Laureates 2005

2005 Past - Archaeology

Graeme Barker

GraemeBarkerProfessor of Archaeology and Director, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research University of Cambridge, Professor Graeme Barker, FBA, has been an enormously important figure in both European and world archaeology since the 1970s. In striking contrast with most scholars in his discipline he has researched in all major periods of the past from early prehistory to the historic period, and in an extraordinarily wide range of regions - Europe, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southwest Asia, and (currently) Southeast Asia.

He is a leading authority on the story of the beginnings of farming and pastoralism worldwide, long-term land use and its environmental impacts, desertification and archaeological perspectives on landscape degradation and sustainability. Graeme Barker's research focuses on the relationship between landscape and people, the tension between nature and culture which is, and always has been, unique to our species.

This focus has driven his interests in different ecologies and in past societies of different levels of complexity, using the archaeological record to investigate historical and ecological processes operating at short-, medium-, and long-term timescales and the complexity of their inter-relationships. Whether writing on prehistoric to modern cycles of agriculture in the Mediterranean, Roman-period floodwater farming in the Sahara, the pastoral basis of zimbabwe ?lite power in East Africa, prehistoric to Islamic mining landscapes in southern Jordan, or the antiquity of human impacts on Bornean rainforest, he has demonstrated repeatedly that there are no simple answers to questions of the environmental efficacy or otherwise of past land use systems, despite the propensity of present-day generations (politicians and press especially) to look for simple answers about the past to suit modern agendas.

Recently appointed Disney Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Graeme Barker's role in archaeology is evident from his extensive publications, many of them landmarks in landscape and environmental archaeology.

Right from the start of his career Dr. Barker established himself as a scholar of remarkable promise, and he has maintained his incredible productivity right down to the present day. Within the past ten years he has published such major works as A Mediterranean Valley: Landscape Archaeology as Annales History in the Biferno Valley (1995; Italian translation 2001) and The Biferno Valley Survey: the Archaeological and Geomorphological Record (1995), both dealing with a region in central southern Italy. In addition to this long-standing interest in Italy and Italian archaeology Dr. Barker moved across the Mediterranean, to Libya, and became part of a large UNESCO project on semi-arid landscapes. This resulted in a two-volume work on Farming the Desert: the UNESCO Libyan Valleys Archaeological Survey (1996). This research was done together with David Mattingly, and Barker and Mattingly have now moved to Jordan and are about to publish Archaeology and Desertification: the Wadi Faynan Landscape Survey.

All of this work has involved the development of new techniques in field survey as well as the use of all the latest technology now available for such work, including satellite imagery and GIS survey data. Barker is currently working in Indonesia, as part of a large research project reinvestigating the famous Niah Cave in Sarawak, a project that involves the study of human rainforest history in Southeast Asia. By studying the past in such detail Prof. Barker has also provided information of great value to all those peoples still living in semi-arid environments.

Along with all of this research Prof. Barker has also taken a major interest in institutional development and the promotion of archaeology in the United Kingdom and abroad. He is well known for promoting the work of younger scholars and in nurturing the future careers of students. He has served as Director of the British School of Archaeology at Rome and as a member of the British Academy's Board for British Schools and Institutes Abroad (of which he currently serves as Chair). He is a member of the editorial boards of several learned journals, serves as a Senior Editor for the Cambridge University Press and is currently President of the Prehistoric Society.