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Tony Legge

6 June 1939 - 4 February 2013

Appreciation by
Peter Rowley-Conwy

Tony Legge instructing students on fieldwork in Croatia.
Tony Legge instructing students on fieldwork in Croatia.

Tony Legge died on 4th February 2013, after a short illness. He was in his 74th year. His death robs British archaeology of one of its most innovative and wide-ranging zooarchaeologists as well as one of its most colourful characters. Throughout his career he was committed to the theory and method of zooarchaeology and subsistence reconstruction, and was actively researching up to the end of his life.

After a job working on pigs at the Institute of Animal Physiology at Babraham and a spell doing National Service, Tony entered archaeology as a mature student at Churchill College, Cambridge, in 1966. He gravitated naturally towards Eric Higgs and the 'bone room', and joined Higgs's Early History of Agriculture Project when he graduated. Tony was one of the small group of people round Higgs who held daringly unorthodox views about the importance of subsistence economies in prehistory, and who conducted epic fieldwork on shoestring budgets in various parts of the world. In these early days Tony worked at sites in Greece, Israel and Cyprus. At the Natufian site of Nahal Oren, he showed that many of the gazelle were killed while young; younger than the gazelle at earlier prehistoric sites, and as young as the sheep and goat in Neolithic times. Since the juvenility of Neolithic sheep and goat was the major argument for their being domestic, this suggested intensive exploitation or even incipient domestication for the Natufian gazelle. This was probably the first methodologically-based argument for the intensification of the larger species in Natufian times, paralleling the 'Broad Spectrum Revolution'.

In 1974 Tony moved to the Department of Continuing Education in the University of London, where he spent over 30 years co-ordinating the teaching of archaeology in evening classes all over London. He taught many classes himself. He was an inspirational teacher who combined enthusiasm with clarity of vision, and many people were drawn towards zooarchaeology as a result. His small laboratory in Russell Square was always host to an assorted and varied group of committed members of the public (who came in during the daytime, not for an evening class), all switched on by Tony's teaching. These were people who had graduated from his classes and gone on to do their own work on archaeological material. Some have become eminent zooarchaeologists themselves. Others assisted him on various projects, and their names appear alongside his on a series of important papers. His laboratory was known to students throughout London as 'the place to be' if you were interested in animal bones, and many came to work for longer or shorter periods under his guidance.

During the 1970s Tony's zooarchaeological work was directed towards British Neolithic and Bronze Age material. He demonstrated that the adult cattle at sites like Windmill Hill, Hambledon Hill and Grimes Graves were predominantly female. This led to the conclusion that most of the males had been killed young, before their bones were measurable, and so young that their bones were very vulnerable to destruction by dogs. This led to the then-controversial suggestion that the Neolithic people of Britain milked their cattle — an idea that has more recently been supported by various lines of evidence including the finding of lipids from ruminant milk in Neolithic ceramics. At the same time he was developing methods for the more accurate ageing of domestic animals. He worked both on cattle and sheep, for the latter examining seasonality of sacrifice from the Roman temples at Harlow and Audley End — both published with students from his continuing education classes. Later he considered pigs, and a major paper on this species was in press at the time of Tony's death.

In the 1980s Tony worked on two key assemblages, from Abu Hureyra in Syria, and from Star Carr in Yorkshire. Seasonality of animal procurement was a prominent issue at both. Detailed recording of tooth eruption in the Star Carr roe deer led to the conclusion that the site was occupied during the early summer, reversing the previously-accepted winter occupation. The Abu Hureyra gazelle were also tightly seasonal, but other indicators suggested that the site was permanently occupied. The gazelle must have been migratory in prehistory, but by the twentieth century were so reduced in numbers that nothing was known about their earlier movements. Tony reconstructed the migrations by reading dozens of diaries and travelogues written by early European travellers in the Near East. Whenever gazelle herds were mentioned, a dot was placed on the map together with the day and month of observation. The Abu Hureyra project also involved a memorable three-month trip by the site's 'animal' and 'plant' teams, going through the Syrian steppe recording the vegetation and Bedouin herding practices. Tony's interest in the hunting and herding of Near Eastern animals was however not paralleled by his enthusiasm for eating them; his reaction when a very senior sheikh offered him the eyeball of a fat-tailed sheep wrapped in a lump of semi-congealed fat from the eponymous tail nearly caused a diplomatic incident. His other projects have included Jeitun in Turkmenistan, Selevac in Serbia and Moncin in northern Spain, and at the time of his death he was working on the material from Haua Fteah in Libya and various Neolithic sites in Croatia.

Tony's zooarchaeological footprint was probably wider than that of any other British or indeed European practitioner, and this wealth of experience meant that many people consulted him and asked his advice on a wide variety of topics. Tony had no time for pomposity, which he punctured with devastating one-liners, and he declined the offer of an MBE in November 2012; but he always had time to discuss animal bones and offer help and advice. It made no difference whether the discussion was in the lab or in the pub, or whether he was talking to a senior professor, or the lowliest undergraduate or evening class student: he had time for all. His enthusiasm was palpable. He will be much missed.