Caroline Wickham-Jones – In Memoriam

Caroline Wickham-Jones was an archaeologist, broadcaster and Oxbow author. Her research focused on the earliest people in Scotland, and she was a leading expert on Orkney archaeology. Today would have been her 67th birthday. In this blog, Julie Gardiner, publisher at Oxbow Books, pays tribute to Caroline, remembering her both as a colleague and as a friend.

By Julie Gardiner

Image credit: The University of the Highlands and Islands

In January 2022 the British archaeological world was shocked and saddened by the unexpected death of Orkney archaeologist Caroline Wickham-Jones after an all too brief battle with a rare condition. Caroline was a fine archaeologist – a leading expert on Orkney archaeology, a flint specialist and a great communicator. She published several very successful books with Oxbow and today would have been her 67th birthday, so we take the opportunity to remember her with affection and celebrate her contribution as a woman of considerable significance in our discipline.

Caroline was born and raised in Stockton-on-Tees, Co. Durham but fell in love with Orkney and its prehistoric monuments at an early age. Her archaeological interests were wide but her special focus was on the Mesolithic of Scotland and the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition. Orkney was pivotal in her research; she excavated a number of major sites, including Skara Brae and, after moving there in 2002, collaborated on a project exploring its changing coasts and looking for drowned settlements. She was a key player in the establishment of research priorities for the Orkney World Heritage Site.

Her list of achievements is long and she published many academic papers and a number of books including general titles on the archaeology of Scotland, guidebooks for Historic Scotland and the several times reprinted Orkney: A Historical Guide, first published in 1998. Her books were meticulously researched but written in a lively and accessible style and they told stories – of hunter-gatherer lives and adaptations, migrations, communities – she had the gift of being able to use, but stand back from, the small details and present a bigger, vivid, picture of life in the prehistoric past.

Her books were meticulously researched but written in a lively and accessible style and they told stories

Caroline was generous with her knowledge and time, always encouraging others and happy to help anyone with a genuine interest, especially early career researchers. She was also great fun: she loved a good gossip at a conference over a few glasses of wine. And, speaking personally, she was a dream author to work with – and all publishers love one of those! I am reliably informed that, on publication of her first book with Oxbow (before my time), she presented my former colleagues with all manner of goodies including Orkney whisky. Just a few weeks before she died we were discussing a project for a new book. Conversations began with the serious technical detail: how many images, how many words, format, contents – and then generally slipped into consideration of what to grow in our vegetable gardens (Caroline was a keen gardener, defying the worst of the climate Orkney could throw at her in a bid to be self-sufficient) and inevitably degenerated into giggling anecdotes about the exploits of our respective feline companions.

You can learn more about Caroline’s remarkable life and work here:
Caroline Wickham-Jones obituary | Archaeology | The Guardian

Books by Caroline Wickham-Jones:

Between the Wind and the Water

World Heritage Orkney

By Caroline Wickham-Jones

Windgather Press | Paperback | 9781909686502 | 2015 | 178 Pages| £19.99

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Fear of Farming

By Caroline Wickham-Jones

Windgather Press | Paperback | 9781905119325 | 2010 | 176 Pages | £16.95

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Landscape Beneath the Waves

The Archaeological Investigation of Underwater Landscapes 

By Caroline Wickham-Jones

Oxbow Books | Paperback | 9781789250725 | 2018 | 256 Pages | £29.95

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By Caroline Wickham-Jones on the Oxbow Blog:

Discover a new world: Landscape Beneath the Waves – Oxbow Books

Secrets of Orkney – Oxbow Books

Cover Image: The Ring of Brodgar on Caroline’s beloved Orkney. Image Credit: Giulia Hetherington on Unsplash