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Department of Archaeology


Prof Sarah Semple, BA (hons), MSt Hist. Res., DPhil

Professor in the Department of Archaeology
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41115
Room number: 201D

Contact Prof Sarah Semple (email at


My research focusses on the early medieval period in Britain and Europe. I am especially interested in understanding early medieval interaction with natural and man-made environments, with particular reference to the role of landscape in definitions of identity, religion and cult practice. In 2009 this led to a collaboration with Richard Jones (Leicester) in the delivery of an AHRC-funded network series now published as an edited volume Sense of Place in Anglo-Saxon England. They have also come to fruition in a single-authored book published in 2013 with OUP Anglo-Saxon Perceptions of the Prehistoric. Ritual, Religion and Rulership exploring the centrality of the physical remains of the past to the shaping of Anglo-Saxon identity and power across the 5th-11th centuries.

In 2010-13 I joined a collaborative international team exploring the development of administrative and assembly practices in northern Europe from AD 300-1500. The Assembly Project funded by the Humanities in Europe Research Area has examined multidisciplinary evidence for the emergence of assembly sites and administrative frameworks in early historic societies. Results feature in the European Journal of Archaeology (2013), two Special Volumes of the Journal of the North Atlantic and a project monograph is forthcoming in 2017. 

Long-running research interests in death and burial, landscape and identity, also recently led to a successful bid for a major Leverhulme-funded project People and Place. The Making of the Kingdom of Northumbria. This ongoing project brings together five academic staff researchers and three PDRAs, and is using evidence from burial records to explore the health, wealth, ethnicity and lifestyle of the first Northumbrians, charting the emergence of one of the largest kingdoms in early medieval Britain in terms of migration, mobility, social stratification, and political aggregation AD 300-800. This is also closely allied to collaborative work with Kate Mees, a British Academy Post-doctoral Fellow, who has joined the department to pursue a research on Funerary Landscapes and Social Change in Early Medieval Northwest Europe, c. AD 400-900.

A European focus on early medieval religious landscapes is also underpins a new collaboration with Maria Utrero Agudo on CHISEL: Church Building as Industry in Early Medieval Western Europe. Maria has joined Durham as a Marie Curie Research Fellow and the project is funded by Horizon 2020. Using on-site recording of selected churches in the UK, Spain and Portugal, and exploration of the quarries and hinterlands of these early stone-built structures, we are investigating the building processes, technology, material and skills-based investment involved in church building in the 8th to 11th centuries AD.

My interests in place and power have also led to participation in 2016 in the UK Steering Group for the AHRC-funded Royal Residences Network. Via a series of three workshops and planned publications, this project is reinterpreting an influx of new evidence for royal or elite palace/central place sites in Britain.

In addition to keeping pace with these ongoing projects and collaborations, I am currently enjoying my role as Honorary Editor for the journal Medieval Archaeology, which allows me to keep abreast of the latest research findings in the discipline. Please get in touch directly if you are interested in publishing in the journal. I also recently joined the Editorial Board for the journal World Archaeology and am currently working on a Debates issue and a forthcoming issue on Seasonal Sites and Gathering Places.

I have also worked for 10 years with the Corpus for Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture with the publications team, and in this capacity have launched the project website and online catalogues with funding from The British Academy and The Aurelius Trust.

Since joining Durham I have initiated a number of regional field projects. I recently completed a collaborative project funded by English Heritage, exploring the internationally important monastic sites of Wearmouth and Jarrow. One Monastery in Two Placeshas used a combination of non-intrusive survey techniques and digital data resources to explore the fabric of the buildings and the impact of these monasteries on the immediate and wider hinterlands and results have just been published in 2013 as Wearmouth and Jarrow. Northumbrian Monasteries in an Historic Landscape. Further regional involvements include field investigation at Yeavering, Northumberland, Sockburn, Co Durham and at Etal on the Northumberland border and buildings survey at Seaham Church. The Yeavering Project is in collaboration with The Gefrin Trust and additional fieldwork and survey is planned for 2017-18, along with the publication of a Resource Assessment and Research Agenda for the site.

I’m committed to furthering research of all kinds on early medieval societies and am delighted presently to be supervising PhD students working on a wide range of projects including Anglo-Saxon mortuary theatre, the recycling of Roman objects in early medieval funerary assemblages, naked human imagery in early medieval art and jewellery sets and dress fittings from 7th-century female graves. I am an active member of the Ritual Religion Belief and Place Research, Artefacts and Landscapes Research Groups and the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Durham.

Postgraduate enquiries are all aspects of early medieval archaeology are welcome, particularly on early medieval palace sites and their hinterlands, sculpture in its landscape context, early medieval artefacts - particularly different tool sets, elite funerary rites and burial rites, and in a more modern vein, community engagement in sustainable development of historic urban landscapes, and nationalism and assembly architecture under the Third Reich.

Research Interests

  • Religion, belief and popular practices in pre-Christian and Conversion Period Europe
  • The archaeology of governance and power in North West Europe
  • Death and burial in early medieval Britain
  • Church archaeology and monasticism
  • Anglo-Saxon Sculpture
  • Interdisciplinary approaches to early medieval research
  • Historiography of Anglo-Saxon Studies
  • Material culture, memory and commemoration
  • Landscape archaeology

Indicators of Esteem


Authored book

Chapter in book

  • Reynolds, A. & Semple, S. (Published). Digging for names: archeology and place-names in the Avebury Region. In Sense of Place in Anglo-Saxon England. Jones, R. & Semple, S Shaun Tyas. 76-100.
  • Semple, S. & Williams, H. (2015). Landmarks of the Dead: Exploring Anglo-Saxon Mortuary Geographies. In The Material Culture of the Built Environment in the Anglo-Saxon World. Clegg Hyer, M. & Owen-Crocker, G. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. II: 137-161.
  • Semple, S. (2015). The Pre-Christian Landscape in Anglo-Saxon England. In Dying Gods - Religious beliefs in northern and eastern Europe in the time of Christianisation. Ruhmann, C. & Brieske, V. Stuttgart: Niedersächsischen Landesmuseum Hannover In Kommission bei Konrad Theiss Verlag. 5: 101-110.
  • Jones, R. & Semple, S. (2012). Making Sense of Place in Anglo-Saxon England. In Sense of Place in Anglo-Saxon England. Jones, R. & Semple, S. Shaun Tyas. 1-17.
  • Reynolds, A. & Semple, S. (2011). Anglo-Saxon non-funerary weapon depositions. In Studies in Early Anglo-Saxon Art and Archaeology: Papers in Honour of Martin G. Welch. Brookes, S., Harrington, S. & Reynolds, A. Oxford: Archaeopress. 40-48.
  • Semple, S. (2011). Sacred Spaces and Places in Pre-Christian and Conversion Period Anglo-Saxon England. In The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology. Hamerow, H., Hinton, D. A. & Crawford, S. Oxford: University Press. 742-763.
  • Semple, S.J. (2010). In the Open Air. In Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited. Carver, M.O.H, Sanmark, A. & Semple, S.J. Oxford: Oxbow.
  • Sanmark, A. & Semple, S. J. (2010). The topography of outdoor assembly sites in Europe with reference to recent field results from Sweden. In Perspectives in Landscape Archaeology. Lewis, H. & Semple, S. J. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports. BAR International Series 2103: 107-119.
  • Semple, S.J. (2009). Recycling the Past: Ancient Monuments and Changing Meanings in Early Medieval Britain. In Antiquaries and Archaists, the Past in the Past, the Past in the Present. Aldrich, M. & Wallis, R. J. Reading: Spire Books Ltd. 29-45.
  • Semple, S.J. (2004). Locations of Assembly in Early Anglo-Saxon England. In Assembly Places and Practices in Medieval Europe. Pantos, A. & Semple, S.J. Dublin: Four Courts Press. 135-154.

Edited book

Journal Article

Related Links

Selected Grants

  • 2016: Funerary Landscapes and Social Change in Early Medieval Northwest europe cAD 400-900 (£236435.20 from The British Academy)
  • 2012: Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture (£39945.00 from The British Academy)
  • 2010: IP 2. Landscape, Authority and Power: assembly places and structures in Britain and Europe. (£114974.40 from HERA)
  • 2009: As One Monestary in Two Places (£58166.13 from The English Heritage Trust)
  • 2008: SPACE, PLACE AND PERFORMANCE (£5086.00 from The British Academy)