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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


UNESCO Professor Robin Coningham, BA, PhD (Cantab.)

Personal web page

Professor in the Department of Archaeology
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41145
Room number: 215
Associate Director (World Heritage Site) in the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies

(email at


Professor Robin Coningham holds UNESCO's 2014 Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage in the Department of Archaeology, the Chair in Early Medieval Archaeology, and is Associate Director (World Heritage) of Durham's Institute of Mediaeval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS).

He studied Archaeology and Anthropology at King's College, Cambridge and, after a six-month appointment as Graduate Scholar of the British Institute in Eastern Africa, returned to King's as a College Scholar to study for a PhD under the supervision of the late F.R. Allchin, FBA. He then joined the Department of Archaeological Sciences at Bradford as a Lecturer in 1994, becoming Professor of South Asian Archaeology and Head of Department in 2004. He moved to a Chair in Archaeology at Durham in 2005, and was Head of the Department of Archaeology between 2007 and 2008, before becoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Health, a post which he held until 2015. UNESCO and Durham University established the UNESCO Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage with Professor Coningham as first holder in 2014.

Professor Coningham is committed to field research and has conducted fieldwork in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka aimed at refining Early Historic chronologies and investigating the region's second, Iron Age, urbanization, the genesis of Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea trade and the archaeology of Buddhism. Past projects range from excavations in the Citadel of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka's earliest capital, and deep sounding at the Bala Hisar of Charsadda in the Vale of Peshawar - one of the great sites on Pakistan's portion of the Silk Road, to reinvestigations of the birthplace of the Buddha at Lumbini and the Buddha's childhood home at Tilaurakot in Nepal. In 2015, he published 'The Archaeology of South Asia: From the Indus to Asoka' with Ruth Young in the prestigious Cambridge World Archaeology Series.

With colleagues from Sri Lankan, Indian and British Universities, he co-directed a major AHRC-funded investigation of the hinterland of Anuradhapura, analyzing the organization and development of the city's extra-mural settlements. This work recognized the centralizing role played by Buddhist monasteries within the hinterland as well as the role of irrigation in sustaining colonization in the island’s Dry Zone.

He has also worked in Iran, where joint excavations supported by the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, The University of Tehran, The British Academy and the British Institute of Persian Studies at Tepe Pardis and Tepe Sialk provided a firm chronology for the spread of late Neolithic communities in the Central Plateau of Iran and their socio-economic developments.

Professor Coningham is committed to the preservation of cultural heritage, joining over 30 international missions for UNESCO and reviewing the Research Framework for the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO World Heritage Site for the Irish Government. He parallels this with an interest in the relationship between identity and cultural heritage in regions of conflict as well as the impact of the international trade in illicit antiquities. Further to this commitment, he launched a Centre for the study of Ethics of Cultural Heritage with the Durham philosopher, Geoffrey Scarre and co-directs the new programme of UNESCO excavations and survey at the World Heritage Site of Lumbini in Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha, and at Tilaurakot-Kapilavastu, the childhood home of the Buddha. With the Government of Nepal and funding from UNESCO, AHRC's Global Challenges Research Fund and National Geographic, he has co-directed two seasons of post-disaster archaeological investigation in Kathmandu. Subsequently, this critical research engaged with structural and geotechnical engineers to reduce disaster risk to life and livelihoods by evaluating the seismic safety of Kathmandu's historic urban infrastructure through the British Academy's GCRF Cities and Infrastructure Program.

Exploring archaeology, community engagement and cultural heritage protection in South Asia, Professor Coningham published a collection of case studies in 'Archaeology, Cultural Heritage Protection and Community Engagement in South Asia' with conflict studies expert Professor Nick Lewer in 2019. Their work considers heritage management strategies through community engagement, bringing together the results of research undertaken by archaeologists, heritage practitioners and policy makers working towards the preservation and conservation of both cultural and natural heritage. In particular, the book highlights the challenges faced by communities, archaeologists and heritage managers in post-conflict and post-disaster contexts in their efforts to protect, preserve and present cultural heritage, including issues of sustainability, linkages with existing community programmes and institutions, and building administrative and social networks. The case-studies illustrate larger-scale projects to small micro-level engagement, across a range of geographical, political, social and economic contexts, providing a framework that links and synchronises programmes of archaeological activities alongside active community engagement.

In addition to these activities, Professor Coningham is a member of the UK National Commission for UNESCO's Expert Network, AHRC-GCRF Strategic Advisory Group, the National Academies Resilient Futures Steering Group, UNESCO's Scientific Committee for Lumbini, an International Expert for NWO's Security and the Rule of Law in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Settings Program and Chair of the Antiquity Trust. Former posts include membership of the British Academy's Sponsored Institutes and Society’s Committee (BASIS), the British Academy's International Engagement Committe, the EC Research Executive Agency's 2012-2019 Marie Curie Fellowships SOC Panel, Honorary Secretary of the British Institute of Persian Studies (The British Academy), member of Research Panel 1 of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and a Trustee of the Ancient India and Iran Trust (Cambridge). He is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and the Society of Antiquaries and acted as a QAA specialist in Archaeology for seven Departmental reviews and was a QAA Review Chair for a further five.

Professor Coningham was elected a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1994, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 2016 and a Foreign Corresponding Member of ISMEO – Associazione Internazionale di Studi sul Mediterraneo e l’Oriente in 2017.

Professor Coningham would be pleased to supervise research postgraduate students interested in the Archaeological visibility of Buddhism; Caste and the development of craft specialisation; Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea trade; International cultural resource management; Later Prehistory and Early Historic archaeology of Southern Asia (from Iran to Myanmar); Politics, identity and archaeology; Urbanisation; and the Prehistory of Iran. Please email him about potential topics.


Anouk Lafortune-Bernard, M.A., Mastering the master plan of Lumbini: towards developing an evidence-based approach to evaluating the economic and social impact of site development on local communities

Jiajing Mo, M.A.,The Changing Landscape in Western Nepal Terai in the Second Half of the First Millennium


Dr H. Fazeli, Department of Archaeology, University of Tehran, Social complexity and craft specialisation in the Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic period in the central plateau of Iran 2001

Dr R. Young, Department of Archaeology, University of Leicester Food procurement strategies in Iron Age Pakistan 2000

Dr H. Karimian, Department of Archaeology, University of Tehran Space and society in Mediaeval Bam 2003

Dr L. Ford, Ceramic Specialist, West Yorkshire Archaeology Unit. Towards the scientific provenancing of Rouletted ware 2004

Dr M. Mortazavi, Department of Archaeology, University of Zahedan System collapse? A reassessment of the end of the civilisations of southeast Iran in the second millennium BC 2004

Andrew Newton, MPhil Politics and archaeology in nineteenth and twentieth century Germany 2005

Prof. P. Gunawardhana, Department of Archaeology, University of Kaleniya, Monastic planning and sectarianism in Sri Lanka 2006

Dr Abed Al Raouf Mayyas, Faculty of Science, Jordanian University of Science and Technology (with B. Stern: University of Bradford) Late Prehistoric ceramic function and provenance in the Tehran Plain 2007

Dr Mark Manual, Departmernt of Archaeology, University of Durham Normative models and the social organisation of the Harappan civilisation 2008

Dr Keir Strickland, Lecturer, UHI, The Jungle Tide: Urban Collapse in Early Medieval Sri Lanka 2011

Dr Saud Al-Ghamdi, M.A., Neolithic settlement in the south-west of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2011

Dr Cesar Villalobos, M.A., Archaeology in circulation: nationalism and tourism in post-Revolutionary Mexico 2011

Dr J. Marshall, M.A., Missing links: demic diffusion and the development of agriculture in the Central Iranian Plateau 2012

Dr C. Davis, M.A., Early Buddhist monasteries in Sri Lanka: a landscape approach 2013

Dr R. Daroogheh-Nokhodcheri, M.A., Nationalism, politics and the practice of archaeology: the case study of Iran 2014

Dr J. Tremblay, M.A., The Development and spread of Buddhism: an archaeological evaluation 2015 

Dr A. Margussian, M.A., Ceramic typologies and stylistic phylogenesis: the prehistoric ceramics of the Central Plateau of Iran 2017

Dr J. Shoebridge, M.A., Arikamedu Type 10 and the reconstruction of networks of Indian Ocean trade 2018

Indicators of Esteem

Research Groups

  • Heritage, Archaeology, People & Places Research & Impact Group
  • Landscapes of Complex Society Research Group

Research Projects

  • Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka) Project: The Citadel (Phase I)
  • Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka) Project: The Hinterland (Phase II)
  • Archaeological Investigations of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pashupati (Nepal)
  • Benchmarking the Social and Economic Impacts of Cultural Heritage in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, India
  • Benchmarking the social and economic impacts of the tangible and intangible heritage of Middle Egypt
  • Exploring the Medieval Hinterland of Polonnaruva
  • Post-Conflict Archaeology of the Jaffna Peninsula
  • Post-Earthquake Rescue Archaeology in Kathmandu
  • Promoting the Protection of Heritage Sites in Nepal
  • Reducing Disaster Risk to Life and Livelihoods by Evaluating the Seismic Safety of Kathmandu's Historic Urban Infrastructure
  • Socio-Economic Transformations in the Tehran Plain
  • The Natal Landscape of the Buddha, Phase I: Lumbini
  • The Natal Landscape of the Buddha, Phase II: Tilaurakot
  • Uncovering Kathmandu's Early Urbanism: Pilot investigation and evaluation of the subsurface heritage of Handigaon, Kathmandu (Nepal)

Research Interests

  • Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage
  • Archaeological visibility of Buddhism
  • Caste and the development of craft specialisation
  • Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea Trade
  • International cultural resource management
  • Later Prehistory and Early Historic archaeology of Southern Asia (from Iran to Myanmar)
  • Politics, identity and archaeology
  • Urbanisation

Selected Publications

Authored book

Chapter in book

Conference Proceeding

  • Ford, L. & Coningham, R.A.E. (2006). Early Historic Specialisation and Standardisation: The Technology of Rouletted Ware and Associated Wares at Anuradhapura. Deutsches Archaologisches Institut.
  • Krishnan K. & Coningham R.A.E. (1997). Microstructural Analysis of Samples of Rouletted Ware and Associated Pottery from Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. Oxford and IBH.
  • Coningham R.A.E. (1997). The Spatial Distribution of Craft Activities in Early Historic Cities. Oxford and IBH.
  • Coningham R.A.E. (1994). Notes on the Construction and Destruction of Ancient Sri Lankan Buildings. Oxford and IBH.

Edited book

Journal Article

Newspaper/Magazine Article

  • Coningham, R.A.E., Acharya, K.P., Davis, C.E., Kunwar, R.B., Schmidt, A. & Simpson, I. (2017). Below the Surface in Bhaktapur: Post-Earthquake Archaeological Assessment of the Vatsala Temple and Bhaktapur's Durbar Square. SPACES 12(11): 44-54.

Show all publications

Related Links

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Ethics, Religion & Beliefs: Trade in illict antiquities
  • History & Archaeology: Trade in illict antiquities
  • Ethics, Religion & Beliefs: Looting
  • History & Archaeology: Looting
  • Ethics, Religion & Beliefs: Buddhism
  • History & Archaeology: Buddhism
  • History & Archaeology: South Asia
  • History & Archaeology: Iran
  • History & Archaeology: Indian Ocean
  • History & Archaeology: Persian Gulf
  • History & Archaeology: Sri Lanka
  • History & Archaeology: Pakistan
  • History & Archaeology: India
  • History & Archaeology: Nepal
  • History & Archaeology: Bangladesh
  • Anthropology: Caste
  • History & Archaeology: Caste
  • History & Archaeology: Urbanism and cities
  • History & Archaeology: Persia
  • Asia (excluding Middle East): Heritage
  • European & other international expertise: Heritage
  • Asia (excluding Middle East): Heritage
  • European & other international expertise: Identity and the past
  • Asia (excluding Middle East): Identity and the past
  • Middle East: Identity and the past

Selected Grants

  • 2018: IAA - TILAURAKOT REGIONAL MUSEUM VISITOR AND COMMUNITY ASSET (£30523.82 from Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)
  • 2018: Strengthening the Conservation and Management of Lumbini, the Birthplace of Lord Buddha, the World Heritage Property (Phase III) (£48412.52 from UNESCO)
  • 2017: Benchmarking the social and economic impacts of the tangible and intangible heritage of Middle Egypt, particularly with reference to traditional handicraft production. (£109140.53 from British Council Yemen)
  • 2017: Excavating, Conserving and Presenting Tilaurokot-Kapilavastu (£142011.50 from )
  • 2017: Promoting sustainable pilgrimage and the protection of heritage sites in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, India (£66270.00 from UKIERI)
  • 2017: Reducing Disaster Risk to Life and Livelihoods by Evaluating the Seismic Safety of Kathmandu's Historic Urban Infrastructure (£95860.00 from The British Academy)
  • 2017: Strengthening the conservation and Management of Lumbini - Tilaurakot, Kudan and Araurakot 2017 (£52724.00 from UNESCO)
  • 2017: Walking with the Buddha Exhibition at the FoGuan Buddha Museum May 2018 (£22089.76 from )
  • 2016: Can we rebuild the Kasthamandap? Promoting post disaster excavations, salvageand subsurface protection protocols in Kathmandu (£61020.48 from AHRC)
  • 2016: Excavating the Palace of Tilaurakot, Nepal: Reinvestigating the Archaeology of the Natal Landscape of the Buddha (£10283.66 from National Geographic Society)
  • 2016: Post-disaster archaeological excavations at Jagannath and Gopinath Temples at Hanumandhoka Durbar Square in the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Site (£11931.55 from UNESCO)
  • 2016: Promoting the protection fo heritage sites in Nepal's Western Terai in the face of accelerated development (£48316.00 from AHRC)
  • 2015: Tilaurakot-Kapilavastu: reinvestigating the archaeology of the natal landscape of the Buddha (£13997.80 from National Geographic Society)
  • 2015: UNESCO 2015 ext: Archaeological identification, evaluation and interpretation of theKathmandu Valley World Heritage Property (£27720.70 from UNESCO)
  • 2015: UNESCO: Strengthening the Conservation and Management of Lumbrini, the Birthplace of Lord Buddha (Phase ll) (£40687.00 from UNESCO)
  • 2014: Archaelogical Identification, Evaluation and Interpretation of Lumbai and Tilaurakot (£32117.38 from UNESCO)
  • 2014: Archaeological Investigations of Tilaurakot (£41762.01 from Government of Hokke Shu)
  • 2014: Benchmarking the Social and Economic Impacts of Cultural Heritage: a comparative pilot study (£11000.00 from British Council)
  • 2014: Mapping Pashupati: Identifying and characterising the early cultural phases of the UNESCO world heritage site of Pashupati in the Kathmandu Valley (Nepal) (£2950.00 from The British Academy)
  • 2013: Strengthening the Conservation and Management of Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha, World Heritage Property (Phase II) (£48355.95 from UNESCO)
  • 2012: Strengthening conservation and management of Lumbini: the birthplace of the Lord Buddha, World Heritage Property (£31990.00 from UNESCO)
  • 2011: Lumbini: reinvestigating the archaeology of the birthplace of Buddha (£15378.20 from National Geographic Society)
  • 2010: Identifying, evaluating and interpreting the physical signature of Lumbini and associated sites (£57205.87 from UNESCO)
  • 2008: THE SIALK PROJECT (£27570.00 from British Institute of Persian Studies)
  • 2005: SOCIO-ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATIONS (£30077.72 from The British Academy)
  • 2005: THE ANURADHAPURA (SRI LANKA) PROJECT (£161335.00 from Arts and Humanities Research Council)