Anne Robertson was a living link with the pioneers of archaeological research. Her own rich contribution owed much to the influence of Sir George Macdonald, who dominated Romano-British studies between the world wars. From him she imbibed the patience in noting details and the dispassionate weighing of evidence that Macdonald had so admired in Francis Haverfield, an earlier giant in the field. With this inheritance, allied to her own pertinacity, it is not surprising that she achieved such eminence.
She was best known as a numismatist and Keeper of the Hunterian Coin Cabinet at Glasgow University, winning international recognition with the publication in 1960 of the Sylloge of Anglo-Saxon Coins in the Glasgow collections, and becoming Medallist of the Royal Numismatic Society four years later. Between 1962 and 1982 she produced the five-volume Catalogue of Roman Imperial Coins in the Hunterian Coin Cabinet, the greatest single monument to her life's work, but the fruit of her researches is also evident in numerous occasional papers and meticulous, site-specific coin reports prepared for colleagues' publications.
Yet Robertson was no armchair archaeologist: from 1937 her interest in Roman Scotland led her to excavation, and for several years she was the only professional actively engaged in fieldwork on monuments of the period. From exploratory work at Castledykes fort, near Carstairs, she turned to the Antonine Wall, the turf-built Roman frontier on the Forth-Clyde isthmus. It was with this internationally important monument that she was identified for the rest of her working life, presiding over its artefactual remains in the Hunterian Museum, and initiating in 1960 the classic guide book The Antonine Wall, subsequently reprinted and revised, but never superseded.
The daughter of two Glasgow teachers, she was educated at Hillhead High School and Glasgow School for Girls. At Glasgow University she was deeply impressed by S.N. Miller's teaching of Roman History, and in 1930 won the Cowan Medal, and the approval of Sir George Macdonald, then Honorary Keeper of the Hunterian Coin Cabinet. After a period in London, where she studied archaeology and gained invaluable experience in the Coin Room of the British Museum, she returned to Glasgow University as the Dalrymple Lecturer in Archaeology.
In 1952 she became Under-Keeper of the Hunterian Museum and Curator of the Hunter Coin Cabinet. In 1964 she was promoted to a Readership and appointed Keeper of the Cultural Collections, being awarded a DLitt in 1965. A year before her retirement in 1975, she was made titular Professor of Archaeology and elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, one of the first archaeologists to be so honoured. She was by then already a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and of London, as well as of the Royal Numismatic Society. It was however with the Glasgow Archaeological Society that she was most closely associated; by happy coincidence she was the society's president during the celebrations of its centenary in 1957, and in 1976 the members further expressed their affection by electing her to an Honorary Membership.
In addition to her academic attainments, Robertson will be widely remembered for her energetic promotion of archaeology. She believed ardently in the professional's obligation to involve and inform the general public, and not only by writing or lecturing. A good part of this outreach she achieved through training excavations where people from many walks of life, but particularly undergraduates from other disciplines, were given a grounding in archaeological fieldwork. Much of this (for example, the excavations at the Roman forts of Birrens and Cardean) was undertaken under the auspices of the Scottish Field School, of which she was a for long time the Honorary Secretary and Director.
It is an indication of the value of this work that so many of her "pupils" went on to participate actively in the wider fields of archaeology, taking with them memories of excavations run on vastly different lines from those of their modern counterparts - church attendance on Sunday mornings, and a ritual avoidance of hostelries being only two of the differentiating characteristics.
As befitted Robertson's somewhat reserved demeanour, the regime was formal, and this formality even professional colleagues encountered from time to time. Yet beneath there lay a generosity of spirit that showed itself more clearly in action: in unstinting help and encouragement for those at the beginning of their careers; or the work in aid of wider appreciation of archaeology as evidenced particularly by her support of the Scottish Regional Committee of the Council for British Archaeology, and most happily in the Robertson Awards for outstanding achievement; or, in a different sense, by her exploration of the use of film to record either excavations in progress or various types of field monument (the results now deposited in the national archives).
In her later years, and especially in less formal contexts, Robertson deployed what might be described as a pawky sense of humour, sometimes wryly commenting on the ebb and flow of archaeological fashion, more often turning to a gentle self-deprecation; most treasured among these autumnal tints were her disquisition on the Sheer Cussedness factor in archaeology (her suggested alternative interpretation of the "Senatus Consultum" marking on Roman coins), and the denunciation of the modern fondness for numerical and spatial analysis as pure metromania.
Colleagues, pupils and friends will relish the memory of such strokes as highlights in an altogether more solemn portrait, composed in equal parts of respect and admiration for a life of service and scholarship - a life which, in Macdonald's lapidary encomium of Haverfield, both pointed out the way to others and made it less arduous.
- Gordon S. MaxwellReuse content