Geoffrey Brian Dannell
The news that the Nene Valley Archaeological Trust’s Chairman, Geoffrey Dannell, had died on the 27th June 2022 came as a great shock to the archaeological community. It marks the end of an era that began in 1958 with the foundation of the Nene Valley Research Committee to conduct rescue excavations ahead of the widening of the A1 Great North Road near Durobrivae. Geoff has been a dominant figure in Nene Valley archaeology for some sixty years, brimming with energy, drive and innovative ideas, which had shown no signs of abating.
He was elected to the NVRC (later NVAT) in 1966, served after George Dixon as its third Honorary Treasurer until 2015 (introducing digital spreadsheets), and as its Chairman from 2017 to 2022. In practice, by force of character and strength of commitment, he had led the Trust for decades and kept it at the forefront of British archaeology, whether in or out of formal office.
One can only mention here a handful of his most important contributions.
From 1966 to 1975 Geoff directed with John Peter Wild a series of excavations on Roman sites at Stanground, Stibbington, Castor and Longthorpe; but it was in 1972 that his talents were most widely deployed when the NVRC established its own excavation unit under Donald Mackreth to handle the archaeological consequences of the development of Greater Peterborough. He was a figure with whom the Development Corporation could do business. Inter alia, he persuaded them to finance the publication of the new magazine Durobrivae (1973-1984), an academic yet popular account of each year’s excavations and discoveries.
Conversion of the NVRC into a Charitable Trust was another act for which we are deeply in Geoff’s debt. The purpose of the move, occasioned by an unfortunate misunderstanding with the (then) Dept of the Environment, was to safeguard the original Appeal Fund of 1972 and distinguish it clearly from the income raised for designated rescue excavations.
The seminal excavations by Edmund Artis in the Nene Valley in the early nineteenth century and his publication in 1828 of The Durobrivae of Antoninus gave special status, nationally and internationally, to the Nene Valley’s Roman pottery industry. Artis’ ‘Castor Ware’ became famous, but not the career of the archaeologist himself. For many years Geoff had been remedying that in a series of research exercises, lectures and publications that have revealed a complex, talented polymath, and a colourful personality. The research continues.
On Geoff’s initiative the Trust instituted a series of very successful annual conferences and lectures. The first – on the Romans in the region – was held on 30th March 2019 in Castor as a cooperative venture with St Kyneburgha’s Trust. The second conference, planned for 2021, was recast as a lecture series on Zoom – and attracted an international audience. Other conferences were in gestation at the time of his death.
On the national and international archeological stage Geoff was best know as the leading authority on samian ware or terra sigillata, a distinctive class of red-gloss Gaulish pottery that is the key to the dating of archaeological sites across the western Roman provinces. His encyclopedic knowledge of the material, its production and distribution was constantly tapped by grateful colleagues here and abroad. He was generous with his time, acting as guide and mentor, not just on samian matters, but generally to a generation of younger archaeologists.
The plans being laid and promoted by Geoff for the Trust’s future activities reveal an archaeologist and entrepreneur still firing on all cylinders. Our loss is profound.
John Peter Wild