Paul J.J. Sinclair (1949-2023) – In memoriam

We are sad to announce the loss of Paul Sinclair. Man med skägg i randig tröjaProfessor Paul Sinclair who passed away on 30/12 2023 at home, surrounded by his wife Amelie Berger and their three sons. For many years, Paul Sinclair has been a respected and valued member of our department. Paul’s legacy for archaeology in Africa and the colleagues he inspired and supported will never be forgotten. We take comfort in knowing that his legacy will live on.

Throughout his career, Paul Sinclair has been a strong and passionate voice for academic freedom and education. His desire was to ensure the right of citizens to have access to education and knowledge of history, and for colleagues to have equal opportunities for research and employment. While he was living in Mozambique (1977–1980) as a director of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Eduardo Mondlane University, he helped inspire the construction of the Manyikeni open-air field museum as a centre for public education. This is also the period when he met and married his wife Amelie Berger.

There are many stories to be shared of Paul Sinclair, and he told us a great many himself, in an incomparable manner.  We could count on Paul to be a sounding board for research problems and ideas, for help and solutions, all provided with kindness and a belief that whatever it was, we could achieve it.  

Paul’s research linked knowledge communities, most firmly within archaeology but also combining ethnography, sociology, climatology, paleoecology, and archival sources; skills that he transferred to his many PhD students as well as inspired colleagues at Uppsala University and elsewhere. His approach can be traced to his studies in Cape Town and Pembroke College, Cambridge allowing him to build an understanding of archaeology as truly interdisciplinary. In 1997, Paul Sinclair was appointed as the first holder of a newly established Professorial Chair in African and Comparative Archaeology at Uppsala University. He was a member of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists, the Pan-African Association of African Prehistory, the African Archaeology Network and World Archaeological Congress; all associations where he has made a mark. 

The research project Urban Origins in Eastern Africa (1986-1992) brought together a total of 25 scholars from African countries as well as Sri Lanka to define research questions that enabled researchers to re-address and redefine urbanism in eastern and southern Africa. Collaborations continued with the project Human Responses and Contributions to Environmental Change (HRAC) in 1995, which broadened archaeological questions to address environmental change and societal interactions with the environment. Research approaches now became more explicitly interdisciplinary, reflected in Paul’s own work and the PhD theses published in this period. The research focus stirred his engagement in the organisation Integrated History and Future of People on Earth (IHOPE), and with this new focus, he switched position to a temporary chair in Global Historical Ecology.

The GIS laboratory at the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University, was founded in the mid-1990s and is now named the Sinclair Laboratory. This is courtesy of Paul’s enthusiasm for the power of spatial analysis, which came to redirect the research foci of the department and many colleagues.

Paul was at ease in all situations, diffusing problems with an elegant solution – often at the last minute –  or accepting fate unruffled, uncomplainingly. In this case, regretfully, so must we.

Selected bibliography

Last modified: 2024-02-05