Obituary: Reynold Higgins
Thursday 22 April 1993
REYNOLD HIGGINS was a scholar and archaeologist of international reputation whose work covered a wide field of prehistoric and later Greek antiquity. He said of himself that he was a 'nine-to-five man', enjoying the regular discipline of office hours, but this was a euphemism for a life of quiet but intensive and well-organised as well as highly productive industry.
Already enlisted in the Territorial Army before the war, Higgins saw active service early and was taken prisoner at Calais. His five years in prisoner of war camps in Germany were traumatic, but he took the opportunity to learn modern Greek from fellow prisoners. His scholarly career afer the war was entirely spent in the Greek and Roman department of the British Museum where he became Deputy and for a time Acting Keeper. His publication of the museum's collection of Greek clay figurines in three volumes between 1954 and 1959 would have served as a respectable life's work. He was to follow this, however, with the definitive text-book on ancient jewellery, Greek and Roman Jewellery (1961), and a standard survey of the prehistoric art of Greece, Minoan and Mycenaean Art (1967), which have both appeared in second editions.
While studying the jewellery in the British Museum he came to realise that the mysterious Aegina Treasure, acquired in 1892 and published the following year by Sir Arthur Evans as late Mycenaean, was in fact much earlier Minoan work, made by Cretan craftsmen in the 17th to 16th centuries BC. This view, which has won general acceptance, has radically affected understanding of the prehistoric jewellery of Greece.
As a scholar Reynold was thorough and reliable, but independent minded. He had a connoisseur's feeling for the clay figurines produced in the region of Tanagra between Athens and Thebes in classical and early Hellenistic times, in the face of prejudice against them owing to the whims of fashion and the alarming number of forgeries.
One of his last books, published in 1986 and very much a labour of love, was the elegant Tanagra and the Figurines. A final book, An Archaeologist's Guide to the Geology of Greece, written in collaboration with his geologist son Michael, is due to appear in the autumn.
Higgins loved Greece and its people, and helped others to share his feelings by regular service each year from 1963 to 1991 as a lecturer on Swan cruises, where he and his wife, Pat, made many friends. He had a special fondness for Crete, however, and for the great prehistoric site of Knossos, where he spent much time working on the publication of clay figurines of all periods of antiquity found in excavations carried out by the British School at Athens in the 1950s. These included the important series from the Greek sanctuary of Demeter, south of the Bronze Age Palace, published in JN Coldstream's The Sanctuary of Demeter (1973). Throughout his life he maintained a close connection with the British School, serving as Chairman of its Managing Committee from 1975 to 1979. The British Academy recognised his achievements as a scholar by electing him a Fellow in 1972. In the following year he served on the Council of the Society of Antiquaries. The American Institue of Archaeology invited him to give the prestigious Norton Lectures in the US and Canada in 1982- 83. The Society of Jewellery Historians, founded in 1967, chose him as their first president, and organised a Festschrift in his honour for his 75th birthday in 1991.
Reynold was a man who enjoyed life and the duties which came his way in the course of it. He was straightforward in his dealings and simple in his tastes; a good friend and a generous and loyal colleague, who was easy and pleasant company. He was exceedingly happy and fortunate in his family life. Just over a year ago he began to feel unwell, but cancer was not diagnosed until three weeks before his death. He is survived by his wife, their three sons and two daughters and seven grandchildren.
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