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Dr Chris Caple

Emeritus Reader


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Emeritus Reader in the Department of Archaeology  


Dr Chris Caple was, until July 2018, Associate Professor / Senior Lecturer at Durham University, where he had been director of the postgraduate programme in artefact conservation since 1988. He was appointed Emeritus Reader in Archaeological Conservation in 2018 following his retirement from teaching in the university and remains active; researching and publishing in conservation, analysing and researching ancient artefacts and writing up archaeological excavations.

Chris graduated from University of Wales, College of Cardiff in 1979 with a BSc in Archaeological Conservation. He carried out his doctoral research on the composition and manufacturing technology of medieval copper alloy pins at the University of Bradford and was awarded a PhD in 1986. Between 1984 and 1988 he was the artefacts conservator at the York Castle Museum. In 1988 he became lecturer in Archaeological Conservation and Archaeological Science at the Dept. of Archaeology, University of Durham, becoming a Senior Lecturer / Associate Professor in 1996.

He is an Accredited Conservator Restorer (ACR) and Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation (FIIC). His books Conservation Skills: Judgement, Method and Decision Making (published in 2000), Preventive Conservation in Museums (published in 2011) are widely used as textbooks on conservation and museum studies courses. He has given workshops and invited lectures throughout Europe and North America, from Gothenburg in 2001, Sante Fe 2003 (Getty Reburial Colloquium) and Delaware University (Winterthur Programme) in 2005 to New York (ANAGPIC Conference) in 2012 and Los Angeles in (Getty Round Table on Conservation and Archaeology) in 2017.

The postgraduate conservation courses at Durham; Diploma in Archaeological Conservation (1988-1991), MA in Conservation of Historic Objects (Archaeology) (1990-2004) and MA in Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (2009-2018), were all taught and directed by Chris. They have all had international reputations, and have produced many of the conservators who are active leaders in the field such as Gordon Turner Walker – Professor in Museum Studies, National Yunlin University of Science and Technology, Taiwan, Jeremy Hutchings – Associate Professor of Conservation at Oslo University, Samantha Beath (nee Sporton) - Head of Conservation Manchester Museum, Christine Murray – National Trust Conservator of the North of England and Dr Emily Williams – Archaeological Conservator Colonial Williamsburg Virginia USA who was recently appointed the new director of the Durham postgraduate conservation programme. In addition to the courses, he ran an active conservation research programme which has produced PhD students, such as Dr Ticca Ogilvie, previously Head of Artefacts Conservation, National Museums of Scotland, now Senior Lecturer at Gothenburg University. There have been a series of key publications, particularly in areas such as preservation in situ and teaching and learning conservation. Chris was briefly an associate editor of Studies in Conservation 2009 – 2010. 

Chris has been actively involved in excavating archaeological sites since the age of 14. He has a long term research interest in Welsh castles and between 1984 and 1995 he directed the archaeological excavations at Dryslwyn Castle in Dyfed. These Cadw funded excavations were one of the most detailed excavations of a Welsh castle ever undertaken. Producing a wealth of environmental remains and evidence of the 1287 siege, they were published as Dryslwyn Castle Excavations 1980-1995, Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph No. 26, in 2007. The only one of the large scale castle excavations taking place in Wales in the 1980’s to have been fully published. Chris subsequently undertook excavations at Nevern Castle between 2008 and 2018, revealing a well preserved 12th century castle built of slate mortared with clay and unearthing a threshold containing hidden apotropaic symbols in situ. Interim reports on every seasons work are available from;

Nevern Castle – The Development of, and Life in, Welsh Castles

He has been a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (FSA) since 2002.

His long standing interests in the preservation of archaeological remains in situ, led Chris to investigate waterlogged burial environments during the 1990’s, attracting grants from English Heritage, he published the first measurements of the waterlogged burial chemistry on archaeological sites; data which is quoted internationally. His most recent book Preservation of Archaeological Remains In Situ (published in 2016) is the first textbook in this subject.

Chris has also been active researching ancient artefacts and analysing the materials of which they are composed, since his PhD on medieval pins (1979-1986). Work has ranged from Durham Cathedral doors to Anglo Saxon pendants and brooches. This experience led him to write Objects: Reluctant Witnesses to the Past (published in 2006) a textbook to aid museum studies and archaeology students studying archaeological artefacts. He has supervised students researching artefacts at undergraduate, masters and doctoral levels such as his PhD student (1991-1995) Dr David Dungworth who was Head of Conservation and Technology for English Heritage and Dr Jocelyn Baker (PhD 2008-2013) who researched the colour and composition of Anglo-Saxon copper alloys. Much of this work has taken place in the artefact materials analysis laboratory and equipment centre supported by the university and department, which Chris established and now reports as DARC and AAFAC.

In addition to being the Chairman of the Board of Examiners in the Dept of Archaeology at Durham (2005-2009) Chris has been external examiner at a number of universities, London Guildhall University (1993-1996), Bradford University (1997-2000), Leicester University (2003-2007), Derby University (2007-2010) and most recently University College London (2010-2014). He was a member of English Heritage’s Science and Conservation Advisory Panel 1997 - 2003 and a member of the Board of Studies of the Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) (Courtauld Institute 1996-1999, University of Southampton 1999-2001) 1996 – 2001.

Chris practices archaeology as a holistic process, actively undertaking all aspects of the work himself from the initial site survey to monitoring the environment of the museum displays containing the excavation finds. He is currently engaged in a number of research and publication projects; Excavations at Nevern Castle, The Yarm Helmet and pins from the Durham River Wear Assemblage. Plans are also underway for second edition of ‘Conservation Skills’ book as well as books with colleagues from Durham on ‘Studies in Archaeological Conservation’ and ‘Teaching and Learning Conservation’.

Research interests

  • Conservation: All aspects of conservation work, especially teaching conservation and conservation ethics and practice.
  • Burial Environments: the preservation of artefacts and materials in burial environments, monitoring burial environments and reburial
  • Welsh Castles: excavateor Dryslwyn Castle 1984-1995, Nevern Castle 2008-present
  • Ancient Materials and Object Analysis: analysis work done on pins, Saxon brooches, Durham Cathedral doors and many other objects

Research groups

Research Projects

  • Artefact Studies
  • Burial Environments & Preservation in Situ.
  • Conservation Theory
  • Nevern Castle – The Development of, and Life in, Welsh Castles
  • The Durham River Wear Assemblage Project

Esteem Indicators

  • 2013: External examiner PhD thesis Bangor University:
  • 2012: Keynote Lecture: ANAGPIC 2012: Keynote Lecture: View from the Ivory Tower

    Delivered to the 2012 ANAGPIC (Association of North American Graduate Programmes in Conservation) Conference, New York

  • 2011: External Examiner 2011: UCL MA in Artefact Studies & MSc in Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Materials:
  • 2007: External Examiner, Derby University, Heritage Conservation:
  • 2005: External Examiner PhD thesis, UCL:
  • 2005: Joint Leader of Workshop on Teaching Conservation, Winterthur Museum, USA: Together with Garth Rhodes (University of Northumbria) gave a 3 day workshop to the staff of the Winterthur-Delaware conservation course on teaching artefact conservation. Directors of the other east coast conservation programmes also attended.
  • 2005: Keynote Speaker at International Conference on Archaeological Conservation: Keynote speaker and first day session chair at the 4 day international conference 'Archaeological Conservation: Current Trends and Future Directions', held in Cllonial Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.
  • 2003: External Examiner University of Leicester, Dept. of Museum Studies, MA in Museum Studies (Distance Learning):
  • 2003: Speaker - International Colloqium on Reburial in USA: One of the 50 or so speakers and participants in the international colloqium on reburial in Sante Fe New Mexico, USA.


Authored book

Chapter in book

Conference Paper

Conference Proceeding

  • Caple C. & Hovmand, I. (2001). The Problems of Monitoring Archaeological Waterlogged Anoxic Deposits in Situ. BAR.
  • Caple C, D. Dungworth & P.W. Clogg (1997). Results of the characterisation of the anoxic waterlogged environments which preserve archaeological organic materials.
  • Caple C & P.W. Clogg (1996). Conservation Image Enhancement at Durham University.
  • Caple C (1996). The creation of self-development learning packages (SDLP) and formalised object construction and use sequences (FOCUS).

Edited book

Journal Article