Obituaries to Professor R. Vin Davis PhD, FSA, 14 March 1942 – 19 November 2015

Below are tributes to our late Chairman from:

  • The Committee of the Implement Petrology Group: here.
  • Professor Gabriel Cooney: here
  • Professor Mark Edmonds: here
  • Professor Keith Morrison: here
  • Dr Mike-Pitts: here

Obituary: Professor R. Vin Davis PhD, FSA, 14 March 1942 – 19 November 2015 by Collectively by the Committee of the Implement Petrology Group

We are not certain of exactly when the stone axe bug gripped our late Chairman Vin Davis. He took over from F S Wallis and E Evens as petrologist to the South-west Museums Implement Committee in 1973 and was certainly eagerly studying the stone axeheads of Cumbria during the mid-1970s, no doubt inspired by the then-recent work of Clare Fell and the surveys of Chris Houlder, all to such an extent that he soon became a member of the CBA’s Implement Petrology Committee. He was instrumental in helping organise the Committee’s conference at Nottingham in 1977 and in ensuring the publication of the papers as a CBA Research Report (no23) Stone Axe Studies two years later. All this simply provided incentive and Vin subsequently set about analysing the axeheads of the north-west with considerable enthusiasm and, having analysed almost 400 axeheads and identified a new group, Group XXXIV with a source on Carrock Fell, completed his MPhil on the subject at the University of Liverpool in 1984. The same period saw a drive by the Committee to prepare an analysis of the national database and Vin contributed to this not only by collaborating on the north-west material with Clare Fell, but also steering the south-west material to a satisfactory conclusion – all finely published in 1988 in a second CBA Research Report (67), Stone Axe Studies 2.

Following the CBA’s decision to reorganise soon after, Vin was instrumental in reforming the committee as the Implement Petrology Group with its constitution, aims and funding. Aims included preparing an Atlas of Implement Petrology as well as supporting individual specialists in their work throughout the country. With rapidly changing ideas and developments in archaeology, there was a further need to consider the role and place of stone axeheads, and in the new millennium, discussions resulted in the preparation of an international conference at York. Most of the burden fell on Vin, but as ever he rose to the challenge and, eventually held in 2007, it was a resounding achievement. Publication of the papers in Stone Axe Studies III four years later was equally successful and a sound accomplishment that will serve as testimony to Vin’s drive, determination and love of the subject.

During his later working years, he was employed by the Department of Education as HMI of schools for Ofsted, a line that he subsequently continued to pursue in Hong Kong following his retirement.

It is with very great regret that we have to say that Vin died on 19 November after a short illness. He was admitted to hospital on 23 October with cancer, and the suddenness and seriousness came as a great shock to us all. His daughter Amy has told us that during final days he remained peaceful and good-humoured. Many will know that he was a religious man who would often peel off from fieldwork on a Sunday to attend a service and that faith gave him and his family, wife Rosemary and daughter Amy, great comfort. We like to remember him as fun-loving, with a wry smile and cheeky twinkle in the eye that could instantly lighten the mood of the most serious discussion. He was undoubtedly a skilled communicator with excellent reasoning powers and delicate manner of dealing with people. He was a brilliant Chairman.

How to cite:

IPG, 2015. Obituary Collectively by the Committee of the Implement Petrology Group. URL: Last Updated 15/01/2021; Accessed <the date you accessed this page>.

Obituary: Professor R. Vin Davis PhD, FSA, 14 March 1942 – 19 November 2015 by Professor Gabriel Cooney

Robert Vincent Davis, Vin to all, was an extraordinary man, a big man – living life to the full and bringing a sense of excellence and fun to everything he did, with that twinkle in his eye and a wry, cheeky grin.

Born in Bradford, Yorkshire in 1942 to Molly and Bob, and brought up with his younger sister Mary, Vin was a proud Yorkshire man. He attended St Bede’s Grammar School, where he was an active member of the School Scout Group and worked hard to gain his Queen Scout Award. This was formative for him, as he forged lifelong friendships with many members of this group. Through scouting, he explored the Yorkshire Dales and Lakeland Fells, both above and below ground. All of this ignited his lifelong passion for geology, mining and the influence of man in the landscape; a love for learning and an interest in educational methods. Hence the three main strands which would weave the fabric of his life and make him the multi-dimensional man that we all remember: his family, education and stone axes.

Vin was a family man, a devoted brother, husband, father and grandfather. He first met Rosemary, an offcomer from the south, at a dance at the Cow and Calf Hotel in Ilkley, which he happened to pop into with his friends when the dartboard at their usual Tuesday night pub was full. And so started a lifelong partnership, with each steadfastly supporting the other through the twists and turns of 46 years of married life, and its rich array of experiences and achievements. Perhaps some of the most notable being the large-scale renovations, sometimes practically rebuilds, of several homes in Dursley, Orton, Scarborough, York and France. He loved the physical effort, getting his hands dirty and achieving his vision with a minimum of resources. Ultimately creating welcoming homes, where Vin and Rosemary enjoyed offering hospitality to all the many people who came to visit.

Vin was a wonderful, loving and generous father – who was incredibly proud of his daughter, Amy. Not least for choosing to become a geologist and the opportunity to do joint stone axe research together. He was just a little miffed that at a presentation of the work for the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society she famously “upstaged (her dad), the Chairman”. He took great pride and comfort in seeing her happily settled in Paris with her husband Owen, and their two children Nicholas and Bethany. He was an adoring and much loved Grandpa, and “mischief partner”. Always inventing crazy new ways to have fun: from sledging downhill on lino, then being winched back to the top with a block and tackle; to rolling avocado stones down self-made drainpipe shoots; or simply being the only adult willing to play outside in the sand for hours in the freezing cold. His grandchildren brought such joy to his life and ultimately a sense of the continuation of life when facing his death.

Vin was a cherished member, and latterly a patriarchal figure, of Rosemary’s large family; always with a ready ear and wise counsel for everyone at regular family gatherings – if it was possible to prise him away from the delighted clutches of the younger family members, who were always magnetically attracted to his mischievous grin and boisterous games. Throughout his career, Vin had an infectious enthusiasm for education. He taught in schools, at Bristol City Museum, as the Head of a Teachers’ Centre at Kendal, Cumbria, which included a three-year secondment to Australia and at North Riding College of Education, Scarborough. In 1990, he was privileged and very proud to be appointed to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Schools. He was very aware of the responsibilities and gravitas of being an HMI, though avoided pomposity and, typical of his understated approach, attended the interview with his papers in a supermarket carrier bag! Working in some of the toughest schools of the country, he was an admired and respected colleague always steadfastly reliable in his objectivity and rock-solid judgment; driven by a sense of entitlement to the students through a blend of support and challenge to their schools.

After his official retirement from the HMI aged 60, he continued his educational interest along several lines. Most notably, through a 10-year collaboration with the University of Saint Joseph in Macau, where he taught on Master’s programs and supervised PhD students. He quickly broadened out his work in Macau, setting up a science network linked to a high profile Science Centre here in York, advising local schools on their science curricula and new laboratories and helping to establish a school inspection program for the Macau government. In recognition, the university awarded Vin a Personal Professorship in Education. He was renowned for his insights into education, which were piercing, complex, informed and articulate.

Vin’s other great passion was for implement petrology and stone axe studies. For the last 25 years Vin has been the driving force behind stone axe studies in Britain and a key player internationally in this field of research which integrates geology and archaeology. Vin’s particular expertise was in the detailed, microscopic analysis of the mineralogies and structures of stone axeheads and their sources. This approach provides an understanding of where and how axes were made, their exchange and the complex roles of these objects for early farming communities.

Vin began work in this area in the early 1970s. The decade from the late 1970s to the late 1980s was an important period of synthesis in British stone axe studies under the auspices of the Implement Petrology Committee of the Council for British Archaeology. Vin was central to this work. When the Council for British Archaeology decided to change its committee structure Vin was the key player in ensuring the future of stone axe studies by forming the Implement Petrology Group – the IPG – with its own constitution, aims and funding. Vin has been the chair and chief petrologist of the Group since its foundation. During this time As Dave Field has written on behalf of the committee of the Group Vin was a brilliant Chairman.

It was at the formative stages of the Group in the early 1990s that I first came into contact with Vin. My colleague Stephen Mandal and I, working on the Irish Stone Axe Project, were invited to become members. I was struck by Vin’s patience, diplomacy and ability to win colleagues over to new ways of thinking. Those qualities, added to what could be a steely (or more appropriately rock hard!) determination, disarming charm and a winning smile has got the Group to where it is today. Its hallmark approach of collaborative partnership reflects Vin’s operational ethos. Along the way the IPG family – the brethren as Vin affectionately called us – expanded internationally and embraced new approaches and methodologies. All of this was reflected in the fantastic conference that Vin organized here in York in 2007 and the resulting publications from it.

And all of this done with a great sense of fun, as I and all my colleagues who had the pleasure of working with Vin over two fieldwork seasons in Shetland in 2013 and 2014 recall. In a tribute Mark Edmonds recalls the laugh, raised hands and rolled eyes when he told Vin that he had produced a book of poetry and paintings about the Langdale Fells in Cumbria; Vin’s response was; “not one for the scientists, eh”? But when Vin had read, it came words of considered interest and enthusiasm.

Underlying all of Vin’s varied interests and achievements, it is his compassion and personal qualities that we remember most fondly and clearly. His infectious laugh; his enveloping bear hug; his empathy and kindness; his genuine interest in people as individuals. Vin was always a valued colleague and loyal friend. He was eager to communicate his passion to others, and many people benefitted from his knowledge, and expertise, always freely and generously shared, and his unlimited support for the work they were trying to do.

He had the gift of being able to connect with people of all characters, cultural backgrounds and circumstances. He made people feel valued. He was equally comfortable in talking about the intricacies of engines or building stone walls. He was a lively conversationalist, always stimulating discussions with probing, yet constructive questions and good humour. As always, his pragmatism, unfailing spirit and strong Catholic faith gave him strength and peace to the end. Vin faced his final weeks with genuine grace, acceptance and courage. Also, a great sense of relief that he knew what his end would be and a profound satisfaction with all that he had been privileged to experience.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis. May his gentle soul be at the right hand of God.

How to cite:

Cooney, G., 2015. Obituary: Professor R. Vin Davis PhD, FSA, 14 March 1942 – 19 November 2015. URL: Last Updated 15/01/2021; Accessed <the date you accessed this page>.

Obituary: Professor R. Vin Davis PhD, FSA, 14 March 1942 – 19 November 2015 by Professor Mark Edmonds

I first met Vin when I was a shiny new PhD student without a clue. He and Rosemary were still living out at their old farmhouse back then, and I remember the warmth of his voice on the phone as he gave me directions. I remember the huge handshake too. Our meeting had been arranged by a mutual friend, Claire Fell, who said that if I was going to work on axeheads from Cumbria, then I’d need to get know him. She was right. From that first conversation and a fine lunch, we began a friendship and an easy collaboration that always seemed to bring us back to the Cumbrian Fells. His passion for petrology and for the tools that came under his gaze seemed to know no bounds. It was a passion he was eager to communicate, and I am simply one of a large number of people who benefitted from his knowledge, freely given, and for the gift of his unlimited support for the work we were trying to do.

When I tipped up in York about ten years ago, Vin and I had the chance to talk and work together on a more regular basis. I have no idea how many appointments I missed as our quick get-togethers for a coffee turned into hours of conversation that rambled, like all good conversations, all over the place. But we did get somewhere, managing to organize a major conference and editing two books without a single tear being shed. No mean feat. And throughout that time, Vin was always thinking of new initiatives, new ways to spread the word and bring others into his extended family – the IPG. He could be very, very funny. At a meeting in Penrith, in honour of Claire Fell, I was stood at the front and just about to speak when he appeared in front of me and plonked a shopping bag on the desk between us. One peep inside and I knew. It was the Belmont Hoard. Three Cumbrian clubs found in the mid-19th century that had been lost to Archaeology for decades. I’d only ever seen the casts in the BM, and it put me in quite a spin. Vin just sat at the front grinning through my talk, laughing each time I peered into the bag. Then there was his laugh, his raised hands and the rolled eyes when I told him I had produced a book of poetry and paintings about the Langdales; “not one for the scientists eh?” But I will always remember his words of considered interest and enthusiasm when he would read it. That was Vin. Utterly dedicated and open-minded, both in his work and in his dealings with people. I shall miss him dreadfully.

How to cite:

Edmonds, M., 2015. Obituary: Professor R. Vin Davis PhD, FSA, 14 March 1942 – 19 November 2015. URL: Last Updated 15/01/2021; Accessed <the date you accessed this page>.

Obituary: Professor R. Vin Davis PhD, FSA, 14 March 1942 – 19 November 2015 by Professor Keith Morrison

It is with great sadness that I received the news of Vin Davis, who has died of cancer at age 73. Vin was a man of disarming intellect, warmth, compassion and concern for education. Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, UK, he had the friendliness of a true Yorkshire man and an interest in everything around him.

Vin’s enthusiasm for education was infectious. I first met him in the early 1980s, when he came from having worked in Australia and subsequently as the Head of a Teachers’ Centre in Kendal, UK, to join our team of academic staff at North Riding College of Education, Scarborough, now part of Hull University. He taught Curriculum Studies, Environmental Studies and Science, and I remember him carrying massive, heavy rock samples into the college library, for permanent exhibition. I recall with great affection the very many hours we spent discussing educational matters, in the office which we shared, in his wonderful farmhouse home outside Scarborough (which he had renovated virtually single-handedly, stone by stone, timber by timber), in a seaside fishing village pub on the way back from off-campus degree teaching, and more recently at his home in York. His insights into education were piercing, complex, informed and articulate. I learned so much from Vin, and we were a very strong partnership in working together.

We both left Scarborough at different times, he to join Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI), at a time when respect for HMI was very strong. He remained at HMI past the normal retirement age, as his expertise was valued greatly by his HMI colleagues. After his retirement from HMI he continued to sit on the governing body of a school in York. When I moved to Macau, I was delighted when Vin, sometimes alone and sometimes with his wife Rosemary, joined us in Macau. He came on a part-time basis, subsequently with a Personal Chair in Education, to teach on Master’s, PhD and Diploma programmes at what was then the Inter-University Institute of Macau, now the University of Saint Joseph. However, he quickly broadened out his work in Macau, setting up a science network linked to a high-profile Science Centre in the UK, advising local schools on their science curricula and new laboratories, and joining the development of the schools’ inspectorate system and staff in the DSEJ.

Vin served for very many years, until the present, as a member of the Editorial Board of the international journal Educational Research and Evaluation, formerly Evaluation and Research in Education. It is a measure of the man that, to my certain knowledge as Editor, he never, not once, turned down a request to review a paper for the journal. He was a rock-solid, reliable colleague.

Vin was a renowned geologist. In the field of implement petrology he was an acclaimed international expert on stone-age axes, a magnificent collection of which he had in his home, together with extremely noisy equipment in his garage for slicing thin section rock samples for microscopic inspection. He was the Chair and Chief Petrologist of the Implement Petrology Group in the UK. Recently he was a key figure in new research at Stonehenge. He organized conferences and leading publications in the field of implement petrology, and he took immense pleasure in publishing jointly with his scientist daughter. He was very frequently asked to conduct technical analysis on rock and axe samples by universities, and he was an external examiner for doctorate students in geology. His ‘Geology of Lakeland’ (UK) continues to be in print over 25 years since its first publication. Vin gave advice and comment to the Museums Service of Macau on the ancient stone-age and bronze-age artifacts in its collection. I have an abiding recollection of watching Vin and his daughter, Amy, poring over a rocky outcrop in Coloane, for close to an hour, engaged in deep discussion about its nature and origins. He would happily regale friends with stories of gabbro, hematite, crystal formations, fluorspar, and flint axe heads, and I used to send him rock samples from all over the world, which he would identify with incredible accuracy.

Vin had a love of life and lived it to the full. Who else would have driven a 1950s tractor across the side roads of northern England from West to East, from one home to another when he moved house? Who else would take a huge chainsaw across the English channel to renovate his house in France, or relish lunchtime oysters on a summer’s day by the riverside in Durham, UK, or stand in the open air on top of a three-storey house in York to replace a chimney stack? Who else would curl up in uncontrollable laughter at the thought of violent inner-city children singing innocent songs about a little red hen?

Vin had an unshakeable Catholic faith. He was a devoted husband, father and grandfather, and nothing was too much for him to do for his family. At 195 centimetres tall, Vin was a huge man, big-hearted and a wonderful person. Thank you for your friendship. You have left us too soon. Requiescat in pace, Vincent.

How to cite:  

Morrison, K.., 2015. Obituary: Professor R. Vin Davis PhD, FSA, 14 March 1942 – 19 November 2015. URL: Last Updated 15/01/2021; Accessed <the date you accessed this page>.

Obituary: Professor R. Vin Davis PhD, FSA, 14 March 1942 – 19 November 2015 by Dr Mike Pitts.

Note: This was originally published in SALON. Reproduced here courtesy of the Society of Antiquaries of London

Vin Davis FSA, teacher, school inspector, Professor of Education (at the University of St Joseph in Macau, China) and a leading force in British ancient stone implement petrology, died on 19 November, aged 73, after a short illness.

For almost 30 years Vin Davis had a varied teaching career – in schools, at Bristol City Museum, at Kendal Teacher Centre (including a three-year secondment to the Australian Commonwealth Schools’ Commission), and at North Riding College of Education, Scarborough. His innovative teaching style was marked by enthusiasm, passion, infectious humour and pragmatism. He was especially interested in practical learning and fieldwork, usually achieved with much goodwill, and supported by funds won from a variety of unlikely sources.

In 1990 he was appointed to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Schools, working nationally and internationally. He had wide-ranging responsibilities in teacher training, school improvement, research and international affairs. After his official retirement, he was a visiting lecturer in Macau, where he subsequently held a Personal Chair in Education.

Archaeologists, often barely aware of his proper jobs, knew Davis best for his work on stone tools. Implement petrology, what might to some seem an eccentric backwater beyond the lands of archaeology and geology, was a subject pioneered in mid-20th century Britain in a vision of science triumphant over antiquarian collecting. Stone axe blades of simple shape, finely flaked and ground or pecked to a smooth finish, were long ago recognised as a leitmotif of the European Neolithic age – the polished tools that felled the trees that created the fields in which the first crops were grown. They had been found in their thousands on the surfaces of fields and in disturbances to the ground, and were common in any self-respecting archaeological collection. They looked nice. But what could they teach us about the past?

In 1941 the first regional implement petrology committee published its first report. By examining microscopic thin sections of blades, it was found the materials could be arranged into a handful of groups, some of which matched suspected prehistoric quarries in north and west Britain. Here was a way to see into the prehistoric mind: to identify where people went for their stone, to map trade routes and perhaps to understand what was especially valued and why. To work, the project required, or so it was thought, an almost total analysis of all stone blades across the whole of the country.

It was a struggle. Wherever there were individuals with the energy, enthusiasm and time, hundreds and soon thousands of blades were tracked down and examined, and detailed lists published describing the results. Davis was one of those tireless workers. He became the South Western Federation of Museums and Art Galleries’ Implement Petrologist in the early 70s, taking over from one of the original scientists who had helped found that particular committee in 1936. Soon he was working on blades from Cumbria, location of some of the most spectacular ancient stone quarries in Europe. Up there, having analysed almost 400 axe blades, he identified a new group, with a source on Carrock Fell (the subject of his M.Phil.). He corralled other workers into holding conferences and publishing their research, and was instrumental in shaping the ultimate Implement Petrology Group.

Vin Davis obtained his B.Ed. in 1975 and his M.Sc. in 1981 at the University of Lancaster; he studied for his M. Phil. at the University of Liverpool (1984) and a Ph.D. at Murdoch University, Western Australia (1989). As well as a Fellow of this Society (1993), he had been a Fellow of the Geological Society of London since 1969. He was appointed a Research Associate in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York last year.

The funeral will be on Monday 7 December at 10.30 am in St. Olave’s Church, Marygate, York (YO30 7BH), followed by an informal buffet lunch in the Hospitium, next to the church, in the Museum Gardens. His wife Rosemary and daughter Amy write:

‘As many of you are aware, Dad held a life-long interest in prehistoric stone tools and was a very active member of the Implement Petrology Group, and its associated research. To commemorate his life, we are establishing a bursary fund to support doctorate research in implement petrology, at University College Dublin. Donations, in lieu of flowers, may be made to this fund (either at the funeral or details will be available via email in due course).’

How to cite:

Pitts, M., 2015. Obituary by: Professor R. Vin Davis PhD, FSA, 14 March 1942 – 19 November 2015. URL: Last Updated 15/01/2021; Accessed <the date you accessed this page>.