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Emily Hellewell


PhD Research Project

An investigation into the practice of burying human remains in shell middens

Traditional studies of shell middens have tended to be economic in focus, leading to interpretations that the human remains were discarded as waste, are the remnants of cannibalistic practices or represent disturbed burials. A small number of studies have suggested more complex social and ritual reasons for the placement of human remains into shell middens and Emily's research will further explore these social and ritual interpretations.

Emily's PhD research, supervised by Dr Nicky Milner, aims to critically evaluate the evidence for placement of human remains into shell middens during prehistory and in particular, during the European Mesolithic-Neolithic transition. It will collate the evidence for human remains in shell middens from across the world in order to provide a critical overview of the practice. It will then use a series of case studies to provide detailed evaluation of the nature of interment of human remains into these contexts.


Research Interests

Current Research

Emily is interested in all aspects of death and burial in prehistory, mainly focussing on the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. Particular areas of interest are:

  • Shell middens as places for the dead
  • Disarticulation as a ritual means of processing the body
  • Location of human remains and burials in the landscape
  • Continuity of death and burial practices from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic

Through her work with the Young Archaeologists' Club and the Council for British Archaeology, Emily has developed an interest in public engagement with the past particularly the way that the Mesolithic period is portrayed in popular media, she hopes to explore this further during her PhD studies.  

Previous Research

Disarticulated human remains in the Mesolithic: Emily's undergraduate dissertation evaluated the evidence for disarticulated human remains across Western Europe to show that this previously overlooked evidence provides important data for the understanding of death and burial practices. 

Treatment of the dead in Britain between 13,000 and 3,000 cal BC: For her Masters research Emily evaluated the evidence for burial practices in Britain spanning the late Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and early Neolithic periods. She investigated the placement of the dead within the landscape linking change in practices with changing concepts of human interaction with the natural world. She also identified an element of continuity in the treatment of the dead which spanned the traditional period boundaries.  



Personal Profile

Emily has been interested in archaeology since she was 11 years old and visited many sites and excavations across Dorset with her family. Since then she has continued her interest in the subject by studying for an A-Level in Archaeology at Richard Huish College in Taunton, Somerset and then going on to study the subject at the University of York. She has also been involved in fieldwork at the Sikyon Survey Project in Greece and has employment experience of finds processing and osteological analysis. Before returning to the University of York to undertake her PhD research Emily worked for the Young Archaeologists' Club (YAC), run by the Council for British Archaeology, for over 2 years. In her role as YAC Administration Assistant Emily was involved in many events delivering archaeology to young people, including being a Leader on a residential holiday for 9-12 year olds at Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire. She also helped to organise and run two Leaders' training weekends, designed to equip volunteers with the skills necessary to teach young people about archaeology. In the future Emily hopes to combine her academic knowledge of the Mesolithic with her experience of public engagement.    


  • 2003-2006: BSc in Archaeology (1st Class Hons), University of York
  • 2006-2007: MA in Archaeological Research (Distinction), University of York
  • 2010-2013: PhD at the University of York





  • Hellewell, E. and Milner, N. (2011) 'Burial at the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Britain: change or continuity?' Documenta Praehistorica XXXVIII Neolithic Studies 18. p. 61-68. Available online.

Other Publications

  • Hellewell, E. (2011) 'Where in the World?' Young Archaeologist Issue 150, Winter 2011. p. 12-13.
  • Hellewell, E. (2010) 'What is the Mesolithic?' Young Archaeologist Issue 143, Spring 2010.



Papers and posters presented at academic conferences:

  • BABAO COnference, Bournemouth. 14-16th September 2012. 'Stuck in the Midden? The prehistoric practice of placing human remains into shell middens'.
  • Where the Wild Things Are: Recent Advances in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Research, Durham. 24-25th March 2012. 'Placement of human remains in shell middens during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition'.
  • Palaeolithic Mesolithic Conference, British Museum, London. 17-18 November 2011. 'Human Remains in Shell Middens: An investigation into the prehistoric practice of placing human remains in shell middens' Poster.
  • Palaeo launch event, York. 18th October 2011. 'Human Remains in Shell Middens: An investigation into the prehistoric practice of placing human remains in shell middens' Poster.


Conferences organisation involvement:

  • YAPG (Yorkshire Archaeology Post-graduate Group), York, 16th March 2012: A conference for post-graduates from across Yorkshire to come together and discuss their research in a friendly and informal environment. Over 50 delegates attended from universities in York, Sheffield, Bradford, Leeds and Hull.
  • Wharram: past, present and future, York, 23-25th March 2012: Celebratory conference marking sixty years since the first excavations at Wharram Percy and launching the final volume in the publication series. Over 120 delegates attended this international conference.



Public Engagement

Emily is leading a project, funded by the University of York's Researcher Development Team, to engage young people with the Mesolithic period. This project involves a team of PhD, Masters and undergraduate students from the Archaeology Department at York, working with the Young Archaeologists' Club and the Star Carr project, to develop a collection of exciting activities for young people based on all aspects of Mesolithic life.


The aim of this project is to increase the awareness of the Mesolithic period amongst young people aged between 8 and 17 years, primarily through the production and dissemination of a suite of specially designed activities. These activities will be based on cutting edge archaeological research and will reach an audience not usually targeted by academic publication.

Main objectives

  • To produce a high quality resource pack containing 10 easily reproducible activity ideas for young people based on Mesolithic life.
  • To make a hard copy of the resource pack available locally to schools, nationally to over 70 local YAC Branches, approximately 40 YAC Institutional Members (schools and groups), and additionally available online to freely download in PDF format.
  • To deliver the activities to young people at an open day at King's Manor, York and other suitable events in the local area.

Project News

The team have been involved in three very successful activity days for the public, in York and Scarborough, where over 300 people have been given the opportunity to find out more about life in the Mesolithic. The team are currently working very hard developing the activity ideas into a resource pack which will be distributed to YAC Branches and made available to all online by the end of 2012. More information can be found on the Life in the Mesolithic website

If you have any questions please contact Emily via the contact details on the right of this page.


Emily completed the Preparing Future Academics (PFA) programme in July 2012 and won a prize for outstanding portfolio. PFA is an accredited course, run by the Researcher Development Team at York, which develops skills in facilitating learning and teaching techniques. This involves producing a portfolio of reflexive teaching logs and evidence of good teaching practice, presenting a paper reflecting on the impact of her teaching experiences at a teaching symposium and participating in a number of courses on teaching practice.

Emily has taught the following:

  • Mesolithic Themes, 2nd year undergraduate seminars x 16 hours
  • History and Theory of Archaeology, 1st year undergraduate seminars x 15 hours
  • Database computing skills workshops, 2nd year undergraduate workshops x 2 hours

Emily has participated in the following teaching courses:

  • Introduction to Learning and Teaching
  • Structuring and Designing Courses
  • Planning Assessment Methods for Student Work
  • Introduction to Pedagogic Research
  • Effective Lecturing
  • Giving Feedback on Student Work
  • Evaluation and Quality Enhancement
  • Introduction to E-Learning
  • Hidden Aspects of an Academic Career: The Research Excellence Framework
  • Teaching Small Groups


Emily's PhD research project is funded by an AHRC Doctoral award, covering fees and maintenance for 3 years.

Other successful funding applications include:

  • Coles' Award, Prehistoric Society: £175 funding for a research trip to the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen in February 2012
  • Researcher Led Projects, Research and Innovation Development Team, University of York: £1,500 for a public engagement project, in collaboration with the Young Archaeologists' Club, to engage young people with the Mesolithic period. (See above for more information about this project)
  • Departmental Research Fund, York Archaeology Department: £300 for a research trip to Glasgow Museum Resource Centre, Glasgow in Oct 2011
  • AHRC Research Training Support Grant: £600 funding for a research trip to Denmark in August 2011
  • AHRC Research Training Support Grant: £86 funding for a research trip to National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh in April 2011


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Contact details

Emily Hellewell
Department of Archaeology
University of York
The King's Manor

Tel: (44) 1904 433931
Fax: (44) 1904 433902