Accessibility statement

Taryn Bell


The comfort and security of things: an archaeology of object attachment



  • White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities (WRoCAH)
From teddy bears to wedding rings, the objects around us can carry huge emotional significance, even acting as 'attachment figures'. Humans have a fundamental need for emotional attachment relationships, which provide feelings of comfort and security vital to our mental and physical wellbeing, and material culture is often as effective in this role as are other people. This research will offer new insights into the significant emotional relationships we share with material culture. It considers how the concept of 'object attachment' functions in humans, and how it can help archaeologists better understand patterns of prehistoric material culture.


I am a PhD candidate funded by the White Rose College of Arts and Humanities. I completed my BA in Archaeology and MSc in Early Prehistory at the University of York in 2014 and 2016 respectively. My Masters dissertation focused on the archaeology of object attachment, providing the inspiration for my PhD research. I am interested in exploring interdisciplinary methods of analysing our relationship with objects, and developing a methodology to benefit wider archaeological analyses of material culture. More widely, I am interested in research related to emotion, prosociality, cognition, materiality, and the Palaeolithic, as well as any archaeology-related outreach work.
Alongside my PhD, I have recently completed a position as a Research Assistant on an outreach project which forms part of the 'Hidden Depths' project (funded by the John Templeton Foundation), aiming to teach 11-15 year olds about the development of prosocial emotions and encourage meaningful discussions about wellbeing, in conjunction with the UK's PSHE and SMSC curricula.
Between degrees, I worked as a Research Assistant on an interdepartmental project at York called 'The Stories Behind Our Favourite Things' and was also a Project Assistant for York's Department of Archaeology's POSTGLACIAL Project.
Outside of archaeology, I’m also interested in improving academic approaches to mental health and wellbeing.

Publications, Papers and Academic Awards

Peer-reviewed papers

Bell, T. and Spikins, P. (2018). The object of my affection: attachment security and material culture. Time and Mind 11(1), 23-39. Available at:

Conference presentations

‘Emotional baggage? Emotion, material culture and social life in the Palaeolithic’. 17 December 2019. Session: Palaeolithic societies, sociality and social life: archaeological perspectives 20 years after Gamble (1999). Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference, University College London.
'My friend Norris and I'. 17 October 2019. 5th Annual WRoCAH Conference, University of York.
'Living in a material world'. 10 May 2018. Meaningful Objects workshop, University of York.
'Mind over matter'. 20 December 2017. Session: A Look Forward at the Study of the Mind in the Past. Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference, University of Cardiff.
'Living in a material world: an archaeology of object attachment'. 16 September 2017. 1st Cambridge Annual Student Archaeology Conference, University of Cambridge.
'Emotional technologies: cherished possessions as sources of comfort and security.' (Joint presentation with Penny Spikins). 23 March 2017. Technology Conference, Department of Health Sciences, University of York.
'The comfort of things: the prehistory of object attachment'. 11 February 2017. Session: Understanding Technology. Unravelling the Palaeolithic Conference, University of Liverpool.
'Why stuff matters'. 17 September 2016. Session: The Heart of the Problem. 4th Annual Student Archaeology Conference, University of Cambridge.

Invited Talks

‘The student mental health crisis.’ 27 May 2020. TAAAPS Seminars [online].

Book Reviews

Bell, T. (2020). Review of Wild Things 2: Further advances in Palaeolithic and Mesolithic research. Prehistoric Society. Available at:

Blog Posts

Bell, T. (2020). The reality of PhD life: busting common myths. University of York Student Voices. 15 March 2020. Available at:

Bell, T. (2020). First generation student? Never fear! University of York Student Voices. 13 January 2020. Available at:

Bleasdale, M. and Bell, T. (2019). The comfort of things. The Awkward Archaeologist. 11 March 2019. Available at:

AHRC International Placement Fellow, May 2019

Awarded May 2019 for 2020 academic year. Under this fellowship I will be carrying out part of my doctoral research at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington DC. This will take place between January and April 2020.


1st Prize, WRoCAH Thesis Slam Competition, October 2019. Awarded for my paper entitled 'My friend Norris and I'.

Best Speaker Prize, Unravelling the Palaeolithic Conference, University of Liverpool, February 2017. Awarded for my paper entitled “The comfort of things: the prehistory of object attachment”.

Prehistory Prize, Department of Archaeology, University of York, November 2016. Awarded for achieving the highest mark for a prehistory-related postgraduate dissertation in the Department.

The York Award, University of York, July 2014. Awarded upon graduation in recognition of personal and professional development through my undergraduate degree.

Teaching and Impact


  • 1st Year: Archaeological Theory
  • 2nd Year: Themes in Prehistory (Upper Palaeolithic)
  • 2nd Year: Designing Research


Contact details

Taryn Bell
Department of Archaeology
University of York
Wentworth Way
YO10 5DD