JEFFERY JOHN ORCHARD
10th June 1931 - 9th November 2015
Born in 1931 in Streatham, London, Jeffery John Orchard was educated at Alleyn’s School, Dulwich. From 1950 to 1954, a Minor Scholar and Prizeman, he read Archaeology and Anthropology at King’s College, Cambridge (for which he got a First) and represented the University at Rugby Fives.
From 1954 to 1956 Military Service intervened. At first he served in the Royal Artillery but was soon transferred to the Intelligence Corps where he learned Russian in the Joint Services School for Russian Linguists at Bodmin in Cornwall. Following this, he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant and worked as a Russian translator at Intelligence Corps HQ in Maresfield, Sussex.
On leaving the army, he was immediately appointed Assistant Keeper of Western Asiatic Archaeology and Egyptology at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and there participated in the re-design of the Egyptian and Western Asiatic Galleries with their new thematic interpretations. In 1961, Sir Max Mallowan invited him to become the Deputy Director (resident in Baghdad) of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. Many visiting scholars recall him there as a genial and welcoming host, always ready to offer support and participate in visits to archaeological sites. Whilst in Iraq, he oversaw the cataloguing and conservation of the world famous collection of Assyrian ivories excavated at the important ancient site of Nimrud, and he is considered to be the world authority on these works of art. He was a member of the team excavating at Nimrud and in 1963 himself directed a season of work at the site. Its recent destruction by ISIS caused him considerable distress.
Jeffery’s knowledge of the art and archaeology of the Ancient Near East was profound and his scholarship was greatly admired by his colleagues. In 1971, the eminent Assyriologist, Wilfred Lambert, then Professor of Assyriology at the University of Birmingham, encouraged him to apply for the post of Lecturer in the Ancient History and Archaeology of Western Asia and from 1971 until his retirement in 1993 he was an inspiring teacher and successful admissions tutor at Birmingham. Several of his students have described how, having selected another university as their first choice, they had changed their minds after being interviewed by him. Others have expressed their gratitude to him for the intensely rich and comprehensive education they received in their chosen field of study.
In the late 1970s, Jeffery was determined to return to fieldwork. His first choice was Syria - where the authorities in the Department of Antiquities were welcoming and prepared to offer a rare division of the finds – but, with three British teams already working there, competition for funding and aid-in-kind was intense and instead he looked southwards to the Gulf where intriguing evidence of new civilizations was being discovered.
In 1980, he founded – with his wife, Jocelyn, also an archaeologist – the University of Birmingham Archaeological Expedition to the Sultanate of Oman (now more succinctly entitled The Hajar Project) and over three decades, under the patronage of the Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture, they and their team successfully revealed the character and cultural evolution of the Sultanate’s earliest oasis settlements (late 4th – mid-2nd millennium BC), in particular as identified at their sites in the Wadi Bahla near Bahla town and in the vicinity of Bisya. These settlements – which Jeffery and Jocelyn have named The Hajar Oasis Towns – are distinguished by their circular monumental buildings demarcating a cultivated territory, their cemeteries of beehive-shaped tombs and their trading and cultural contacts with Mesopotamia, Iran, the Indus Valley and Egypt. Chief amongst their discoveries have been the 5000 year old sub-surface to surface irrigation channels - known as aflaj (sing. falaj) in Arabia and Qanat in Iran – without which the ancient oases could never have survived.
Jeffery and Jocelyn have also demonstrated that the origins of the The Hajar Oasis Towns are most likely to be found in the Yemen and that this oasis culture – conceivably that of the legendary nation of ‘Ad - was part of a pan-Arabian civilization that extended in a great southward sweeping arc from Oman to Sinai. The interim results of this research, have been presented in a number of journals and conference papers and preparations for the publication of the final reports are underway.
Following retirement in 1993, Jeffery, now an Honorary Research Fellow of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at Birmingham University, remained actively engaged in fieldwork and research but, in 2010, his eyesight began to fail as a result of Age-related Macular Degeneration and this was followed a year later by a heart attack. It was a blow. Chronic heart failure could be managed but the fading of the light was another matter entirely. Despite these setbacks – which put an end to fieldwork – he continued his researches with the help of two assistants and Jocelyn, who acted as his eyes, and he only truly displayed frailty in the months leading up to his death. He died of heart failure on November 9th, 2015.
At his funeral service and in numerous letters and cards from friends and colleagues, He is remembered with great affection as the quintessential gentleman – elegant, scholarly, gentle – fondly remembered for his integrity, kindness, generosity and delightful sense of humour. He is greatly missed.