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Professor Peter Rowley-Conwy

Professor Emeritus

Professor Emeritus in the Department of Archaeology 


Peter Rowley-Conwy likes animal bones, plant remains, hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists, and the history of archaeology. He is particularly keen on pigs, and has had two major research awards to examine pig archaeology. One from the AHRB brought Umberto Albarella to Durham for four years to study pig domestication and management in various parts of the world (Umberto has now moved on to a position in the Department of Archaeology and Prehistory at Sheffield University). The other involved sponsoring the three-year Wellcome Research Fellowship of Keith Dobney. Keith has moved on to a prestigious Sixth Century chair in the Department of Archaeology in the University of Aberdeen. The presence of these serious pig fanciers turned Durham into a major centre of porcine excellence. PR-C's own pig research involves determining the season of hunting by looking at tooth eruption and bone growth, and the detection of domestication. For a recent publication see:

Rowley-Conwy, P., Albarella, A. and Dobney, K. 2012. Distinguishing wild boar and domestic pigs in prehistory: a review of approaches and recent results. Journal of World Prehistory 25: 1-44.

While pigs are his first love, PR-C also turns his hand to other species when required. He has a long background in zooarchaeology, and has done a lot of work on animal bones in various parts of the world, species including horse, various deer species, and sheep (no jokes about his Welsh ancestry please). While fascinating in their own right, animal bones are really a means to a greater end: the reconstruction of past societies and ways of life. Reconstruction of hunter-gatherer settlement patterns is a major goal of his research, because this can make a major contribution to understanding wider aspects of prehistoric societies. He has worked on the Mesolithic of Denmark and southern Sweden. He has also worked on the Muge and Sado shell middens in Portugal – his latest paper is in press:

Rowley-Conwy, P. in press. The Late Mesolithic of Southwest Portugal: a Zooarchaeological Approach to Settlement Patterns and Resource Exploitation. In The Muge Middens: 150 Years, ed. N. Bicho. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.

He has been involved with the current investigations by the Vale of Pickering Research Trust near the world-famous site of Star Carr. His interest in this field is taken further in a lecture course, Hunters and Gatherers Past and Present, which he teaches together with Professor Robert Layton (Department of Anthropology, University of Durham). Here are a couple of publications showing how joint research-led teaching can open up new directions of research:

Rowley-Conwy, P. and Layton, R.H. 2011. Foraging and farming as niche construction: stable and unstable adaptations. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, 366 (1566), 27 March 2011, 849-862.

Layton, R.H., and Rowley-Conwy, P. in press. Wild things in the north? Hunter-gatherers and the tyranny of the colonial perspective. Anthropologie. International Journal of the Science of Man (Prague), special number Theory and Method in the Prehistoric Archaeology of Central Europe edited by Daniel Sosna.

PR-C is also very interested in the origins and spread of agriculture, and has worked in various areas of Europe and the Near East. He is acting as Research Sponsor to Dr. Kurt Gron, who is coming to Durham as a Royal Society Newton Fellow. This project will start in January 2014, and will examine differences between the husbandry regimes of the first farmers in northern Germany (the LBK) and Denmark (the TRB).

PR-C has examined a varierty of faunal assemblages, including those from Tell Abu Hureyra (Syria) and Arene Candide (Italy), both of which have provided long and detailed sequences. Here are a couple of recent papers on domestic animals:

Rowley-Conwy, P. 2013. North of the frontier: early domestic animals in northern Europe. In The Origins and Spread of Domestic Animals in Southwest Asia and Europe, eds. S. Colledge, J. Conolly, K. Dobney, K. Manning and S. Shennan, 283-311. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

Rowley-Conwy, P., Gourichon, L., Helmer, D. and Vigne, J.-D. 2013. Early domestic animals in Italy, Istria, the Tyrrenian Islands ad southern France. In The Origins and Spread of Domestic Animals in Southwest Asia and Europe, eds. S. Colledge, J. Conolly, K. Dobney, K. Manning and S. Shennan, 161-194. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

This is part of a more general consideration of the nature of the spread of agriculture, the social changes which accompany it, and the speed of the change itself. He usually finds himself opposed to the post-processual orthodox view of long-term hunter-gatherer intensification followed by a neolithic still based mainly on hunting and gathering. Here is a recent paper:

Rowley-Conwy, P. 2011. Westward Ho! The spread of agriculture from Central Europe to the Atlantic. Current Anthropology 52(S4): 431-451.

One aspect of agricultural spread concerns the pollen evidence for the earliest cultivation in Northwest Europe. He has recently completed a major research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the second of two such (co-applicants Dr. Jeff Blackford and Dr. Jim Innes, Department of Geography) which looked at the ecological contexts of the earliest cereal pollen grains in a variety of NW European sites. Here are two publications:

Innes, J.B., Blackford, J.J. and Rowley-Conwy, P.A. 2013. Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic forest disturbance: a high resolution palaeoecological test of human impact hypotheses. Quaternary Science Reviews 77, 80-100.

Lahtinen, M. and Rowley-Conwy, P. 2013. Early farming in Finland: was there cultivation before the Iron Age (500 BC?). European Journal of Archaeology 16(4), 660-684.

PR-C also studies prehistoric crop plants, in particular from the major stratified site of Qasr Ibrim in Egyptian Nubia. The plant remains from this site are superbly preserved in the extreme desert environment, and present a unique view of agriculture covering nearly three thousand years, from 1000 BC to AD 1800. The material has been studied during a three-year NERC-funded project. Alan Clapham has identified about a third of a million plant items! This is now being written up for final publication in book form.

Finally, PR-C is also actively studying the history of archaeology. He has produced a book entitled From Genesis to the Stone Age: the Archaeological Three Age System and its contested Reception in the British Isles. He is also working on a longer-term project on the Three Age System in Scandinavia. This involves the translation of the major works by the four main protagonists, C.J. Thomsen, Sven Nilsson, J.J.S. Steenstrup, and J.J.A. Worsaae (PR-C is half-Danish and is fluent in that language); the teasing out of the multifarious intellectual currents that led up to their publications in the years 1836-43; and its impact on archaeology after that. This includes a consideration of the development of ‘the idea of prehistory’. His most recent work is a consideration of the way the Bronze Age skeleton and finds from Gristhorpe in Yorkshire, excavated in 1834, was used by various schools of archaeological thought in the critical years of the mid-19th century. This is in press in the forthcoming book on Gristhorpe, edited by Dr. Nigel Melton, Dr. Janet Montgomery and Christopher Knusel:

Rowley-Conwy, P. The Gristhorpe burial in nineteenth century archaeology: an essay on the development of archaeological thought. To appear in Gristhorpe Man. A Life and Death in the Bronze Age, eds. N. Melton, J. Montgomery and C. Knusel. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Research interests

  • Eurasian mammal bones, especially pigs, and agricultural plants from archaeological sites
  • earlier 19th century Scandinavian archaeology
  • hunter-gatherers, origins of agriculture, early agriculture

Esteem Indicators

  • 2006: Member of Executive and International Committee of International Council for Archaeozoology (2002-2006): This came about following the highly successful ICAZ conference in Durham in 2002, attended by over 500 delegates from all over thr world.
  • 2004: International early agriculture projects: four major research grants totalling £680K:
  • 2004: Executive Editor, World Archaeology (2000-2004): Executive editor of World Archaeology for four years starting on 1.1.2001. I am the only editor to serve four years; I was asked to stay on for 2004 to manage the transition of the journal from three to four issues per year.
  • 2004: NERC Terrestrial Sciences Peer Review Committee (2001-2004): Member of Terrestrial Sciences Peer Review Committee 2001-2004. Attended many funding meetings in Swindon, read numerous grant applications, member and deputy chairman of sub-committee awarding NERC Fellowships in spring 2004. This is my third stint on a NERC funding panel.


Authored book

Chapter in book

Edited book

Journal Article

Supervision students