Professor Roger J. Mercer (1944-2018)

Roger James Mercer was born in 1944 in Hertfordshire and brought up in north-west London.  Youthful interest in archaeology led to schoolboy excavation experience, including at Fishbourne. From Harrow County Grammar he moved north to Edinburgh University, where he studied archaeology under Professor Stuart Piggott. His career as an excavation director began in 1968, and the year after he was appointed Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments initially responsible for SW England. Among his important field projects over this period were the examination of the enclosed Neolithic settlement at Carn Brae in Cornwall and renewed excavation at the Grimes Graves flint mines in Norfolk.

In 1974 he was appointed to a lectureship at Edinburgh. There too his energy and enthusiasm were readily visible, not only in his lectures but in his unstinting commitment to excavation and field survey with his students. Over his sixteen year tenure (promoted to Reader in 1982, from when Mercer was also Acting Head of Department until 1987), he led field projects in SW England, including major excavations at the causewayed camp on Hambledon Hill, Dorset. In the North, his fieldwork commitments extended from Dumfriesshire to the Northern Highlands.

He published widely on British Neolithic and Bronze Age topics, on prehistoric warfare, on the importance of University-based archaeology, and on field survey. In 1990 was able to take up for him ‘the best job in the world’, the Secretaryship (Chief Executive) of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Mercer’s stint at the Commission (from which he retired in 2004) may be judged one of the most transformative in that body’s 108 year independent history. He oversaw the recording and survey of the historic environment in Scotland from prehistory to modern architecture, encouraging moves to cutting-edge technologies in field and aerial survey, whilst developing the extensive archive collection.  From the late 1990s, the innovative CANMORE system allowed online public access to historic environment data: the first example of its kind, it remains the most significant component of that transformation. In addition, Roger fulfilled numerous other roles including as President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vice President of both the Prehistoric Society and the Council for British Archaeology, and for thirteen years to 2002 he was a member of the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland. 

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1995), he was appointed an Officer of the order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to archaeology (2004). In retirement, Roger remained active, still lecturing this session at Edinburgh University, where he was an Honorary Professorial Fellow. His warm humour and willingness to share his wide knowledge will be deeply missed.