Ian Shepherd

We are very grateful to Ian Ralston, FSA, for the following obituary for Ian Alexander George Shepherd (born Forres 22 March 1951; died Aberdeen 15 May 2009). A shorter version of this obituary was published in the Independent on 13 August 2009.

Ian ShepherdIan 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.