Medieval Europe

Sheffield is home to one of the largest communities of medieval archaeologists in the UK, with expertise ranging from late antiquity to the early modern period.

Thornton Abbey, a medieval abbey located close to the small North Lincolnshire village of Thornton Curtis, near Ulceby.

Our research specialisms lie principally in north-western Europe, the Balkans and the Mediterranean, especially Italy. Our research and teaching are characterised by an interdisciplinary approach, and the medieval research cluster notably comprises experts in the study of material culture, human and animal bone evidence, landscape, buildings and the relationship between archaeology and text.

Major research themes include medieval religious and funerary practices, migration, ethnicity, gender, childhood and diet. Our staff are actively engaged in a wide range of fieldwork, and collaborate with a wide range of external partners in the heritage sector across Europe, opening up opportunities for our students to develop their research in partnership beyond the University and to undertake placements. The medieval research cluster also includes a large and dynamic community of doctoral and post-doctoral of researchers.

Current and recent research projects

The Medieval and Ancient Research Centre at the University of Sheffield (MARCUS)

MARCUS brings together a concentration of research and teaching expertise that is unique within the UK. Ranging from archaic Greece to Renaissance Europe, MARCUS represents an array of disciplines, from history to biblical studies, from philosophy to languages, and from archaeology to music. MARCUS co-ordinates a regular seminar series and organises other events, both for specialists and for the interested public.

Scremby Anglo-Saxon Cemetery

Sheffield archaeologists Dr Hugh Willmott and Dr Katie Helmer are leading excavations on a recently discovered Anglo-Saxon cemetary, which was brought to light when a local metal detectorist discovered a number of artefacts such as copper gilded brooches and spear heads. Throughout July 2018, international volunteers, Sheffield students, and members of the RAF from nearby stations excavated over twenty burials dating from the late 5th to mid 6th centuries AD.

Norton Priory: people and animals

Norton Priory (near Runcorn, Cheshire) is one of the largest excavated monastic sites in Europe, and has a regionally, nationally and internationally significant collection of archaeological material. The majority of the material has been studied in detail, but the animal bone assemblage has been neglected and a study is long overdue. This assemblage is one of the largest from an ecclesiastic site in the UK, and its study is therefore important in order to provide a more complete picture of monastic life, particularly as concerns food consumption, economy, organisation of the society and environmental setting.

This project has set up a new partnership between the Department of Archaeology's Tony Legge Zooarchaeology Laboratory and the Norton Priory Museum Trust, with the aim of conducting a rigorous study of the animal bone assemblage and then working together to feed the results into a new exhibition at the priory’s museum. The improved understanding of the role of animals will enhance the priory as a visitor attraction and help to develop their provision for school groups and families.

St Patrick's Chapel Excavation Project

A collaborative project between Dr Katie Hemer, University of Sheffield and Dyfed Archaeological Trust. This early medieval Christian cemetary has been at significant risk from coastal erosian since the 1920s. Following severe winter storms in 2013/2014, human remains became visible from the beach below and there was an urgent need for excavation to preserve this important part of Pembrokeshire's coastel heritage.

The excavated human remains are now undergoing osteological analysis at the University of Sheffield to establish the demographic profile and health status of the population.

The Role of Weaning History in Medieval Infant Identities

This project is applying a new dental isotope analysis method to test the hypothesis that infants buried in special locations around the walls of early medieval churches were yet to be weaned. Findings will investigate the role of breast-feeding in past communities and thus contextualise contemporary dialogues concerning infant health, nutrition and mortality.

The Rothwell Charnel Chapel Project

The Rothwell Charnel Chapel Project is a multidisciplinary, community-led archaeological investigation of the 13th-century charnel chapel situated beneath Rothwell Parish Church, Northants. The chapel still contains the bones of hundreds of people, who and died between the 13th and 19th centuries.

The project originates with the doctoral research of Dr Jenny Crangle, A Study of Post-Depositional Funerary Practices in Medieval England, conducted in the Department of Archaeology. This study, completed in 2016, can be downloaded from the White Rose E-Thesis Repository.

Visit the Rotherwell Charnel Chapel Project website

Sheffield Castle

A team of archaeologists from the University of Sheffield are involved in an exciting project to excavate the remains of Sheffield Castle. They hope to reveal its lost and colourful history: from highlighting its powerful position in the North of England to its use as a prison for Mary Queen of Scots. But this is only the beginning. The excavations are central to a project to use archaeology to help regenerate the Castlegate part of the city.

Visit our Sheffield Castle research pages

Thornton Abbey Project    

Thornton Abbey, located close to the small North Lincolnshire village of Thornton Curtis, was founded an Augustinian priory in 1139. Despite having one of the largest and best preserved monastic enclosures in the country, surprisingly little work has taken place at the abbey. Between 2007-2009 English Heritage undertook a detailed field survey of approximately one third of the monastic enclosure which highlighted the remarkable level of preservation of the many earthwork and subsurface features.

From 2011-2016 the Department of Archaeology undertook a detailed research programme on the abbey precinct, aiming to complete the topographical and geophysical survey started by English Heritage. The programme also included targeted excavation of the identified medieval and early modern features of the abbey, 

More information and results from the excavation project can be found here.

Zooarchaeology of Central England

Funded by English Heritage and undertaken by Professors Umberto Albarella and Tessa Pirnie, this project aims to produce a review of animal bone evidence for Central England from Mesolithic to Modern times.

The project is structured to facilitate inter-site comparison to find evidence to discuss major archaeoogical questions, such as the beginning of domestication, agricultural intensification, extinctions and introductions and other zooarchaeological themes.


Medieval Archaeology research staff

Hugh Willmott focuses on the archaeology of monasticism and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, other aspects of his work include the examination of early medieval settlement, cemeteries and industrial processes.

John Moreland undertakes a theoretically informed approach to the study of the early Middle Ages - with particular foci on production and exchange, landscapes, and the role of texts in the historical process.

Katie Hemer has research interests that include Early Medieval Western Britain, bioarchaeology, including stable isotope analysis, the archaeology of children, disability in past populations and funerary archaeology.

Umberto Albarella has been working on the role of animals in medieval societies mainly in England, Italy and Iberia; his main areas of research for the period include late medieval innovations in animal husbandry, the relationship between town and country, and the use of animals as status symbols.

Elizabeth Craig-Atkins works in human osteology and funerary archaeology, her recent research has focused on the funerary treatment of children in Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, the impact of the Conquest on funerary rites and the medieval ossuary at Rothwell, Northamptonshire.

Caroline Jackson has conducted analysis of glass and debris from glass manufacturing sites, and has performed experimental reconstruction of medieval plant ash glasses based upon finds in Northern and Southern Europe, in order to understand manufacturing practices and trade.

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