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Dr Freya Horsfield

Member of the Department of Archaeology


Academic Biography
  • 2022 Honorary Fellow, Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, University of Durham
  • 2021 AHRC Policy and Engagement Fellow
  • 2021 PhD Archaeology. University of Durham
  • 2018 ESRC-funded Impact Fellowship
  • 2016 Research Associate in Hazard & Risk, Durham University
  • 2014 MA Landscape archaeology, GIS and virtual landscapes (Distinction). University of Birmingham
  • 2000 BA Archaeology. University College, London
Research Topic

I am a heritage scientist. I investigate humans and their cultures as environmental change agents within temperate fluvial environments. My multi-disciplinary research draws from geoscience, archaeology, remote sensing, humanities and social science approaches. 

As Director of the Rievaulx Landscapes Project I take a fresh interdisciplinary look at the behaviour and impact of a major medieval institution. This considers the first Cistercian abbey in northern Britain, Rievaulx Abbey, as an agent of change in the medieval landscape.

My doctoral research used a catchment-based approach to investigate landscape ‘transformation’ by the abbey. This was nested within a theoretical model of change, a complex system, in which people, belief, and the environment were treated as diverse, interconnected, interdependent and adaptive. Study areas were nested in physical terms within subareas of river catchment defined using geoscience and documentary evidence.

I also explore how the choices made by historic institutions such as Rievaulx Abbey may have implications for modern-day choices in modern-day places. During more than 400 years Rievaulx Abbey cycled between resilience and collapse in the face of risks with such modern resonance as climate fluctuation, recurrent flooding, foreign trade debts and animal diseases which threatened the livelihood of a generation. 

The trace which these choices have made on the landscape can be invisible to the unaided human eye, so I use a suite of investigative approaches, from geoarchaeological science, remote sensing, large digital datasets and historic archives. 

I am also passionate about public engagement in research. I draw on my experience in developing policy, strategy and evidence-based advice to government within rapidly-evolving multi-stakeholder contexts, to help evolve new approaches to research co-production and the transformative potential of digital skills.

Committee and Society Service (recent)

2022 - Trustee, National Heritage Science Forum

2020 - 2023 Chair, Teesside Archaeological Society

2016-2019. Member, advisory committee to the APTiTUDE / TRUCE project, a National Institute for Health Research-funded project to design a complex intervention for reduction of antibiotic prescribing in dentistry

2016-2017 Management Board member, Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, Durham University 

2013-14 UK representative - OECD Global Science Forum expert working group on scientific advice for policy making and the role and responsibility of expert bodies and individual scientists


2021 AHRC Policy and Engagement Fellowship focussing on research infrastructure for UK heritage science 

2018 Grant from ESRC Impact Acceleration Fund for digital skills impact work

2018 Grant from Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Durham University) to catalyse a research conversation on landscapes and belief

2017 Grant from Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Durham University) to participate in measured survey training run by Historic England; 

2017 Grant from Quaternary Research Association to participate in Vale of Pickering Field Meeting 

2017 Grant from International Society for Archaeological Prospection to present at International Conference on Archaeological Prospection.

2016 Durham University research dialogue leader. Grant by Archaeology Department to run colloquia on original research idea.

2016 Grant from Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS) to undertake geophysical survey near Rievaulx Abbey

2015 Grants from Rosemary Cramp fund and Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (DurhamUniversity) to run engagement and training workshops for Rievaulx Landscapes Project

2014 Grant and bursary from EU ARIADNE scheme to participate in CNR ISTI Pisa summer school on 2D and 3D documentation for archaeology

2014 Grant from Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (DurhamUniversity) for conference attendance 

1996 Swan Hellenic travel scholarship

Conference contributions (selected)

Horsfield, F. ‘The Cistercian taskscape and environmental change’ Cistercian Worlds conference 2021. Institute for Medieval Studies, University of Leeds (Presentation)

Horsfield, F. ‘Rievaulx Landscapes Project’. Durham University Archaeology Department Research Seminar. 2015. University of Durham (Presentation)

Horsfield, F. ‘Rievaulx Landscapes Project’. Institute of Hazard Risk and Resilience (IHRR) Postgraduate Forum ‘Risk and the Anthropocene’ 2015, University of Durham. (Presentation)

Horsfield, F. ‘Rievaulx Landscapes Project’. Inaugural workshop of Rievaulx Landscapes Project. 2015. Rievaulx Abbey. (Presentation, workshop organiser and facilitator).

Engagement and collaboration (selected)

2020 - 2022. Carrlands project, part of Discover Brightwater Landscape Partnership

2018 - present. Programme of engagement and collaboration around adult digital skills and citizen science.

2015 - present. Programme of community involvement in Rievaulx Landscapes Project, including lidar interpretation workshops (organiser and facilitator)

2014. Participant, Royal Society Pairing Scheme