Caroline Wickham-Jones Obituary | Archeology


Caroline Wickham-Jones, who died at the age of 66 from amyloidosis, was an exceptional archaeologist and communicator of her subject. Choosing Orkney as her home, she researched the island’s changing landscape and the early people who made their lives across Scotland. She has described her results in numerous academic publications, but also to a wider and grateful audience, through lectures, tours, books, a magazine column, a blog and a series. award-winning radio.

His particular interest was the time when hunter-gatherers populated what is now Scotland, between the end of the Ice Age around 12,000 years ago, and the disruption of their world by the arrival of farmers. 6,000 years later – the later Paleolithic and Mesolithic ages. She searched for evidence for these people who were both older than anything seen before (when she started, signs of hunter-gatherers at any time were rare in Scotland) and in new places. Most notable among these was the bed of the North Sea.

In 1981, a piece of flint appeared where it shouldn’t have been, in a British Geological Survey sample collected between the Shetland Islands and Norway. Wickham-Jones identified it as an artifact, and his immediate reaction was that it must have been dropped from a boat by its prehistoric owner. However, it soon turned out that this part of the North Sea was terrestrial at the end of the Ice Age, when glaciers held large amounts of water and global sea levels were lower than they are today. today.

She judged the odds that geologists had found a solitary flint too small to account for and proclaimed that it had been transported from a campsite. Twenty years before the now famous Doggerland was rediscovered further south to enter Mesolithic Britain, archaeologists no longer only needed to imagine different ways of life: Wickham-Jones made it clear that we also needed to unmapped land.

Wickham-Jones’ particular interest was the time when hunter-gatherers populated Scotland

Caroline was born in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham. Her father, Charles Wickham-Jones, was an industrial chemist and charity worker; his mother, Prim (née Bayliss), had been a nurse. Caroline’s love for Orkney began at an early age, sparked by a collection of postcards her grandmother kept when she was stationed there during the First World War. Fascinated by these as a child, Wickham-Jones persuaded her parents to vacation in the islands in 1972.

The following year she returned as an archeology student at the University of Edinburgh, then again on a Masters in Heritage Management at the University of Birmingham – to excavate at Skara Brae and other Neolithic (ancient agriculture) sites and co-directs his own excavations. Years later, she would help set research priorities for the new Orkney World Heritage Site.

In the 1980s she found what was then the oldest known settlement in Scotland, at Kinloch on Rum. From 1998 she co-led a project looking for evidence of hunter-gatherers among mounds of seafood waste on the west coast of Scotland. She moved permanently to Orkney in 2002 and from 2005 collaborated on a project that explored its changing coastlines and searched for drowned settlements.

Most recently, she conducted fieldwork in Aberdeenshire, where a volunteer community group scoured fields by the River Dee, finding thousands of tiny flint tools and manufacturing waste, and mapping a history of hunter-gatherers exceptional both in its duration and in its scope.

Throughout this research she has delved into broader themes, with books such as The Landscape of Scotland: A Hidden History (2001) and Scotland’s First Settlers (2002). Fear of Farming (2010) described the loss of a hunter-gatherer existence as a “catastrophe”, but one that modern society could overcome (a concern for the contemporary world first shown in 1992, in his book co -edited All Natural Things: Archeology and the Green Debate).

Orkney: A Historical Guide (1998), aimed at “those who visit Orkney” – in its account of migrations, missionaries and earls, these visitors included all who lived there as well as tourists – became popular reading , with its guides to historic Scotland. Before you start his blog in 2015she wrote a column for British Archeology magazine on online archaeology.

The writing was only half of it. For a decade from 2007, Wickham-Jones was a lecturer in archeology at the University of Aberdeen, organizing online teaching from Orkney in a popular style that turned into public lectures and tours, from Orkney to distant cruises. In the winters she presented Orkyologya monthly radio program for BBC Scotland which jointly won the British Archaeological Press award.

Author Margaret Elphinstone came to stay – Wickham-Jones was widely known as a generous and entertaining hostess – to research her novel The Gathering Night: they described the experience as the performer one of another, the archaeologist seeing his ideas reach a new audience, and the novelist discovering the habits of hunter-gatherers.

These mannerisms, Wickham-Jones thought, were itinerant, and she herself enjoyed travel, always making new friends. In 1988, a year before the Tiananmen Square massacre, she took the Silk Road, flew to Pakistan with a small group of tourists and returned alone by train from Beijing, stopping for a week in Ulaanbaatar. and another in Moscow. During one of her many trips to South America in 1993, she met Alejandro Lopez, a Chilean jeweler. They had a son, Guille; their marriage was brief and Guille grew up in Scotland. In 2006, she took him out of school for a term, and they spent three months together far from Orkney to Argentina and Chile, via Tierra del Fuego and Easter Island.

In his latest blog, posted eight days before his death, Wickham-Jones reviewed a TV film about Stonehenge, wondering why all the archaeologists featured were men. “We live in a diverse world,” she wrote. “Diversity existed in the past. Archeology is a diverse profession. Surely we don’t need to try very hard to reflect that in everything we do? »

She was an Honorary Member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and several times a Trustee of the John Muir Trust and the Orkney Archaeological Trust, and a Trustee of the Caithness Archaeological Trust.

She is survived by Guille and her brothers, Tom and Mark.

Caroline Wickham-Jones, archaeologist, born April 25, 1955; died on January 13, 2022

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