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Professor Magdalena Stefania Midgley

4 November 1952 Bydgoszcz, Poland – 21 July 2014 Biggar, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Appreciation by
Ian Ralston

Magdalena Stefania Midgley

Magdalena Midgley, Professor of the European Neolithic at the University of Edinburgh since August 2013, died peacefully after a long illness bravely borne on 21 July. Brought up in the city of Bydgoszcz in Pomerania, Poland, Magda first came to Scotland in the early 1970s at the end of her secondary education. After a period at Stevenson College of Further Education, Edinburgh (where she completed her Scottish 'Highers'), she enrolled at Edinburgh University in 1974, beginning her undergraduate curriculum as a student of the late Professor Stuart Piggott; she completed her doctoral thesis there, on the earthen long barrows of northern Europe, supervised by Roger Mercer, in 1985. For this she had been awarded a three-year Scottish Education Department Studentship. From her student days, Magda was also a keen field worker, and acted as a supervisor at numerous excavations including Balfarg Henge in Fife (with Roger Mercer), the important Mesolithic site at Nethermills, Crathes (with the late Jimmy Kenworthy), and at the Balbridie timber hall (with the late Nicholas Reynolds), both in what was then Kincardine and Deeside, thereby also building up her familiarity with Scotland and its archaeology. In due course she published the multi-period Early Bronze Age cairn at Sketewan, Balnaguard, in Perthshire and Kinross with Roger Mercer (Mercer & Midgley 1997) and later researched the important Scottish antiquary, Dr Robert Munro.

From 1983 she acted as a Tutor in Archaeology for the former Department of Extra-Mural Studies in the University, a relationship she long maintained, becoming, for example, the Academic Advisor in Archaeology and organiser of the Certificate in Archaeology from 1992 and directing the Centre for Continuing Education (as it then became) Summer School in Archaeology from 1994. She was also an early contributor to the development of the University's Access courses, which enabled many mature learners to prepare for undergraduate studies.

In the second half of the '80s, she continued as a fieldworker, and also undertook freelance research funded by, amongst others, the British Academy and the Carnegie Trust. Her doctoral thesis was published by British Archaeological Reports in 1985, and represented the first of her many published contributions to the study of the early agricultural communities of Central and Northern Europe. Magda was appointed to a Lectureship in the old Department of Prehistoric Archaeology at Edinburgh in 1989, replacing her former supervisor, Roger Mercer, on his move to become Secretary of the Scottish Royal Commission, and she remained here until her retirement in June 2014. She was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1997.

Throughout her career, she principally taught and researched on the early farming cultures of Continental Europe, and published widely, in particular on the funerary monuments, especially the earthen long barrows, of the North European Plain and adjacent areas. But she will also be remembered by many former students as the linchpin of the Department's teaching of archaeological theory. Shortly after her appointment, Magda was invited to become a co-director of excavations at the key early Neolithic Linear Pottery culture site at Bylany in the Czech Republic, and from 1991 took her students there for their fieldwork experience in a project, the excavation of a newly recognised 'rondel' site, run jointly with the Charles University of Prague and the Czech Academy of Sciences. There she worked alongside I. Pavlu, J. Rulf and M. Zápotocká. Later, following her participation at an international conference on the Neolithic at Nemours, France, in 1994, she was encouraged to take on the co-direction of an excavation project on Passy-type long barrows (the funerary monuments in which she had particular expertise) in Burgundy, France. It was thus that she excavated in the late 1990s alongside Pascal Duhamel and other colleagues from the Service regional de l'archéologie of Burgundy and the University of Dijon at the important Cerny Culture cemetery of Escolives-Sainte-Camille in the Yonne département. Her fieldwork extended even more widely from the Spanish Pyrenees to southern Scandinavia and the forested areas of her native Poland. In the middle of the last decade in particular, she used her research leave to travel extensively in southern Scandinavia, visiting key sites and catching up with colleagues in the different sectors of the archaeological profession there. Latterly she also served as a consultant for the 'Early Monumentality and Social Differentiation' programme, funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and based at the Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Christian-Albrechts-Universität, Kiel, Germany; here her work was focused on the megaliths of the Altmark.

Professor Midgley's reputation was firmly established with the appearance of her magisterial survey of the TRB culture, the first farming culture of the North European Plain and southern Scandinavia which was published by Edinburgh University Press in 1992. This wide-ranging synthesis was founded on her thorough knowledge of both the sites and the artefacts, underpinned too by her facility with the languages of the area and her contacts with the key archaeologists working on this material. Further books on cognate topics, but particularly funerary monuments, including the megalithic series, appeared in the next decade: The monumental cemeteries of prehistoric Europe (2005) was a geographically wider overview, intended for the interested public as well as professional colleagues. Routledge thereafter published her synthesis on the northern European megalithic monuments in 2008.

Magda was a much appreciated teacher and colleague who also skilfully carried through key administrative tasks—she was, for example, seconded half-time to be the Quality Assessment Adviser to the old Arts Faculty Group for several years in the mid-1990s. She was subsequently Associate Postgraduate Dean (to 2003). In the 1990s, she also served on the Councils of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Prehistoric Society. At the time of her death, Magda was still actively researching the early history of archaeology and its relation to Romanticism (a topic on which she had already published), and had also edited, with her former PhD student, Jeff Sanders, Lake Dwellings after Robert Munro. Proceedings from the Munro International Seminar "The Lake Dwellings of Europe"—a 2010 conference she organised and from which the book appeared in 2012. Magda had also done the groundwork to set up a major collaborative project on 'Neolithic Scotland: making monuments, creating communities', in which she would undoubtedly have played a leading role. She organised the initial international seminar for this in 2012, not long before her health sadly worsened.

Magda is survived by her husband, Stephen, with whom she shared many passions outside archaeology—for cats, and classical music; and for very fast cars and motorcycles as well as for travel, notably to the Pyrenees, where they had a much-loved holiday home.

References

  • MERCER, R.J. & M.S. MIDGLEY. 1997. The Early Bronze Age cairn at Sketewan, Balnaguard, Perth and Kinross. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 127(1): 281338.
  • MIDGLEY, M.S. 1985. The origin and function of the earthen long barrows of northern Europe (British Archaeological Reports international series 259). Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
    – 1992. TRB culture: the first farmers of the North European Plain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
    – 2005. The monumental cemeteries of prehistoric Europe. Stroud: Tempus.
    – 2008. The megaliths of Northern Europe. London: Routledge.
  • MIDGLEY, M.S. & J. SANDERS (ed.). 2012. Lake dwellings after Robert Munro. Proceedings from the Munro International Seminar "The Lake Dwellings of Europe", 22nd and 23rd October 2010, University of Edinburgh. Leiden: Sidestone.