Obituary: Professor Paul L. Hancock

PAUL L. HANCOCK was a geologist who latterly added the analysis of classical ruins to the repertoire of stratagems he amassed during a bustling life in order to trace the fracture and buckling of the Earth's crust.

He was mindful of the danger of reading too much into toppled columns and cracked architraves, but did not therefore dismiss archaeological evidence as ambiguous nor cite it merely for decoration. Instead he characteristically embarked, not many months ago, on a programme of research with colleagues in civil engineering and computer science to determine the kind of damage which was unambiguously seismic. A blunt, undiscriminating weapon would thereby become a sensitive and revealing probe with which to extend the lamentably short instrumental and documentary earthquake record, and thus make possible the assessment of seismic risk in locations where major earthquakes are spaced millennia apart.

A search for ever greater refinement marked the studies of more conventional structural geology that occupied the bulk of Hancock's career, starting with a PhD thesis entitled "A Structural Analysis of the Orielton Anticline, Pembrokeshire", through the many publications and lectures that were to follow, but always set against the grander regional setting: in the Alps, the Pyrenees, Arabia, the Aegean, Taiwan and the United States, as well as in Scotland, Wales and the West Country.

Hancock was born in 1937, in London. Educated at Sheen Grammar School and at Durham University, he was awarded a first class degree in geology. He gained his PhD in 1963. Following two years as DSIR (Department of Scientific and Industrial Research) Research Fellow in Cambridge he was appointed assistant lecturer in geology at Nottingham College of Technology and as lecturer in geology at Strathclyde and (in 1967) at Bristol, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Hancock was awarded the Lyell Fund of the Geological Society of London in 1978. He was promoted to Reader in 1981 and was elected to a personal Chair in 1995.

Hancock's own view of his scientific progress emphasised an early interest in brittle rock deformation when its study was not yet fashionable, and his later switch from ancient structures to those currently deforming during earthquakes, which took him to an area where his studies were to become classics - the Aegean. And it was here that the research into historical earthquakes gained chronological precision from his fascination with travertine, the spring-laid calcareous deposits which sometimes permit the extent and age of later faults to be established.

A further development, which fruitfully fused his experience of rock fracturing and active deformation, was to use such fractures as clues to the pattern of stresses that prevails in a specified area. This work was of evident importance not just to seismologists but also to geologists engaged in evaluating petroleum reservoirs.

Hancock combined great dignity with affability, and dedication to his work with a generosity of spirit which doubtless helped him endure, and perhaps even enjoy, the countless international commissions, editorial boards and committees on which he selflessly sat.

He was an invited or keynote speaker at a dozen scientific conferences and gave papers at some 40 others. He attended a similar number of research colloquia round the world. He edited and rewrote countless manuscripts so that the ideas of others could blossom and be heard.

One might wish he had done less for his subject in this tangential way so that he could have profited it more lastingly by setting down his ideas in greater detail. But his own assessment reveals that to damn conferences and commissions as the enemies of academic promise is a mean and short- sighted perspective; Hancock proudly listed in his CV some of the devices by which he had promoted international scientific collaboration and exchange, his contribution to an annual Erasmus advanced school in Italy, and his successful collaboration with archaeological colleagues at Bristol. Indeed, he lists yet more chores and responsibilities among his honours and rewards.

A fine teacher, Hancock filled visiting professorships at Al Ain, Bahia Blanca, Istanbul, Florence, Alberta and Reno. A lasting monument to his industry is the Journal of Structural Geology, which he founded in 1978. (Not content with this, he later co-founded Annales Tectonicae, an English- language journal devoted to the countries bordering the Mediterranean.) There are also eight books which he co-edited and two, including Continental Deformation (1994), which he edited solo.

His 59 research articles include important studies of strain analysis, earthquake prediction, the North Anatolian fault, and travertine at Pamukkale in Turkey. The proceedings of a conference on Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Archaeology that he helped to convene in 1997 are in the press. His ideas will be developed and his ideals cherished by the research students from the UK and Turkey, Arabia, Greece, Spain and Lebanon who were to become Hancock's collaborators and champions.

Claudio Vita-Finzi

Paul Lewis Hancock, geologist: born London 26 March 1937; Lecturer in Geology, Bristol University 1967-81, Reader 1981-95, Professor of Neotectonics, 1995-98; twice married (one son, one daughter); died Bristol 9 December 1998.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album