Remembering the life of S. Thomas Parker

14 September 2021

The S. Thomas Parker Memorial Fund:


Prof. S. Thomas Parker, a giant in the field of classical archaeology and the archaeology of Jordan, passed away 12 September 2021. An ACOR trustee since 1987 and officer (second vice president) for twenty years (2001–2021), he had a deep commitment to our community that will be sorely missed. Prof. Parker received his PhD in history in 1979 and the next year joined the faculty of North Carolina State University, where he went on to instruct thousands of students over an incredible 41-year teaching career. As a specialist in the Roman Levant, he directed several major archaeological field projects in Jordan, including excavations at Petra, Aqaba, and the Roman legionary fortress at el-Lejjun, east of the Dead Sea. He brought hundreds of students to Jordan—many for their very first time—for fieldwork experience; since then, many have continued to be involved in heritage work. The author of numerous high-impact and well-cited works, Prof. Parker undertook research that made, and continues to shape, the fields in which he worked. His professional legacy will live on in his works, his students, and the memories of those who remember him so fondly. 

We have collected and share here resources about Prof. Thomas Parker that we hope you will share widely as our community lifts up his life, legacy, and memory.

In Memorium: S. Thomas Parker (July 9, 1950 – September 12, 2021)

ACOR is saddened to share the news that S. Thomas (Tom) Parker, longtime Trustee and renown archaeologist of Roman Jordan, passed away suddenly on September 12, 2021. Tom started his archaeological career 50 years ago as a student volunteer at Tell el-Hesi in Israel, becoming part of a 70s-era cohort that includes many well-known Near Eastern archaeologists. In the years since, he excavated at Ashkelon, Idalion, Tell Hesban, and on the Petra Household Excavations before starting his initial Limes Arabicus Survey in 1976. This reconnaissance of the understudied eastern Roman frontier formed the bulk of his 1979 dissertation entitled The Historical Development of the Limes Arabicus submitted for his Ph.D. from the University of California Los Angeles, and his influential and oft-cited monograph Romans and Saracens: A History of the Arabian Frontier published by ASOR in 1986. It was at Tell Hesse where Tom began his long-time interest in the ceramics of Roman and Byzantine Jordan, and he served as the ceramics specialist on all of his field projects.

After a stint as a post-doctoral fellow at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, Tom joined the History faculty at North Carolina State University in 1980, where he remained for his entire academic career. From 1980 until 1989 he excavated a selection of important fortifications along the Limes Arabicus, most notably the legionary fort of El-Lejjun located on the Kerak plateau, published in its final form in The Roman Frontier in Central Joran: Final Report on the Limes Arabicus Project, 1980-1989.

In the 1990s, Tom turned his attention to the southern terminus of the via nova Traiana, the ancient road that connected many fortifications of the limes, directing excavations in the ancient city of Aila lying underneath modern Aqaba. The Roman Aqaba Project team made many discoveries over five field seasons of the virtually unknown Nabataean through early Islamic occupation of the ancient city, including an early Christian church and part of the Byzantine city wall. The first volume of the final publication was published in 2014 (The Roman Aqaba Project Final Report. Volume I: The Regional Environment and the Regional Survey), and the 2nd volume is nearly ready for the printers at the time of his death. Colleagues are working to ensure the planned 3rd volume will come to fruition in the next few years.

Tom’s final field project in Jordan was co-directing the Petra North Ridge Project with his colleague Megan Perry. Tom turned his attention to the understudied domestic areas of the ancient city and clearly established that the “Byzantine” northern city wall actually dates much earlier, to the period surrounding the Roman annexation of the ancient city. Tom had the chance to publish preliminary articles on his research in Petra, with a planned co-edited monograph that will be completed by Dr. Perry.

In addition to the monographs mentioned above, Tom published over 100 articles, book chapters, and newsletter contributions over the course of his career. He received over 1 million dollars of grants to support his research, including funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Geographic Society, Dumbarton Oaks, the Samuel Kress Foundation, the Foundation for Biblical Archaeology, and numerous grants and fellowships from NCSU and ACOR.

Tom never conducted his work in isolation but as a mentor to countless students and scholars. His students were involved with his field projects, laboratory fieldwork, and conference presentations. His kindness and patience fostered many budding scholars, and he always “knew what was best” for them. While many of his students eventually developed careers outside of history and archaeology, their experiences and his unwavering support and pride in their accomplishments profoundly shaped their lives. In turn, many of these former students contributed to a Festschift in his honor, published in 2017.

Tom’s archaeological fieldwork in Jordan brought him in contact with ACOR early in the institute’s history, and he received his first fellowship (an NEH post-doctoral fellowship) in 1982. Shortly afterwards, in 1987, Tom joined ACOR’s Board, and from 2001 to present served as Second Vice President of the Board, and from 2011 to present Chair of the Publication and Nominating committees. Tom was a ceaseless advocate of ACOR, particularly in his role as Chair of the Fellowship Committee, where he witnessed the development of early career scholars and always enjoyed meeting them in person over ACOR’s lunch table on his trips to Amman.

While Tom’s research was undoubtedly influential, when hearing about his death, most colleagues working in Jordan commented on his kindness, his smile, his laugh, his jokes, and his positive and engaging demeanor. Tom grew up mostly in the Chicago area and received his bachelor’s degree in history and religion from Trinity University in 1972 before heading to UCLA for his Ph.D. in History. He is survived by his wife, Mary Mattocks, and their beloved daughter Grace Parker.

-Megan Perry

Dr. S. Thomas Parker Receives Michael Dickey Outstanding Research Mentor Award

Some remarks from colleagues:

“I will always remember the interest he took in what I was doing, even if it involved cultural periods much earlier than his own research focus… His interest and attention, coming from a senior colleague, was a real encouragement, and modelled a wonderful collegiality that continued over many years.” (Tim Harrison)

“Even in 1980, as a field supervisor at el-Lejjun, I was so impressed with Tom’s expertise in the field, good leaderships skills, calm dealings with staff and students, yet he was always vibrant, jolly, and personable.  He became a leader in the field but was still the same wonderful Tom.” (Suzanne Richard)

“From the first time we met and worked together (1976 at Tall Hisban), I could see in him a rising star in the field. From my point of view, his star has set much too soon. We will miss him.” (Doug Clark)

“The study of the archaeology of Jordan and the Roman Near East will not be the same without Tom Parker, nor will ACOR. Those of us in the field have lost such a warm, gregarious, vivacious, and endlessly supportive colleague.” (Elise Friedland)

“Thomas Parker was to me Sir Thomas Parker, a world-class scholar, an enthusiastic and charismatic field archaeologist, a great teacher and mentor, and a loyal and most enjoyable companion, fellow camper and friend… His scholarly achievements as an archaeologist of the Roman Frontier in the Southern Levant will be re-visited over and over again by future generations for decades to come.” (Øystein LaBianca)

“From my first interaction with Tom in the late 1980’s I was thankful of his presence, his humanity and his love of archaeology.  Really, this is a major loss.” (Ian Kuijt)

“Tom and I cross over more than 4 decades as active members of the Jordanian archaeological community, our mutual interest in Roman Frontier Studies, and our excavations at Petra.  A great personal loss for me and for everyone. The epitome of an ambassador for our profession.” (David Graf)

“I’ll never forget when we gave him his start in Jordanian archaeology as a field supervisor  at Hisban in 1974…. For the last fifty years he’s been at the forefront of Jordanian archaeology and has touched the lives for good of all of us.” (Larry Geraty)  

“Tom, the ever willing always available friend and colleague, was so much a part of ACOR for decades. His love of ACOR and Jordan was the Tom we knew and loved. I will never forget the time I was with him in Petra when his dig uncovered a Roman sword. His excitement knew no bounds and was infectious then as it always was. He was the Board’s historian who kept us straight as to Trustee terms and the need for new Board members. Thank you, Tom, for who you were and for all you did for ACOR, your friends and colleagues.” (Skip Gnehm)

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