Lives Remembered

Museum pays tribute to Co Armagh conservator of ancient cuneiform tablets

Kenneth Uprichard was an expert on the conservation of cuneiform tablets

THE British Museum has paid tribute to a Co Armagh man for his work to conserve some of the world’s earliest examples of writing.

Kenneth Uprichard was born in 1948 into a farming family in Lurgan and initially studied agriculture at Queen’s University Belfast before switching to archaeology.

He worked as a doorman at the Club Bar on nearby University Street, until being threatened by loyalists. A colleague was later murdered.

Ken and his wife-to-be, Catherine Simpson, left in 1974 for London and he worked initially as a labourer before getting a job at the British Museum.

One of his roles was bringing cuneiform tablets from storage for study by scholars and he developed a keen interest in the huge collection of ancient Mesopotamian texts, some of which date back 5,000 years and were brought to London from Iraq in the 19th century.

A clay tablet with cuneiform inscriptions recording daily beer rations for workers

Inspired by the achievements of Rev Edward Hincks, a rector of Killyleagh in Co Down who is credited with helping decipher the clay tablets, he was chosen to take over the painstaking process of preserving them through a process of firing.

He development refinements to the technique and took part in museum excavations around the world before being promoted to head of conservation.

He retired in 2011 and enjoyed fishing in recent years.

Jonathan Williams, deputy director of the British Museum, said he is fondly remembered there.

“Ken Uprichard was a highly respected colleague who made a significant contribution to the care of the museum’s collections through his work on cuneiform tablets and his involvement in museum excavations,” he said.

“Through his positive and inclusive leadership style the conservation team and its staff delivered some outstanding projects.”

Kenneth Uprichard died aged 70 on April 6. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a son.

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Lives Remembered