The archaeologist, Alan Saville, Senior Curator in the Scottish History and Archaeology Department, National Museums Scotland, until his retirement, and a successful Editor of the European Journal of Archaeology for six years from 2005, died in his adopted city of Edinburgh in late June at the age of 69, following a long illness. He was an internationally respected authority on prehistoric lithic artefacts and the earliest prehistory of Scotland.
Originally from London, Alan graduated from Birmingham University in 1968. By 1972, he was employed as a Research Assistant for the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate, Department of the Environment. Based in a soulless London office block, Alan single-handedly carried out the analysis of the huge flint assemblage (weighing some 6 tonnes and comprising nearly half a million individual pieces) from two shafts within the Neolithic flint mining complex at Grimes Graves, Norfolk, an achievement typical of his thoroughness and resolve.
Alan subsequently directed rescue excavations on Neolithic and later sites in SW England, where his long-term involvement underscored a burgeoning passion for the archaeology of that region. This is apparent both from his many field projects, but also from the leading role he played in developing archaeology at Cheltenham Museum. In some ways the glory days of rescue archaeology in England, those were also often cash-strapped times for committed individuals such as Alan.
The meticulous total excavation (1979 to 1982) of the chambered long cairn at Hazleton North was his major project in the South-West. The details of the cairn construction and the skeletal remains have continued to make this site - and its report - of outstanding importance for the study of Neolithic chambered tombs.
In 1989, Alan moved to Edinburgh to join the Archaeology Department, National Museums of Scotland, initially as Head of an innovative new venture, the Artefact Research Unit. He oversaw its move to excellent new premises but the ARU did not survive the re-organisation of the department within the new museum established in 2000. From 1995 until 2008, he also served as administrative Head of the Treasure Trove Advisory Panel for Scotland, where he oversaw the establishment of a full-time team to deal with the growing demands resulting from increasing numbers of reported finds of portable antiquities. Alan masterminded the first Code of Practice for the operation of the Treasure Trove system. Several other publications, including a succinct chapter dealing with the divergent systems across the UK for dealing with portable antiquities, highlighted the differences, legal and otherwise, in Scottish practices.
Alan also researched Scottish early prehistoric artefacts. Lithic studies continued to remain central to his interests and he published to his exacting standards many discoveries reported through the Scottish Treasure Trove process. He also contributed specialist reports on nationally important lithic assemblages from Neolithic sites such as Carn Brea (Cornwall) and Hambledon Hill (Dorset).
Alan’s last major field project was the investigation of later Neolithic extraction pits cut into the Buchan Ridge flint gravels in North-East Scotland. Sadly, he was struck down by illness while in the process of preparing the final report but a series of articles provides key insights into the nature and operation of this significant mining complex and its associated flint-working techniques.
Alan also played a major part in bringing into focus for the first time Upper Palaeolithic material from Scotland, notably from Howburn in Lanarkshire. Working with Torben Ballin, he firmly established the existence of a Scottish late Upper Palaeolithic period and defined its associated lithic industries within their NW European context - ground-breaking research which has extended the earliest human settlement of Scotland by some five thousand years.
Over the course of his career, Alan gave his time to many organisations and societies, in particular the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland of which he was latterly President and in whose Proceedings a full appreciation will appear (see Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 145 (2015), 1-12). A committed European, Alan’s international interests are reflected in his work for the EAA. As editor of the European Journal of Archaeology, he sat on the Executive Board, worked with the Editorial Board and did much to secure EJA’s status as one of the principal archaeological journals with a Europe-wide reach. Alan and his wife Annette often combined holidays with attendance at the annual Conference.
The best-dressed male archaeologist of his generation in Scotland, Alan Saville was a prolific scholar, a gentleman and a friend to many. He did a great deal for our discipline in his quiet, understated but hugely effective way. He shall be greatly missed.
Ian Ralston & Trevor Cowie
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