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Obituary: Vronwy Hankey

VRONWY HANKEY achieved a much-respected position on Near Eastern, Minoan, and Mycenaean archaeology, while happily and successfully meeting all the expectations of a diplomat's wife and bringing up a talented family. She did this with great good-humour, laughter, clarity of mind and vision and a very positive attitude to whatever she was involved in. A wide circle of friends held her in the greatest affection.

Born in a Welsh clerical family and brought up in a large and spooky rectory at Stilton (then in Huntingdonshire), she was taught Greek by her father, Thomas Fisher. She became a Girtonian and gained that rarest and most brilliant of youthful distinctions, a Blue (in hockey) and a First (in Classics).

She also discovered archaeology at Cambridge (Winifred Lamb and Dorothy Guard being at the height of their powers there) and in 1938 went out to the British School at Athens. Within weeks, she and a fellow student, Vincent Desborough, were sent to Knossos to help R.W. Hutchinson excavate and later (1956) publish a Minoan Tholos tomb on the Kephala Ridge. In 1939 she assisted Alan Wace at Mycenae and in April 1940 helped Hutchinson dig another, quite rich tomb at Knossos, south of the Palace of Minos.

These experiences must have fixed her heart and mind on Aegean archaeology, but after the advent of the Second World War she returned to England and in 1941 married Henry, the youngest son of the wartime minister Lord Hankey. The diplomatic life followed, with service in Madrid, Rome, San Francisco, Santiago, London, Beirut and Panama, where her husband was Ambassador. Scenes were deliciously described to friends, for example George Brown's address as Foreign Secretary to the embassy staff at Santiago; Vronwy Hankey loved verbal dexterity and a good pun. Yet these distant postings cut her off from immediate research in Aegean archaeology - she lamented the difficulty of access to the four volumes of Arthur Evans's The Palace of Minos in Panama.

She nevertheless found time to publish a major article on Mycenaean pottery from Euboea appeared in the Annual of the British School of Athens 47 (1952) when she was in San Francisco. Other works followed and the presence of Mycanaeans in their persons or their pots in Cyprus and throughout the Near East became her major research field.

Her base at the Beirut embassy (1962-66) at last allowed her close touch with fieldwork and through her studies and publications she developed a wide range of contacts with archaeological colleagues in Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordon, Lebanon and Syria. The fact that she was as cordially liked by colleagues in Israel as by a large number in Arab countries (she maintained her sympathy for the Palestinians) is a clear demonstration of the respect and affection her character brought out.

Much in demand by her colleagues for the study and publication of Mycenaean pottery from sites in the Near East, she came to focus on the material from Tell el-Amarna in Egypt. This large collection of pots and fragments is distributed in museums around the world and Hankey's collocation and preparation of it for publication was well advanced.

She also studied the modern potters' workshops in Lebanon and encouraged her daughter, the potter Veronica Newman, to show how the Mycenaeans made their pots by producing delightful and accurate copies and giving seminars on their technique. Her practical knowledge was available too for Henry Hankey's technical drawings of pots both real and invented, the latter in his hilarious book Archaeology: artifacts and artifiction (1985).

From 1970 onwards, when her husband was back in the Foreign Office in London, Vronwy Hankey renewed her Minoan interest, participating with Cressida Ridley (who died earlier this month) as a redoubtable duo in Gerald Cadogan's excavation on the sunstruck hilltop at Myrtos Pyrgos on the southern coast of Crete. Hankey was preparing pottery and fine stone vases for publication. Chronology had always been an interest of her detailed knowledge of contexts of Minoan and Mycenaean pottery throughout the Near East and was invaluable to her co-authorship of Aegean Bronze Age Chronology (1989).

A Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, she also delighted in her Honorary Fellowship of University College London and her attachment to the university's Petrie Museum of Egyptology in Gordon Place.

Well into the electronic age, she was particularly pleased to be able therefore to receive "office" e-mails at home. She was always a practical person, in her last months rooting cuttings with 100 per cent success in her new garden in Eynsham, near Oxford.

Always generous in sharing her knowledge with others (not least as a most popular lecturer on Swan Hellenic and Nile Cruises), firm but never harsh in her judgements of others' work, the most delightful of companions, especially in the songs, dances and laughter of a Cretan excavation party, Vronwy Hankey will be very much missed and her achievements always remembered.

Peter Warren

Vronwy Mary Fisher, archaeologist: born Stilton, Huntingdonshire 15 September 1916; married 1941 The Hon Henry Hankey (three sons, one daughter); died Oxford 11 May 1998.