Featured Scholar: Barry Cunliffe – Archaeology of Neolithic Europe

A stone used in Neolithic rituals, in Detmerode, Wolfsburg, Germany. / Photo by Richard Bartz, Wikimedia Commons

His interest in Iron Age Britain and Europe generated a number of publications and he became an acknowledged authority on the Celts.

Curated/Reviewed by Matthew A. McIntosh
Public Historian


Sir Barrington Windsor Cunliffe, CBE, FBA, FSA (born 10 December 1939), known as Barry Cunliffe, is a British archaeologist and academic. He was Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford from 1972 to 2007. Since 2007, he has been an Emeritus Professor.


Cunliffe’s decision to become an archaeologist was sparked at the age of nine by the discovery of Roman remains on his uncle’s farm in Somerset.[1] After studying at Portsmouth Northern Grammar School (now the Mayfield School) and reading archaeology and anthropology at St John’s College, Cambridge, he became a lecturer at the University of Bristol in 1963.[2] Fascinated by the Roman remains in nearby Bath he embarked on a programme of excavation and publication.

In 1966 he became an unusually young professor when he took the chair at the newly founded Department of Archaeology at the University of Southampton. There he became involved in the excavation (1961–1968) of the Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex. Another site in southern England led him away from the Roman period. He began a long series of summer excavations (1969–1988) of the Iron Age hill fort at Danebury, Hampshire and was subsequently involved in the Danebury Environs Programme (1989–1995). His interest in Iron Age Britain and Europe generated a number of publications and he became an acknowledged authority on the Celts.

Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe in 2008 / Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Other sites he has worked on include Hengistbury Head in Dorset, Mount Batten in Devon, Le Câtel in Jersey, and Le Yaudet in Brittany, reflecting his interest in the communities of Atlantic Europe during the Iron Age. In his later works he sets out the thesis that Celtic culture originated along the length of the Atlantic seaboard in the Bronze Age before being taken inland, which stands in contrast to the more generally accepted view that Celtic origins lie with the Hallstatt culture of the Alps. One of his most recent projects has been in the Najerilla valley, La Rioja, Spain, which straddles “the interface between the Celtiberian heartland of central Iberia and the Atlantic zone of the Bay of Biscay”.[3]

Cunliffe lives with his wife in Oxford.

Cunliffe inspired the name for the character “Currant Bunliffe”, an archaeologist in David Macaulay’s 1979 book, Motel of the Mysteries.

Positions and Honors

  • President, Council for British Archaeology (1976–1979)
  • Fellow of the British Academy (FBA; 1979)
  • Member, Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee of English Heritage, since 1984
  • Honorary Graduate, Doctor of Science, University of Bath (1984)[4]
  • Member, Advisory Committee of The Discovery Programme (Ireland), since 1991
  • Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1994 Birthday Honours for services to archaeology[5]
  • Trustee of the British Museum
  • Governor, Museum of London
  • Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA)
  • Original Chair of Steering Committee for the e-journal Internet Archaeology
  • Knight Bachelor, 17 June 2006[6]
  • Interim chair of English Heritage in September 2008[7]
  • Chairman, The British Museum Friends (until 2009)
  • Founding Fellow, The Learned Society of Wales
  • Grahame Clark Medal of the British Academy (2004)
  • Corresponding Member of the Real Academia de la Historia (since 2006)[8]


  • The Roman Occupation, Introduction, Cumberland and Westmorland, The Buildings of England, Nikolaus Pevsner, Harmondsworth: Penguin (1967)
  • Roman Hampshire, Introduction, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, The Buildings of England, Nikolaus Pevsner, Harmondsworth: Penguin (1967)
  • The Roman Occupation, Introduction, Worcestershire, The Buildings of England, Nikolaus Pevsner, Harmondsworth: Penguin (1968)
  • Roman Kent, Introduction, North East and East Kent, The Buildings of England, Nikolaus Pevsner, Harmondsworth: Penguin (1969)
  • Fishbourne: A Roman Palace and Its Garden (1971)
  • The Regni (1973) in the ‘Peoples of Roman Britain series Ed.Keith Brannigan, pub. Duckworth (1973)
  • Iron Age Communities in Britain (1974)
  • Excavations in Bath 1950-1975 (1979)
  • Danebury: Anatomy of an Iron Age Hillfort (1983)
  • Roman Bath Discovered (1984)
  • The Celtic World (1987)
  • Greeks, Romans and Barbarians (1988)
  • Wessex to AD 1000 (1993)
  • The Ancient Celts (1997)
  • Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and Its Peoples, 8000 BC to AD 1500 (2001, Oxford University Press)
  • The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe (2001)
  • The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek: The Man Who Discovered Britain (2001), Walker & Co
  • The Celts: A Very Short Introduction (2003), Oxford University Press
  • England’s Landscape: The West (English Heritage 2006)
  • Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000 (2008)
  • A Valley in La Rioja: The Najerilla Project, with Gary Lock (Oxford Univ School of Archaeology 2010)
  • Druids: A Very Short Introduction (2010), Oxford University Press
  • Celtic from the West. Alternative perspectives from archaeology, genetics and literature. (Oxford: Oxbow Books). 2010.
  • Britain Begins (Oxford University Press 2012)
  • By Steppe, Desert, and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia (Oxford University Press 2015)
  • On the Ocean: The Mediterranean and the Atlantic from prehistory to AD 1500 (Oxford University Press 2017)
  • The Scythians: Nomad Warriors of the Steppe (Oxford University Press 2019)

Cunliffe on the Scythians

Brilliant horsemen and great fighters, the Scythians were nomadic horsemen who ranged wide across the grasslands of the Asian steppe from the Altai mountains in the east to the Great Hungarian Plain in the first millennium BC. Their steppe homeland bordered on a number of sedentary states to the south – the Chinese, the Persians and the Greeks – and there were, inevitably, numerous interactions between the nomads and their neighbours. The Scythians fought the Persians on a number of occasions, in one battle killing their king and on another occasion driving the invading army of Darius the Great from the steppe.

Relations with the Greeks around the shores of the Black Sea were rather different – both communities benefiting from trading with each other. This led to the development of a brilliant art style, often depicting scenes from Scythian mythology and everyday life. It is from the writings of Greeks like the historian Herodotus that we learn of Scythian life: their beliefs, their burial practices, their love of fighting, and their ambivalent attitudes to gender. It is a world that is also brilliantly illuminated by the rich material culture recovered from Scythian burials, from the graves of kings on the Pontic steppe, with their elaborate gold work and vividly coloured fabrics, to the frozen tombs of the Altai mountains, where all the organic material – wooden carvings, carpets, saddles and even tattooed human bodies – is amazingly well preserved.

Barry Cunliffe here marshals this vast array of evidence – both archaeological and textual – in a masterful reconstruction of the lost world of the Scythians, allowing them to emerge in all their considerable vigour and splendour for the first time in over two millennia.


  1. History Today, vol 50, issue #9 “Digging for Joy”
  2. “CUNLIFFE, Sir Barrington Windsor, (Sir Barry)”Who’s Whoukwhoswho.com2020 (online ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  3. publisher notes, Cunliffe, B, Lock, G, A Valley in La Rioja: The Najerilla Project
  4. “Honorary Graduates 1989 to present”bath.ac.uk. University of Bath. Archived from the original on 19 December 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2012.
  5. “No. 53696”The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 June 1994. p. 9.
  6. “Honours: ‘Jewel in the Crown’ star appointed OBE” Archived 25 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine. The Independent. 17 June 2006. Accessed 2 October 2008.
  7. [1]
  8. “Académicos Correspondientes extranjeros”Real Academia de la Historia.

Text published by Wikipedia, 04.14.2003, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. Video published on YouTube, 03.25.2020, by Oxford Academic, republished with embed permission.



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