undertaken on a deeply stratified medieval site. As it was hard work, boys were allowed off cricket to dig. This ensured a constant stream of workers, the attraction enhanced by volunteers from the local girls' schools. Together with our friend Alan Millard we published a full report a few years later in the Archaeological Journal, not bad for a schoolboy dig.

Of course, we had help. The School Museum, with its objects from all over the classical world, a fine collection of Roman coins, periodicals, and scrap books with cuttings from The Times of the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb and Mussolini's excavation of the Imperial fora in Rome, was a place of wonder. The school had also produced a number of distinguished archaeologists, among them Bryan O'Neil who was by then Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments and a keen Old Boy. Somehow he heard of us and set out to make sure we got proper training. We were sent to dig for his wife at the Roman villa at Whittington Court near Cheltenham in 1951, and then in 1952 to work for Mortimer Wheeler on the vast Iron Age fort at Stanwick in Yorkshire. Bryan O'Neil also ensured that the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate gave all the help we needed for our dig at the More, visited the work himself, sent the young John Hurst down to see how we were getting on, and Leo Biek, a great eccentric, to begin to instil in us some appreciation of science in archaeology.

Lawrence Barfield, Atacama Desert, 1958
Lawrence Barfield, Atacama Desert, 1958

Lawrence left school in 1953. By the end of September he was a National Service gunner at Oswestry in Shropshire, followed by the Canal Zone, Jordan, back to Egypt, then Malta, and Libya. Everywhere he visited archaeological sites but it was only in Jordan that he was able to do some digging:

During last week (he wrote on 26 October 1954) I discovered the site of Ezion-Geber ... the site is littered with Early Iron Age pottery so I started looking round ... and there within only about 3 square foot of soil I found 4 fragments of carved ivory [of the Nimrud type].

When he got back to Aqaba, after a visit to Petra, Amman, Jericho, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem (where he deposited the ivories in the Rockefeller Museum), Lawrence found that the site had been trenched across by the Iniskillings during manoeuvres and so had completely filled in the trench we had started.

Lawrence went up to Cambridge in October 1955, to Magdalene, his grandfather's college, to read Archaeology and Anthropology under Graham Clark and Glyn Daniel. It was during his Cambridge years that Lawrence turned definitively to the prehistoric archaeology of the Western Mediterranean and particularly, in time, to his life's work on the Neolithic and Copper Age of Northern Italy.

In these few words about the time when we grew up and learned our trade together, I remember the Lawrence I knew, gentle, generous, constantly inquiring, often tentative, always kindly. It has been privilege to be his friend. I honour his memory and recall with gladness the times we spent together and treasure the dozens of letters we exchanged when we were apart.

Appreciation by
Simon Buteux

Il Barfield

I want to take up the story more or less where Martin Biddle left off. The 1960s were a turning point in Lawrence's life.

It was at this time that Lawrence's main archaeological interests turned decisively to the prehistory of northern Italy. He returned from a period of research in Germany to finish his PhD at Cambridge. Then in 1966 Lawrence was appointed to a lectureship at the University of Birmingham, where he was to stay until his retirement, giving him a secure job and a base for his research, and where he made many friends in the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology.

I once asked Lawrence why he had chosen to specialise in the prehistory of northern Italy. He told me that when he visited northern Italy as a young man he thought that it was the most beautiful place he had been - particularly the area around Lake Garda, in the foothills of the Alps. That, fundamentally, was why he chose to study its prehistory. So, Lawrence - lucky man - contrived to make a career studying the subject that he loved, archaeology, in the landscape that he loved. Not only that, but he managed to carry out his excavations in some of the most spectacular locations that landscape has to offer. I have time to mention just two.

Lawrence Barfield, Italy. c.1970
Lawrence Barfield, Italy. c.1970.

The first is the Rocca di Rivoli, a dramatic mountain just to the east of Lake Garda, topped by a medieval castle and rising above the Adige River, which winds like a green snake around its feet. The Rocca di Rivoli is not just a site of seminal importance for the prehistory of northern Italy - thanks to Lawrence's excavations between 1963 and 1968 - but it also holds a special significance in Lawrence's personal life. It was in this romantic setting, so I am told, that in 1967 Lawrence met a beautiful young American artist, Marylane, who was two years later to become his wife. Could this man's luck ever run out?

Well, actually, it did, a little bit. Digging archaeologists like Lawrence have need of an illustrator, who will do precise, accurate drawings of their finds according to established conventions. Lawrence once confessed to me that he had initially hoped that Marylane would become his illustrator. BIG MISTAKE. Marylane did - I am told - initially draw some of Lawrence's precious potsherds and flints, but she would not be constrained by tiresome conventions, and used her artistic freedom to 'interpret' or 'improve' on the original. Since this early exercise in sorting out the ground rules, Lawrence and Marylane have, professionally, gone their separate ways in Italy. Lawrence digging and Marylane painting, mainly the splendid landscapes which I am sure many of you are familiar with.

The second place I want to mention is the Rocca di Manerba, another castle-crowned hill, this time on a peninsula jutting out dramatically from the western shore of Lake Garda. It is a place of stunning natural beauty. The profile of the hill - best seen at sunset from across the lake - is said to resemble the profile of Dante (if so, Dante must have had a very big chin). I first had the privilege of going on one of Lawrence's excavations there in 1981, when I was his student. It was an unforgettable experience - a brilliant archaeological site, with a brilliant director in an impossibly wonderful location.

Lawrence's digs in Italy - there was hardly a summer when Lawrence didn't go there to dig - were in many ways a family affair. Often Marylane, Sebastian and Abigail would be there. Lawrence dug and Marylane painted and looked after the children. For three or four weeks we students were taken into this family. On occasion Sebastian and Abi would perform a play for us in the evening, or some other entertainment that they had perfected during the day while we were out on site. One was struck by what a broad range friends Lawrence and Marylane had, how the whole town of Manerba seemed to welcome them and, consequently, us. Even more impressive was the enormous esteem in which Lawrence was evidently held by his Italian archaeological colleagues, so much so that he was sometimes referred to simply as 'Il Barfield' - 'The Barfield' - a mark of great respect.

What was the key to this respect? First, of course, it was Lawrence's great knowledge of his subject, and his excellence as an archaeologist. Not just a bookish knowledge but a deep practical knowledge of the pottery and the flintwork - a prehistorian's bread and butter. One anecdote will illustrate this. When the famous Iceman was discovered in the Alps in 1991 Lawrence knew, just from a photograph of the Iceman's flint dagger, that the flint came from the Monti Lessini, just north of Verona. Unfortunately, it took the team of Austrian experts who were studying the find much longer to work this out for themselves.

Second, was Lawrence's natural modesty and lack of pretentiousness. While he took the archaeology totally seriously, he did not take himself so seriously. One's memories of Lawrence always involve a great deal of laughter. While many academics put their career before the archaeology, Lawrence always put the archaeology, and other people, before himself. This was a profoundly endearing quality.

Third, Lawrence shared his knowledge with great generosity. It was not just his colleagues that benefitted from this but his students. So many of Lawrence's former students look back with gratitude for the inspiration he provided and the start they got as a pupil of 'Il Barfield'.

The specific site I went to dig on as a student in 1981 was at the foot of the Rocca di Manerba, at a place where a huge, imposing cliff - the Sasso - falls sheer down to the lake. At the foot of the cliff is a narrow shelf, between cliff face and lake, and here, at place where the cliff forms an overhang, is to be found the site of one of Lawrence's most important excavations. It is the Riparo Valtenesi - the Valtenesi rock shelter. It is a profoundly evocative place - and what a place to work! Instead of tea breaks we just stepped a few yards and jumped into the lake for a blissfully cooling 'swim break'.

At the Riparo Valtenesi Lawrence carried out the ground-breaking excavation of a Copper Age collective cemetery, some five thousand years old. Through meticulous excavation he uncovered a series of wooden chambers, in which the bodies of the dead were first placed, and the complex funerary rituals that followed. These were evidently spread over years - a bit longer than the hour we have today! - with, for example, some of chambers being deliberately set on fire after a period, or bones being removed from the chambers for cremation in a special 'cremation zone'.

In essence, what Lawrence was able to uncover at the Riparo Valtenesi, was the complex sequence by which members of a prehistoric community were, upon their death, transformed into ancestors, and the way in which the living community sought to remember the ancestors, relate to them, placate them and seek their help. The ancestors were, in a very real sense, still part of the community. Lawrence is now likewise becoming an ancestor - this ceremony is part of the process - and likewise he is still amongst us. This is not a wishy-washy mystical or religious sentiment, it is a bare statement of fact.

The ancestors continue to exist amongst us through their works. In Lawrence's case, this includes a large body of excavation reports, scholarly papers and books, the value of which, because founded on profound knowledge of his subject rather than superficial theoretical hand waving, will last for many years.

The ancestors also continue to exist amongst us through the ways they have touched and affected our lives. This is most profound for Lawrence's immediate family, but each of us - friends, colleagues and former students - have all been affected in our different ways by the marvellous good fortune of having known Lawrence.

Finally, the ancestors continue to exist amongst us through our memories. We all have our own memories of Lawrence, all no doubt different but all - I am willing to bet - containing a great deal of joy and laughter. Lawrence's sense of humour included a weakness for corny jokes and a fondness for the quirky or faintly absurd in everyday life. For example, I remember sharing a bedroom with Lawrence at Manerba - on an occasion, I should stress, when Marylane was not with us! - and waking to find him lying in the bed opposite, chortling away, with his little transistor radio pressed to his ear. 'What on earth are you listening to?', I asked. He explained that it was 'Ask the Abbot', a phone-in 'agony' show for people with theological problems.

We will remember Lawrence at many times and in many places, but I want to suggest to you that there is one special place to remember him. You should go to Manerba - in any case a wonderful place for a holiday. On the Rocca you should take in the new archaeological museum. The centrepiece of the museum is a reconstruction of one of the burial chambers excavated by Lawrence at the Riparo Valtenesi, and a display of finds from his various excavations. Then you should follow the winding path down the face of the Sasso cliff, to the rock shelter near the end of the path. There is nothing to see of the excavation now, or of the prehistoric cemetery, but it is a highly evocative, numinous place, where sky, lake and cliff meet. It was chosen thousands of years ago to be a place of the ancestors. It is a very good place to reflect on one special ancestor in particular - Il Barfield.

Barfield photo

Appreciation by
Pamela Greenwood

I first met Lawrence in the 1970s when I was a postgraduate at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, UK. His book Northern Italy was my first introduction to the archaeology of that area and inspired me to find out more, so leading to my PhD on the alpine Adige valley. Paolo Biagi introduced us and for many years, Lawrence kindly gave me advice, information and help, particularly about his excavations and work on the Rocca di Rivoli and the Monti Lessini. His interests were wide ranging - I think the last thing we discussed were his theories about burnt flint and burnt mounds. I remember our conversations and meetings with great fondness. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met and great fun in a quiet way.

Appreciation by
Paul Pettitt

Lawrence Barfield, 1995
Lawrence Barfield, 1995.

When I went to Birmingham University in 1988 it was with the intention of becoming a Roman archaeologist. Two pieces of luck ensured that I would become a prehistorian instead, and both involved Lawrence Barfield. First was being assigned Lawrence as my personal tutor, and never was there a more attentive, approachable and inspiring man. The second piece of luck was attending Lawrence's first year lectures on European prehistory, which very quickly had me completely hooked. In years two and three we would specialise in a 'major' area, and I chose European prehistory, ensuring a good deal of contact with Lawrence for the rest of my time at Birmingham, a place I remain to this day highly fond of. At the time some twenty-five undergraduates read archaeology every year, and of those there were five of us in my year who took prehistory.

This meant that we spent a good deal of time weekly with Lawrence, in enjoyable personal tutorials in the comfortable chaos of his office stacked with books and papers. I still laugh to think of when his slide projector - balanced precariously atop a teetering pile of books - fell off, sending a projection (I seem to remember of La Têne brooches) flying up to the ceiling, the attentive faces of the five of us undergraduates jumping skywards too, before Lawrence joined in with our laughter.

At the time, Lawrence would from time to time wear a shirt with the logo 'pilot'. Because of this, two of my peers and I - all Barfield aficionados - christened him 'The Captain', fashioning a fictitious military person for him. If his phone rang during tutorials he would answer simply 'Barfield', allowing us to add to our fiction that he was some MI5 hero. But real heroes, like Lawrence, are subtle and understated, and his quiet and personable authority inspired us all. I was lucky enough to be taken on Lawrence's excavation in Ponte de Veja in Northern Italy one idyllic summer. There, it became obvious to us just how huge was his standing in Italy, with visiting Italian specialists treating him reverentially. Lawrence, of course, remained that quiet paragon of authority.

I cannot begin to think of the debt that I owe to Lawrence. It is solely down to him and to Susan Limbrey that I became a Palaeolithic archaeologist - in his case not bad an influence for a later prehistorian. Colleagues will of course remember Lawrence as a Neolithic specialist but it is important to remember that the Barfield/Limbrey combination produced first-rate Palaeolithic specialists, notably Nick Barton, Elaine Turner and Martin Street. It was in fact Lawrence's Italian excavation that, oddly enough, first introduced me to Martin and Elaine when we overnighted in Neuwied at the Forschungsbereich Altsteinzeit of the Römisches-Germanischen Zentralmuseum Mainz and were accommodated by the two. I was fascinated by the Palaeolithic archaeology housed in the building, and thus did Lawrence ensure that I would from that point on be fixed on the Palaeolithic. It is testimony to Lawrence's continuing popularity with his ex-students that facilitated this meeting, and thus the trajectory of my career.

I have many fond memories of Lawrence, and a deep regard for this excellent teacher. Through him we really learnt the business of prehistory. When and why did teachers stop teaching the artefact and site typologies that are the core of the subject? I retain the copious notes I took in his lectures and seminars, and reading some of them over once more I am struck with their clarity, not to mention what he could pack into an hour. For me, they are his legacy, a high and firm leg-up into understanding the past. That and fond memories. He will always be a captain to me.

Appreciation by
Martin Street

Lawrence Barfield with the Gruppo Grotte Gavardo, September 1973
Lawrence Barfield with the Gruppo Grotte Gavardo, September 1973.

Arriving at Birmingham in 1973 to take the course "Ancient History and Archaeology", as it was then styled, the specific direction of my interests was still up in the air. Having taken "A Level" Latin, it perhaps seemed inevitable that some form of Roman archaeology would beckon. However, at the end of a first year of more general studies, and following a course on "European Prehistory" with Lawrence I had already realized that the way forward in fact led right back into the Mesolithic and Palaeolithic and, together with the decision to take courses in environmental archaeology established by newly arrived Susan Limbrey, this turned out to be a defining moment.

The next major role played by Lawrence was his willingness to take me on as a Ph.D. student, once I felt I had accumulated enough subject matter and felt I had the experience to do something with it. Again, supervising me in tandem with Susan Limbrey, his encouragement and continued interest in German prehistory helped me to take the next step in my career with a Ph.D. in 1993.

Over the years our paths crossed on several occasions. He and his crew regularly passed through the Rhineland on their annual trek from Birmingham to and from Northern Italy, normally breaking the journey for a day or two and renewing or creating new social and professional ties between several generations of Birmingham archaeologists. I also managed a couple of visits to Lawrence's dig at Manerba. On one occasion I initially disappointed him when he realized I had no intention of actively excavating, but hopefully compensated by taking the young lady excavation cook he employed that year on extensive tours in my old VW Beetle to buy regionally typical provisions in places like Parma, Modena or Cremona; we always got back in time to cook the evening meals and I believe the crew appreciated them rather more than the presence of yet another troweller!

Another memory is of Lawrence visiting the Palaeolithic Research centre at Neuwied at the beginning of the 1990s, when he came to examine material equipment found with the newly discovered Ötzi mummy, which at the time was in the process of conservation at our main institute at Mainz. With his experience in the Neolithic / Chalcolithic of Northern Italy Lawrence was immediately able to point to the probable origin of worked flint found with the body in this region.

Although the subject matter of our research was not particularly closely related, Lawrence's influence on the course of my career and, it has to be said, of my life following university, was clearly a major one. I am sure that the same sentiment could be echoed by generations of his students, which is perhaps the most fitting acknowledgement of his qualities, first as a teacher and then as a colleague.


  • Lawrence H. Barfield & Irwin Scollar 1963: Eine Begräbniseinfriedung mit dreifachem Graben in Welling, Kreis Mayen. Bonner Jahrbuch 163, 306-310.
  • Lawrence H. Barfield, Jürgen Wentscher & John P. Wild 1963: Die Ausgrabungen unter dem Universitätsgebäude Bonn im März 1962. Bonner Jahrbuch 163, 342-367.
  • Lawrence H. Barfield 1965a: Das Hügelgräberfeld von der Bönninghardt, Gem. Issum. Bonner Jahrbuch 165, 156-166.
  • Lawrence H. Barfield 1965b: Untersuchung von Grabeneinfriedungen bei Gut Dirlau, Kreis Düren. Bonner Jahrbuch 165, 167-176.
  • Lawrence H. Barfield et al. 1968: Beiträge zur Archäologie des römischen Rheinlands. Rheinische Ausgrabungen. Band 3. Rheinland-Verlag, Düsseldorf.

Appreciation by
Madeleine Hummler

Barfield image
Lawrence (with bare back), Martin Carver and Madeleine Hummler at the foot of the Sasso di Manerba, beginning of Riparo Valtenesi campaign.

Along an anonymous corridor in the uninspiring Arts Faculty building in Birmingham there was a hidden jewel: Lawrence's room, where in the 1970s, fresh from a couple of years at the University of Basel, I joined a small band of undergraduates whose horizons were opened by Lawrence's inspiring and exacting teaching. Lawrence's lectures were truly remarkable. Though not flamboyant, they introduced European prehistory with enormous breadth and understanding: Mediterranean prehistory primarily - the later Bronze Age and Iron Age had to be expedited more hastily towards the end of the course, after many an enjoyable hour spent in the realms of the Los Millares, Beaker or Remedello cultures. Lawrence instilled in us all an enormous respect for scholarship, by being an outstanding scholar himself, especially of Neolithic and Copper Age in Italy.

Scholarship was something I expected - but what Lawrence did on top of that was to combine academic rigour with a far more human brand of teaching. That was new (compared to the Continent where the divide between master and student tended to be carefully maintained) and so much appreciated. We were encouraged in small seminars to probe into the consequences of the radiocarbon revolution, the origins of metallurgy or trade in obsidian (Renfrew did figure rather large in 1970s syllabi; thankfully this was long before students had to cope with Bourdieu). And Lawrence was wonderfully supportive: I shall certainly never forget that he made me finish my extended essay on Beaker settlements, drove 60 miles to get it off me, and probably saved my degree in the process.

Others will, I am sure, praise Lawrence's contribution to the field of Italian prehistory. Here I would like to recall him as a friend. There were dinner parties at Moseley, Marylane's generous hospitality and lively discussions on art. There was the fieldwork at Manerba. I got to know a more relaxed Lawrence with a great sense of humour, for example making a pointed show of speaking German, tired of being treated as a tourist on Lake Garda (he was indeed fluent in German, having worked in Bonn). Lawrence was extremely generous in the field. In the first season of the Chalcolithic site of Riparo Valtenesi campaign Martin (Carver) and I dug a small sondage; with hindsight, this was not the best course of action. Yet Lawrence was magnanimous, writing much later "although it has been fun to tease, the sondage was fully sanctioned by me and had it not been dug the dig would have ceased that year and the wonders of the site would not have been revealed". These early days at Manerba also started long-lasting partnerships in Italy: for Martin and Gian-Pietro Brogiolo, Manerba-Pieve and Castelseprio followed. For me, it was the excavations at the Bronze Age and Etruscan settlements of Casalmoro and Bagnolo San Vito, taken forward by Raffaele de Marinis. We owe this to Lawrence in the first place.

Most of all I never forgot what a hugely respected scholar Lawrence was. Seeing him perform at Italian archaeology conferences or mentioning his name in Italy (an immediate open sesame) gave an idea of his stature. But his interests ranged far beyond Italy and included South American and (then) Yugoslav archaeology, Roman archaeology and burnt mounds. This was someone who liked the stuff or archaeology more than the glory. He might have regretted being "interested in too much and always going off at a tangent", but we who remember him will always thank him for being so open to the world. You could not have wished for a better mentor.

Appreciation by
Nick Barton

Lawrence Barfield
Lawrence Barfield.

Lawrence had an extremely generous nature and always offered encouragement to his students. I remember on one occasion towards the end of my first year at Birmingham when I approached him and inquired in a casual manner, that only an impecunious undergraduate would dare, whether there were any opportunities for paid work over the summer. It was typical of his kindness and a mark of his concern that he responded instantly and said that he would put me in touch with one of his many contacts in Germany in the Bonn Landesmuseum. Although somewhat vague on the detail (as was often Lawrence's charming way) it sounded sufficiently exotic to follow up. To cut a long story short I spent much of the summer (as I imagined it) measuring and analysing flint artefacts from the Aldenhovener Platte in Köln. This was the first time that I had come in contact with flints in a big way and it taught me a great deal. It also opened up a long-lasting link between Birmingham and the Central Rhineland with many students following in my footsteps and some even staying and being appointed to academic research positions - most notably Dr Martin Street and Dr Elaine Turner (both Römisch Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz), both former alumni of Birmingham University and my contemporaries also taught by Lawrence. Lawrence and I stayed in touch over the years. I shall miss his visits to Oxford and the pleasurable pub lunches over which discussions ranged from his latest ideas on the Mesolithic of the West Midlands to the different styles of 19th century gunflints. His interests were very wide and various, he was exceptionally modest about his own many considerable achievements.

Appreciation by
Alasdair Livingstone

I first met Lawrence when I was still at school. My sister was reading Chemistry at the University and shared digs in Moseley with a group of archaeology students who invited me to attend ArchSoc where I volunteered to work with Lawrence's team at the Roman villa site at Droitwich. As a schoolboy I was in awe of the university students but Lawrence made me feel part of the team. Ever in those days impecunious I opted out of lunch but Lawrence insisted that my contribution merited a pint and a bite with the others on dig expenses. I cannot say though that Droitwich was my first step toward archaeology. Rather, clumsy with the archaeologist's trowel, it taught me that I had better forget archaeology and take to the net or the sword, or as it happened, become an assyriologist. Much later, when I joined the department as the Near East specialist, I renewed my acquaintance with Lawrence. The appointment was announced on the day of the interview and while others congratulated me (with varying degrees of sincerity I thought: it was after all a department of ancient history and archaeology and I was the only interviewee who was neither an archaeologist nor an historian) Lawrence asked me a question about Arabian rock art (not a band, painting on a cave wall), a discovery that had been in the news. He listened carefully and then said 'I'm glad you're here.' Lawrence was not one to push himself forward but whether in a department meeting or in an academic debate he could be relied on to ask the question or make the comment that put the finger on the problem even if it was something whimsical such as whether the Ice Man was a Nice Man (he wasn't). But with a tray of lithics in front of him Lawrence brought prehistory to life and could make a single flint or flake fascinating. Lawrence was an artefacts man and in my garden I have an ancient Roman stone from one of his excavations. On a broken edge is a squiggle that is almost certainly the letter 's'. With Lawrence's approval I read and restore: S[PQR]. On his retirement the then head of department moved me into Lawrence's old office since my own office was far too small for my personal library. Lawrence will remain a spiritual presence in Room 308 and I would like to think that something of his scholarship, independent spirit of enquiry and humanity lives on there.

Appreciation by
Mark Pearce

Barfield photo

Lawrence Barfield was best known as a specialist on Neolithic and Copper Age northern Italy, but his interests ranged from palaeoindian lithics of the Atacama Desert in Chile, via a fortified imperial villa in the German Rhineland to the Roman salt industry at Droitwich (Worcestershire, England). Indeed he was very active in English prehistory, particularly that of the West Midlands, with a special interest in the interpretation of burnt stones and burnt mounds, which he proposed might be prehistoric saunas (Barfield & Hodder 1987).

Lawrence Barfield was born in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, in 1935 and died in Birmingham on 2 July 2009 after a 21 month battle with Mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. He studied at the Universities of Cambridge, Ljubljana and Pavia and worked at the University of Bonn and the Rheinisches Landesmuseum before taking up a post at the University of Birmingham in 1966, where he remained until retiring as Reader in 2000.

Lawrence Barfield got into archaeology whilst at Merchant Taylors' school, when he and Martin Biddle excavated the Manor of the More, Cardinal Wolsey's palace, which was at the edge of the school grounds. Whilst on National Service he dug a test pit at Ezion-geber and surveyed in the Libyan desert near Tarhuna. In 1955 he went up to Magdalene College, Cambridge, to read Archaeology and Anthropology where he decided to specialise in prehistoric archaeology. On graduating he began a PhD on the Neolithic of northern Italy and the Balkans, spending a year at the University of Ljubljana as a British Council exchange student, later deciding to focus on the north Italian Neolithic. He then spent about a year as an exchange student at the Collegio Borromeo, at the University of Pavia, after which he was offered a post as Assistant in the Department of Vor-und Frühgeschichte at the University of Bonn.

It was while he was in Bonn that he began digging at the Rocca di Rivoli, an important Neolithic site near Verona. Lawrence stayed in Bonn for three and a half years, moving from the University to the Landesmuseum where he conducted a number of excavations, dating from the Bronze Age to Roman. After finishing his PhD at Cambridge he became a lecturer at the University of Birmingham in 1966.

Lawrence Barfield made a number of groundbreaking contributions to north Italian prehistory. As well as his excavations at Rocca di Rivoli, where he established a chronology for the Square-mouthed pottery culture, he also excavated at Fimon, Molino Casarotto, a Neolithic site; at Monte Covolo, which has a sequence from the late Neolithic to the middle Bronze Age; at the Riparo Valtenesi, Manerba, a major copper age cemetery in a rockshelter with collective burials in wooden chambers (Barfield 1983); at Ponte di Veia, a flint production site; and at the Rocca di Manerba (Barfield & Buteux 2002).

In 1971 he published a seminal work, Northern Italy before Rome, in Thames & Hudson's 'Ancient Peoples and Places' series, which provided the first proper synthesis of north Italian prehistory. Other major contributions included his recognition of the Monti Lessini near Verona as the principal source of high grade flint in prehistoric north Italy, and his 1994 Antiquity paper on the Iceman, pointing out that it firmly dated the beginning of the Italian Copper Age to the fourth millennium BC (Barfield 1994). On the same topic he co-authored Der Zeuge aus dem Gletscher: Das Rätsel der frühen Alpen-Europäer with E. Koller and A. Lippert (Barfield et al. 1992). A paper with Chris Chippindale in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society proposed a novel interpretation of the rock art of Mont Bego, suggesting that the prestige goods depicted might be part of an initiation rite for young men (Barfield & Chippindale 1997). His Excavations in the Riparo Valtenesi, Manerba, 1976-1994 was published in 2007 (Barfield 2007).

An interview with Lawrence Barfield and a list of publications will be published in the next issue of Accordia Research Papers. He is survived by his wife, Marylane, and two children, Sebastian and Abigail.


  • Barfield, L.H. 1983. The chalcolithic cemetery at Manerba del Garda. Antiquity 57: 116–23.
  • - 1994. The Iceman reviewed. Antiquity 68: 10–26.
  • - 2007. Excavations in the Riparo Valtenesi, Manerba, 1976-1994 . Florence: Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria.
  • Barfield, L.H. & M.A. Hodder 1987. Burnt mounds as saunas, and the prehistory of bathing. Antiquity 61: 370–379.
  • Barfield, L.H. & C. Chippindale. 1997. Meaning in the later prehistoric rock-engravings of Mont Bégo, Alpes Maritimes, France. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 63: 103–28.
  • Barfield, L.H. & S. Buteux. 2002. The Rocca di Manerba: a late Neolithic fortified and terraced site in northern Italy. Antiquity 76: 621–2.
  • Barfield, L.H., E. Koller & A. Lippert. 1992. Der Zeuge aus dem Gletscher: Das Rätsel der frühen Alpen-Europäer. Vienna: Ueberreuter.

Appreciation by
Lorenzo Dal Ri

Uno dei capitoli principali della vicenda scientifica (e umana) di Lawrence Barfield in Italia è dato dai rapporti precocemente allacciati con il Museo di Scienze Naturali di Trento. Questo ente è stato un punto di riferimento dagli anni sessanta del secolo scorso per la ricerca archeologica nell' alto bacino dell'Adige, un settore dell'Italia settentrionale geograficamente periferico ma di importanza primaria soprattutto per lo studio dei contatti transalpini.

Il Museo negli anni sessanta stava lentamente riannodando i fili della ricerca archeologica nel territorio trentino dopo il lungo silenzio legato ai disastri della guerra e Barfield costituì uno dei punti di forza di questa ripresa. Entrò ad esempio subito nel vivo delle problematiche della Antica età del Bronzo, curando l'effettuazione di nuove attendibili di datazioni radiocarboniche su legni della palafitta di Ledro e di altre stazioni coeve (Una nuova datazione assoluta per la stazione di Molina di Ledro. Considerazioni sulla cultura di Polada, "Rivista di Scienze Preistoriche", 23, 1968, 261-263). E soprattutto riprese in mano con sicuro metodo gli studi sull'età neolitica, fermi di fatto da oltre mezzo secolo. E a Barfield furono tra l'altro affidati per lo studio i materiali di importanza fondamentale della necropoli neolitica della Vela presso Trento scavata qualche anno prima.

Si consolidò in tal modo un sodalizio di studi ma anche di personale amicizia con Gino Tomasi e soprattutto con Bernardino Bagolini e ben presto Lawrence Barfield divenne per la gente del museo semplicemente Lorenzino Barfield, per distinguerlo da un altro meno famoso Lorenzino che firma queste righe.

Lo stato degli studi di quegli anni, ha fatto sì che nella nota opera riassuntiva di Barfield sull'archeologia dell'Italia Settentrionale (Northern Itay before Rome, 1971), il centro dell'attenzione si concentrasse per quanto riguarda il territorio regionale piuttosto sul Trentino che era stato oggetto di recenti fondamentali scoperte (Vela, Isera, Ledro etc.), mentre la parte più settentrionale del bacino dell'Adige (Alto Adige, South Tirol) rimaneva più in ombra. La situazione era destinata a mutare repentinamente qualche anno dopo (1991) con la scoperta dell' Iceman, uno dei ritrovamenti del secolo, venuto in luce appunto sull' estremo margine del territorio altoatesino, a pochi metri di distanza dal confine austriaco. Nei fiumi di inchiostro versati sul tema, con dovizia ma con gradi di qualità assai diversi, quelle che Barfield scrisse sia in collaborazione con altri (Barfield - Koller - Lippert, der Zeuge aus dem Gletscher, 1992 ) ma soprattutto anni dopo da solo (The Iceman reviewed, Antiquity, 88,1994,10 - 18) sono sicuramente ancora oggi tra le pagine più mature e consapevoli.

Appreciation by
Umberto Tecchiati

Ho conosciuto Lawrence Barfield nel 1990, in occasione della seconda campagna di scavi nell'abitato dell'età del Bronzo di Sotciastel in Val Badia. Era ospite di Bernardino Bagolini, suo grande amico di sempre, che dirigeva lo scavo. Ero un giovane studente, allora, con troppa poca esperienza delle persone e della vita per comprendere fino in fondo la grandezza umana e scientifica del professor Barfield. Ne conoscevo tuttavia i numerosi studi sul Neolitico e sull'età del Rame in Italia Settentrionale e nel Trentino, e questo ne faceva ai miei occhi un punto di riferimento culturale di fondamentale importanza. C'erano poi l'amicizia e l'affetto, la profonda stima per Barfield che trasparivano dalle lezioni che Bagolini, a cominciare dal 1987, aveva iniziato a tenere all'università di Trento, e che aprivano a noi tutti orizzonti di conoscenza amplissimi. A Sotciastel Barfield manifestò grande interesse per il territorio dolomitico, per le vicende della sua antropizzazione e per quanto di queste remote vicende si conservava nella fisionomia attuale del paesaggio. Ma si interessava anche ai dettagli dello scavo, alla qualità dei reperti e al loro significato, mostrando in questo una vivacità intellettuale, una mitezza, un equilibrio, una gentilezza d'animo e una esperienza che affascinarono profondamente noi tutti. Due anni dopo ebbi l'onore di averlo come correlatore alla mia tesi di Laurea, accanto a Bernardino Bagolini e ad Annaluisa Pedrotti, una circostanza che mi rende quel giorno particolarmente caro e importante nella mia vita non solo professionale. Barfield lascia, mi pare, un vuoto che è tanto più grande se si pensa alla qualità e alla quantità delle doti complessive dell'uomo, rare o inattuali nel panorama della nostra preistoria.

Appreciation by
Paolo Biagi

I met Lawrence for the first time when, together with a friend, I decided to pay a visit to his excavations at Rivoli, along the Adige River. This was a key site for the study of the Neolithic of northern Italy, which he had started to excavate in the 1960s, while he was an Assistant at Bonn University. It is not by chance that Lawrence had chosen Rivoli, a site already excavated in the nineteenth century by G. Pellegrini, to carry out his first excavation. He already had a good knowledge of the Neolithic of north Italy, based on a fairly long experience. In effect, already when a student at Cambridge, he had begun to visit Italy, with a scholarship from Pavia University. Thanks to these visits he had decided to write his dissertation on the Neolithic of north Italy, under the supervision of Glyn Daniel. At the same time he had the chance to analyse the Neolithic assemblages from the Trieste Karst caves, thanks to an exchange scholarship at Ljubljana University, and to compare them with those from the Dalmatian coast he had observed in Slovenia and Istria.

In the following years I met him several times, mainly at the Natural History Museum of Verona, where he was preparing the final publication of the Rivoli excavations, and at the Institute of Geology of Ferrara University where A. Broglio was working on the Neolithic worked stone assemblages. After concluding the excavations at Rivoli he was invited to work at Fimon Molino Casarotto, in the Berici Hills, a joint project with the University of Ferrara. I was a student of Arts and Classical Literature at Milan University at that time, and my main interest was the Middle Neolithic in northern Italy, more specifically the Bocca quadrata (square mouthed) Pottery Culture, a subject about which very little was known in the 1960s, mainly based on the publication of the researches carried out by L. Bernabò Brea at the Arene Candide Cave, and F. Malavolti in Emilia in the 1940s.

Thanks to the results obtained from the excavations at Rivoli and Molino Casarotto, Lawrence was able to establish a Neolithic culture in three main chronological stages, define the territories where it spread and set it into the general context of European prehistory. This subdivision is still in use today, and it constitutes the fundamental framework on which the Middle Neolithic of north Italy is based. During the 1970s Lawrence and I spent much time together, visiting Po Plain Museums, especially those of Reggio Emilia and Bologna, mainly to study the pottery assemblages from Molino Casarotto. Lawrence had already begun to be interested in the Copper Age, mainly the Bell Beaker Culture. I often accompanied him on his trips, helping him draw the finds and seeing collections I had never seen before. That was the time when, after my graduation in 1972 at Milan University on the Bocca quadrata Culture, together with B. Bagolini of Trento Museum, we had planned to write a book on the Neolithic and Chalcolithic Age of Northern Italy, which in the end, for many reasons, was never finished.

Still in the 1970s, Lawrence started to excavate another key site: Monte Covolo, the sequence of which covers a time-span between the end of the Neolithic and the beginning of the Bronze Age, a period almost unknown in the region. In the same years the nearby Sasso di Manerba rock-shelter was discovered by chance by local amateurs working with G-P Brogiolo along the south-western shores of lake Garda. Lawrence was invited to excavate this extremely important site, whose final publication came out in 2008. By now Lawrence's main interests had moved from the Middle Neolithic to the end of the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic, and his research area from the Veneto and Trentino, to western Lombardy, the southern shores of lake Garda, and their surroundings. In the latter territory he carried out many excavations and surveys, including the Chalcolithic flint mines at Ponte di Veja, La Rocca di Manerba, Riparo Cavallino and other Chalcolithic rock shelters near Mt. Covolo, and also a season of excavations at the famous Remedello cemetery in the Po Plain.

The results from these excavations and surveys, all published, constitute the backbone on which the Neolithic to Early Bronze Age archaeology of north Italy is currently based. It is mainly thanks to Lawrence, his talent, education and modesty, and also his care and style of behaviour with people, that this period of the archaeology of my country is now known worldwide. I learnt everything from Lawrence, that is everything that I had not learnt from my archaeology courses at Milan University (which was practically nothing, to be honest): the meaning and scope of archaeology, the chronological framework of sites, the geographical importance of their setting, how to draw pottery and how to publish material. Apart from the works by L. Bernabò Brea and P.L. Zambotti, very little was known of the prehistory of northern Italy in the 1960s, a situation that Lawrence radically changed.

When I was a PhD student at the Institute I was always in touch with Lawrence, and a few times I visited him in Birmingham. He was still planning to publish the Trieste Karst assemblages from Moser's collection, stored at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, which he did a few years later, and systematically working on the finds from his sites around lake Garda and Molino Casarotto, together with M.A. Borrello. In 1981 he was appointed external examiner of my PhD dissertation.

There are very many other things I would like to write about Lawrence, among which is his love for the country where he spent much of his research life: its art, traditions, people, cuisine and also language. He always showed a real interest and appreciation of all these aspects. For this reason it will not be easy, for all who were in touch with him, to forget him.

Appreciation by
Derek Hurst

Lawrence was one of the stalwarts of the Droitwich Archaeological Committee and his regular participation and support on this committee over many years, including chairing the meetings, made a significant contribution to keeping the Droitwich project going in the 1980s to early 1990s, and, therefore, to providing a local-based archaeological presence in Worcestershire which continues to be strong to this day.

Following the completion of his work on this committee he responded generously to calls on his time when finally it proved possible to take forward the Roman volume several years later, which included the report on the Bays Meadow villa, excavated under the auspices of the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology of Birmingham University in 1967-77. It turned out that he had single-handedly managed to marshal specialist reports and develop a harmonious site narrative out of the complex data of this rich site. It was difficult to realise how he ever had the time to do this seeing how much teaching and other research he was engaged in. During the detailed work on this publication he often astounded by his ability to answer specific questions about the site from his memory of the excavation.

That the archaeology of Droitwich it is now well established as a published record is due in no small measure to Lawrence.


  • BARFIELD, L. 2006. Bays Meadow villa, Droitwich: excavations 1967-77, in J D Hurst (ed) Roman Droitwich: Dodderhill fort, Bays Meadow villa, and roadside settlement (Council for British Archaeology Research Report 146): 78-242. York: Council for British Archaeology.