Lovers on the Nile [ePub]

by Richard Hall

Richard Hall, who has died of cancer aged 62, was one of the foremost archaeologists of the Viking age. In a career spent almost entirely in the city of York, he not only transformed understanding of pre-Norman urban development, but did so in a manner that combined scholarship and meticulous archaeological technique with a flair for enhancing public awareness and understanding.
Richard Hall

Only an archaeologist with Hall's dedication, dry wit and ability to lead a team by example could have delivered on the greatest challenge of his career, excavation of the major site at 16-22 Coppergate in York, between 1975 and 1981. His work there, utilising open-area excavation methodologies within archaeologically unprecedented cofferdam shoring, ensured detailed recording of deep and waterlogged deposits from the Roman period onwards.

The Viking age results were spectacular, notably the remains of timber buildings lying within tenements running away from the street towards the river Foss, together with a remarkable range of finds within them. In all, some 230,000 pieces of pottery were recovered from the excavation, together with five tonnes of animal bones and more than 15,000 "small finds", many being exotic imports such as amber from the Baltic or a silk purse from the Middle East.

Excavating and recording such a complexity of material was only the first step. Marshalling the data, overseeing its analysis, producing a synthesis and, most importantly, publishing the information was also critical. Hall managed all these aspects with determination, drive and a comprehensive attention to detail. The excavation itself was conducted with as much access for the public as possible, with on-site viewing platforms, exhibitions, guided tours and lectures all forming part of the project. Hall summarised the results of the excavation in a bestselling book, The Viking Dig (1984), and also provided the academic oversight for the Jorvik Viking Centre, which opened within the Coppergate development in 1984 and immediately became one of the UK's top 10 visitor attractions. Academic publication followed in a series of reports.

Hall's work at Coppergate was seminal in a number of ways. It revealed the rich contribution of Scandinavian settlers to the development of urban life in England; it enhanced understanding of the extensive (and largely undocumented) trade contacts of early medieval Europe; it utilised a range of innovatory techniques, notably paleoenvironmental research, then in its infancy; it fostered awareness of archaeology, exciting the general public; and it entered partnerships that enabled that excitement to be transformed into landmark presentations through the Jorvik Centre. For Hall personally, Coppergate helped him to build on his personal interest in the Viking age, not only in Britain but further afield, in Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland and the US.

Hall was born in Ilford, Essex, but moved as a child to Northern Ireland, where his father worked in the linen industry. He was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and then Queen's University, Belfast, where he prepared an undergraduate study of Irish Viking age finds. He followed this with a doctorate at Southampton University on the Anglo-Scandinavian towns of the Danelaw, under the supervision of Peter Addyman, who shortly thereafter left the university to become director of the newly formed York Archaeological Trust. Hall, after excavations in Dublin, Derby and at Mount Grace priory in North Yorkshire, followed Addyman to York in 1974 as excavations supervisor. He worked for the trust for the rest of his life, becoming deputy director and then director of archaeology.

His role with the trust meant that he could not confine his attention to the Anglo-Scandinavian period. Indeed, he probably oversaw more than 1,000 different archaeological projects and was directly responsible for several significant excavations, such as the Roman sites at Blake S

15.10.2011

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