Obituary: Archaeologist who founded famous Norfolk dig dies aged 64 

Dr Neil Faulkner with some of the artefacts discovered at the site of the Sedgeford archeological di

A proud moment: Dr Neil Faulkner with some of the artefacts discovered at the site of the Sedgeford archeological dig - Credit: ARCHANT

An internationally renowned archaeologist who founded a pioneering community project in north west Norfolk, has died from cancer aged 64.

More than 25 years ago, Neil Faulkner became instrumental in establishing a major archaeological initiative, the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (SHARP), based near Hunstanton. 

Founded in 1996 and still going strong, SHARP has revealed a number of finds including a large early Christian Anglo-Saxon cemetery and an associated settlement, and a unique area consisting of several kilns for malting barley to make beer on an industrial scale. 

Other sites have featured Iron Age, Roman, medieval and modern remains – and even a First World War aerodrome. 

The cow bone containing a stash of gold coins found at Sedgeford

An amazing find: The cow bone containing a stash of gold coins found at Sedgeford - Credit: ARCHANT 2007 / Matthew Usher

But perhaps arguably its most famous discovery was the Iron Age coin hoard found in 2003. The 18 coins, dating from around 2,000 years old, were found stuffed inside a cow bone after it was x-rayed at a hospital. A number of loose coins were also found at the site. 

Originally billed by Dr Faulkner as an exercise in “democratic archaeology”, since its inception SHARP has become known for rejecting traditional hierarchies of archaeology and instead promotes fieldwork becoming “rooted in the community”. 

SHARP is now one of the largest and most successful training digs in the United Kingdom, and is a testament to Dr Faulkner’s hands-on leadership. 

Archaeologists at work at the Sedgeford dig Picture: Casey Cooper-Fisk

Hard at work: Archaeologists at the Sedgeford dig site - Credit: ARCHANT

Neil Faulkner was born on January 22, 1958, and grew up in the Weald of Kent before being educated at the Skinners’ School, Tunbridge Wells, and King’s College, Cambridge, where he studied social and political sciences. 

He worked as a schoolteacher before training as an archaeologist at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.  

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Dr Faulkner became both a pioneering archaeologist and historian, whose approach was influenced by his parallel activities as a political activist.  

A self-described revolutionary socialist and author of some 20 books, Dr Faulkner was a member of the Socialist Workers Party and the Stop The War Coalition. In 2020 he was on the co-ordinating committee of Anti-Capitalist Resistance and was instrumental in setting up the Brick Lane Debates and the Left Book Club.  

Dr Neil Faulkner at the site of the Sedgeford archeological dig.

A legacy: Dr Neil Faulkner at the site of the Sedgeford archeological dig - Credit: ARCHANT

As an archaeologist, he worked freelance but in order to pay the bills, he also worked as a lecturer, tour guide, made occasional appearances on Channel 4’s Time Team, and on the BBC’s Timewatch, and was also the founding editor of Military History Monthly, now Military History Matters. In this role, Dr Faulkner welcomed contributions from people of many different political persuasions. 

While most of his books were informed by his politics, he also published lighter and amusing reads. In A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics, published in 2012 to coincide with the London Olympics, he provided a gossipy guide to the original Games as they were held in the 4th century BC. This included fascinating details such as the Olympic village hosting hundreds of prostitutes to cater to every taste and price range.  

Another major project established by Dr Faulkner was the Great Arab Revolt Project. A ten-year field project looking at the military campaigns of Lawrence of Arabia in southern Jordan.

CAPTION; Photos of some new important finds found at SHARPS Dig in Sedgeford. Pic shows Dr Neil Faul

On-site: Dr Neil Faulkner pictured on a SHARP dig - Credit: ARCHANT / Matthew Usher

Author Gary Rossin, a SHARP project director who worked closely with Dr Faulkner, described him as an “incredibly supportive” individual. The pair also worked on the archaeology of cinema and went in search of sets and lost landscapes in Ireland and beyond. 

He said: “Neil has touched the lives of many who have gone on to work in the field of archaeology. 

“He was an engaging person, a thinker, capable of articulating ideas across the board, and full of energy. He liked to create and tell stories and he was able to create a fine story about himself." 

Dr Faulkner lived in St Albans. He leaves behind his partner Lucy and their three children, Tiggy, Rowena, and Finnian. He died on February 4, 2022, of lymphoma. 

  • The Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society is hosting a community archaeology conference in memory of Dr Neil Faulkner at the University of East Anglia on April 9. More details at www.nnas.info
  • To pay tribute to a loved one, email norfolktributes@archant.co.uk    
  • To read more obituaries and tributes join the Facebook group Norfolk's Loved & Lost.

The Sedgeford Hoard by Megan Dennis and Neil Faulkner.Copy:Sue SkinnerFor:EDP News

The Sedgeford Hoard: Cover of the book written by Megan Dennis and Neil Faulkner - Credit: ARCHANT