The department has a range of expertise and active interest in specialisms that include European prehistory, Roman and Classical archaeology, Medieval Europe, Mediterranean archaeology, Bioarchaeology, Museums, Conservation, and Heritage, Arabian archaeology, and the archaeology of Egypt, the Near East, and South Asia.
In 2019 alone, we secured over £2m of research funding from national and international funders to undertake research on an exciting range of projects around the world.
Recent projects of note include our work to understand how best to protect endangered archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa, our large-scale excavation around Auckland Castle, and our work to understand the lives and legacy of the Scottish soldiers discovered near Durham Cathedral and Castle.
All of our currentprojects, along with contact details for their investigators, are listed on these pages.
The Great Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s hit the society and economy of North-East England particularly hard. This project has explored how archaeology can help understand the local impacts of a global economic crisis, and assessed how the technical and conceptual approaches that characterise archaeology can open up new ways of understanding this key period in recent history.
One of the main challenges facing human skeletal analysis in archaeological or forensic investigations is the accurate estimation of biological sex. Whilst possible from well-preserved, post-pubescent skeletons, analysis is unreliable in younger individuals or in fragmentary remains and although DNA analysis has proven useful in some contexts, it is not used routinely for a variety of reasons. Now a revolutionary new method has been published by colleagues at Durham University (in collaboration with Dr Nic Stewart at the University of Brighton) analyses sexually dimorphic proteins in tooth enamel (amelogenin) and is transforming studies of sex in both forensic and archaeological contexts.
Cohabiting with Vikings
Building on previous methodological advances in species-specific faecal lipid biomarkers, the Cohabiting with Vikings project is applying biomarkers and Old Norse written sources to the exploration of animal spaces in the multi-species societies of the Viking Age. Analysis is revealing how human-animal relationships helped Viking-Age Scandinavians adapted to new urban and rural environments of the 9th to 11th centuries AD.
Project Ancient Tin explores whether the exceptionally rich tin deposits in Cornwall and Devon underpinned the massive technological and cultural change from copper to full tin-bronze, and thus the European Bronze Age. An interdisciplinary team is ‘fingerprinting’ chemically and isotopically tin ores collected from fieldwork across southwest England as well as ores from Brittany, Iberia and Germany and tin artefacts from across Europe.
Throughout the Middle Ages and until 2012, Auckland was a principal residence of the powerful Bishop of Durham. The department is partnering with The Auckland Project on an exciting training excavation there which featured on Digging Britain’s Past. It is among the most extensive investigations of a medieval and later episcopal complex currently underway in Europe.
Drawing together the results of recent fieldwork, unpublished excavations and landscape analysis, this project explores the changing nature of power and identity in Iron Age and early Roman Britain through one of the lesser-known but important ‘oppida’ in Britain: Bagendon in Gloucestershire.
This project examines the foundation and development of Cacheu, Guinea-Bissau and the emergence of unequal power relations grounded on the trade of enslaved persons and European colonialism through an archaeological investigation of urbanism, architecture and consumption. The project is a community-based initiative promoted by the Memorial of Slavery in Cacheu, with the support of Guinea-Bissauan NGO “Acção para o Desenvolvimento” and the University of Lisbon, Portugal.
The materiality and context of visual imagery and monuments in Neolithic Europe are examined through new theoretical perspectives, state-of-the-art scientific techniques and multiscale frameworks of analysis to investigate past social identities, landscapes, mobility and connectivity. These projects involve museum work and fieldwork at various monument find-spots in collaboration with various international researchers and local stakeholders.
Art is an invention of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers. Neanderthals left non-figurative marks on cave walls as early as 65,000 years ago, and figurative art appeared in Eurasia around 40,000 years ago. At Durham, we have been at the forefront of dating the long-term emergence of art, and are developing inter-disciplinary approaches to the visual psychology of Palaeolithic art, working with cave and portable art in Spain, Portugal, Germany and France.
Concluding 40 years of work, this project completing publication of a definitive catalogue of every early medieval stone sculpture fragment in England. This AHRC-funded project is contributing to our growing research interests and collaborative work in the Material and Visual Culture Research Group, revealing new examples where pigment and paint traces survive and allowing us to revisualise these monuments in colour. We are working with local societies, heritage protection agencies and other key curators and stakeholders to document and protect these neglected monuments.
Medieval Hazard and Risk
This project assesses the physical impacts of earthquakes, tsunamis and landslides during the later Middle Ages across Europe using sources such as standing buildings, buried stratigraphical sequences and palaeoenvironmental data. We highlight mitigation strategies and the cultural effects of earthquakes in different cultural contexts in order to understand how communities reacted and how they prepared for the future.
Dining and Death tackled a puzzlingly ambiguous theme in the corpus of ancient art—images of people dining and drinking, used as a form of tomb art. It brought together scholars representing a number of periods, regions and schools of thought to compare images and interpretations. The results highlighted differing tendencies showcased a variety of approaches to art, identity and belief.