In Memoriam Bernard Wailes (1934-2012) and the subject of (Irish Sea Post-Roman) E-wares

My former colleague, Jim Mathieu, Chief of Staff at the Penn Museum, has kindly loaned me his adviser’s thesis. He knows fully well that it’ll thrill me. It has….

Bernard Wailes was Jim’s adviser, a member of the Penn’s Department of Anthropology since 1961, he was a proverbial gentleman. He published little but his impact on students was great. I first sensed this when he arranged Colin Renfrew’s visit to the Penn Museum along with seventeen junior colleagues including me in April 1980. Bernard knew how to be a host and to run great parties. When I next visited the Penn Museum in 1994, he was much older but no less hospitable. He did everything to make me feel welcome. Old fashioned perhaps but very memorable. So, when I became Director of the Penn Museum in 2007 not surprisingly he was there to encourage and occasionally, with grace, compel me to think twice. His retirement and passing left a big hole in Anthropology and in its relationship with the Museum that the department occupies. Bernard was a bridge-builder and selfless.

Bernard Wailes, Vincent Megaw & Charles Thomas Gwithian, 1956

Now reading his 1963 thesis I realize how selfless he was. A Cornishman to his core, he was part of Charles Thomas’s circle who excavated at Gwithian and sat at the feet of C.A.Ralegh Radford. Radford was, so-to-speak, a distant forebear of mine, Director at the British School at Rome where I sat at his heavy oak desk and fingered the label on the bottom drawer with the name Tintagel in blue-inked cursive.

Ralegh Radford by H. A. Freeth

The label dates to 1936. With the School closed in the summer months in those years, Radford returned to his native Cornwall to undertake paid work from the Ministry….at Tintagel. Here he discovered sherds in post-Roman contexts that for all the world looked like the later Roman pottery found in all corners of the Mediterranean. It took him twenty years (until 1956) to write about these talismanic sherds of the Arthurian age. By then, Thomas and Wailes were finding more of these traded goods.

Tintagel from the air

Wailes’s thesis, begun at Cambridge in 1957 and completed in 1963, was devoted to these post-Roman imports, their typology and provenance. Bernard trekked far and wide around Europe, plainly in the metaphorical shadow of Radford and Thomas. Before reading his doctoral thesis, the burden of the shadow was not clear to me. In moments it is apparent. Bernard did the journeying, I have concluded, because Thomas had abandoned his thesis on the same topic at Oxford (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/may/08/charles-thomas-obituary (by Peter Fowler)) and moved to a lectureship. Nonetheless, the tenacious Thomas published his canonical essay in Medieval Archaeology III (1959), thanking Wailes but essentially anticipating the latter’s thesis on all aspects of A- and B-wares. The only novelty in Bernard’s thesis, not fully described in Thomas’s essay, is the subject of the creamy white E-wares, first identified in Ireland, unknown at Tintagel, but plentiful at Gwithian. Thomas christened them in his celebrated essay but was puzzled as to their source. Bernard devotes a third of his thesis to their typology and origin: eastern Normandy. Here in 1976 I enter the picture.

For my doctoral thesis on the imported wares at Anglo-Saxon Hamwih (Southampton) I looked at the same Normandy wares that Bernard had studied. I concluded that they were made near Rouen (in fact at La Londe) and, while similar in form to E-ware, were not E-wares. I reckoned Bernard had confused two different pottery types and history favoured my conclusion. E ware as we now know from Ewan Campbell’s 2007 monograph comes from Aquitaine and belongs to a later 6th- and 7th-century Atlantic Sea trading system reaching down to Vigo in Portugal as well as to Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and South-West Scotland.

E-ware from Campbell, fig. 21

When in 2009 I talked this through with Bernard (by then in his tenth year of retirement) he was not in the least surprised. Yet, ploughing through his expertly typed and carefully articulated blue-bound thesis I do wonder now exactly what was going on between these Cornishmen in the late 1950s. Most probably, Bernard was already the gentleman I knew and selflessly sacrificed his research to the ambitious young Charles Thomas because the latter never chanced to finish his doctorate. Paradoxically Thomas published masses of Cornish-centred essays; Bernard published almost nothing. Still, life is more than theses and reports and Bernard, whatever he wrote, was only a tiny part of a genuinely humane scholar whom I was privileged to know.

See also Pam Crabtree and Peter Bogucki (eds.), European Archaeology as Anthropology: Essays in Memory of Bernard Wailes, Philadelphia University pf Pennsylvania Press 2017.

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