York is one of the leading research departments in the UK, ranked 5th for research impact in Times Higher Education's ranking of the Research Excellence Framework 2014. In 2011 the department was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize in recognition of our research and teaching excellence.
Explore some of our latest research projects below, or visit our research strengths page to dig deeper into the research expertise at the Department of Archaeology at the University of York.
Hold your Fellowship with us and you will discover that we are committed to conducting and developing inspirational and life-changing research. This is achieved by bringing together the best researchers to tackle some of our most pressing global challenges. As an independent Fellow you will help to forge new ideas, create solutions and push the frontiers of our knowledge. Read more about the support and opportunities we offer and hear from our past and current Fellows on our research fellowships page.
Below is a selection of just a few of our latest research projects illustrating the breadth of our interests and expertise. Visit our news and staff pages to explore more or follow us on Twitter (@) and Facebook.
The Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity
Centre Director, Chris Thomas (Biology), Archaeology lead, Nicky Milner
The Leverhulme Centre for Anthropocene Biodiversity examines how the relationship between humanity and the natural world is changing, and how we might develop and maintain a sustainable Earth.
Human activities have caused the world’s physical and biological processes to change so significantly that we increasingly think of Earth as having entered a new geological epoch – the ‘Anthropocene’. This disruption has resulted in the extinction of many species, but the Anthropocene is also a time of biological gains; it may eventually be considered one of the greatest boosts to biological diversity in history. We aim to understand the causes and consequences of biodiversity gains and losses, and inform and influence how society responds. The Centre is a collaboration between twelve departments across the University of York and with researchers at Université de Sherbrooke, Australian National University and the University of St Andrews.
Formative Britain: The Archaeology of Britain AD 400-1100
Martin Carver’s Formative Britain presents an account of the peoples occupying the island of Britain between 400 and 1100AD – peoples whose ideas continue to set the political agenda today. Forty years of new archaeological research has laid bare a hive of diverse and disputatious communities - Picts, Scots, Welsh, Cumbrian and Cornish Britons, Northumbrians, Angles and Saxons - who expressed their views of this world and the next in a thousand sites and monuments.
This highly illustrated volume is the first book that attempts to describe the experience of all levels of society over the whole island using archaeology alone. The story is drawn from the clothes, faces and biology of men and women, the images that survive in their poetry, the places they lived, the work they did, the ingenious celebrations of their graves and burial grounds, their decorated stone monuments and their diverse messages.
This ground-breaking account is aimed at students and archaeological researchers at all levels in the academic and commercial sectors. It will also inform relevant stakeholders and general readers alike of how the islands of Britain developed in the early medieval period. Many of the ideas forged in Britain’s formative years underpin those of today as the UK seeks to find a consensus programme for its future.
Nicky Milner, Chantal Conneller & Barry Taylor (eds)
The results of excavations at an an important Mesolithic site have been published.
Star Carr, located in the Vale of Pickering, was excavated by a team of archaeologists from York, Manchester and Chester from 2003-2015, and published as two volumes by the White Rose Press. Star Carr is one of the most important Mesolithic sites in Europe. Discovered in the late 1940s by John Moore, and then excavated by Grahame Clark from 1949-1951, it became famous in the archaeological world for the wealth of rare organic remains uncovered including barbed antler points and antler headdresses. However, since the original excavations there has been much debate about how the site was used: was it a residential base camp, a hunting camp or even a ritual site?
Excavations directed by Nicky Milner, Chantal Conneller and Barry Taylor aimed to answer these questions. This work demonstrated that the site is much larger and more complex than ever imagined and was in use for around 800 years. Mesolithic groups were highly invested in this place: there is evidence for a number of structures on the dryland (the oldest evidence for "houses" in Britain), three large wooden platforms along the edge of the lake, and the deposition of rare artefacts into the lake edge, including more antler headdresses and a unique, engraved shale pendant. People continued to occupy the site despite changes in climate over this period. The monographs are avaialble for download, or in hard copy from the White Rose Press.
Download Volume 1 at the White Rose Press: https://doi.org/10.22599/book1
Download Volume 2 at the White Rose Press: https://doi.org/10.22599/book2
Read more about Star Carr at http://www.starcarr.com/
Dr Stephanie Wynne-Jones
The Rising from the Depths Network will identify ways in which marine cultural heritage can directly benefit coastal communities in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar. Despite its richness marine cultural heritage is one of the most unknown, underappreciated and under-exploited cultural resources in East Africa. Critically, this heritage is under threat from natural forces and climate driven coastal change as well as recent intensification in coastal and offshore development. The project will establish and maintain a trans-boundary and cross-sector network of arts and humanities-led researchers, government officers, scientists, policy makers, UN officials, NGOs, ICT professionals and specialists working in heritage, infrastructure and the offshore industry, to identify new opportunities and methodologies for protecting and utilising the marine cultural heritage of East Africa to stimulate alternative sources of income, foster local identities, and enhance the value and impact of overseas aid in the marine sector. The project is led by Jon Henderson at the University of Nottingham and is funded for four years, 2017-21, by the UK Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) through the Arts and Humanities Research Council Network Plus scheme.
Dr Penny Bickle
Counter Culture is a research project based at the University of York, running in collaboration with the University of Southampton and numerous collaborators in Alsace. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK (AHRC, grant number AH/R002622/1), 2018-2020. The aim of Counter Culture is to reveal the forms and extent of social diversity among the earliest farmers of central Europe, in order to provide new avenues to investigate the history of social inequality. The first farmers appeared in central Europe in the Neolithic, a period around 7500 years ago. Previous descriptions of Neolithic societies have relied on evidence from rich burials and ritual sites. By focusing only on the elite these approaches have produced narrow understandings of social diversity in the Neolithic. In contrast, the project will employ bioarchaeological methods (strontium, stable isotope and dental calculus analysis) to assess lifeway diversity across the full range of social groups, rather than just those of the elite. At stake is whether diversity increases, decreases or persists from the early Neolithic to the middle Neolithic.
Dr Dav Smith & Dr Matt Jenkins
The Department of Archaeology at York is embarking on an exciting new collaborative research project with Jersey Heritage. The Elizabeth Castle 2018 project will start investigations into the post-medieval story of the castle’s Outer Bailey, including documenting the development and use of a rare c.1810 military hospital block. Excavations on the adjacent Green will focus on recording and analysing the lost 18th-century barrack block, hopefully shedding light on this pivotal period in the castle’s history. This research project aims to underpin and inform Jersey Heritage’s future management of this presently under-utilised area of Elizabeth Castle. The project is jointly directed by Dr Dav Smith and Dr Matt Jenkins.
Dr Kevin Walsh
PATHWAy is a collaborative research project between the universities of York and Southampton in the UK and the CNRS in France. The project runs runs from January 2018 to December 2020 and aims to study the development of long-distance pastoral transhumance (the management and movement of animals between lowland to high altitude pasture) in the Western Alps, from the Iron Age to the Medieval Period. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK (AHRC, grant number AH/P013554/1), 2018-2020.
Dr Penny Bickle & Dr Peter Chowne
Started in 2017, the Wildmore Fen project is led by the University of York exploring the Neolithic Landscape of Lincolnshire and beyond. Neolithic studies in the British Isles for many years have focused on Wessex and to a lesser extent the Orkney Islands. Lincolnshire is situated between the well-known archaeology of southern England and the better researched Neolithic of Yorkshire. It is therefore a key lacuna in knowledge for researchers attempting to assess the spread of the Neolithic in the UK and the regional diversity of the Neolithic more broadly.
In Lincolnshire, the landscape between the Wolds and the Welland Valley is dominated by the northern part of the fenland basin and there has been an assumption in the past that freshwater and marine sediments mask early prehistoric activity. This is certainly the case in the lower Witham Valley downstream of Lincoln where later Bronze Age peat growth covers the Neolithic land surface. Although the evidence is limited and difficult to access it does appear that the Witham Valley lies between a southern/eastern Early Neolithic (causewayed enclosures) and a Yorkshire Early Neolithic (long barrows) monument construction tradition. This is also reflected in the pottery styles.
Our major research question is therefore does the Witham Valley represent a transitional zone between a southern and northern Neolithic tradition or is it part of a broader diversified Neolithic in the latter part of the 4th millennium cal BC?
The project is supported by Dr Helen Goodchild and Dr Carol Lang. As the project progresses other researchers and specialists will join the team. We believe in sharing our research and welcome community involvement. Go the the Get Involved page on our website to register your interest! There will be opportunities to take part in fieldwork and to learn more about the archaeology and history of the Lincolnshire landscape.
Professor Martin Carver
The Departments of Archaeology at York and the University of Rome 2, Tor Vergata, began a joint research project in 2014 investigating Sicily in Transition, from AD600-1200 (Byzantine-Arabic-Norman), with special focus on changes in social structure, agriculture and trade. The SICTRANSIT project has recently received funding from the European Research Council for a 5-year programme of research continuing the exploration of the archaeology of regime change on this pivotal island. The project is directed by Dr Alessandra Molinari (Rome) and Professor Martin Carver (York) with the collaboration of Dr Girolamo Fiorentino (Salento) and the support of Stefano Vassallo of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali di Palermo. The project is grateful to the Mayor, Commune and people of Castronovo for their warm and valued support.
Dr Penny Spikins
All too often violence, conflict and aggression in our distant past receive by far the greatest academic and media attention and the question of when, where and how our emotional strengths emerged has thus been largely disregarded. The evidence for sharing, caring for the vulnerable, courage and self-control however is in fact far more extensive in the archaeological record than that for violence. Our distant ancestors were courageous on behalf on others, showed self-control, kindness and compassion, and protected themselves from the risks in their environments through using tolerance and gratitude to forge links with people they differed from and rarely met. This new project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, aims to redress the balance of research and explore the question of the emergence of positive human emotions, at a time when such evidence seems to be much needed in modern society.
All of our research is subject to ethics approval, please see our ethics, code of practice page for more details.