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John David Hawkins


By Ali Khadr

John David Hawkins (1940-2023)

(Photograph by Takayuki Oshima – courtesy of the Middle East Cultural Centre of Japan)

Professor David Hawkins died early in the morning of Sunday 17th of December, aged 83, at his home in Oxfordshire after a prolonged illness, in the company of his beloved partner, Geoff Ryman. He had been hospitalised earlier in the year, but it was possible to bring him home so that he could see out his final days in familiar surroundings.

Academically speaking, David was mainly associated with one of the most decisive steps in the decipherment of Anatolian Hieroglyphs, which he published in 1973 with Anna Morpurgo-Davies and Günter Neumann. Other milestones in the decipherment of this script followed in articles of his which were published during the 1970s and 80s together with works on the historical and archaeological contexts of the inscriptions, especially of those found during the British excavations at Karkamish in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Particular interest was generated by his decipherment of the KARABEL inscription in the 1990s, known since the dawn of Hittitology, along with its implications for the location of the Hittite place-name Wilusa, identified by many with Troy as known from the Homeric Epics.

His Corpus of Hieroglyphic Luwian Inscriptions Volume I: Inscriptions of the Iron Age (De Gruyter, 2000), itself a work consisting of three large tomes, brought all the available inscriptions in this script together in an impeccable edition for the first time. He saw his job as providing a firm epigraphic basis for others to study the inscriptions and build historical or linguistic interpretations. The collection of the material in one place led to numerous advances in the understanding of Anatolian Hieroglyphic inscriptions and the readings of many signs, both those made or encouraged by himself and those developed by other colleagues on the basis of his work. His final work, the Corpus of Hieroglyphic Luwian Inscriptions Volume III: The Hittite Empire Period and New Inscriptions of the Iron Age, a manuscript edited by Junko Taniguchi, is due to be published by De Gruyter in early 2024. Tragically, David did not live to see this published. He was working on it right up until the onset of his final illness in July of this year.

David worked teaching Akkadian, Hittite and other subjects at the School of Oriental and African Studies from 1964 through to his retirement in 2005, by which time he was Professor of Ancient Anatolian Languages. He was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in 1993 and co-edited the British Institute for the Study of Iraq’s journal IRAQ for 25 years, between 1970 and 1995. He travelled widely in the Middle East over many years, initially in a Volkswagen Beetle, and participated in numerous excavations in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, as well as working on Hieroglyphic and other inscriptions in museums. His prodigious memory and intellect, his beautiful drawing style and close attention to detail, his keen interest in geography and hands-on approach to the study of texts in their material contexts all contributed to producing an extraordinary academic oeuvre. He was a keen gardener, a great cook, and someone who knew how to enjoy himself; sociable, fun and kind with a wicked sense of humour and love of laughter. These qualities won him many profound and varied friendships over the years.

Dr Mark Weeden

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