Ucko Papers

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 103 UCKO
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      12 boxes, 4 film reels, 7 boxes of projector slides

Scope and Content

Research papers for some of Ucko's published articles; files relating to his UCL courses; film reels and colour slides.

Administrative / Biographical History

Peter John Ucko was born in 1938, the son of Jewish emigrants from Germany. After the public school of Bryanston, he began an anthropology degree at University College London in 1956. After a PhD on Egyptian figurines, he spent 10 more years at UCL lecturing in anthropology, and organised the teaching of material culture in the anthropology programme. He dismantled any tendency among his students to presume that the term "primitive" implied "inferior", or that farmers inevitably followed hunters in a simple story of unilinear progress; and he set out a general programme for assessing evidence of diffusion or independent invention.

In 1967 Ucko and his then partner Andrée Rosenfeld published his first book, 'Palaeolithic Cave Art'. Shortly afterwards, they moved to Australia where in 1972 he became principal of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. When he left in 1980, he made sure that his successor was an Aboriginal. It was in Australia that he met the anthropologist Jane Hubert, then married to Anthony Forge (who died in 1991), who was to become Ucko's partner and counsellor for the rest of his life.

Back in Britain, in 1981 he became Professor of Archaeology at Southampton University. The International Union of Pre- and Protohistoric Sciences (IUPPS) proposed to hold its 11th congress at Southampton and Ucko was persuaded to organise it. Ucko insisted that he wanted the conference to be a "World Archaeological Congress", attended by archaeologists from "the Third World" and devoted to global themes rather than to the comparison of excavations and discoveries. The Southampton student union and then the municipal authorities declared that they would withdraw all facilities if South African archaeologists attended, and many of the African and Asian delegates now threatened not to take part. He declared that the South Africans would be disinvited. In the end, over a thousand delegates arrived and the first World Archaeological Congress (WAC-1) took off, and no fewer than 22 books were published from its sessions.

In 1996, he was appointed director of the Institute of Archaeology at UCL, Britain's leading centre of teaching and research. In 1997, he launched the first courses in Public Archaeology, typically redefining it as a critical audit of the profession's ethics in areas as diverse as the handling of the indigenous dead and archaeology in the media. He retired in 2006.

In 1979 Ucko was awarded the Royal Anthropological Institute's Rivers medal for his sustained contribution to anthropological research. In recognition of his work on Palaeolithic rock art he was made membre d'honneur of the Prehistoric Society of Ariège in 1985. In 2005 he delivered the RAI's Huxley Memorial Lecture.

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