Professor Paul Lewis Hancock was Professor of Neotectonics at the University of Bristol and an international authority on active fault zones and earthquake movements. He had been on the staff of the department for 30 years when he died from cancer, in 1998, at the age of 61.
Paul Hancock was born in London in 1937 and educated at Sheen Grammar School and then Durham University, where he graduated with a first-class honours degree in Geology in 1959. He remained at Durham to carry out his doctoral research, on the structure of the Orielton anticline in Pembrokeshire, completing his PhD in 1962. Research and teaching appointments at Cambridge,
Nottingham and Strathclyde were to follow before he came to Bristol in 1968. He remained at Bristol for the rest of his life, being actively involved in both research and teaching in the department. He supervised more than 20 research students and, for over 20 years, was coordinator of the Joint School in Archaeology and Geology. He was promoted to Reader in 1981 and appointed to a personal chair in 1995.
Hancock's research work took him all over the world, from Spain to Argentina, China to Turkey, and from Greece to Nevada, USA. He was always an exponent of the classical traditions of field geological study. Lengthy and personal observation of the rocks in situ, and detailed recording on paper and by means of photographs, together with step-by-step mapping of the terrain, were essential for a proper understanding of what was going on. Hancock's research interests in these diverse regions included classical structural geology, in particular the study of brittle microtectonics (the use of faults to identify past stress conditions in the Earth's crust) and regional structure (major thrusts of rock masses to produce mountain ranges). He later moved increasingly into the field of neotectonics, the study of faulting and folding in action, both in the present day, and in the archaeological past.
The combination of geology and archaeology became a particularly fruitful field for Hancock in the 1990s. He showed, by observation and experiment, the nature of the earthquakes that had destroyed so many classical Greek temples. He also showed how the combination of archaeology and geology allowed the history of earthquakes in an active region to be reconstructed precisely, and then to be used as a means of calculating current and future risk.
Hancock's academic activity was reflected in a distinguished publication list, including 65 scientific articles, and ten edited books. In 1978, he launched the Journal of Structural Geology, which has since become the leading international journal in the field; from 1992 until his death, he was chairman of the International Commission on Tectonics (sponsored by UNESCO).
Those who knew Paul were aware that his sometimes stern expression hid a dry sense of humour and a kind heart. He will be remembered with affection by his colleagues and former students. In 2001, Journal of Structural Geology 23, 2&3 were devoted to the memory of Paul Lewis Hancock: Editor-in-Chief, 1979–1985; Founding Editor, 1986–1998.
The Hancock Memorial Prize is awarded annually to the best final-year MSci student, and the Hancock Occasional Prize has been set up to reward outstanding performance in Archaeology/Geology.