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Ian Alexander George Shepherd

1951 - 15th May 2009

Appreciation by
Alison Sheridan

Shepherd photo
Ian Shepherd with (from left) Lekky Shepherd and Moira Greig during the experimental, Bronze Age-style cremation of a pig at Archaeolink, September 2004. (Photograph: Alison Sheridan).

Ian Shepherd, Principal Archaeologist of the Aberdeenshire Archaeology Service and an internationally-renowned Bronze Age archaeologist and authority on the archaeology and architecture of North East Scotland, died after a long illness on 15 May 2009. His loss is a great blow to Scottish archaeology and architectural history, and it is hard to sum up his immense contribution in a few words.

Born in Forres, Ian Shepherd attended school in Edinburgh, going on to read archaeology under Stuart Piggott at Edinburgh University. His 1973 Masters dissertation on the V-perforated buttons of Britain and Ireland showed him to be an exceptionally talented student, and marked the beginning of a lifelong interest in Bronze Age archaeology; an updated version of that ground-breaking dissertation will soon be published in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. Shortly after graduating, in 1975, Ian was appointed as archaeologist for the then-named Grampian Region, the first such appointment in Scotland; and shortly after that he married fellow archaeologist Alexandra (Lekky) Tuckwell, with whom he had two daughters, Bryony and Sunniva.

Ian's interest in the Bronze Age (and indeed in the Chalcolithic - a concept on which he expounded in a recent conference) led him to many excavations: at the Beaker domestic site at Rosinish in Benbecula; the remarkable Late Bronze and Iron Age sea cave at Covesea, Moray; and cist and pit graves, too numerous to list but including the important Beaker cemetery at Borrowstone, Aberdeenshire and a Cordoned Urn grave with faience beads at Findhorn, Moray. His excavation reports - many co-authored with Lekky and with Moira Greig, his colleague in the Aberdeenshire Archaeology Service - shine out by their intelligent, inquiring approach and their attention to detail. This same meticulous approach is shown in his Powerful pots: Beakers in north-east prehistory (Shepherd 1986a), where he applied the approach of Lanting and Van der Waals to establish a regional typochronology for north-east Scottish Beakers. His Beaker-related work also included a study visit to the Netherlands to assess the degree of similarity between some Dutch and some Scottish Beakers, and this international perspective allowed him to recognise, at Newmill, a Dutch-style grave with a Dutch-style Beaker (Shepherd & Watkins 1980). The experience borne of this work, and of his 35 years' employment as the Local Authority Archaeologist for Grampian Region and its administrative successors, was recently put to good use in the advice Ian was able to give to the current Beakers and Bodies project, undertaken by Neil Curtis in Marischal Museum. Similarly, the expertise which he gained from his study of prehistoric jetworking enriched the legendary 1985 Edinburgh exhibition, Symbols of Power at the Time of Stonehenge, and its accompanying publication.

Ian's other interests led him to make a major contribution, with his friends and colleagues Ian Ralston and Moira Greig, to the aerial photography archive for north-east Scotland: with Ralston he established a systematic AP programme whose fruits, Grampian's past: its archaeology from the air (Shepherd & Greig 1996), demonstrated the astonishing wealth of sites in this part of Scotland. This publication was typical of his desire to produce information of the highest quality and to disseminate it as widely as possible, as shown for example in his other archaeological guide books such as Exploring Scotland's heritage: Grampian (Shepherd 1986b); in his extra-mural and other lecturing in Aberdeen University and elsewhere; and in his support for Elgin Museum.

He was a trend- and a standard-setter in the world of Scottish Local Authority archaeology. Not only did he create the archaeological service for his area - which latterly included Moray and Angus (on a contract basis) as well as Aberdeenshire - and argue and publish cogently on diverse matters relating to the management of the archaeological and built heritage; with colleagues he established ARIA (the Association of Regional and Island Archaeologists) and served as its first Chair. When, in 2006, ARIA became ALGAO (the Association of Local and Regional Archaeologists in Scotland), he served on its council. Ian was the driving force behind many archaeological initiatives, not least the establishment of Archaeolink, the multi-award winning prehistory park at Oyne, and of the Burghead Trust. He also provided invaluable support to other archaeologists' work in the north-east, including Hilary and Charlie Murray's excavations of a Neolithic timber 'hall' at Crathes, for the National Trust for Scotland; Richard Bradley's excavations at Recumbent Stone Circles and at Broomend of Crichie henge; Ian Ralston's work at Burghead; and my own experimental cremation of a pig - inspired by the Shepherds' report on the Findhorn grave - at Archaeolink in 2004.

Ian had a long and distinguished history of involvement with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, most recently (from 1999) as Convenor of its Research Committee and as co-organiser of two highly successful international conferences, Scotland in Later Prehistoric Europe (2008) and Scotland in Ancient Europe (2003). He was a Vice President from 1995 to 1998, Chair of the North-East Section during the 1980s, and Editor of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland from 1983-90, having previously served as Assistant Editor and as a Council member. Under his editorship, the Proceedings commissioned important period reviews, including Ian Kinnes' on the Scottish Neolithic. In addition, Ian was an active member of the Bronze Age Studies Group, and its Secretary for 20 years. He had been looking forward to joining his BASG colleagues in Halle this May; sadly that was not to be.

Ian is as well known in the world of architectural history and built heritage conservation as he is in archaeology. His Aberdeenshire: Deeside and Strathbogie, an illustrated architectural guide (2006), co-authored with Charles McKean, was hailed as a major contribution, as was his earlier Gordon: an illustrated architectural guide (1994); and during his illness he was working on a further volume on architectural history. He was a key player in several significant built heritage conservation initiatives, successfully establishing the North East Scotland Preservation Trust and the Pitsligo Castle Trust.

He will be missed not only for his immense contribution to Scotland's archaeological and built heritage, but also for his enthusiasm and great generosity of spirit, his gentleness, his dedication to his family and his dry sense of humour: his commentaries on the exploits of the BASG on their various international jaunts, for example, were an unmissable treat.

  • SHEPHERD, I.A.G.1986a. Powerful pots: Beakers in north-east prehistory. Aberdeen: Anthropological Museum, University of Aberdeen.
    - 1986b. Exploring Scotland's heritage: Grampian. Edinburgh: HMSO for RCAHMS.
  • SHEPHERD, I.A.G. & M. GREIG. 1996. Grampian's past: its archaeology from the air. Aberdeen: Grampian Regional Council Economic Development and Planning Department.
  • SHEPHERD, I.A.G. & T.F. WATKINS. 1980. A Beaker burial at Newmill, near Bankfoot, Perthshire. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 110: 32-41.

Appreciation by
Ian Ralston

We also reproduce here the obituary of Ian Shepherd, FSA, published in the Society of Antiquaries of London's online newsletter, by kind permission of the Society of Antiquaries. It is available at: http://www.sal.org.uk/obituaries/ianshepherd

Shepherd photo

Ian Shepherd, doyen of local authority archaeologists in Scotland, sadly died on 15 May 2009 at the early age of 58. Ian was the first such post-holder in the country, having been appointed to the planning department of the newly formed Grampian Regional Council in 1975; he was eventually Principal Archaeologist and Team Leader, Specialist Services, Aberdeenshire Council, managing a small team which also oversaw cultural heritage matters for the neighbouring counties of Angus and Moray. Although raised in Lanarkshire, and educated in Edinburgh, latterly as a student of Professor Stuart Piggott at the Department of Prehistoric Archaeology in Edinburgh University, Ian was born in the north east of Scotland. Apart from four seasons of excavation on the Beaker settlement at Rosinish in the Outer Hebrides, he spent his entire professional life in the area, whose field archaeology, historic buildings and landscapes he knew intimately and to which he was devoted.

Ian effectively and enthusiastically developed a sites and monuments record and all the other components of a professional archaeological service for North-East Scotland from scratch. His important work inside the planning system and council was soon extended into research and teaching, for he was, beyond his core duties, both a keen populariser and a serious academic researcher. Many new sites were discovered during his programmes of aerial survey from 1977, undertaken both to recover crop-marks in the fertile lowlands of the Laigh of Moray and elsewhere in the summer months, and other, upstanding, remains year-round in the upland moors. He also undertook fieldwork and excavation. His principal dig, with his wife Alexandra (Lekky), also an archaeologist, was in the testing environment of Covesea Cave on the Moray coast, in use from Late Bronze Age to Pictish times; but he also rescued numerous Bronze Age burials, disturbed by quarrying, ploughing or new housing. Many other archaeologists benefited, too, from the support and advice he was able to bring to their projects in the region, notably Richard Bradley and, in my own case, latterly at Burghead.

Ian also contributed tirelessly and significantly to a wide range of trusts and other initiatives concerned with historic buildings, archaeology and heritage in the north east. These included Elgin Archaeological Heritage, Kinloss Abbey, Pitsligo Castle, Burghead Headland, the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses at Fraserburgh, Archaeolink Prehistory Park, Oyne, and Aberdeenshire Historic Kirkyards. In late 2008, it was Ian who conducted the Princess Royal around Kinloss Abbey during her visit there. In a very real sense the places that are his monuments are distributed across this heartland of Scotland.

Ian was also a keen extra-mural lecturer, both in and around Aberdeen University and well beyond (including to postgraduate students in Cultural Resource Management at Edinburgh), lectures that were often enhanced by the many fine colour transparencies of north-eastern sites he took both at ground level and from the air. With well over sixty significant publications to his name, he produced a huge range of literature: from leaflets and guide-books to specialist studies (particularly on beaker burials and Bronze Age jet artefacts), but also including regional archaeological overviews and monographs on architecture. Two of his three general surveys have been republished: his Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Grampian (1986) as Aberdeen and North-East Scotland (1996); and Gordon: an illustrated architectural guide (1994) as Aberdeenshire: Donside and Strathbogie (2006). Both are quiet triumphs, like the unshowy John Smith buildings he so admired as an architectural historian. Co-written with his Aberdeenshire colleague, Moira Greig, Grampian's Past: its archaeology from the air (1996) showcases their aerial photographs of a range of historic buildings and archaeological sites. Despite worsening health, he was still actively writing this spring - including his contributions to a new survey of Bronze Age burials and to the Buildings of Scotland volume on the North-East.

He believed passionately in the importance of Scotland's archaeology, playing a central role in leaving it in a much healthier state than in the 1970s. With Lorna Main, now of Stirling Council, and the late Bob Gourlay, he developed networks for local authority archaeologists, and was first chair (to 1993) of the Association of Regional and Islands Archaeologists, now ALGAO Scotland. He wrote cogently, too, on issues concerning archaeology and planning, notably on the deleterious impacts for archaeological sites of certain afforestation schemes; and was the obvious authority to contribute the Scottish dimension of the local authority chapter in Archaeological Resource Management in the UK. He was a key supporter of a number of initiatives involving local authority archaeological services in partnership with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. He could, of course, on occasion disagree profoundly with policies and initiatives on heritage issues emanating from central government or elsewhere, whilst remaining good friends with the colleagues who enunciated them.

Ian also carried out a number of important roles for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. For almost a decade from 1982, during a testing period of rapid change in scholarly publishing, he edited the Antiquaries' Proceedings; for another, from 1999 until only a few months before his death, he chaired its Research Committee. He was also a Vice-President of the Society in the late 1990s; and, with Gordon Barclay, masterminded the Scotland in Ancient Europe conference, a major review of the country's Neolithic and Earlier Bronze Age record, to publication in 2004.

But Ian's interests, archaeological and other, were far from purely local. He could certainly quote from Johnny Gibb o' Gushetneuk and the poetry of George Bruce; but also loved Jane Austen and P G Wodehouse. He had an international reputation amongst Bronze Age specialists, and was, for many years, Secretary of the Bronze Age Studies Group, where his duties extended beyond the routine to include shepherding — literally — its directionally challenged president, Colin Burgess, on visits to key sites of the period around Europe.

Ian had a knowledge of the prehistory, history and personalities of the north east fairly described as encyclopaedic, but this was a knowledge lightly borne and that he was prepared to share with anyone. It was acquired however, not in an ascetic way, but by a family man proud of the achievements of his wife and daughters; a man who relished so much of life, from a decent malt to what was to prove to be his last trip to France.

He is survived by his mother, his wife Lekky, and their daughters Bryony and Sunniva.