11 August 1934 – 25 November 2023

It is with great sadness that the UNE community has learned of the passing of Emeritus Professor Graham Connah AM.

Graham Connah was employed by UNE as a lecturer in the Department of Classics and Ancient History in 1971, becoming the head of the newly formed Department of Prehistory and Archaeology in 1974. He was awarded a Doctor of Letters from UNE in 1984 on the basis of his several books on African archaeology, and in 1985 he was promoted to Professor.

Graham Connah was born in 1934 in Cheshire. He received a BA in 1959 and an MA in 1964 from Cambridge University. His lifelong interest in African archaeology dates from 1961 when he was hired as archaeologist in the Department of Antiquities in Nigeria followed by appointment in 1964 as a research fellow and then (in 1970) as a lecturer in the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

Prof. Connah‘s research interests and prolific publication output followed several streams.  His internationally acclaimed African work embraced sites in both western and eastern Africa including Benin City, the Lake Chad Basin, Egyptian Nubia, and Uganda, focusing on the origins of urbanism and state over the last 6000 years. His landmark books included The Archaeology of Benin (1975), Three Thousand Years in Africa (1981), African Civilizations: Precolonial Cities and States in Tropical Africa, an Archaeological Perspective (1987) and Kibiro (1996). In 2004 he published a general book on the archaeology of Africa with Routledge, London, entitled Forgotten Africa, which has since been translated into German (2006), French (2008) and Italian (2009).  African Civilizations has now gone through several editions and remains in press, with Graham still updating it in the last several years.

Once in Australia, Professor Connah engaged with local archaeology as a means of providing field-training opportunities to students, including on Indigenous shell middens on the northern NSW coasts and historic period sites. For the latter he was also instrumental in establishing historical archaeology as a new sub discipline. 

He was a founder of the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology, and taught one of the few courses in an Australian university on the subject in 1986, producing a textbook The Archaeology of Australia’s History in 1988. He published on techniques in both forms of Australian archaeology and edited what was for two decades the main text on field methods: Australian Field Archaeology: A Guide to Techniques (1983).

Professor Connah’s commitment to publication included taking on the role of Editor for a variety of journals, with his book Writing About Archaeology published in 2010. As recently as 2021 he was revisiting his work with students and synthesizing it for release as The Archaeology and Architecture of Farm Buildings at Saumarez Station, Armidale, New South Wales. Graham’s wife Beryl was a qualified nurse and also his helper in all things archaeological, from field logistics to editing to proofreading. She was an essential part of his career. 

UNE colleagues A. Prof. Wendy Beck and John Appleton recall working with Prof. Connah as a colleague:

On first meeting Graham Connah you saw an archaeologist of the 19th Century – tall, upright, with a well-trimmed grey beard and dressed in a (safari) suit. He was an imposing figure that hid a meticulous, methodical, traditional archaeologist. He could seldom be faulted on anything, and his demeanour was that of a strict headmaster, especially in student classes and during fieldwork. However, Graham genuinely cared about doing things the right way, and as part of this philosophy he encouraged junior staff, such as myself, in their research and teaching, bringing back research books from England for me, giving helpful and positive evaluations of my teaching, and encouraging me to stand for University and discipline committees, despite our having very different archaeological interests. He valued fairness and hard work and lived for archaeology. He will always be remembered with respect. 

Dr Andrew Piper, now a lecturer in UNE at UNE, recalled what it was like to be one of Graham Connah’s students:

From a HDR student’s perspective I found Graham, affectionately known as Gra-Gra, to have been an extremely effective and caring supervisor who was very generous with his time, provided all the needs and wants for his students and absolutely went the extra yards in moulding the knowledge and skills base to be an effective archaeologist and in my case heritage manager. He nurtured life and employment skills by providing the opportunity to take on a variety of positions in both teaching and fieldwork. In my case, as it was for others, he engaged me as his archaeological assistant for fieldwork in East Africa, and experience that rates as one of my most precious. A little anecdote that those who knew Graham will be amused by is how many a meal was held at the Connah household, and those who attended been made aware of Graham’s love of potatoes, with them cooked in multiple ways in the same meal.

Graham had the ability to enthuse his students and foster a love of archaeology through a strong focus on fieldwork. But he was not only a ‘dirt’ archaeologist, but equal focus was also placed on the analysis of finds, and as his publication record, leadership in UNE’s Antiquities Museum evidences and editor of the Journal of Australian Historical Archaeology (and subsequently Journal of Australasian Historical Archaeology), the dispersion of that new knowledge. Like many Cambridge University graduates of the 1950s and 1960s he was a workaholic who achieved an outstanding and well-deserved reputation in world archaeology.

Prof. Connah had a life with many honors.  He was elected as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1968, Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1988, and Chairperson of the Academy’s Archaeology and Prehistory Electoral Committee in 1993.  He also served as President of the Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology (ASHA) in 1992. On retirement from UNE in 1995 Graham Connah was appointed Emeritus Professor. In 2000 he was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) and Australian Centenary Medal ‘For service to the promotion and enhancement of the profile of Australian historical archaeology through the University of New England, as a researcher and author, and to African archaeological research’.

Prof. Connah leaves behind a lifetime of achievement and an indelible impact upon the practice of archaeology in Africa, Australia and internationally. There are several published biographies and websites celebrating his extraordinary contributions.  

Our deepest sympathies and condolences to his family.

Submitted by Professor Martin Gibbs, Professor of Archaeology in HASS.