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In Memoriam: Freek Braadbaart (1935-2018)

On 29 December 2018 our colleague Freek Braadbaart passed away. Freek was one of the remarkably colourful colleagues at our diverse faculty.

Trained in Delft as a mining engineer, with a specialization in geophysics, Freek came to archaeology after a long career in the management of large-scale infrastructural projects: building bridges, tunnels and harbours all over the world, including India and Indonesia. Usually Freek worked for commercial companies but sometimes also for NGOs such as Oxfam Novib. Quiet retirement held no attraction for him and he decided to study archaeology, thus embarking on a second career. Not every part of the first year’s course in archaeology was to his liking and when he, in typical Freek-style, clearly voiced this to one of his professors (Bakels), she suggested that, if he was set on research, he could skip the archaeology training and embark on writing a PhD-dissertation, which he was entitled to do with his Delft degree. The result was a PhD thesis ‘A laboratory study: carbonization of peas and wheat, a window into the past’ (2004).

His fascination for charred materials as an entry into the lifeway of former societies, in combination with experiments, remained with him till his death. He loved to address scientific problems head on and with a natural science approach, as he had a real distaste for speculation that could not be transformed into an experimental set-up and thus tested. Discussions with Freek could be demanding, but were always rewarding, due to his open attitude and refreshing curiosity. Freek’s working attitude was “get the job done”, and he had no problems with changing a research plan halfway if it could be traded in for what he considered to be a better one. He liked to improvise and was constantly trying out new approaches, and had little patience for those who had trouble keeping up with him. That attitude may have had its roots in his engineering past, where he had to work under a variety of circumstances, building small harbours for a hamlet on an Indonesian island, improvising with locally-available building materials, such as oil drums, while also extending the high-tech harbour of Duinkerken (France) with totally different materials and equipment.

Freek was a great (inter)national networker, involved in many projects. He became affiliated with the Biology department at Leiden University and  Utrecht University’s organic geochemistry group. He gave classes, coached RMA, MSc and PhD students and published an impressive list of scientific papers. In his last years he was very much involved in the research of our Human Origins group. Until a few days before his death, Roebroeks and Braadbaart  were working on a paper about the former functions of 35,000-20,000 years old fireplaces excavated in the French rock shelter site Abri Pataud (Les Eyzies). This study is now being wrapped up by his team of co-authors, which will see through the publication of this magnum opus as a tribute to this remarkably original researcher.

Corrie Bakels, Wil Roebroeks

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