Born: April 25, 1955;

Died: January 13, 2022.

"YOU should talk to Caroline". It’s hard to know just how many have given or taken this advice over the years. But for the archaeologists, writers, documentary-makers and other visitors who found a welcome at her home, a conversation with Caroline Rosa Wickham-Jones, who has left us too soon at the age of 66, was always a pleasure and invariably rewarding.

Over soup and bread, or a glass of something stronger, she was always keen to hear about the work of others, and ever ready to offer advice, information and encouragement, all of it given with great generosity.

Caroline’s archaeological life was defined by her independence of spirit, and by a fierce intelligence that she wore very lightly. Above all, she held a passionate conviction that archaeology mattered, that it offered a powerful tool for thinking about the present and the future as well as the past.

She was born in Stockton-on-Tees in 1955. The daughter of Charles and Prim, she grew up with two brothers, Tom and Mark, and attended Teesside High School. By the early 1970s, she was persuading her parents to take the family to Orkney for a holiday, giving her a first glimpse of sites which remained a source of fascination for the rest of her life.

She took her first degree at the University of Edinburgh, consolidating her passion for the archaeology of Scotland with a special interest in prehistory. She was soon back in Orkney, excavating on Neolithic sites at Skara Brae and the Links of Noltland. These and other excavations introduced her to the stone tools that became a central feature of her work for many years.

For those who had the good fortune to spend time with her, Caroline’s grasp of the Scottish Neolithic was impressive. Her knowledge was substantial and her interests refreshingly wide ranging – there were few topics on which she did not hold an informed and insightful opinion.

But it was an earlier period, the Mesolithic, that really caught her imagination. Developed alongside a commitment to the interests of contemporary hunting and gathering communities around the world, she focussed her attention on the human occupation of Scotland between the end of the last Ice Age and the onset of farming in the Neolithic.

By the early 1980s, Caroline was a mainstay of the Artefact Research Unit at the National Museum of Scotland, where she honed her skills as an expert flint knapper. She was also an active member and, for a time the secretary, of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, playing a key role in the development of several national initiatives.

Working with many individuals and institutions, she undertook research projects that revealed the complexity of life amongst the hunting and gathering communities of Mesolithic Scotland. In 1984, she directed excavations at a Mesolithic stone source, Bloodstone Hill, on the Hebridean island of Rùm.

This was followed by further field projects with a strong Mesolithic focus: at Camas Daraich in Skye and Long Howe in Orkney, and by the influential Scotland’s First Settlers project, of which she was co-director.

Caroline and her young son Guille settled in Orkney in 2002, a move that brought her back to familiar landscapes and to many old friends. Always in demand at international conferences, she continued to travel widely, and was especially proud of the fact that Guille was a seasoned explorer by the time he started secondary school.

But it was in Orkney that she took her work to new levels. She participated in the development of several research initiatives in the region, among them helping to establish the international importance of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

Alongside a continuing flow of academic papers, Caroline’s return to Orkney also saw her writing for a broader audience, producing books such as Between the Wind and the Water (2006), The Landscape of Scotland: A Hidden History (2009), Fear of Farming (2010), Orkney: A Historical Guide (2011) and The Monuments of Orkney: A Visitor’s Guide (2012).

Combining an enviable clarity of expression with command of the material, these books speak to the value that Caroline placed upon wider communication, and the priority she gave to involving different communities in the archaeological process.

As recently as last year, she was helping to bring to publication the results of a community project studying lithic scatter sites in central Deeside. As she put it on her fascinating blog (“Community archaeology is a brilliant evocation of the variety of skills that can be brought to bear on unravelling the past when people care”.

In 2006, Caroline took up a lectureship in archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, delivering inspirational lectures in person and online. She was a generous, supportive and very popular teacher, qualities that proved just as valuable in the many public lectures and archaeological tours that she gave, in Orkney, across Scotland and on cruise ships out on the North Atlantic.

She even found time to present her own radio show, a monthly broadcast on BBC Radio Orkney. On her retirement in 2015, she joked that she had given up employment so that she would have more time to work.

And work she did, packing an extraordinary range of achievements into the last seven years of her life. After writing a textbook on submerged landscapes around the world (Landscape Beneath the Waves, 2018), she collaborated with colleagues in work on the timing and impact of sea level change on prehistoric societies in Orkney.

Still on-going, these projects have already transformed the way we think about landscape change in the region, providing a deep-time perspective on problems that remain vitally important today.

An advocate for environmental concerns since the early 1990s, Caroline saw her work as a contribution to wider debate about responses to climate change. She argued with eloquence and passion that the pattern of life followed by our distant ancestors held important “keys to our continued existence”.

In this, as in so much of what she did, Caroline encouraged us to think about the future as much as the past. Unreservedly generous with her time, her knowledge and even her home, Caroline Wickham-Jones has left us with a remarkable legacy.