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Peter Clark – a Tribute (Paul Bennett)

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Peter on the replica of the Gallo-Belgic barge ‘Abugnata’ in 2018

It is with immense sadness that I record the death of Peter Clark, Deputy Director and Director of Post-Excavation and Research, Canterbury Archaeological Trust. An archaeologist and academic of great standing in the UK and in Europe, Peter has left an unrivalled legacy of Transmanche publications, together with fond memories in all who knew him for his enthusiasm for archaeology, the recording of urban stratigraphy, for prehistoric boats, family life and Blues music.

Peter was born 5th May 1959 at Holloway Hospital in North London to Valerie and Walter Clark, before moving to the family home in Corringham Essex where he was later joined by sisters Susan, Alice & Sarah. He attended Corringham County primary school and William Palmers’ Endowed School for Boys where his love of history was stimulated by his father’s interest in the subject and holiday visits to castles, stone circles, hill forts and museums. Critically, whilst at school, he was given an opportunity to join a local dig in a field near Orsett and it was here that his love of archaeology began. He went on to Collingwood College, Durham University, to study archaeology, where with his friend Jonathan Evans, he formed a band called ‘The Relics’, another of Peter’s enduring passions, hastily learning to play bass guitar and developing a deep love of Blues music. Whilst at university he participated in excavations on Orkney, developing a love of the Isles and of Scottish history that saw him return at various stages in his life for work, holidays and as a tourist guide.

After university, his first professional excavations were with the Department of Urban Archaeology (DUA) in London. His time in London was pivotal in terms of his professional and intellectual development. He often recounted that there was a real ‘buzz’ at the Moorgate excavation and the Billingsgate Market site, when his skillsets and knowledge increased dramatically, working with other early career colleagues, especially the excavation Director, Steve Roskams. It was here that he developed a passion for the recording of complex stratified urban deposits, use of the Harris Matrix, site manuals and other fieldwork tools and methodologies that are now commonplace, but at that time were innovative and cutting-edge.

He moved to Ayr on the west coast of Scotland where he directed his first excavation before returning to Durham with the intention of completing a master’s degree. It was at this time, during a visit to Leicester, that he met Jonathan’s sister Caroline, his future wife.

Peter then moved to Perth in Scotland where he worked in post- excavation for the Scottish Urban Archaeological Trust (SUAT), eventually becoming post-excavation manager. He brought new methods from his time with the DUA and invested them in the post, transforming the way that urban archaeology was conducted in Scotland. Peter was immensely proud of his Fellowship of the Society of Antiquities of Scotland, and his love of the Isles remained with him to the end.

He married Caroline in 1987 and they made their home together in Perth, enjoying the beautiful scenery and making many lifelong friends.

In January 1991, Peter was appointed Deputy Director and Post-Excavation Manager at Canterbury Archaeological Trust. This was another major turning point in his life. The Trust’s workload was expanding at an unprecedented rate at that time because of PPG 16 and the inclusion of archaeology in most proposals for development, particularly within the ancient city walls. This meant that whilst the field teams were busy, there was a growing backlog of post-excavation work. Peter’s arrival with his background in excavation and post-excavation management made a perfect fit. Peter immediately expanded the Trust’s computing facilities and set about strengthening the research and publication side of the Trust’s work.

Then, in September 1992, whilst conducting fieldwork during the construction of the A20 at Dover and some six metres below the modern street, Keith Parfitt, of the Trust’s staff found what has been described as ‘one of the great archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century’: a perfectly preserved Bronze Age boat, now known to be one of the earliest sea-going vessels in the world.

Peter Clark reassembling the Bronze Age boat in 1999

In Peter’s words:

The boat has been radiocarbon dated to 1,550 BC, and the technological sophistication of its design is astonishing to modern eyes. Built of thick planks hewn from half-trunks of oak, carefully carved to leave upstanding cleats and rails to receive a complicated system of wedges and transverse timbers that joined the two flat bottom planks together, curving side planks were then stitched to the bottom using twisted withies of yew; the sides were literally sewn onto the bottom. With no keel plank, the seams between the timbers were made watertight using moss, held in place by thin laths of oak hammered under the wedges and yew stitches. The holes through the timbers for the stitches were sealed with a mixture of beeswax and animal fat. Sealed beneath 6 metres of overburden for millennia, preservation was so good that the species of moss could still be identified, and even the marks of the tools used by the Bronze Age shipwrights could clearly be seen.’

The discovery proved to be a major turning point in Peter’s academic life and career. With funding from English Heritage, he was asked to direct the scientific recording of the boat through the conservation process in Dover and in the laboratories at the Mary Rose Trust, to publication, including the building of a full-sized replica of a central section of the boat as an ‘archaeological experiment’ by a specialist team led by ancient woodworking specialist, Richard Darrah. This work culminated in an award-winning and highly regarded volume, ‘The Dover Bronze Age Boat’ published in 2004 (see below).

The Dover Bronze Age Boat Trust was formed with Dr Frank Panton as Chairman soon after the discovery, with the firm intention to raise sufficient funds to display the boat in Dover. Funding was eventually provided by English Heritage and the National Lottery. Peter was a founding Trustee and provided advice to the museum curator, Christine Waterman, throughout the design and build stages for the new Boat Gallery. Following conservation of the boat timbers by the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth, the boat was returned to Dover in 1998, where it was painstakingly re-assembled by a team supervised by Peter at Dover Museum. Here, the boat took pride of place in an award-winning new gallery opened in November 1999, just in time for the new millennium. As Peter remarked, of the millions of people who travel through Dover on their way to and from the continent, few pause to visit Dover itself, unaware that the town museum is home to one of the great archaeological treasures of the world.

Even after the publication of the book, together with the papers of two associated conferences, and many articles, Peter felt that his work was far from complete. He firmly believed that the boat represented a direct link between the communities of the southeast coast of the UK and the western coast of mainland Europe. Since the discovery of the boat, commercial archaeology in England, north-western France and western Belgium had unearthed more and more evidence that material culture was very similar on both sides of the channel during the Bronze Age; people lived in the same kinds of houses, used the same types of tools and pottery, buried their dead with the same rites and ceremonies. It seems that there was a community along both coasts that was held together by the sea, rather than being separated by it as we perceive things today. With prehistorian Stuart Needham, Peter invented the term ‘maritory’ (maritime territory) to represent this close socio-economic relationship.

It was this intriguing possibility that brought together a group of archaeologists from France, Belgium, and England in 2011, led by Peter and Anne Lehoërff of the University of Lille III, with archaeologists and historians from the University of Ghent, Canterbury Christ Church University, INRAP, Nord-Pas de Calais Regional Council and Boulogne-sur-Mer services, to form an international project to explore this new evidence of a common cultural heritage and present the results to the public – ‘Boat 1550 BC’. Part-funded by the European Union, the project mounted a major exhibition of Middle Bronze Age finds in the three countries, set up an educational programme for schools in each region, and built a half-scale replica of the Dover Bronze Age boat as a symbol of these ancient Bronze Age cross-channel connections. For his role to be effective Peter had to improve his French language skills, and this he accomplished to great effect, developing a love of the language, reading and correcting scripts in French, as well as translating French to English and English to French. Embarrassed by his spoken French, he preferred to speak English, whilst encouraging his French and Belgian colleagues to use French – and he was loved for it.

The replica of the boat was built by a team managed by Peter and led by Richard Darrah early in 2012. This was an important piece of experimental archaeology, firmly based on the archaeological evidence but requiring some speculation, as not all the original boat was recovered. A huge amount of new information about ancient techniques of boat building was learned through this exercise, and although the vessel had a few teething troubles when she was first launched, these were eventually resolved, and the boat made its first sea voyage with Peter on board off the coast of Dover in September 2013. The many voyages of the Dover Boat that followed included participation in the Great River Race on the Thames, visits to nautical festivals at Dover, Whitstable, Faversham, Boulogne-Sur-Mer and Ostend, and the circumnavigation of the Isle of Tatihou in Normandy – all with Peter as crew, or on-hand to provide explanation.

This was an exceptionally busy time for Peter, with Dover Boat endeavours punctuated with the management of other projects, including the production of major monographs, providing articles, writing reviews, translating papers, lecturing, and acting as a tour guide. He managed to spend a few short weeks excavating in Beirut in the spring of 1995 and latterly spent some of his down-time with his great friend Michel Phillippe, excavating an 18th century river boat at Epagnette on the Somme directed by another friend, Eric Rieth, in 2014-17, and had the privilege of taking a passage on a reconstructed Gallo-Roman barge Abugnata, now in Abeville. He treasured the many friendships forged during and after the BOAT 1550 BC project, referring to them with affection as the boat family, or his second family.

Peter was a committed member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, joining in 1985. A group representative on the Advisory Council and a member of the International Practice Committee, he was an early advocate of CPD who helped to develop standards for the archaeological profession. Peter joined the Prehistoric Society in 1992, becoming a most valued member of Council and an unfailing source of good advice and encouragement. He was a significant figure in the profession for many years and a great source of wisdom, kindness, and enthusiasm to all, particularly early career colleagues. He was made Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in recognition of his standing in the archaeological and academic community, an honour he was particularly proud of.

Music continued to feature strongly in his life right up until his death. He liked nothing better than rehearsing and playing with the Canterbury based Kamikaze Blues Band. But his greatest delight by far was the arrival of his son Jamie in 1997 and family life.

Peter’s death was totally unexpected and shocked us all. He had many plans and so much more to give. Days before his death we were discussing a new proposal to revitalise the Dover Boat Gallery, to incorporate new technology, new ideas about the Middle Bronze Age, a new film to introduce the replica boat and above all, from Peter’s perspective, to make the boat archive accessible to all. This work will continue in his memory.

Peter was a man whose professionalism, friendship, and willingness to help, has left an indelible mark on those he has touched throughout life. A loving and gentle father, a professional archaeologist and academic with a legacy of work on the transmanche zone, prehistoric navigation, and the theory and practice of stratigraphic analysis, Peter leaves a big hole in the profession on both sides of the Channel. and an even bigger one at Canterbury Archaeological Trust.

Peter Clark BA, FSA, FSA (Scot), MCIfA, archaeologist, died in the William Harvey Hospital, Ashford on May 2nd, 2020, following a fall at home. He is survived by his wife Caroline and son Jamie. His ashes were buried at sea by fellow crew members paddling the replica of the Dover Bronze Age Boat.

Paul Bennett

Peter Clark’s Publications (1992-2019)

Rady, J, and Holman, J (ed Clark, P) 2019, Beneath the Seamark, 6,000 years of an Island’s History: archaeological investigations at ‘Thanet Earth’, Kent 2007–2012, vols 1–6, Canterbury Archaeological Trust Technical Report 2, Canterbury (

Clark, P 2019, ‘Old interpretations die hard: New evidence from the Iron Age of Southern England’, Revue du Nord, Hors série, Collection Art et Archéologie 27, XX–XX

Clark, P 2019, ‘The Dover Bronze Age boat as a ‘Non-place’: Some reflections on maritime mobility in the Bronze Age of the Transmanche’ in C Gibson, K Cleary and C Frieman (eds), Making Journeys: Archaeologies of Mobility, Oxford: Oxbow Books

Clark, P, Shand, G, and Weekes, J 2019, Chalk Hill: Neolithic and Bronze Age discoveries at Ramsgate, Kent, Sidestone Press, Leiden.

Clark, P 2017, ‘Following the Whale’s Road: Perceptions of the Sea in Prehistory’ in A Lehoërff and M Talon (eds), Movement, exchange and identity in Europe in the 2nd and 1st millennia BC: beyond frontiers, Oxford: Oxbow Books, 99–118

BOAT 1550 BC 2014, Discovering Archaeology and the Bronze Age, drawing on sites along the English Channel and North Sea: A subject knowledge and teaching guide, Lille: University of Lille 3/MESHS

Clark, P 2014, ‘The Ole Crumlin-Pedersen puts to sea!’, PAST 76, 4

Clark, P and Lehoërff, A 2014, ‘Naviguer en Manche il y a 3 500 ans’, Dossiers d’Archéologie 364, 20–21

Lehoërff, A, avec Bourgeois, J, Clark, P and Talon, M 2012, Par-delà l’horizon, sociétés en Manche et mer du Nord, il y a 3 500 ans, Paris: Somogy éditions d’art

Clark, P 2010, ‘Afterword: The wet, the dry and the in-between’ in D Strachan, Carpow in Context: A Late Bronze Age Logboat from the Tay, Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 179–190

Clark, P (ed) 2009, Bronze Age Connections: Cultural contact in Prehistoric Europe, Oxford: Oxbow Books

Clark, P 2009, ‘Introduction: Building New Connections’ in P Clark (ed), Bronze Age Connections: Cultural contact in Prehistoric Europe, Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1–11

Clark, P 2008, ‘One step at a time: The Dover Bronze Age boat experimental research programme’ in M-J Springmann and H Wernicke (eds), Historical Boat and Ship Replicas: Conference-Proceedings on the Scientific Perspectives and the Limits of Boat and Ship Replicas, Torgelow 2007, Maritime Kulturgeschichte von Bodden- und Haffwewässern des Ostseeraumes, Friedland: Steffen Verlag, 29–38

Bennett, P, Clark, P, Hicks, A, Rady, J and Riddler, I 2008, At the Great Crossroads: prehistoric, Roman and medieval discoveries on the Isle of Thanet 1994-95, Canterbury Archaeological Trust Occasional Paper 4, Canterbury

Branch, N, Canti, M, Clark, P and Turney, C 2005, Environmental Archaeology: Theoretical and Practical Approaches, London: Hodder Arnold, London

Clark, P 2005, ‘Shipwrights, sailors and society in the Middle Bronze Age of NW Europe’, Journal of Wetland Archaeology 5, 87–96

Clark, P (ed) 2004, The Dover Bronze Age boat in context: Society and water transport in prehistoric Europe, Oxford: Oxbow books

Clark, P (ed) 2004, The Dover Bronze Age boat, with illustrations by Caroline Caldwell, London: English Heritage

Clark, P 2004, ‘The Dover boat ten years after its discovery’ in P Clark (ed), The Dover Bronze Age boat in context: Society and water transport in prehistoric Europe, Oxford: Oxbow books, 1–12

Clark, P 2000, ‘Negative features and interfaces’ in S Roskams (ed), Interpreting Stratigraphy: Site evaluation, recording procedures and stratigraphic analysis, British Archaeological Reports (International Series) 910, Oxford: Archaeopress, 103–105

Clark, P 2000, ‘Post-excavation analysis: moving from the context to the phase’ in S Roskams (ed), Interpreting Stratigraphy: Site evaluation, recording procedures and stratigraphic analysis, British Archaeological reports (International Series) 910, Oxford: Archaeopress, 157–159

Clark, P 1996, ‘Inhumations, cremations and the matrix; stratigraphic sequence in ancient burial sites’ in S Roskams (ed), Interpreting Stratigraphy 8, York

Clark, P 1993, ‘Sites without ‘principles’: post-excavation analysis of ‘pre-matrix’ sites’ in E C Harris, M R Brown and G J Brown (eds), Practices of Archaeological Stratigraphy, Academic Press, 276–292

Clark, P and Hutcheson, A 1993, ‘New approaches to the interpretation of stratigraphy’ in J Barber (ed), Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Interpretation of Stratigraphy, Edinburgh, AOC, 65–68

Clark, P 1992, ‘Contrasts in the Recording and Interpretation of ‘Urban’ and ‘Rural’ stratification’ in K Steane (ed), Interpretation of Stratigraphy: a Review of the Art, Lincoln, 17–19

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