In recent decades British classical archaeologists have played a leading role in showing how skilful fieldwork and painstaking analysis of the humdrum material culture of ordinary peoples' lives can write an entirely new archaeological history of what the ancient world was like far from the shadow of the Colosseum. John Lloyd was pre-eminent in this group.
Whilst he was studying English as an undergraduate at Manchester in the Sixties, he started working as a student volunteer on the excavations of Professor Barri Jones, Professor of Archaeology there, and became one of the band of young archaeologists now in very senior positions who learned field skills of the highest quality in the Manchester school.
After graduation Lloyd embarked on a publishing career with Cambridge University Press, but he continued excavating in his spare time, including spending a few months at new rescue excavations that had started at Benghazi in Libya in 1971. Clearance for development of a Turkish Ottoman cemetery there in the suburb of Sidi Khrebish was destroying extensive remains of the Greek and Roman city of Berenice. At the invitation of the Libyan Department of Antiquities, the Society for Libyan Studies, an academic society in Britain founded in 1969 at the time of the Libyan Revolution to maintain existing strong links with Libyan scholars (many senior Libyan archaeologists trained in Britain), had mounted an emergency operation to try to salvage the archaeology.
In November 1972, at the age of 24, Lloyd was asked by the Society to take over the excavations as its Field Director. He spent the greater part of the next three years in Benghazi, completing a major excavation at Sidi Khrebish, overseeing a small army of workmen and specialists almost all his own age or older. The excavation generated enormous quantities of data, the study of which he also co-ordinated with immense commitment and patience, editing a series of five major volumes (Excavations at Sidi Khrebish) published by the Society for Libyan Studies over the next 20 years on every aspect of life in the ancient city over almost a thousand years, from the third century BC to the coming of Islam, an "archaeological history" of a Mediterranean city that has probably only been rivalled by the work of the several international teams of excavators at Carthage in Tunisia.
Lloyd's research interests expanded into Italy when in 1976 he joined a team of archaeologists, historians and geographers studying the long- term landscape history of the Biferno valley, on the Adriatic side of the peninsula east of Rome. The main archaeological component was a field- walking programme: teams of archaeologists searched every ploughed field down the length of the valley, mapping the spreads of potsherds and other archaeological debris in the ploughsoil that were the vestiges of ancient settlements.
In the classical period the Biferno valley was within the homeland of the Samnites, the warrior nation that was the main obstacle to Rome's expansion in the Italian peninsula. Lloyd studied the abundant material recovered by the project for the Samnite period (from about 500BC to the Roman conquest of the valley in 80BC) and Roman period (80BC-AD600). After the survey finished in 1978, he spent the next few seasons excavating one of the classical sites found in the valley, at Matrice, the first excavation in the region of an ordinary classical farmstead.
In the final report on the Biferno valley work he integrated his studies of the survey data with the results of his Matrice excavations and excavations by Italian colleagues. His chapters on Samnite and Roman settlement in the book on the survey project (A Mediterranean Valley: landscape archaeology and annales history in the Biferno valley, 1995), supported by his meticulously produced catalogue of supporting data, are probably the most outstanding regional study of classical settlement anywhere in Italy, demonstrating that pre-Roman Samnite society was infinitely more sophisticated - urban in fact - than the hillbilly society described to us by Roman writers, and that it continued in its essential fabric after Romanisation. His book on his Matrice excavations, about to go to press at the time of his death, will be one of a very few excavation reports of classical rural sites in Italy excavated to the highest modern standards.
Lloyd joined the Department of Ancient History at Sheffield in 1977 as a lecturer in classical archaeology, and whilst there he embarked on further fieldwork, directing excavations with Sheffield colleagues of the vicus or native settlement outside the Roman fort of Brough in the Peak District, and also a field-walking survey of Greek rural settlement at Megalopolis in the Peloponnese. When he co-edited Roman Landscapes: archaeological survey in the Mediterranean region (1991), a book arising from an international conference at the British School at Rome looking at the achievements of field-walking archaeology, his fieldwork in Italy and Greece underpinned his concluding study, where he wrote of the entirely unsuspected "busy countryside" of villages, villas, farms and cottages that was being revealed by survey archaeologists like him in every Mediterranean country.
In the 10 years since he moved to the Institute of Archaeology at Oxford University, he had resumed work in Libya, directing rescue excavations for the Society of Libyan Studies with a colleague from Benghazi's Gar Yunis University at Euhesperides, the first Greek colony at Benghazi. Their excavations demonstrated that the city was founded earlier than supposed, in the sixth century BC, surviving till it was replaced by Berenice in the third century BC, as well as illuminating how the new colony was supported by its agricultural hinterland, its trading contacts with the eastern Mediterranean, and the processes of social interaction between incoming Greeks and indigenous Libyans.
He also continued his field researches on the Samnites, directing a major survey and excavation project in the Sangro valley with colleagues from Italy, Oxford and Leicester, culminating in the excavation of a Samnite hillfort settlement, Monte Pallano. It was during his final scheduled season of fieldwork in the Sangro valley, in September 1998, that he was first taken ill with what transpired to be a brain tumour.
John Lloyd was an exceptionally modest man who constantly downplayed his achievements, but his archaeology was characterised by meticulous and careful scholarship made to last, whether in his own research or as a gifted and painstaking editor for the publications of the Society for Libyan Studies and the British School at Rome. That he achieved such remarkable and enduring results in his Libyan, Greek and Italian fieldwork was in part because of the modesty, sensitivity and integrity he brought to his professional relations. He had a tremendously strong sense of the importance of doing the right thing by his collaborators, his colleagues in the UK and abroad, his authors, his field teams, the students he taught at Sheffield and Oxford, and the family of which he was so proud.
Burly and saturnine, he alternated between studied gloom and sparkling fun, between caution about his own archaeological achievements and generosity in his judgement of and support for other scholars. He set standards of professionalism few archaeologists emulate; his fieldwork has given us new understanding of ordinary life in towns and villages and farms throughout the ancient world; and in his caring for the profession of archaeology, and how it should be done to the highest standards, he had a profound influence on the careers of scores of archaeologists in Britain and abroad fortunate enough to be touched by his wisdom and wit.
John Alfred Lloyd, archaeologist: born Broughty Ferry, Angus 29 April 1948; Lecturer, Sheffield University 1977-88; Lecturer, Oxford University 1988-89; Fellow, Wolfson College, Oxford 1988-99; married 1976 Vicky Doughty (one son, one daughter); died Oxford 30 May 1999.Reuse content