Lives Remembered: Bill Putnam

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The Independent Online

Bill Putnam, who died on 14 October at the age of 78, studied Classics at University College, London, where his interest in archaeology was fired by Professor Sir Mortimer Wheeler. After National Service as an RAF officer, he went to Newtown Grammar School in Wales as Head of Classics, and embarked on the research into Roman Wales and England which became one of the major themes of his working life. He moved to Weymouth College in 1967 as the first lecturer in archaeology at a higher education college, and soon became Head of History and Archaeology.

Weymouth College evolved into the Dorset Institute and Bournemouth Polytechnic, becoming Bournemouth University in 1992. During the 1970s and 1980s at Weymouth Bill introduced a range of courses with a practical and professional emphasis – courses from which Bournemouth's current archaeology and heritage programmes developed. He embraced educational innovation, and was in some ways ahead of his time: his courses embodied what the higher education world now calls "widening participation" and "work-based learning", to creative effect.

Bill made a significant impact on the study of the Romans in Britain, particularly in Wales and Dorset. With the late Professor Barri Jones he essentially drew the map of Roman roads in mid-Wales. He was for many years the leading archaeologist of Roman Dorset. His excavations at Dewlish established this as the classic Dorset Roman villa, and his research on the Dorchester aqueduct established this monument as the only one of its kind in Britain about which we know anything of substance. In later years, with John Edwin Wood, he turned his attention to southern France and published The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau as a scholarly antidote to far-fetched tales about the riches supposedly discovered there.

Bill was also a leader in local and regional bodies and projects. As Chairman of the Dorset Archaeological Committee in the 1970s and 1980s he guided the county's archaeological thinking and activity through times of change. He was Chairman of Wessex Archaeology from 1977 to 1999, during which time it became one of the UK's leading archaeology and heritage management companies. But he retained his pleasure in teaching and lecturing to the end of his life. He was at ease with his audience, and always inspirational, whether in a lecture or tutorial with undergraduates, or in an extramural class, at a conference or on a field expedition.

Bill Putnam's distinction as an archaeologist, teacher, lecturer and writer was recognised by his election to the Society of Antiquaries in 1971. In 2004 Bournemouth University conferred on him an Honorary Doctorate of Science. But what perhaps meant most to him was the appreciation of the many people who learned and enjoyed archaeology with him, and the countless friendships which resulted.

Alan Hunt

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