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Department of Archaeology

Facilities & Services

The Department of Archaeology can be found in the Dawson Building, which is ideally situated at the heart of the Durham city campus: next to the Bill Bryson Library and the newly constructed Palatine Centre. We are one of the most comprehensively equipped departments in the UK, having recently undergone a £3.2 million refurbishment. Our facilities include project rooms with state-of-the-art interactive technology, teaching laboratories, a computer suite, a photographic studio, internationally renowned scientific research laboratories in DNA, conservation, isotopes, environmental archaeology, luminescence dating, palaeopathology, soil and bone chemistry, and collections that support research in biometrics, informatics, and Anglo Saxon stone sculpture.

As well as employing thirty full-time members of academic staff, our department is home to a commercial Archaeological Services unit, one of only three based in a university department in the UK, and these staff members work with us to provide you with training in excavation and fieldwork techniques.

Project Rooms:

Prep Room and Furnaces - This space is a dedicated dirty prep room. It contains two furnaces that are used for various burning/charring/preservation experiments. The room also contains a fume-hood and provides a space for some of the more unpleasant aspects of archaeological work, for example, the preparation of fish/mammal skeletons for analysis or reference material.

Bioarchaeology Project Room - This project room is a project space exclusively for students working on material related to their own research. The room contains a series of microscopes as well as bench and storage space for student samples. The room also houses the zooarchaeological reference collections and a space for students to lay out and utilise these materials.

Botanical Gardens Experimental Archaeology Space - We are exceptionally lucky to have very close working links with Durham's award-winning Botanical Gardens. The gardens provide a space for our students to carry out experimental archaeology, including hearth burning and charring experiments.

Laboratories:

Kiln Lab - The Kiln Lab is the departmental computer suite and is available both for personal study and as a teaching room for archaeological software tutorials.

Fenwick Human Osteology Lab - This laboratory is used as a teaching area for students working towards an MSc in Palaeopathology, and also as a research space for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. The Fenwick Lab has a range of resources including articulated and disarticulated anatomical skeletons and models, age estimation casts, some casts for teaching palaeopathology, measuring equipment, and endoscope, digital X-ray facilities, a radiographic collection, papers and books.

Conservation Lab - The teaching laboratory for the MA in Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects course has the space and facilities required for educating and skilling 10 student conservators. Equipment and facilities include: air abrasion, freeze drying, X-radiography environmental monitoring, Oddy testing, moulding and casting.

Materials Analysis Lab - This laboratory, used for both teaching and research, houses the Archaeological Artefacts Forensic Analysis Centre, which supports EDXRF, SEM, FTIR, reflectance spectrophotometer, UV/Vis absorption spectrometer and microscopy facilities.

Practicals Lab - We have a large teaching lab that is regularly used for practical classes as well as lectures and seminars. This lab also contains the X-ray equipment, which is made available to students for use in carrying out their research projects.

Pollen and Isotopic Analysis Lab - This lab is used by staff, students and Archaeological Services for a variety of chemical analyses. This includes the analysis of carbon, nitrogen and strontium isotopes from bones and teeth to provide information on past diets and movements of people and animals. It also is used for the analysis of soil samples and the extraction of pollen to provide information on past environments and landscapes.

Environmental Processing Lab - This large space has a series of wet processing sinks complete with sediment traps for soil processing, in addition to several smaller sinks for artefact and ecofact washing. As well as wet processing facilities, this lab also contains dry sorting benches, storage spaces, and a drying oven. Both postgraduate students working on research projects and the environmental branch of Archaeological Services regularly use this lab.

Luminescence Dating Facility - This facility was first established in 1983 and has developed considerable experience in dating a wide range of archaeological materials from around the world. The lab has a long established international research profile; the scope of recent work includes both application to archaeological samples and fundamental investigation of the luminescence of natural minerals. This research informs the methods applied in the service facility and our current interests include the dating of:

  • medieval buildings (brick);
  • sedimentary deposits from prehistoric sites;
  • dating stone surfaces of monuments and masonry;
  • earliest manufacture of pottery.

DNA Analysis Labs

The Grinding Room - This is an area dedicated to the process of grinding archaeological bone into fine powder. This is done using a machine called a Mikrodismembrator, and this uses a ball bearing to pulverise the bone. This lab also possesses an anteroom, where we store our sample materials.

The Ancient Lab - This lab is a clean facility for extracting the DNA from the bone powder. We also use this space to set up the Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCR), which allow us to amplify the DNA so that we can then sequence it.

The Modern Lab - The Modern Lab is where the PCR step takes place. This lab contains separate spaces for extracting DNA from modern tissue and feathers and for amplifying the DNA on PCR machines, running electrophoresis gels, and taking photographs of our results. We also possess a pyrosequencing machine, which allows us to read the DNA of short fragments present in the ancient material.

Museums:

We can provide access to two University museums: The Old Fulling Mill Museum of Archaeology and the Oriental Museum. The Old Fulling Mill Museum, situated on the banks of the river below the Cathedral, was the second university museum in England to be opened to the public, and present excellent Roman and medieval material from Durham in an international context. You will also have access to the Durham University Oriental Museum, which is the only museum of its kind in the UK, entirely devoted to the art and archaeology of cultures from Asia and Egypt.

Library:

Our department is situated next to the first-class Bill Bryson Library, which has some of the best archaeological holdings in northern Britain and was recently modernised and extended. Through the Durham University Library, we have access to a vast array of archaeological texts, journals and Durham Research Online, which holds details of articles, chapters and books authored by Durham researchers, as well as all Durham University doctoral dissertations completed after 2009. What's more, the University manages the Durham Cathedral Library and archives, allowing our students and researchers access to medieval manuscripts and documents.

Collections:

Zooarchaeological Collection - We have a large and extensive zooarchaeological collection consisting of both modern and archaeological mammal and fish specimens. The collection is divided into: a teaching collection consisting of faunal remains catalogued by element, which is regularly used in the large teaching lab to demonstrate the identification and recording of animal remains; and a reference collection, which consists of complete skeletons and is used by students and staff to assist in research projects.

Durham River Wear Collection - The Durham River Wear collection comprises finds, almost all small metal objects, recovered from a submerged riverbed between 2008 and 2012. The objects, which span the late twelfth to the early nineteenth centuries, with an emphasis on the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries, have been described by Dr Christopher Caple as: ‘A major research facility, probably the largest collection of late and post-medieval finds in the North of England: a unique regional/national resource’.

Skeletal collections curated by the Fenwick Human Osteology Laboratory

Fishergate House, York (late 10th-16th centuries AD) - Excavated between 2000 and 2002 by Field Archaeology Specialists Ltd in association with Mike Griffiths Associates on behalf of Shepherd Homes and Rank Leisure. 244 skeletons in a generally good state of preservation and dating to the late medieval period were recovered, with 80 being between the ages of 1 and 12 years old. There were 52 definite females and 49 definite males.

St. Guthlac's Priory, Hereford (12th-16th centuries AD) - Excavated in 2005, a total of 37 skeletons were excavated, with 6 being non-adult, from the parish church cemetary of St. Peter, associated with St. Guthlac's Priory, Hereford. The priory is dated to AD 1143 and 1539. Preservation of the skeletons was variable and ranged from poor to excellent. There were 12 definite females and 8 definite males.

Hanging Ditch, Manchester (post-Medieval) - This site was excavated in 1997 and dates from AD 1650-1853. It is situated close to the centre of Manchester in Lancashire. 102 skeletons were recovered but only 30 were very well preserved, some of which preserve hair on their skulls.

Low Farm, Kirby Grindalythe, North Yorkshire (mid/late Iron Age) - Six skeletons were excavated in 2005 by MAP Archaeological Consultancy Ltd, including 5 non-adults under the age of 6. The adult was difficult to sex, but was possibly male. Preservation of the skeletons was good to excellent. 3 of the non-adults showed pathological changes, probably related to scurvy.

Ebberston Manor, North Yorkshire (Medieval) - 1 female skeleton was excavated in 2005 by MAP Archaeological Consultancy Ltd. Preservation of the skeleton was moderate to very good, and evidence for joint disease and trauma was present.

Student Areas:

There are several spaces in the Archaeology Department dedicated to student use. The Common Room has comfortable chairs, coffee tables, a fridge and kettle, and copies of the relevant archaeological journals; it is shared with students from the Department of Anthropology. Postgraduate students have their own deskspace in shared rooms, equipped with wireless internet and photocopier access.

Academic Advisors:

In this department we foster an informal atmosphere. To help with this and to support one of our key aims, to continually improve upon and develop your student experience, you will assigned an academic advisor who will act in this capacity for the duration of your degree. Your academic advisor is there for you if you wish to discuss any matters of concern.