School of History, Classics & Archaeology


Obituary: Professor Emeritus Edgar Peltenburg

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our friend and colleague Professor Eddie Peltenburg who passed away recently. Gordon Thomas, an honorary fellow with us, and someone who worked with Eddie for many years, has written about Eddie's life. (Published 6th Sept, 2016)

Eddie Peltenburg
Eddie Peltenburg

Edgar (Eddie) J. Peltenburg; b.1942 – d.2016, aged 74

It was with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our friend and colleague Professor Edgar (Eddie) Peltenburg who died early on the 14th August 2016 after a brief but difficult struggle with bone marrow cancer. He leaves behind his wife Diane and four surviving children by a previous marriage, Julian, Jonathan, Simon and Rebecca, as well as their spouses and children. Eddie was cremated at a private family ceremony.

Remembering the Good Times

“Good times”- these were his last words, and it is a mark of the man that he died remembering all those good times he spent with his family, friends and colleagues. We remember Eddie with great fondness for his zest for life and the good things that it can bring, and we remember him with great respect for his fieldwork and scholarship, which have changed our thinking about the early phases of Cypriot prehistory and the development of early states in Mesopotamia. Eddie was a great believer in the value of evidence-based knowledge in archaeology and consequently led many large projects of excavation in Scotland, Cyprus and Syria, all of which have had a major impact on how we see the prehistory of these areas. In all his projects and in his teaching Eddie gathered around him teams of like-minded scholars and students who benefitted from his enthusiasm for fieldwork and his love for enjoying the good times. Many of us will remember some of these good times gathered around a table in the pub with students and visiting scholars, on the roof of the dig house at Jerablus at sundown or around a bonfire on the beach at Lemba with colleagues and friends after a long, hard week digging on site.

From Montreal to Oban

Eddie was born in Montreal, Canada in 1942 and completed his higher education at the University of Birmingham, graduating with a BA in Ancient History and Archaeology in 1963 and with a PhD in Archaeology in 1968. Eddie learned his fieldwork skills under the auspices of such eminent archaeologists as Kathleen Kenyon at Jerusalem and Charles Burney in Western Iran. His PhD research into early vitreous materials (glasses and glazes) is a topic which remained an enduring interest throughout his career and which took him to many places across the Near East, resulting in a host of publications. His early teaching career started at McGill University in Montreal (1963-64) as a young assistant lecturer, moving on to the University of Birmingham (1965-69) as a Research Fellow and then to the University of Glasgow (1969-78) as a Lecturer in Archaeology and Resident Staff Tutor for Argyll and Bute. For this latter position Eddie and his young family moved to Oban where he became heavily involved with the local archaeology societies and where he initiated several excavation projects into the Iron Age of that part of Scotland, most notably at Balloch Hillfort and Kildonan Galleried Dun. Eddie is still remembered with great fondness in Argyll by the many friends and neighbours who worked with him on these projects and who benefitted from his teaching as Glasgow’s outreach resident tutor.

Into the Near East

However, it was with his appointment in 1978 as a Lecturer in Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh that Eddie found the academic home that he loved and that he remained with for the rest of his life. Here Eddie was able to develop his Near Eastern research interests more fully and to expand his career as a teacher of Near Eastern archaeology, contributing to the learning of several generations of students, many of whom have gone on to become important scholars in their own right in universities and institutions across the UK. Eddie was appointed as a Professor of Archaeology in 1994 in recognition of his contribution to our understanding of the prehistory of Cyprus and of the Near East. He retired in 2007 but remained very much engaged with his research and with teaching at the university as an Emeritus Professor and Honorary Fellow until his death. He was still working on several important publications, including a book, in his final few weeks.

Eddie’s interests in the prehistory of Cyprus started early in his career working on the Neolithic site of Philia Drakos with Trevor Watkins. He then went on to excavate his own Neolithic site at Ayios Epiktitos Vrysi on the north coast of the island. Although his work was interrupted by the tragic events of 1974 on Cyprus, Eddie’s excavations there revealed some exceptionally well-preserved and unique domestic architecture and finally clarified the situation of the pottery Neolithic on Cyprus, demonstrating that there were regionally divergent contemporary cultures across the island. After a move to the South West of Cyprus, to the Paphos District, Eddie established the Lemba Archaeological Project in 1976 with excavations focussed on the sites of Lemba, Kissonerga, Mylouthkia and Souskiou. These excavations revealed the often impressive and very well-preserved remains of small scale early farming communities with detailed evidence for domestic arrangements, for early technologies and for burial practices. The project has now been running for over forty years and has been responsible for revealing the archaeology of the previously little-known Chalcolithic period of Cypriot prehistory. Through his excavations there, specifically at Mylouthkia, and with his detailed knowledge of other sites and assemblages, Eddie and his team have also been instrumental in opening up the debate about the Neolithic colonisation of the island by identifying the early Aceramic Neolithic Cypro-PPNB period on Cyprus.  Although the debate has now moved on, with new discoveries pushing the dating of the early Neolithic colonisation of Cyprus back even further, Eddie’s work did contribute greatly to our understanding of the island’s links to the mainland during the Aceramic Neolithic and to our ideas about island colonisation. Generations of students have benefitted from working on the Lemba Archaeological Project, which helped launch many careers in archaeology and which generated a long list of publications, PhDs and other research projects.

In 1992 Eddie’s interest in the rise of early states in the ancient Near East took him to Syria and to the site of Jerablus Tahtani just south of the town of Jerablus (ancient Carchemish) on the Syrian-Turkish border. His work there revealed a settlement established with the late fourth millennium BC Uruk expansion from southern Mesopotamia and which, in the later third millennium BC, became the fortified seat of a small kingdom or state. The excavations uncovered an impressive set of fortifications complete with a defended ceremonial entranceway and a chambered tomb of the ruling dynasty. As with his Cypriot project, the Jerablus Tahtani Project has generated a wealth of research projects and publications, some of which are still in preparation and which Eddie, sadly, will never see. The very tragic events in Syria that are in the news just now were a source of distress to both Eddie and Diane, and it is a mark of their compassion that they have been able to keep in touch with some of the friends they made out there and to provide support for them in whatever way they could.


These were some of the highlights of Eddie’s life and career but are by no means all. Eddie was always very proud of the achievements of his children as he watched them grow and develop into singular adults, often following in his footsteps with their sense of adventure and openness to the wonders and experiences that the world has to offer. With the arrival of grandchildren we also saw a new side to Eddie as he enthusiastically embraced the role of grandfather. Our sympathies go out to the whole family for this loss.

However, it is in his role as an archaeologist and lecturer that Eddie will be remembered by most. It is difficult in a short note to do justice to such a long and distinguished career as Eddie’s. As well as the fieldwork and teaching, Eddie was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and a Corresponding Member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. He sat on many committees, including the Council of the British Institute for Archaeology and History at Amman, the Council of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, as a Trustee of the Council for British Research in the Levant and as the fieldwork assessor for the British School at Athens, as well as countless other university and conference committees. He is responsible for publishing twelve books and editing a further six, with several more books in preparation, and for publishing ninety-six articles and co-authoring a further forty. Several generations of undergraduate and graduate students also owe a great debt of gratitude to Eddie for his supervision and tutoring. This, and the impact that his life and work had on so many, will be his lasting legacy.

So, it is with great sadness that we bid farewell to a good friend. Each of us will have our own memories of Eddie and of the time spent in his company. We will remember him as an archaeologist and lecturer, for his scholarship, for his thoughtful mentoring and advice, and for the learning that he brought to so many – but we will also remember Eddie as our friend, for the good times.


Gordon D. Thomas

Edinburgh, August 2016.