Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences


In memory of Professor Christopher Tilley

18 March 2024

UCL Anthropology is sad to announce the death of Professor Christopher Tilley.

Christopher Tilley

Christopher Tilley was one of the key figures in creating a new intellectual synthesis between Archaeology and Anthropology and subsequently in the development of material culture studies at UCL. He was a major figure in both disciplines thanks to highly influential texts such as A Phenomenology of Landscape which revolutionised our approach to landscape and Material Culture and Metaphor which developed the poetics of poststructural and interpretive archaeology in lucid and accessible prose. He worked with Michael Shanks to provide a theoretical foundation for archaeology in books such as Social Theory and Archaeology and Re-constructing Archaeology and Ideology, Power and Prehistory (edited with Danny Miller). His book The Materiality of Stone is another seminal work which explores how the treatment of rocks and stone were deeply meaningful to people who inhabited and used them. He conducted a very wide range of studies on topics ranging from Swedish bottles to prehistoric rock art, later on engaging in the landscapes and gardens of southern England where he made his home.

His first permanent UCL post was joint between archaeology and anthropology at 1994 and was later converted into a full post in anthropology. At the anthropology department year after year students complemented him on his extraordinary ability to convey complex theoretical ideas through clear lectures which became the foundation of their own later academic work. This teaching was reflected both in his books on landscape and more general books on material culture such as Material Culture and Text, and Metaphor and Material Culture. Many students also enjoyed spending time on his archaeological digs, surveys, parks and gardens. He co-founded The Journal of Material Culture and co-authored the opening editorial that set down the gauntlet for an expansive, multidisciplinary and empirical argument for the vitality of things in both everyday life and in social theory. With David Wengrow he created a highly successful joint undergraduate degree in archaeology and anthropology. He also supervised many PhD students who have gone on to work in the field including Haidy Geismar, Paul Basu, John Postill, Eleana Yalouri and Patrick Laviolette. One of his most recent books,  London’s Urban Landscape (UCL Press) is testament to his inclusive approach with chapters written by many of his former and current PhD students combining into a collective ethnography of the city. His work was undoubtedly a major factor in explaining the international reputation of the department of anthropology as the premier site for the anthropological study of Material Culture.

Chris was a quiet, even reclusive, personality, whose natural shyness often obscured a wry and irreverent, and anti-establishment, sense of humour. He was a strong critic of the growing bureaucratisation and  audit culture of academic life, preferring to quietly get on with teaching (and doing all the marking for) some of the largest classes in the department (the anthropology of landscape, the second year core theory course), and undertaking research unencumbered by the pressures of applying for and managing grants. His prolific output and curmudgeonly and humorous camaraderie, persisted despite the tragic loss of his wife Karin, and his own personal struggles with ill health over some time. His quiet presence, intellectual force, and humour will be sorely missed by all of us.

We would like to invite everyone who knew Chris to contribute memories, thoughts and condolences via this MS form. These will be shared with his family and online on a dedicated Professor Christopher Tilley: tributes and memories page.