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Medieval Archaeology

Medieval Archaeology



Other staff teaching on this course:

Dr Catherine Hills, Dr Sam Lucy, Dr Alison Leonard


Spong Hill, Norfolk
Pot, Spong Hill, Norfolk © Catherine Hills

The Course

This MPhil covers the archaeology of Britain and continental Europe, during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, broadly the first millennium AD. This era was characterized by profound social and economic disintegration and metamorphosis during which the world of late antiquity was transformed into a recognisable antecedent of modern Europe. Key themes covered in this course include the materialization of identity and ideology, especially the transition from pre-Christian to Christian beliefs and practices; the process of state formation; the collapse and revival of urbanism and the emergence of a market economy; the evolution of the physical and political landscape and the impact of expansion and catastrophe.


The Themes

Medieval archaeology benefits from a wealth of archaeological, scientific and historical sources, ranging from molecular evidence (DNA and isotope data) to entire landscapes best viewed from the air. Study of the archaeologies of power, justice, conflict, migration, identity, settlement, domestic space, the family, religion, death and disease bring new perspectives to familiar institutions and monuments such as towns, villages and churches. This course uses the full range of archaeological method and theory, and also fosters interdisciplinary approaches in incorporating the study of history, art history, anthropology, historical geography, literary sources and scientific methods (a rare combination of approaches for which this subject is unusually well suited). There are ample opportunities for fieldwork including group visits, volunteering on established research programmes and independent research.

As a wide-ranging course the Medieval Archaeology MPhil option is intended for students with a diverse range of educational backgrounds (indeed such diversity enriches the learning environment). Students can come to the Medieval Archaeology MPhil option from previous study in archaeology including medieval or historical archaeology, from related subjects such as history, anthropology or geography or be new to the subject.


The Structure

For your three main modules, you take

  • Core Archaeology (G02), a seminar-based module shared with other students of the MPhil in Archaeology which reviews fundamental concepts in archaeological theory and practice and provides a shared basis for approaching archaeology. This module is assessed through an unseen examination (67%) and an essay of not more than 3000 words length (33%).
  • Medieval Europe: 5th-11th centuries AD (G06). This module is based on weekly seminars and two lecture streams, one focusing on the North Sea in the early Middle Ages, the other on continental Europe diuring late antiquity and the Migration Period. This module is assessed through two essays of not more than 4000 words length (each counting for 50% of the final mark of the module).
  • Any other module taught within the Department of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil co-ordinator. Where relevant to your dissertation and career plans you may choose from methodological courses in archaeological techniques, other area or period based courses, and thematic courses in museums and heritage.

In addition, you would attend a Research Skills module and write a 15,000 word dissertation on a topic in Medieval Archaeology.

You may also choose to attend lectures offered by Cambridge's Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic.


The MPhil Dissertations

The dissertation offers a chance to undertake an independent, original research project under the guidance of academic staff. Some projects are based on laboratory analyses, fieldwork or studies of museum collections, others on analysis of existing databases or published literature. Specific dissertation supervision expertise at Cambridge includes:

Time, Space and Themes:

  • Dr Susanne Hakenbeck (Population Mobility; Identity; Isotopic Analysis; Frontiers of the Roman Empire, 5th-8th centuries AD)
  • Dr James Barrett (The Viking Age; Political Economy; Anthropological Approaches)
  • Dr Catherine Hills (The Migration Period in North-western Europe; Anglo-Saxon Archaeology)
  • Dr Anna Gannon (Art History; Numismatics)
  • Dr Sam Lucy (Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, particularly Burial Practices; Archaeologies of Identity; Roman-Saxon Transitions)
  • Dr Susan Oosthuizen (Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Settlement and Field Systems)

Scientific Methods:

  • Dr Charly French (Geoarchaeology)
  • Professor Martin Jones (Archaeobotany)
  • Dr Preston Miracle (Zooarchaeology)
  • Dr Tamsin O'Connell (Isotopic Analysis, Ancient Diet and Climate)
  • Dr Susanne Hakenbeck (Isotopic Analysis)


For further information, contact Dr Susanne Hakenbeck, co-ordinator for this option.