John Dore: Archaeologist of northern Britain and Libya who was a specialist in Mediterranean ceramics

John Dore's archaeological career was unconventional and adventurous, involving numerous projects in the north-east of England, Italy, Portugal, Tunisia and, particularly, Libya.

He was co-author or co-editor of seven monographs and over 50 published articles and pottery reports – a substantial legacy and achievement, despite his not having the continuity and security of a permanent academic post and mostly earning his living through fixed-term contracts and somewhat insecure consultancy work in professional archaeology. Dore was always much in demand as a ceramicist, a sign of the huge respect he commanded nationally and internationally. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, London, in 1990.

The work for which Dore will be best remembered concerns his pioneering classifications of classical pottery from North Africa. For their geographical and temporal range and the elegance and clarity of their construction, his typologies set new benchmarks in the field. He was among the great Mediterranean ceramicists of his generation and his work is widely employed both to date sites and to understand the economic connections between regions.

Born in 1951 in Altrincham, son of the Cheshire historian Robert Dore, John took a degree in Latin and Archaeology at Birmingham University (1969-72). Scratching around for what to do next, he was dispatched by Professor Barri Jones of Manchester University to join an archaeological excavation in Benghazi, initiating a 36-year love affair with Libya and determining Dore's future career. A second key development was his appointment in 1974 as research assistant to the Roman pottery expert John Gillam at Newcastle University. Newcastle upon Tyne became Dore's adopted home thereafter and his specialism Roman ceramics.

As Research Associate in Newcastle he brought to press important work on the Roman frontier in Britain (including books on the forts at South Shields and Corbridge). His pottery reports embellish (and enliven) many a northern excavation report published in the last 30 years. He co-authored the standard work on Romano-British pottery fabrics The National Roman Fabric Reference Collection: a handbook (1998). Periodically he was also a guest lecturer at Newcastle and by all reports he excelled at this too, engaging students with his enthusiasm and humour. A more conventional academic career was denied him by the almost complete absence of permanent lectureships advertised in the 1980s, though Dore was never bitter about such disappointments.

From 1983 until 1985 he served as curator of English Heritage Hadrian's Wall properties, seeing through the opening of a new museum at Corbridge. The museum development phase was exciting but he became frustrated by the narrowness of the subsequent role and he surrendered security of employment in favour of being a self-employed consultant. This allowed him to supplement bread-and-butter projects in British archaeology with more adventurous forays overseas.

From 1995 until 2002 he was director of the Archaeological Practice, the professional unit attached to the Newcastle Archaeology Department. This involved managing all aspects of a commercial archaeological service, operating in a challenging competitive tendering environment. When financial pressures within the university led to the (short-sighted) closure of the Practice, he returned to consultancy work again, while at the same time completing a Postgraduate Diploma in Advanced Arabic and an MA in Arabic-English Translation from Durham University. Although this suggested a possible change of direction, archaeology in fact continued to be his main occupation.

Dore was a stalwart servant of the Society for Libyan Studies, a scholarly body funded through the British Academy that has done much to foster academic links between Britain and Libya and to facilitate British research in the region, and was Honorary Secretary, 1993-2001, and Head of Mission, 1998-2008. He played a key role in the society's success in the post-Lockerbie years, when fieldwork and academic contacts could easily have been sacrificed in the face of the political difficulties.

Dore's understanding of the quiet dignity of North African society won him many friends in Libya and Tunisia, as did his championing of heritage issues there. He made huge efforts to become expert in Arabic, starting with attending intensive courses over two summers in Tunisia in the 1980s, and built on with his Durham post-graduate courses. His command of Arabic was much appreciated, though his linguistic training in elegant classical Arabic occasionally led him to express ideas in a language that could disconcert Libyans expecting more colloquial conversational constructions – as Dore himself put it, it could be a bit like "hearing someone speaking perfect Chaucerian English on a Newcastle street today".

He played a leading role as ceramicist on the Unesco Libyan Valleys Survey (1980-89) – where my own close friendship with him was forged. Another opportunity seized was a two-year research fellowship funded by the Society for Libyan Studies (1986-88), leading to the publication of the internationally significant pottery assemblage from Sabratha (Excavations at Sabratha 1948-51. The Finds, volume 1, 1989). From 1990 he became involved with the Leptiminus Project, excavating a Tunisian port city of Roman date.

It was also in this phase that he directed a major field project based on al-Marj (ancient Barca) in Eastern Libya (1989-92). Although al-Marj had been expected to produce significant remains of the classical city, what his textbook excavation demonstrated was a deep stratified sequence of medieval and early modern Islamic buildings, overlying the remains of the classical and early Islamic town. In the last decade he worked with me on two major projects in the Libyan desert, the Fazzan Project (1997-2002) and the Desert Migrations Project (2007f; see D. Mattingly et al, The Archaeology of Fazzan, Volumes 1-2). He was already experiencing back pain and a persistent "virus" when we were last in the field in January– the first symptoms of the blood cancer (multiple myeloma) that ended his life.

John Dore was a wonderful colleague who made fieldwork fun, though he always set the highest standards of professionalism. His advice was invariably wise and constructive. He was a good manager of people and wore his own expertise lightly, while being extremely generous with his time to those who sought to benefit from his knowledge. His sense of humour was legendary – he could reduce those he shared workspace with to hysterics by a single word or catch-phrase (often delivered in one of a series of funny voices he cultivated over the years). His facial expressions were equally powerful – the "cocked head and quizzical raised eyebrow look" will be familiar to many.

He was a notoriously tidy and organised person, seemingly impervious to the mud or dust that sticks to most archaeologists. Even in the desert wastes, far from mod cons, he maintained a freshly ironed look. Many of us will always remember him thus, as a dignified and elegant man. He was something of a perfectionist in his work – hating to hand over a pottery report until he was sure it was completely right. That tendency could frustrate excavation directors eager to publish, though in John Dore's case it has led to the creation of a substantial body of work that will prove of enduring value.

Married and divorced at an early age, John was later to have two significant long-term relationships. The first, with Ellen Watts, produced two sons, Tom and Joe, whose company he so treasured – cycling, camping, playing music, hanging out. Linda Green was his partner for the last seven years.

David Mattingly

John Nigel Dore, archaeologist: born Altrincham, Cheshire 25 March 1951; Research Associate, Newcastle University 1974-83, 1986-87; curator, Hadrian's Wall Museums, English Heritage 1983-85; director, The Archaeological Practice, Newcastle University 1995-2002; (two sons with Ellen Watts); died Newcastle upon Tyne 9 June 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there