Timothy William Potter, MA, PhD
Tim Potter was born in Rugby on 6 July 1944 and, when the family later moved to the Fens, he went to March Grammar School, where his father was headmaster. Potter’s interest in archaeology began as a schoolboy, excavating Roman sites in the Isle of Ely near his home and, on leaving school, he worked as a temporary assistant in the British Museum’s old Department of British and Medieval Antiquities before going up to Trinity College, Cambridge. Graduating in 1966 with a double first in archaeology and anthropology, he was awarded a Rome Scholarship to research for a doctorate under the Director of the British School at Rome, John Ward-Perkins, who was then co-ordinating a series of field-walking surveys in south Etruria (Umbria). Mechanised agriculture and extensive building projects were destroying many archaeological sites and Potter’s task, along with other postgraduate students, was to walk over a large area of ploughed fields covered with scattered potsherds, mapping the ancient settlements and dating them from the fragments of pottery. His thesis examined the settlement archaeology of part of the Ager Faliscus and his subsequent excavation of a known Faliscan site at Narce produced evidence for the development of the site, over 1500 years, from a collection of Bronze Age huts to a prosperous town at the time of the Roman conquest. Potter’s first monograph, A Faliscan Town in South Etruria (1976), recorded his findings and three years later he published The Changing Landscape of South Etruria, bringing together all the South Etruria survey and excavation material in a still unrivalled account of regional landscape archaeology.
Potter’s academic career began in 1969 with a series of fellowships and visiting lectureships at home and abroad and in 1973 he was appointed to the Centre for Italian Studies at the new University of Lancaster. This was a productive period and, during his five years at Lancaster, Potter began work on the major excavation of the Roman forum at Iol Caesarea (Cherchel, Algeria), tracing its development from Punic origins to the French colonial era. Not only was the work conducted in an increasingly hostile political environment but it was also seriously affected by a disastrous earthquake, all of which Potter faced with his customary optimism and ebullience. After much frustration Potter published, with Nacéra Benseddik, his colleague in the Algerian Antiquities Service, Fouilles du Forum de Cherchel, 1977--81 (1993). A more accessible account appeared in 1995 when an expanded version of his Ian Sanders Memorial Lecture was published by the University of Sheffield as Towns in Late Antiquity: Iol Caesarea and its context.
Potter was an inspiring teacher and involved his students in local fieldwork, investigating the process of romanization at Ravenglass, Watercrook and Bowness-on-Solway and setting them an example in thoroughness and speed of publication with Romans in North-west England (1979). To the surprise of some archaeologists, Potter joined the Department of Prehistoric and Romano-British Antiquities (PRB) at the British Museum in 1987 as assistant keeper but was able to combine his curatorial duties with active fieldwork over the next ten years, notably at the challenging Roman site at Stonea in the Fenland with his colleague, Ralph Jackson (Excavations at Stonea, Cambridgeshire (1996)), at Ermine Street (Puckeridge, Braughing, Hertfordshire, with S D Trow, 1988) and, back to Etruria, at the Mola di Monte Gelato, near Narce.
At his desk, Potter initiated the study of a series of major finds from Roman Britain, all of which were published, including his joint volume with Catherine Johns, The Thetford Treasure (1983). He also originated the Exploring the Roman World series published by British Museum Press; his own two contributions -- Roman Italy (1987) and Roman Britain (with Catherine Johns, 1992) -- are graphic examples of Potter’s lively style and ability to appeal to scholar and general reader alike. He was appointed deputy keeper in 1989 and keeper in 1995 when his time was taken up with administration, though he continued to write up past work. His first achievement as keeper was the re-display of the Iron Age and Roman Britain Gallery, sponsored by the Weston Foundation and completed in 1997, after which the departure of the British Library heralded changes at the Museum and an ambitious building programme. Potter played a key role in the re-planning of the PRB department, the relocation of its offices and reserves to make way for the new Great Court and the design of the study centre which was to be housed there.
He was chairman of the British School at Rome’s Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters, 1991--6, and a member of the School’s Tiber Valley Project Committee, established to revisit John Ward-Perkins’ South Etruria Survey with the application of up-to-date archaeological methodologies. The Society for Libyan Studies also benefited from its association with Potter. He served on its fieldwork committee from its inception in 1994 and, latterly with Michael Fulford, was its external archaeological adviser. Most poignantly, he replaced the late John Lloyd on the Publications Committee and the Council of Management, attending only one meeting before his own death. The loss to the Royal Archaeological Institute, of which he had been elected President in October 1999, was equally severe. He was full of ideas to encourage young people to join and, with his customary enthusiasm, was looking forward to leading the Institute’s visit to Italy in 2001. With much work still to accomplish and, bon vivant that he was, much life left to enjoy, he died of influenza, aged fifty-five, on 11 January 2000.