Remembering Fred Baker


Fred Baker has passed far too young. It is hard to take in. He was always a youthful energy, creative and gifted. They were qualities enhanced by his cheerful modesty. Fred was a third culture kid who missed Oxbridge by smidgin and came to Sheffield’s bubbling archaeology department where he discovered exactly who he was. His English mien was no more than an affable appearance for his more formal Austrian heritage. In bearing he resembled an officer, large and broad-chested with bright eyes and a thatch of black hair.

He asked if he might join the excavations at San Vincenzo al Volturno in 1984, a season in which we camped and made do after the earthquakes in Molise that April. He was a diligent digger, but he had his eyes on an ‘Alpine’ prize. Two years earlier we had discovered transhumant shepherds on Monte Mare. Their appeal in an age of ethnoarchaeology stimulated by none other than the iconic American archaeologist, Lewis R. Binford, was compelling. What did transhumant archaeology look like? What did a Roman transhumant hut and compound look like, if excavated? Fred heard the talk over makeshift dinners and asked if he might write his undergraduate dissertation on this topic. To do it, he had to mount an expedition. This he did.

The challenge was considerable. First, he needed companions to help him. Then there was the small matter of the long vertiginous ascent to the high plateau where the shepherds and their ethnography were. Fred could talk anyone into anything, and he did. Up he went with three companions, digging and camping kit. For a week they lay on our furthest horizon. Often, digging at San Vincenzo we would muse on

Then, on the penultimate day as night fell there was a stupendous thunderstorm. I don’t remember how I found them at the base of the mountain, but I did. They were sopping wet, excited and scared witless by the storm and the midnight downrush of water which passed like a river through their tent. But they had completed a new survey of shepherd encampments, quizzed and recorded the shepherds and made a small excavation of a Roman camp. They had all worked like Trojans and Fred was thrilled. All of it was published in the fourth volume of San Vincenzo studies.

Monte Mare from san Vincenzo al Volturno in winter

Thinking of him now, I realize I am recalling someone who was just twenty.

His initiative and drive took him to Cambridge University where he prospered and then in the media and recently virtual reality. He was a creative intellect - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Baker - a truly gifted and rare spirit.

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