An Appreciation of John Hedges: An Archaeologist

By Bernie Bell

We don’t see the Orcadian until Saturday, when Mike does the weekly shopping. He got home, I started to read the paper, and saw an obituary for John Hedges.  We’re not seeing people, apart from neighbours and chance encounters on a walk, and those that we hear from, hadn’t mentioned his passing.  And so, it came as something of a shock to see his obituary in the Orcadian of the 28th of January, telling of his passing from this life on the 20th of January.

We had ‘come across’ him long before we met him.  His book ‘The Tomb of the Eagles: A Window on Stone Age Tribal Britain‘ is something of a bible for anyone with an interest in the Tomb of the Eagles, South Ronaldsay.  We’d read the book, and had visited the sites at Isbister Farm many times, and then, we actually met and spoke with Mr. Hedges in 2008, at a gathering in Kirkwall Town Hall to celebrate Ronnie Simison – discoverer and excavator of the Tomb of the Eagles –  being awarded an MBE.  John Hedges gave a very appreciative and knowledgeable speech in honour of Ronnie’s achievements.  Andrew Appleby then presented Ronnie and John with a handmade ceramic platter each, to acknowledge Ronnie’s MBE, and also to acknowledge John Hedges’ contribution to the discoveries at, and understanding of, the Tomb of the Eagles – as well as his many, many other excavations and discoveries In Orkney.

I’ll mention here that, if you go to Canmore  to look up an archaeological site in Orkney, it’s like as not that the information there will be credited to John Hedges.

I was talking with Mr. Hedges as the evening ‘wound down’.  I’m not an archaeologist.  I only met John Hedges once, and don’t feel qualified to write much about him.

However, seeing his obituary shook me.   The man I spoke with on that evening was very knowledgeable, and was keen to share and discuss his knowledge.  And yet, when speaking with me, he was just – himself.  No pontificating or talking down to the uninitiated – he was a simply a very good person to have a conversation with.

That is my memory of him. If you’d like to find out about his work at the Tomb of the Eagles, read his book…

It’s not a dry-as-dust academic tome – it has much, much information, but is also entirely readable.

The Tomb of the Eagles is a place like no other. It may have a similar internal layout to some other cairns – but it is still a place like no other.

I’d also advise you to go there and see for yourself when it re-opens to the public after these strange times are past.

We wouldn’t know half as much about it, but for the work of John Hedges.

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