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Isabella von Holstein


Isabella von Holstein is interested in applying new scientific methods to cultural artefacts to identify their origin and explore trade flows in the past. 

Her PhD research focuses on applying stable isotope analysis (δ13C, δ15N, and δ2H) to medieval wool textile finds from sites around the North Sea, including 11th-16th century Reykholt (Iceland), 9th-13th century York (UK) and  13th-16th century Newcastle (UK). This will establish whether this method can be used to identify trade in raw wool and wool textiles, in order to explore when and where this trade occurred and what sort of goods were traded. This work will also investigate what this methodology can tell us about developments in sheep husbandry, such as transhumance and use of pasture. Finally, it will look at the decay of keratins, the proteins in wool, in the ground.

Isabella von Holstein is also applying peptide mass fingerprinting techniques (ZooMS) to early medieval bone and antler combs as part of her PhD research.

These investigations have a bearing on a number of questions of archaeological interest, including: the extent and nature of early medieval trade (600-1100AD) and how contemporary trades in different objects compare; the origin of the supply of raw materials to workshops in early medieval towns (750-1200AD); the nature and development of medieval sheep husbandry (600-1500AD); and reasons for the supremacy of English wool in European markets (1200-1500AD).

This project is supervised by Matthew Collins and Allan Hall. Penelope Walton Rogers of the Anglo-Saxon Laboratory (incorporating Textile Research) is an external advisor. Isabella von Holstein’s studies are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

Research interests

  • Early medieval economic development
  • Medieval trade in textiles
  • Stable isotope ratios in archaeology
  • Development of livestock farming
  • Science communication


Isabella von Holstein graduated from UMIST (now part of the University of Manchester, UK) in 2001 with a BSc in Chemistry (1st class). She then worked as a medical writer/administrator in the private, public and third sectors. In her spare time she is a re-enactor with the York City Levy.
Isabella von Holstein PhD student ARHC Matthew Collins 2008 - 2011

Contact details

Ms Isabella von Holstein
Department of Biology (Area S),
University of York, Wentworth Way, Heslington,
YO10 5DD

Tel: (44) 1904 328806
Fax: (44) 1904 433902