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Dr James Barrett

Dr James Barrett

Reader in Medieval Archaeology

Leverhulme Major Research Fellow

Courtyard Building
McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

Office Phone: 01223 339287

Research Interests

I specialise in medieval archaeology and historical ecology, with special interests in the 'long' Viking Age, political economy, migration, 'boom and bust' cycles, fisheries and the comparative study of maritime societies. I am particularly drawn to the complex links between rural producers of the north and urban communities around the Irish, North and Baltic Seas. Thus I am also fascinated by the construction of island identities and by the causes and consequences of commercialisation (social, economic and ecological). In current jargon I am equally interested in Globalisation and Glocalisation.

In methodological terms most of my research has involved the combination of archaeological science, medieval archaeology and history, with the ultimate aim of reconciling archaeology's divergent scientific and humanistic traditions. I started academic life as a zooarchaeologist, but have since been directly or indirectly involved in applying a diverse range of techniques. As a proponent of the holistic study of political economy, I am equally interested in the study of ecofacts (bones, plant remains, soils, etc.) and artefacts. My main current project (Northern Journeys: Re-imagining the Medieval Revolution, funded by the Leverhulme Trust) combines the study of fish bones, walrus ivory and whetstones as proxies for north-south trade. My collaborative projects range from Tracking Viking-assisted Dispersal of Biodiversity using Ancient DNA (led by the University of Oslo with funding from the Research Council of Norway) to rescuing the archaeology of reindeer hunting sites melting out of ice patches in Jotunheimen (led by Oppland County Council). Meanwhile I also retain a serious interest in the field archaeology of Viking Age and medieval sites in Scotland. Having previously published fieldwork at Quoygrew, I am now coordinating the post-excavation phase of the Brough of Deerness project.  

Between 2007 and 2014 much of my life was dedicated to enhancing the research community, research culture and physical infrastructure of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, of which I was the Deputy Director. While I am on research leave this role is kindly being covered by Dr Simon Stoddart. As time allows, I nevertheless continue to exercise an interest in enabling research through roles in the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Icelandic Research Fund and the Oceans Past Platform, a network of the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) led by Trinity College Dublin. I am also enthusiastic about promoting a new open-access journal, The Medieval Globe, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

On-line and in the News

How the Tudors got their Fish

Archaeologists: Hunting the Hunters

Coastal Settlements: Oceans Past Platform Working Group 2

Global Approaches to the Middle Ages

Research Collaborators

Current Internal Collaborators                              Current External Collaborators                                        

Research Supervision

Current PhD Students:

Russell O' Riagain (Colonialism, continuity and change: a multidisciplinary study of the Iron Age and early medieval settlement pattern in the North Channel)

Claire Ratican (Viking Age multiple burial)

Past PhD Students (Cambridge):

Ben Cartwright (Making the cloth that binds us: the role of spinning and weaving in crafting the communities of Viking Age Atlantic Scotland), Collections Curator, South Asian Collection, South Asian Decorative Arts and Crafts Collection Trust, Norwich

Aaron Critch ('How are princely gifts repaid by your powerful friends?': ring-money and the appropriation of tradition in Insular Viking politics, ad 900–1065), Development Assistant, St Catharine's College, University of Cambridge

Tessa de Roo (Charting the nautical routes from Scandinavia in the early Viking Age), Editorial Project Manager, Elsevier

Andrew Woods (Economy and authority: a study of the coinage of Hiberno-Scandinavian Dublin and Ireland, also supervised by Mark Blackburn), Curator of Numismatics, York Museums Trust

Past PhD Students (York):

Steve Ashby (Time, trade and identity: bone and antler combs in northern Britain c. AD 700–1400) Senior Lecturer, Department of Archaeology, University of York

Eva Fairnell (Fur-bearing species: a zooarchaeological meta-analysis of their presence and use across three regions of Britain, also supervised by Terry O'Connor), Scientific, technical and medical copy-editor

Jennifer Harland (Zooarchaeology in the Viking Age to medieval Northern Isles, Scotland: an investigation of spatial and temporal patterning), Lecturer, Archaeology Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands

Brian Rahn ('There is a great abundance of all things': locational analysis (GIS) and anthropology of the Orcadian Middle Iron Age), Archaeological survey and IT consultant

Past Postdoctoral Research Fellows:

Rachel Ballantyne (employed on the project The Ecological Correlates of Viking Age State Formation, funded by the Isaac Newton Trust and the Avaldsnes Royal Manor Project, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo), Environmental Archaeology Coordinator, Cambridge Archaeological Unit

James Gerrard (employed on the project Crisis, what Crisis? Collapses and 'Dark Ages' in Comparative Perspective, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Isaac Newton Trust), Lecturer in Roman Archaeology, Newcastle University

Jennifer Harland (employed on the project Investigating the Origins of Commercial Sea Fishing in Medieval Europe, funded by the Leverhulme Trust), Lecturer, Archaeology Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands

Cluny Johnstone (employed on the project Investigating the Origins of Commercial Sea Fishing in Medieval Europe, funded by the Leverhulme Trust), smallholding enthusiast, rural Yorkshire

David Orton (employed on the project Ancient DNA, Cod and the Origins of Commercial Trade in Medieval Europe, funded by the Leverhulme Trust), Lecturer in Zooarchaeology, University of York


From 2014 to 2017 I will be on a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship to complete a project (Northern Journeys) on Anglo-Norwegian trade in its European context between AD 900 and 1400.

Key Publications