Obituary: Professor G.D.B. Jones

WHEN G. D. B. Jones was at Oxford, one of his Classics tutors warned him that Roman Britain amounted to nothing more than "two wet bricks in a wet field". Jones's career stands as a firm rebuttal of such views.

His contributions to Roman archaeology cover a remarkable range of themes and areas and earned him an international reputation and a Chair at an early age. Over the years he sat on most of the leading national archaeological bodies and was especially proud to serve as a Royal Commissioner for Archaeology in Wales. He was influential during the 1970s in the campaign to change the nature of archaeology in Britain from an essentially amateur pursuit into a highly professional and regionally distributed service. Many of his students were inspired by him to seek careers in archaeology, but he also devoted time and effort to energising a variety of non-academic audiences.

Geraint Dyfed Barri Jones was born in 1936 and studied Greats at Jesus College, Oxford, in the late 1950s, but found himself increasingly drawn into Roman archaeology as one of the last pupils of Professor (later Sir) Ian Richmond.

Jones had a prodigious appetite for fieldwork, excelling in problem-oriented excavations that challenged academic orthodoxy, as in a remarkable programme of work investigating the developmental sequence of the western end of Hadrian's Wall (it made front-page news in The Times).

Throughout his career, fieldwork on Roman Britain was a central concern (An Atlas of Roman Britain, 1990). He developed excellent skills as an aerial photographer, and made pioneering surveys in Wales, Cumbria and in Scotland (notably the Moray region) - in each case largely self-funded. He followed up his discoveries with targeted trial excavations and the results transformed our knowledge of settlement in these frontier regions (as for instance in his 1985 book on Roman Cumbria, The Carvetii, co-authored with Nicholas Higham).

Similarly, his work on Roman mining in Britain brought about a significant reappraisal of the scale and sophistication of such activity at sites like Dolaucothi in South Wales, where he identified complex hydraulic mining structures at Britain's only known Roman gold mine.

His involvement in archaeology abroad was also to be influential across a series of fields: rural settlement patterns, urban topography and ancient mining. Through his DPhil research on Italy in 1959-63 he became involved in the South Etruria Survey co-ordinated by John Ward-Perkins, then Director at the British School at Rome (his reports on the Ager Capenas area remain one of the enduring achievements of the project). He was subsequently employed in 1963-64 as a post-doctoral researcher on the Apulia project, utilising a remarkable aerial survey carried out in southern Italy by John Bradford (Neolithic Apulia, 1987).

Then, in the late 1960s, came the first of his major phases of Libyan fieldwork, with excavations at the classical cities of Tocra and Euesperides (early Benghazi), followed by a foray into Spain, where he carried out important work on the Rio Tinto complex of ancient mines and Roman gold mines at Las Medulas, building on his growing knowledge of comparable British sites.

From 1979 to 1989 he co-directed a project which explored the technology of Roman period farming in the Libyan pre-desert, with the results published in more than 30 specialist articles and an acclaimed two-volume final report (Farming the Desert: the Unesco Libyan Valleys Survey, 1996). Returning to the problems of Libyan coastal cities, he helped co-ordinate and edit the publication of earlier British work at Lepcis Magna (The Severan Buildings of Lepcis Magna, 1993).

Appointed lecturer in ancient history and archaeology in the Department of History at Manchester University in 1964, Barri Jones was a key player in the eventual creation of a Department of Archaeology. In 1971, he was promoted to Professor of the department, which, though small, had quickly gained a national profile.

As a teacher he could be inspirational, not least because he had the rare knack of getting students to share his total enthusiasm for the subject. The 1970s were the peak years of the department, with a succession of graduates and doctoral students from this period finding employment in the burgeoning professional units and in university posts.

Jones was one of a small band of highly committed archaeologists who campaigned for increased protection for the heritage in law, higher funding and the creation of a network of professional archaeological services. In the late 1960s the regional organisation of archaeology was still largely based on amateur societies, with a small and under-funded central service within the Department of the Environment. As Secretary of Rescue, the charitable trust set up to campaign for legislation to safeguard the archaeological heritage, he was instrumental in securing the transition of British archaeology to a highly professional and statutory regional service (as documented in detail in his book Past Imperfect: the story of Rescue archaeology, 1984).

He practised what he preached in the North-West, through a series of Rescue excavations (published as Roman Manchester in 1974 and Roman Lancaster in 1988), which demonstrated that real archaeological potential lurked beneath unpromising Victorian slum clearance. In 1980 he persuaded the Greater Manchester Council to set up its own archaeological unit (GMAU), which despite changes in funding base and name still continues.

Jones was a great populariser of archaeology, whether in his dealings with farmers, local societies or the media. Wherever he carried out fieldwork he developed networks of firm friendships - often people who found a commitment to their local heritage through his encouragement. From 1979 to 1988 he edited a national archaeological magazine, initially known as Popular Archaeology, later as Archaeology Today, and, when this was discontinued, he contributed to another, Minerva. The public interest he stimulated and sustained (at personal and financial cost to himself) was a service of lasting value to the whole archaeological community.

It is fair to say that Barri Jones did not live life the easy way; indeed he seemed to shun the safe option. All these commitments, and his own restless drive, meant that he was frequently juggling with too many balls in the air, and occasionally balls were dropped. In truth he was a better starter than a finisher (harsh though that judgement may seem of a man with 10 books and well over 100 articles to his credit), and he too readily made promises that were impossible to keep when there were only 26 hours in his day. Chaos was frequently averted only by the timely intervention of his long-serving secretary, Sylvia.

But, whilst he might sometimes disappoint and infuriate by his lateness or sins of omission, working with Jones was always exciting and fun, as is clear from a rich stock of unforgettable stories. He was generous, charming and sparkling company, giving purpose and direction to many people's lives. He was completely lacking in malice and took a positive interest in others, making them see a potential in themselves they had not suspected.

At the same time he was guarded about his own private life, which was not always easy or happy (he was twice married and twice divorced). His archaeological preoccupations and his willingness to subsidise his work from his own pocket did not sit easily with family life, though he was in truth a devoted father and talked of his children with pride. Yet, in his last months, he seemed to have found a new equilibrium: a new partner and impending retirement had rejuvenated him.

How ironic and tragic then that he should be snatched away from us by a sudden heart attack as he reached the summit of one of his beloved Welsh mountains.

Geraint Dyfed Barri Jones, archaeologist: born St Helens, Lancashire 4 April 1936; Lecturer, Manchester University 1964-71, Professor of Archaeology 1971-99; married 1967 Vicki Sanderson (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1983), 1983 Brigitte Bowland Barrett (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1998); died Waun Doch, Gwynedd 16 July 1999.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor