Born: April 11, 1927;

Died: December 14, 2021.

AUDREY Shore Henshall MA, OBE, FSA, FSAScot, will go down in history as one of the first women in Scotland to become a full-time professional archaeologist, and for conducting surveys of some 600 chambered cairns around Scotland built during Neolithic times.

The Neolithic period saw the arrival in Scotland of groups of farmers from the Continent, bringing a settled lifestyle that contrasted with the semi-nomadic existence of the hunter-fisher-forager groups who had lived here during the preceding millennia.

These farmers built monuments to their dead, including cairns that covered chambers where the dead were placed. The inexhaustible Audrey surveyed every single chambered cairn in Scotland – a massive task, undertaken in her own time, during holidays from her curatorial work at the then National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS).

Her surveying began in the 1950s, well before the age of high-tech recording systems. Along with colleagues from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland she would work tirelessly in all weathers, surveying sites with a plane table and alidade (a surveying instrument) and making accurate plans and descriptions that have stood the test of time.

The fruits of her work can be found in two massive books published by Edinburgh University Press: The Chambered Tombs of Scotland, Volume 1, (1963) followed by Volume 2 in 1972. Both still today are considered classic works of reference, forming the foundations for further studies on Neolithic Scotland. Audrey herself, however, did not speculate about the societies who built and used the monuments. She stuck to presenting the facts as she found them.

Remarkably, she proceeded to revisit sites in Orkney, Caithness, Sutherland and the Central Highlands to update her findings. This resulted in another four co-authored volumes on chambered cairns, published between 1989 and 2001.

Nowadays the kind of surveys she conducted might be carried out with laser-based equipment capable of producing 3D images, but arguably her methods had the benefit of allowing interpretation on-site by the human brain, in much the same way as painting a portrait can give a deeper understanding of a subject than a photograph.

Born to Edward and Marjory Henshall in Oldham, Lancs., she initially studied archaeology at Edinburgh University, graduating with an MA in 1952. She quickly found employment as a Research Assistant and Assistant Librarian in NMAS. From 1960 to 1971 she was Assistant Keeper of Archaeology. In 1970 she was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, becoming an honorary fellow of that Society. She was also elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

As well as chambered cairns she studied early textiles. Her findings were published widely in professional journals in the 1950s and 1960s. Her work on the Gunnister Man’s 300-year old clothing – found, well preserved, in a peat bog in Shetland – attracted much interest, as well as her identification of the colours used in centuries-old textiles. The tartan pattern she discovered at Dungiven in Ulster led to the revival of an early 17th century tartan.

Neolithic pottery was also another focus of her forensic examinations. Fragments were often found in and around the cairns, as well as on settlement sites, and her clear descriptions and fine drawings in her publications helped to lay the foundations of our understanding of Scottish Neolithic pottery.

In 1992, to mark her retirement, Professors of Archaeology, Niall Sharples and Alison Sheridan, presented Audrey with a Festschrift called Vessels for the Ancestors: Essays on the Neolithic of Britain and Ireland In Honour of Audrey Henshall, published by Edinburgh University Press. In 1993 she was awarded an OBE for services to archaeology.

After her retirement she continued her research on a voluntary basis. In 2016 she was awarded the Dorothy Marshall Medal by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for her outstanding voluntary contribution to Scottish archaeological work.

When she was in her eighties her work, commended for its endurance, scope and scale, was deemed to merit an honorary doctorate with the University of Edinburgh. However, as self-effacingly as ever, she declined the offer.

Audrey never married but she had many friends and was happy to be independent. She enjoyed travel and had at least one memorable trip to Australia. She was a long- standing member of the Scottish Episcopalian Christ Church in Morningside, Edinburgh, contributing to a range of activities.

Walking was an essential part of her work as an archaeologist, as well as a pleasurable activity, and she continued this well into her retirement, successfully completing the 62-mile-long St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose to Lindisfarne, and regularly walking the hills around Edinburgh.

Her active lifestyle was seriously curtailed however in April 2017 when she suffered a stroke. After a spell in the Western General Hospital she was cared for in the Chamberlain Care Home, where she died peacefully.