Professor Andrew Sherratt

Radical Old World prehistorian


Andrew George Sherratt, archaeologist: born Oldham, Lancashire 8 May 1946; Assistant Keeper of Antiquities, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1973-88, Senior Assistant Keeper 1988-2005; Reader in Archaeology, Oxford University 1997-2002, Professor 2002-05; Professor of Old World Prehistory, Sheffield University 2005-06; married 1974 Susan Dobson (two sons, one daughter); died Witney, Oxfordshire 24 February 2006.

Andrew Sherratt was an Old World prehistorian with an unusual breadth of knowledge, interests and vision. At a time when increasing specialisation has driven most prehistorians to focus on particular aspects of life in the distant past, he moved nimbly from settlement patterns and technology, through exchange and land use, to material symbols, language and cultures of consumption.

While expanding data sets and fascination with local process have encouraged concern with particular regions and periods of prehistory, Sherratt travelled fearlessly through space and time, drawing his hallmark diagrams with bold arrows.

He first achieved international recognition with his model of an Old World "Secondary Products Revolution", published in Pattern of the Past, a 1981 volume honouring his mentor David Clarke. He argued that animals were first domesticated to secure a ready supply of carcass products. Only several millennia later were domestic animals exploited for their renewable "secondary" products of milk, wool and labour. This revolution enabled early European farmers to colonise many agriculturally marginal areas of the Continent, sowed the seeds of later social inequality (the plough supporting a privileged minority) and created some of the necessary conditions for the development of pastoralism.

The model stimulated a wave of studies, seeking to add to or challenge its arguments, and the same is true 25 years later. Hours before his sudden death, Sherratt was working on publication, with other specialists, of radical new insights from the analysis of milk residues in early pottery.

The application of new analytical techniques and continued accumulation of older forms of data may well show that the first use of secondary products was earlier and more patchy than Sherratt believed in 1981, but the questions raised by the model still provoke productive thought. Arguably more important than the model itself was Sherratt's attempt to understand social and economic change in terms of interaction between local processes (such as marginal colonisation) and the diffusion from the urban Near East to Europe of novel ideas (the plough and wheel) and new breeds (e.g., woolly sheep).

Sherratt sought to develop and modernise the diffusionist ideas of Gordon Childe, at a time when this was unfashionable among British prehistorians, and naturally led the way when growing interest in World Systems signalled a reverse in the pendulum of fashion. His 1993 paper "What Would a Bronze Age World System Look Like?" was published in the first volume of the Journal of European Archaeology.

Again Sherratt's work, including several important papers published with Susan Sherratt, his wife, differentiated itself from earlier diffusionist thinking by exploring how and why Near Eastern technologies, symbols and craft goods had been adopted by European societies.

In a similar vein, the Sherratts contributed to the debate on the antiquity of Indo-European languages in Europe, arguing - persuasively, I believe - that similar languages over large distances are as likely to reflect linguistic convergence of interacting populations as divergence of people with common biological ancestry.

A collection of Andrew Sherratt's writings was published in 1996 as Economy and Society in Prehistoric Europe: changing perspectives. As the breadth of his scholarship indicates, he was a polymath with an eccentric range of interests. At times this could be frustrating: despite his fascination with maps, he was an erratic navigator and, on journeys abroad, road signs and toponyms posed such an irresistible etymological puzzle that their secondary role as aid to orientation could be overlooked. Conversations with him were likewise liable to take unexpected, but never tedious, detours.

He was an inspiring teacher: as a postgraduate student in Cambridge (having read Archaeology and Anthropology at Peterhouse from 1965 to 1968), he delivered day-long tutorials that began over (late) morning coffee, continued over lunch in the local café and ended in the pub at closing time.

In 1973, Sherratt moved from student life to a post at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, where he remained until 2005. He played a major role in setting up an undergraduate degree course in Archaeology and Anthropology at Oxford, and was rather belatedly made Professor there in 2002. Ironically, his first real teaching position came with his appointment in October 2005 to the newly created chair of Old World Prehistory at Sheffield University.

Convivial as he was and generous with his time, Sherratt's enjoyment of wine and beer and periodic vulnerability to nicotine led to a series of groundbreaking papers that explored the role of currently legal and illegal substances in shaping social intercourse among ancient Europeans. These papers played a seminal role in introducing prehistorians to anthropological writing on consumption and in promoting the study of imbibing, ingesting and inhaling in antiquity.

Although Sherratt took his prehistory very seriously, he was a very entertaining speaker and writer, with a gift for the use of the English language that enthralled audiences on the international stage. His levity of manner perhaps did not endear him to some of the more conservative corners of academe, but it won him devoted disciples and good friends in many countries.

Paul Halstead

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Life and Style
life
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 6 Supply Teacher Position a...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?