We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Miss Anna Davies-Barrett, BA, MSc

(email at


In 2014, I received a First in my BA (Hons) in Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Kent and, in 2015, went on to complete an MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology with Distinction at The University of Sheffield. My previous research topics have varied widely, and include the processes of bone diagenesis and gender identities in the British and European Iron Age.

My current research consists of a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership between Durham University and The British Museum, which is kindly funded in its entirety by the Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme. My research is supervised jointly by Prof. Charlotte Roberts (Department of Archaeology, Durham University) and Dr. Daniel Antoine (Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, The British Museum).

I am currently based in London at The British Museum for the purposes of conducting research towards my PhD.

Current Research Topic

The impact of sociocultural and environmental change on air quality and respiratory health in the 4th Cataract, Sudan: a bioarchaeological perspective


Non-specific bone changes in the sinuses and on the visceral surfaces of the ribs have been linked to inflammation of the respiratory tract caused by sinusitis and lower respiratory tract diseases. Particulate pollution also irritates and inflames the respiratory tract, increasing susceptibility to the development of respiratory conditions. Analysis of respiratory disease in archaeological populations is providing an historical perspective on the impact of environment, activities related to occupation, and associated socio-economic factors, such as poor ventilation in living and work spaces and low levels of hygiene, which potentially can all lead to exposure to poor air quality.
This study investigates the prevalence of bony changes to the sinuses and ribs in human skeletal remains from twelve Sudanese sites, ranging from the Neolithic to the Medieval periods, with a particular focus on the Fourth Nile Cataract area and comparative sites from other regions of the Nile valley with differing sociocultural and environmental conditions. Changes in prevalence between sex, age, time period, and geographical region are examined. Prevalence of bony changes to the visceral surfaces of the ribs displayed a general trend towards an increase in later time periods, while prevalence of changes associated with maxillary sinusitis remained remarkably consistent at around fifty percent in all Fourth Cataract sites. Comparative sites displayed greater variation. The lowest prevalence of respiratory disease was observed at the Neolithic site and the highest at the urban Medieval site. 
In Sudan, increasing aridity from the Neolithic period until modern day may have led to a growing exposure to environmental particulate matter from dust and sand. The impact of increasing aridity, agricultural intensification, urbanisation, craft specialisation, and the emergence of visible signs of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and leprosy, are all discussed in relation to the prevalence rates of respiratory disease between the time periods and geographical regions. Changes in the environment in the Middle Nile Valley may have had a distinct effect on the presence of respiratory disease, in conjunction with exposure to other sources of particulate pollution and infectious diseases. This study of respiratory disease in Sudan provides a contextually driven perspective on a problem that is of increasing concern today across the world.

Key Research Questions

  1. How frequently were people living in the 4th Cataract area of Sudan suffering from respiratory problems?
  2. Did respiratory disease vary according to sex, age and social status?
  3. Do these patterns change over time and correlate with differences in climate and environment, as well as in social, cultural and occupational practices?
  4. How do observed patterns compare with Nile valley sites outside the 4th Cataract with differing practices and environments?

Previous MSc Research Project

In 2015 I conducted an MSc research project entitled An Investigation into the Potential Effects of Site Hydrology on the Diagenetic Alteration of Bone. This project involved the production of thin-sections from samples of long bone taken from twenty-two individuals excavated from the cemetery site of Coronation Street, in South Shields, Tyne and Wear. Using light microscopy, the thin-sections were histologically analysed to determine the extent of diagenetic alteration of the samples. These results were used to investigate the type of hydrological environment present in the burial context. It was found that evidence for alteration, including extreme inhibition of bacterial attack, bone mineral dissolution, and the presence of staining and pyrite framboids, all conformed to a hydrological environment of waterlogging, resulting in anoxic conditions. This research demonstrates the vital role hydrology has to play in diagenetic alteration and the importance of investigating diagenesis with site-specific factors in mind.

I presented this research at the BABAO conference in 2016, winning the prize for best student poster.

Conference Attendance and Contribution

8th-10th September, 2017: British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) 19th Annual conference, Liverpool John Moores University.
Poster: A. M. Davies-Barrett, C. A. Roberts and D. Antoine. A new method for recording and presenting the true prevalence of rib lesions related to respiratory disease. (Second place winner of the Bill White Prize for best student poster).

19th-20th May, 2017: Stressed Out: Debunking the stress myth in the study of archaeological human remains, Institute of Archaeology, UCL.
Paper: A. M. D. Barrett. Respiratory disease as a ‘non-specific indictor of stress’? The value of identifying specific causative factors.

13th May, 2017: Sudan Studies Postgraduate Conference, Durham University.
Poster: A. M. D. Barrett, R. Whiting, and D. Antoine. Insights into disease and lifestyle in two medieval cemeteries from the 4th Cataract of Sudan.

8th May, 2017: The Sudan Archaeological Research Society (SARS) Colloquium, The British Museum.
Paper: D. Antoine and A. M. D. Barrett. Life and Death in the Kerma Classique at the Fourth Cataract: the evidence from site 4-L-2. 

19th-22nd April, 2017: American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) 86th Annual Meeting, New Orleans.

17th-19th April, 2017: Palaeopathology Association (PPA) 44th Annual North American Meeting, New Orleans.
Poster: A. M. D. Barrett, C. A. Roberts, and D. Antoine. Investigating the impact of air quality on the occurrence of respiratory disease in the Middle Nile Valley: Comparing Kerma and Medieval sites. (Second place winner of the Cockburn Prize for best student poster)

8th-10th September, 2016: British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) 19th Annual conference, University of Kent
Poster: A. M. D. Barrett. Why water matters: Investigating the effects of site hydrology on the diagenetic alteration of bone. (First place winner of the Bill White Prize for best student poster)

4th-5th December, 2015: Climate Change and Human Society: Resilience, Impact and Perceptions in the Past and Present (Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference). Durham University.


2017: Durham Bioarchaeology Research Group conference grant to attend and present at the BABAO conference, Liverpool John Moores University, 2017 (£125)

2017: British Museum CDA full funding to attend and present at the PPA and AAPA conferences in New Orleans, 2017

2016: Durham UKAS Archaeological Science Conference Award to attend and present at the BABAO conference, University of Kent, 2016 (£300)

2015-2018: AHRC CDA Doctoral Studentship (covering tuition fees and full maintenance for the three years of my PhD)

2014: Sheffield Postgraduate Support Scheme Scholarship (£10,000)


Teaching Experience

December, 2017: Lab demonstrator for the Undergraduate level 1 module ‘Archaeological Practicals’ at Durham University (approximately 9 hours).

October-December, 2017: Lab demonstrator for the MSc Palaeopathology module 'Identification and Analysis of the Normal Human Skeleton' at Durham University (approximately 30 hours).

January-March, 2017: Teaching Assistant and Lab Demonstrator for the undergraduate courseBioarchaeology: The Archaeology of Human Bones’ at Birkbeck College, University of London (approximately 40 hours).

2nd & 3rd November, 2016: Guest Lectures: The Ribs in Bioarchaeology and Palaeopathology’for the undergraduate courseBioarchaeology: The Archaeology of Human Bones’ at Birkbeck College, University of London.