Professor Tony Legge: Authority on the archaeology of animal bones

 

Tony Legge was an outstanding archaeologist who worked especially in zooarchaeology, the study of animal bones from archaeological excavations. He made major contributions to our understanding of prehistoric people's relationships to animals, including the beginnings of herding. His passion for the subject and deep scepticism of colleagues who only knew about animals from books enthused his students, including many adult learners, as he himself had been.

On leaving school in 1957 he joined the Pig Physiology Unit at the Institute of Animal Physiology at Babraham, outside Cambridge, returning to the job after National Service. The year he left school he spent a week digging at a Neolithic site in the fens being excavated by Cambridge's Disney Professor of Archaeology, Grahame Clark. Here he fell in with Eric Higgs, Clark's charismatic research assistant, who had joined Clark's department after a career as a Shropshire sheep farmer.

In 1965 Legge saw the documentary film Springs of St George about Higgs' pioneering excavations of Palaeolithic caves in Epirus in Greece; he resigned from his job, was accepted to read archaeology at Churchill College, and spent the summer with Higgs in Greece, the first of seven seasons he spent working for Higgs, in Greece and then Israel, revelling in the famously spartan living conditions of a Higgs excavation. It was in Higgs' "bone room" in Cambridge that he learned his zooarchaeology, and after graduating in 1969 it was as a zooarchaeologist that he joined a project directed by Higgs on the beginnings of farming and early history of domestication.

In 1974 he became tutor in archaeology in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of London (now Birkbeck College), until his retirement. He set up his own bone room in Russell Square, where he imbued generations of students with his commitment to studying the archaeology of animals as a powerful way in to the lives of the people who had hunted or herded them. He was promoted to Professor of Environmental Archaeology and after retirement was appointed Senior Fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University.

One of the assumed signatures of animal herding was a preponderance of young animals in a bone sample, a characteristic of many samples of sheep and goat bones at early Near East sites. Legge's graduate work, typically uncomfortable for current orthodoxy, was to show that collections of gazelle bones at pre-Neolithic sites in Israel had the same preponderance of young bones, implying that hunter-gatherers might have tried herding gazelle before sheep and goats.

He developed techniques now common in zooarchaeology to tease out details of Neolithic herding practices in England; he suggested what has now been confirmed by biomolecular techniques, that these farmers had learned to milk cattle as well as raise them for meat. In the 1980s he collaborated with Peter Rowley-Conwy in a re-study of the animal bones excavated in the 1940s by Grahame Clark at the Mesolithic encampment of Star Carr in Yorkshire, demonstrating not just hunting methods but also how the site was part of a wider landscape of seasonal movements, a study that remains one of the best insights into the hunting and gathering lives of the inhabitants of these islands before the onset of farming.

His other best-known project was with Andrew Moore on excavations of the incipient farming village of Abu Hureyra in Syria. His analysis of the animal bones there traced the shift from intensive and communal hunting of gazelle, using stone enclosures to trap them, to sheep- and goat-herding. The work correlated with plant remains, demonstrating how people at Abu Hureyra were managing wild plants and animals for millennia before switching to plants and animals now categorised as domestic.

Like the Star Carr study, his work at Abu Hureyra explored new ways of thinking about hunters and herders, and how the former became the latter. He pursued the same interests on projects in Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, Serbia, Spain and Turkmenistan, and at the time of his death was re-studying the bones from the Haua Fteah cave in Libya studied by Eric Higgs.

He was profoundly suspicious of committees and bureaucratic processes and thrived on his reputation as one of academic archaeology's awkward squad; it was typical that he turned down an MBE a few months before his death. In the trench, in the laboratory, or preferably in the pub with friends or students, he was tremendous company, a raconteur prone to devastating one-liners, the scourge of the pompous and a deadly mimic.

He was sceptical of new theoretical currents in archaeology ("what's the point of using a model that you can't even spell?") and more than any of the Cambridge students who gathered around Eric Higgs he carried the flame for Higgs' revolutionary ideas about the economic drivers of domestication and the origins of agriculture.

At an event celebrating Higgs he ended his address: "I would sell myself to the devil to re-live those years or, if not sell, I would enter into serious negotiations." He lived life to the full, as committed to the village he lived in (writing its history, repairing its church roof) as to his archaeology.

Graeme Barker

Tony Legge, archaeologist: born Cambridge June 6 1939; married firstly (divorced; two children), secondly Liz Wells; died Harlton, Cambridgeshire 4 February 2013.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
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

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game