Richard J. C. Atkinson

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Alternative meaning: Richard Atkinson (educator)

Richard John Copland Atkinson CBE (22 January 1920 – 10 October 1994) was a British prehistorian and archaeologist.


He was born in Evershot, Dorset, and went to Sherborne School and then Magdalen College, Oxford, reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics. During the Second World War his Quaker beliefs meant that he was a conscientious objector; in 1944 he became Assistant Keeper of Archaeology at the Ashmolean Museum. He also produced a theory on the creation of Stonehenge.

He investigated sites including Stonehenge, Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow and Wayland's Smithy, and was a friend and collaborator of Stuart Piggott and John F.S. Stone. His Silbury work was part of an BBC documentary series Chronicle on the monument. In 1949 he was appointed a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, and in 1958 moved to University College, Cardiff, to become its first professor of archaeology. He remained at Cardiff until he retired in 1983. He served on the University Grants Committee. He received the CBE in 1979. Atkinson worked tirelessly to promote and develop science-based British archaeology, and was famous for his practical contributions to archaeological technique and his pragmatic solutions to on-site problems, which were listed in the handbook he wrote called Field Archaeology.

Professor Richard Atkinson directed excavations at Stonehenge for the Ministry of Works between 1950 and 1964. During this period he helped to bring theories about the origins and construction of Stonehenge to a wider audience: for example, through the BBC television programme, Buried Treasure (1954), which, among other things, sought to demonstrate, using teams of schoolboys, how the stones might have been transported by water or over land. Unfortunately because of an extremely heavy administrative burden arising from service on many committees throughout his career, including a period as Deputy Principal of University College, Cardiff, Atkinson's written reports of the excavations at Stonehenge were not complete before serious illness, mainly caused by overwork, forced total retirement.

English Heritage holds Atkinson's collection of over 2,000 record photographs in the public English Heritage Archive. A selection of around 200 photographs can be viewed online on the ViewFinder website.[1] The Wessex Gallery of Archaeology, due to open at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in summer 2014, will display bronze-age artefacts discovered by Atkinson in July 1953.


Further reading[edit]

  • Atkinson, R. J. C., Stonehenge (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books). 1956.

External links[edit]