Curator Emeritus (retired October 2009)
Born 22 April 1944; died 14 November 2010
Bill White, who has died aged 66 from complications after a heart operation, was an expert on human skeletal remains who helped found the Centre for Human Bioarchaeology at the Museum of London and became the inaugural curator of osteology for its Wellcome Osteological Research Database (Word) project. He played a pivotal role in establishing the centre as a benchmark of excellence in the field of bioarchaeology and in bringing to fruition the Wellcome-funded project. The database records details of human remains and disseminates this information though a website.
Bill was born in Harlesden, north-west London, and attended Acton County grammar school. While some of his fellow pupils (Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle) formed a world-famous rock band, the Who, Bill went on to study chemistry at Salford University and to enjoy a 30-year career as an organic chemist with the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, where he had the satisfaction of seeing many of the drugs he had worked on reach the market.
Initially, his interests in history and archaeology had been hobbies, but after leaving GlaxoSmithKline, he went on to study them more seriously. He gained a diploma in archaeology followed by a post-diploma course in human skeletal remains in archaeology at the University of London, which he said made him realise immediately that this was what he really wanted to do with his life.
In the mid-1980s Bill began a long association with the Museum of London. Working as a freelance osteologist on the medieval skeletons from St Nicholas Shambles, a medieval church in the City, led to the first of his publications, Skeletal Remains from the Cemetery of St Nicholas Shambles (1988). Bill went on to volunteer in the Museum of London's archaeology environmental section. This led to him becoming part of the osteology team at the Museum of London Archaeology Service, with which he participated in a number of excavations.
Bill was involved in numerous projects at the museum, many of international significance. One was the opening in 1999 of the sealed sarcophagus of a Roman woman excavated from Spitalfields market. A short time later, he was part of the team involved in the excavations for the Channel tunnel rail link at St Pancras; his work there will form an integral part of the forthcoming publication St Pancras Burial Ground: At the Site of the New London Terminal of Channel Rail Link, 2002-03.
Bill was also instrumental in the development and success of two important exhibitions based upon the human remains curated by the Museum of London. The first, London Bodies (1998), showcased the "changing shape of Londoners from prehistoric times to the present day" and proved to be one of the most popular exhibitions the museum had shown. The second was an equally successful exhibition held at the Wellcome Trust, Skeletons: London's Buried Bones (2008), that highlighted, through the analysis of skeletons from Roman, medieval and post-medieval periods, the changing face and development of London.
Bill was a member of a number of societies including the Paleopathology Association, the Richard III Society and his local archaeology society. He was also a founder member of the British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology. He was an active correspondent and commentator in journals and newspapers; notably on the Council for British Archaeology website, where he would frequently demonstrate his vast spectrum of knowledge, from human remains to woolly mammoths. Bill was a fellow of both the Royal Society of Chemists and Society of Antiquaries of London, and contributed to the latter's tercentenary exhibition in 2007.
Bill participated in conferences around the world, presenting papers about his research. His love of archaeology and history, and their often intertwining connections, was evident in his keen interest in the burial of Anne Mowbray, Duchess of York, who was buried in 1481 and reinterred in Westminster Abbey in 1965, and the mystery surrounding the princes in the tower, Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, about which Bill presented his research to the Richard III Society.
During the course of his career, Bill was consulted by, among others, Patricia Cornwell, the crime writer, and the artist Damien Hirst. Bill contributed to the study of the human skull used in the creation of Hirst's 2007 piece For the Love of God, a platinum cast of a skull encrusted with diamonds.
British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology
Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries
Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemists
Member of the Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Burials in England
White, W. in press. United Kingdom. In Fibiger, L. and Marquez-Grant, N. (eds.), Routledge handbook of archaeological human remains and legislation. An international guide to laws and practice in the excavation and treatment of human remains. London: Routledge.
Miles, A. and White, W. 2008. Excavations at 1 Poultry, Volume 3: The St Benet Sherehog. London: Museum of London Archaeology Services.
Ogden, A.R., Pinhasi, R., and White, W.J. 2008. Nothing new under the heavens: MIH in the past? European Archives of Paediatric Dentistry 9.4, 166-171.
Ogden, A. R., Pinhasi, R. and White, W.J. 2007. Gross enamel hypoplasia in molars from subadults in a 16th to 18th century London graveyard. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 133: 957-966.
Pinhasi, R., Shaw, P., White, B. and Ogden, A.R. 2006. Morbidity, rickets and long-bone growth in post-medieval Britain- a cross-population analysis. Annals of Human Biology 33: 372-389.
White, W. 2008. Databases. In R.Pinhasi and S.Mays (eds.), Advances in human palaeopathology. Chichester: John Wiley Liss, 177-190.
Zakrewski, S.R. and White, W. (eds.), 2007. Proceedings of the seventh annual conference of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology. BAR Int Ser. 1712.
White, W. 2006. The Museum of London's Wellcome Osteological Research Database. In Lohman, J. and Goodnow, K. (eds.), Human remains and museum practice. UNSECO and Museum of London, 106-110.
White, W. 1998. Numerous contributions in 'London Bodies. The Changing shape of Londoners from Prehistoric Times to the Present Day', complied by Werner, A. Museum of London.