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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Professor Graham Philip, MA, PhD

Professor in the Department of Archaeology
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41142
Room number: 234

Contact Professor Graham Philip (email at


After a PhD at Edinburgh University (1988), I spent nine months in Baghdad before moving to Jordan to become Assistant Director of the British Institute for at Amman for Archaeology and History (1989-92). I was briefly a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Archaeology University College, London before taking up a lectureship at Durham in January 1994.

Research interests

My research interests fall into three main areas: landscape archaeology, artefact studies, and the attempts to understand nature of early complex societies. All of these themes are explored in the context of my period/region interests which are focused upon the later Prehistory and Bronze Ages of the Middle East.

Landscape archaeology

My interests centre upon long-term aspects of human-environment interaction in the Middle East. From 1999-2010, in co-operation with the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria, I directed a multi-period landscape project in the Orontes Valley around the city of Homs. By examining two distinct environmental zones, were able to assess the impact of key economic and political developments in adjacent, but contrasting landscapes. In particular we are beginning to understand the differences between patterns of development in the prime agricultural zones, where settlement is dominated by mounded tell sites, and "non-optimal" zones, where we have evidence for two main episodes of sedentary activity - the 4th-3rd millennia BC, and the Graeco-Roman-Islamic period: each is associated with quite distinct landscape signatures. In co-operation with Dr Danny Donoghue (Geography) the project has pioneered the use of declassified 1960s CORONA space photography and recent IKONOS high resolution satellite imagery for archaeological prospection and the investigation of past landscapes.

With the aid of a grant awarded by the Leverhulme Trust (2007-10) The Vanishing Landscape of Syria project has assessed the extent to which the patterns observed in the survey area described above are representative of settlement structures and landuse patterns over a wider area of western Syria. This project is currently being prepared for publication, while the database around which it was built now powers the settlement analysis components of both the Fragile Crescent and Persia and its Neighbours. 

The Fragile Crescent

I was co-investigator on this AHRC funded project with Prof. Danny Donoghue, Geography and PI Prof. Tony Wilkinson. The project uses satellite imagery, GIS and archaeological survey data to chart long-term changes in settlement, land-use and social organization across northern Mesopotamia, and northern and western Syria during the Bronze Age (ca. 3500-1000 BC). Papers arising from work funded by the AHRC and Leverhulme Trust have appeared in Levant, Journal of World Prehistory, Quaternary International, PLos ONE and Quaternary Science Reviews

Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA).

I joined the EAMENA project in October 2016, assuming responsibility for developing that part of the database relating to Syria. Supported by the Arcadia Fund and based at the Universities of Oxford, Leicester and Durham, EAMENA was established in January 2015 to respond to the increasing threats to archaeological sites in the Middle East and North Africa. The project uses satellite imagery to rapidly record and make available information about archaeological sites and landscapes which are under threat (

Persia and its Neighbours (ERC)

Following the death of Tony Wilkinson in late 2014, I assumed direction of the Durham-based component of this project, which examines the landscape dimension of the Sasanian Empire (3rd-7th centuries AD), through examination of study areas in Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Oman, using a combination of regional survey, satellite image analysis and selective excavation.

The nature of early complex societies 

Most of the language employed to discuss social and economic complexity in the Ancient Near East draws upon concepts relevant to the developed urban societies of ancient Mesopotamia. These terms tend, however, play down the diversity of developmental sequences elsewhere in the Middle East, such as western Syria and Palestine. These issues are being explored through the analysis and publication of 4th-3rd millennium BC sequences at three sites located in classic ‘lowland basin’ settings, Tell esh-Shuna in the north Jordan Valley, Tell Nebi Mend in the Orontes Valley and Tell Koubba on the Lebanese littoral. Work to date suggests that while none of these regions conforms to models of settlement and economic organization apparent in “Greater Mesopotamia”, there remain very clear differences in the specific pathways to complexity taken in the three regions. Thus the notion of “diverse routes to complexity” may provide a valuable corrective to traditional Mesopotamia-centric interpretations. 

A new dimension has been added to this research by my involvement as co-I in the Invisible Dead Project (Templeton Foundation). The project seeks to examine long term patterns in burial data from the Levant from the Ceramic Neolithic to the coming of Christianity, and to begin to ask the ‘big’ questions that are often lost among the detail of studies centred-upon individual sites, regions or periods. A paper was recently published in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory (2016) and an edited volume arising from the project conference (summer 2014), is forthcoming.

Artefact studies 

Having researched ancient metalwork for many years, I have developed a keen interest in the social and economic dimensions of material culture and its deployment in the negotiation of status and identity, as an aspect of social reproduction, and the contexts within which the acquisition, production and deployment of artefactual materials are situated.Recent publications on this theme include my contributions to the 2015 monograph on the cemetery from Jerablus Tahtani in Syria. Related ideas are being explored through the Invisible Dead project by mapping the spatial, temporal and ideological dimensions of the use of material culture in burial contexts. 

Since 2012, the evidence from the Homs region has been contributing to an international collaboration funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Computational Research on the Ancient Near East: An Archaeological Data Integration, Simulation, and 3-D Visualization Initiative CRANE ), which seeks to combine data from surveys undertaken in the Orontes basin over the past two decades, within a single analytical framework. The broad overview that the project will provide, will allow researchers to identify both large-scale trends and local peculiarities. As part of this project the Durham team will collect new palaeoenvironmental evidence, and will use the evidence of ceramic technology and exchange to better understand the economic potential of different parts of the survey area.

The CRANE project supported a two-day workshop in Durham in August 2015 on the Integration of Ceramic and Petrographic Datasets in the Levant. The resulting papers will be published in 2017 as a Special Issue of Levant, entitled Ceramics, Society, and Economy in the Northern Levant: an integrated archaeometric perspective.

Research Students who have been awarded their doctorates in the last five years include:

Mai Tsuneki (2014) Metalwork finds from Central Anatolia in the Assyrian Colony Period: a review in light of finds from the Level IIIc destruction at Kaman-Kalehoyuk (MA by research)

Stefan Smith (2016) Late Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age settlement patterns in the Greater Western Jazira: trajectories of sedentism in the semi-arid Syrian steppe

Elena Sulioti (2016) The meaning and the function of symbolism in Minoan society: a contextual approach (with Prof. J Chapman)

Jaafar Jotheri (2016) Holocene avulsion history of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the Mesopotamian floodplain (with T. Allen, Earth Sciences)

Michel de Vreeze (2017) Pottery ancestories: comparing ceramic evolution in the eastern Mediterranean and south-east Arabia during the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1550 BC) with the use of phylogenetic methods (with J. Tehrani, Anthropology)

Rune Rattenborg (2017) The scale and extent of political economies of the Middle Bronze Age Jazirah and the Bilad al-Sham (c. 1800-1600 BC)

Michelle de Gruchy (2017) Routes of the Uruk Expansion (with R Witcher)

Kristen Hopper (2017) The Gorgan Plan of northeast Iran: a diachronic analysis of settlement and land use patterns relating to urban, rural and mobile populations on a Sasanian frontie (with R Witcher)

Lisa Snape-Kennedy (2018) Wind Water and Walls: developing luminescence and geoarchaeological methods for ancient landscape features

Majid Alonasi (2018) A re-evaluation of stratigraphic and ceramic evidence from the Bronze and Iron Age site of al-Sina ’iyyah at Tayma in Saudi Arabia.

Indicators of Esteem

  • 2014: Advisory Board, American Schools of Oriental Research, Syrian Heritage Initiative: see:
  • 2014: Reappointed as Hon. Editor of Levant 2014-2019: With my reappointment the journal has increased output from 2 to 3 issues per year to cope with the demand from authors, and has lauched an 'on-line first' publication facility.
  • 2012: Trustee and Chair Publications Committee, Council for British Research in the Levant since 2012: Responsible for managing publication of CBRL monograph series, one of the main publication outlets for archaeology from the East Mediterranean basin.

Research Groups

Research Projects

Department of Archaeology

  • Ceramics
  • Computational Research on the Ancient Near East (CRANE)
  • Managing Risk in Early Complex Societies
  • Persia and its Neighbours: the Archaeology of Late Antique Imperial Power in Iran (Persia Project)
  • Settlement and Landscape Development in the Homs Region, Syria
  • Shuna Project
  • The ‘Invisible Dead’ and the Development of Early Human Beliefs about the Body
  • The Fragile Crescent Project (Middle East): Settlement Change during the Urban Transition
  • The Tell Nebi Mend Post-Excavation and Publication Project (Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age)
  • Vanishing Landscape of Syria: ground and space mapping of a diverse world

Department of Geography

  • Fragile Crescent, The: Settlement Change during the Urban Transition

Research Interests

  • Archaeology of the Ancient Middle East (Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Cyprus, Israel, Palestinian territories) from the Neolithic to the Iron Age
  • Artefact studies, especially ceramics and metalwork
  • Landscape archaeology, including settlement studies and remote sensing
  • Funerary archaeology

Selected Publications

Chapter in book

Journal Article

Show all publications

Related Links

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Middle East: Middle East archaeology and politics
  • Middle East: archaeology and the Bible
  • Roman, Greek & ancient civilisations: Middle East, archaeology
  • Roman, Greek & ancient civilisations: pre-classical history
  • Roman, Greek & ancient civilisations: antiquities
  • Roman, Greek & ancient civilisations: archaeology and the Bible
  • Roman, Greek & ancient civilisations: Middle East Politics

Selected Grants

  • 2019: A multi-isotope base map for Jordan: a tool for re-examining movement and community in the past (£200405.00 from AHRC)
  • 2018: H2020-MRECS: Managing Risk in Early Complex Societies in Syria-Palestine: An Investigation of Changing Animal Herding Strategies through the 4th-2nd Millenia BC Using Multi_Element Isotopic Analysis (£137150.73 from Interreg (ERDF) Europe)
  • 2017: Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa - Phase 2 (£193903.25 from Arcadia Fund)
  • 2017: The Koubba Project: the origins of complex society in North Lebanon (£5700.00 from Council for British Research in the Levant)
  • 2017: Training in Endangered Archaeology Methodology with Middle East and North African Heritage Stakeholders (£511619.00 from British Council Yemen)
  • 2012: Computational Research on the Ancient Near East: an Archaeological Data Integration, Simulation, and 3-D Visualisation Initiative (£158993.51 from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada)
  • 2012: FP7-Persia and its Neighbours: the Archaeology of Late Antique Imperial Power in Iran (£667423.69 from European Commission)
  • 2007: THE VANISHING LANDSCAPE OF SYRIA (£85886.00 from The Leverhulme Trust)