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Medieval Archaeology

Medieval Archaeology

 Students at an object handling session at the British Museum


Other staff teaching on this course:

Professor Paul Lane, Dr Jason Hawkes, Dr Caroline Goodson, Dr Sam Lucy

The Programme

This MPhil track explores the place of medieval Europe in what was an increasingly yet variably connected world. Its core module spans the period extending from the highly globalised later Roman empire to the demographic crises of the fourteenth century – the Great Famine and the Black Death – prior to the European colonisation of the Americas. This module aims to 'decolonise' the traditional curriculum by highlighting the diverse experiences of people during this time.

We will explore how globalisation theory may be applicable to medieval archaeology, and how material and ideological factors both shaped socio-economic change. We will consider the interaction between natural and anthropogenic environmental change, in the context of fluctuating demographic and settlement histories. Equal weight will be given to archaeological, environmental and historical evidence. Key themes will include inter-regional communication, mobility, trade and cultural influence. Case studies from Europe will be considered alongside examples drawn from the Arctic, the Asian Steppe, East Africa and the Indian Ocean.

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. 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

MPhil modules can either be one or two terms (1T/2T) long. Students complete the equivalent of three two-term modules:

  • Medieval Europe on a Global Canvas (2T). This module is based on weekly seminars and lectures, as well as four practical classes and a fieldtrip to the British Museum. 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).
  • Archaeological Concepts (1T), 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.
  • Any other Mphil module(s) (totalling 3 terms) taught within the Department of Archaeology, subject to the instructor's consent and the approval of the MPhil co-ordinators.

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 (Ecological Globalisation; Glocalisation; Environmental Archaeology and History; Glacial Archaeology; Ivory, Fur and Fish Trade; Northern Europe; Britain; 8th-15th centuries AD)
  • Dr Anna Gannon (Art History; Numismatics)
  • Dr Sam Lucy (Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, particularly Burial Practices; Archaeologies of Identity; Roman-Saxon Transitions)

Scientific Methods:

  • Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres (Archaeological Materials)
  • Dr Charly French (Geoarchaeology)
  • Dr Preston Miracle (Mammalian Zooarchaeology)
  • Dr Tamsin O'Connell (Isotopic Analysis, Ancient Diet and Climate)
  • Dr Susanne Hakenbeck (Isotopic Analysis)
  • Dr James Barrett (Fish and Marine Mammal Tissues, Interdisciplinary Approaches)


For further information, contact or Dr Susanne Hakenbeck, the co-ordinators for this option.

For a downloadable version of this course overview click here.