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Professor Ian Bailiff

Emeritus Professor

Emeritus Professor in the Department of Archaeology
Member of the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies


After reading physics at Sussex University Ian Bailiff joined the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art at Oxford as a postgraduate student and subsequently submitted a research MSc on the development of new luminescence dating techniques. Following a further year working on an instrument development project he came to Durham in 1979 as a research assistant on a pottery dating project; following a series of appointments as a Research Fellow he was awarded an SERC Advanced Fellowship, and in 1991 was appointed a Lecturer. He was Head of Department between 2001 and 2004.


He has developed a luminescence dating laboratory with the capability to support both dating and methodological investigation, and his research has included the study of the luminescence properties of minerals, their application to dating and also to radiation dosimetry. Currently the primary materials of interest are sediments from prehistoric sites and ceramic materials from medieval buildings and structures. Recent work on the dating of brick from medieval buildings of known age has shown that luminescence is capable of providing reliable and accurate results. The work on medieval buildings, combined with an interest in instrumentation, has included collaborative work on the application of infrared thermography to the structural analysis of medieval buildings with Prof. Danny Donoghue in the Geography Department.


Ian’s research students have worked on various aspects of the application of luminescence to the dating of structures and archaeological deposits.  Two recent theses have focused on the application of OSL to the dating of medieval buildings; Sophie Blain (now a postdoc at the University of Liege) investigated the use of brick in early medieval buildings in SE England and Normandy (Dual PhD with Univ. Bordeaux III), Tom Gurling (now at the Royal Museums Greenwich) on the dating of brick in medieval and early modern buildings in Essex (an AHRC Collaborative Award with English Heritage), paying particular attention to the reuse of brick. Gillian Hutton’s thesis on roads and routeways in County Durham included exploratory work on the dating of road surfaces. In collaborative work with statistical specialists (Andrew Millard and Michael Goldstein) Bayesian analysis has been applied to the calculation and analysis of luminescence ages and Jeremy Disley is currently developing further the work completed by Alicia Huntriss (EPSRC CASE studentship with English Heritage). Active areas of research in which potential doctoral projects can be defined include the dating of:  irrigation systems in arid regions; upland Palaeolithic sites in Southern Britain; coastal sites with preserved aeolian deposits; the construction of early medieval buildings.


Long term collaboration developed with the Maison d’Archaeologie, Bordeaux III on brick dating led to the development of a research network (GdRE) supported by CNRS, Ceramic Building Materials and New Dating Methods which is in its second term and the laboratory is keen to further develop collaborative projects of this type.


Ian is Joint Editor-in-Chief of the journal Radiation Measurements which, within its broad remit of radiation-related research, includes luminescence and ESR dating. This journal is the primary source of information for physics related aspects of these two methods, and since 1984, the journal has included Special Issues devoted to the papers of the International Conference on Luminescence and ESR Dating.


The experimental techniques developed for dating can also be applied to the measurement of radiation dose in the environment using ceramic materials, a field in which the laboratory has developed world-leading expertise. A current doctoral project (with the Department of Physics and the Health Protection Agency) is investigating the properties of ceramic chips in mobile phones that can be used to measure radiation dose in the event of a radiological incident. He coordinated a series of international projects on the development of retrospective dosimetry techniques applied to ceramic materials for application to the reconstruction of radiation dose in areas downwind of the Chernobyl power station and the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site. He was a member of the Report Committee for Report 68 of the International Commission on Radiation Units and Measurements (Retrospective Assessment of Exposures to Ionising Radiation).

Research interests

  • Luminescence techniques for the dating of ceramics and sediments, measurement techniques, instrumentation development and retrospective dosimetry techniques.
  • Application to the dating of archaeological contexts from the Palaeolithic to the Late Medieval, e.g., unheated sediments and lithics, masonry and ceramic buildings materials, irrigation features, and more generally the elucidation of site formation proce
  • The development of new techniques for the deployment of dosimetry in radiological emergencies.

Esteem Indicators


Chapter in book

Conference Paper

Journal Article


Supervision students