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Department of Archaeology


Prof Charlotte Roberts, BA (Hons), MA, PhD, SRN

Professor in the Department of Archaeology
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41154
Room number: 223
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41154

(email at



A bioarchaeologist, I have a background in archaeology, environmental archaeology and human bioarchaeology. I have studied and interpreted human remains from archaeological sites for the past 30 years, and I am specifically interested in exploring the interaction of people with their environments in the past through patterns of health and disease (palaeopathology), and especially those health problems that are common today. My key research interest is in the origin, evolution and history of infectious diseases.

I also try to utilize multiple lines of evidence for reconstructing past health, including exploring the application of medical anthropological and evolutionary biological approaches to bioarchaeology. Furthermore, I have a strong active interest in past concepts of disease causation and therapeutic measures.

I have always promoted the need for the contextualisation of biological data for health problems experienced by our ancestors through many of my publications and in my teaching - see my publications below (e.g. see books: Roberts and Cox 2003, Roberts and Buikstra 2003, Roberts and Manchester 2005, Roberts 2007, Roberts and Cox 2007).

My Career

A State Registered Nurse initially (1975-8), I completed a BA in Archaeological Studies (Leicester - 1979-1982), a MA Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoeconomy (Sheffield - 1983), and a PhD (bioarchaeology/ palaeopathology/ medical history - Bradford 1988).

I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2014

My nursing background, particularly, has guided me into taking an holistic approach to past ill health in bioarchaeology, something that was also considered essential in a hospital environment. Understanding why and how people and communities today experience health problems is essential to be able to understand ill health in the past. This includes a consideration of the impact of age, sex, gender, ethnicity, religion, and social, economic and political status on disease occurrence.

Appointed Lecturer (US equivalent of Assistant Professor) in 1989 and Senior Lecturer in 1994 (US equivalent of Associate Professor) at Bradford University, I moved to Durham University in 2000 to become a Reader, finally being promoted to Professor of Archaeology in 2004 (US equivalent of Full Professor).

In terms of teaching, I have successfully initiated and on taught two masters courses (Bradford: MSc Osteology, Palaeopathology and Funerary Archaeology 1990-1999, and Durham: MSc Palaeopathology 2000-date), currently teaching at undergraduate and masters levels.

I do other things too (!). I love the outdoors and the countryside, and I am a keen fell runner, skier and cyclist, but additionally I am an active member of the Women's Institute (100 years old in 2015). Amongst making time to garden, birdwatch, and support my local community, I ring local church bells, do a bit of flower arranging, and have a qualification in dry stone walling too!

The sections below record activity within the last 3 years

External PhD supervision

I am an external supervisor for a student at the University of Coimbra, Portugal

Membership of Research Groups and Centres

Bioarchaeology (based in the Department of Archaeology) -

Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease (based in the Department of Philosophy) -

Centre for Life and Death Studies (based in the Department if Theology) -

Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage (University wide Research Centre) -

Wolfson Research Institute (Durham University) -

Northern Centre for the History of Medicine (Durham/Newcastle Universities) -

Outreach (selected public lectures/media)

I enjoy talking about my research to beneficiaries beyond academia, and have taught classes for the public since the 1980s, along with giving many public lectures and taking part in TV and radio programmes.

2015: Inaugural lecture to open the Centre for Medical History, University of Winchester (Archaeological human remains and the history of infectious disease: possibilities and realities)

2014: Worked with Kirsty McCarrison, Durham Museums to transfer the Skeleton Science exhibition to the Thackray Medical Museum, Leeds (February 2014-January 2015)

2014 Bellerby Study Group: Human bones do tell tales

2014 Snape Local History Group: Human bones from archaeological sites do tell tales: possibilities and realities

2014 Skeleton Science Exhibition; previously shown at Durham in 2012, this exhibition has now moved to the Thackray Musuem for 2014 in Leeds

2013 Edinburgh University Archaeology Society: lecture on using the past to learn about infections 

2013 British Science Festival, Newcastle: Panel discussion on the most important infectious disease in past Britain

2013 Yesterday Channel (UKTV): 13 part series called Myth Hunters, commissioned by the UK terrestrial channel Yesterday – programme on Joan of Arc’s ‘relics’

2013 U-tube interview for Archaeosoup Productions

2013 Yesterday Channel (UKTV); series called Medieval Dead - programme on leprosy

2012: St Bede's Catholic School and 6th Form College, Lanchester, County Durham: talk about poor air quality and health in the past

2012: Worked with Kirsty McCarrison, Durham Museums, on Skeleton Science exhibition for the Old Fulling Mill Museum (May to November 2012)

2012: BBC Radio 4: Today Programme; drug resistance, malaria, and taking an historical perspective on infectious diseases

2012: Wellcome Trust, London: Member of panel discussion for Noah's Ark: Living with the animals at the Wellcome Collection

2012 Friends of Swaledale Museum, Reeth: ‘Death and disease: stories from our ancestors’

Past research students

The following lists supervision of past research students, funding source and nationality of students (B= at my previous institution, the University of Bradford):

Zahra Afshar 2015 (Migration, mobility and economic transition in the 3rd millennium BC in the population of south-east of Iran, Shahr-e Sokhta); Iran; self funded

Michaela Binder 2014 (Health and diet in ancient Nubia through political and social change); Austrian; Leverhulme Trust funded

Devon Lee Kase Tancock 2014 Congenital Defects in 18th and 19th Century Populations from Rural and Urban Northeast England; U.S. self funded

Ashley Tallyn 2014 A study of the health of monks' and nuns' health using multiple lines of evidence. U.S. Self funded

Sharman J 2013: Age, sex and the life course: population variability in human ageing and implications for bioarchaeology. Canada; Self funded

Marta Diaz-Zorita Bonilla 2013 The copper age in South West Spain: a bioarchaeological approach to prehistoric social organization. Spanish; Government of Anadalucia

Kimberley Plomp 2013: Quantifying palaeopathology: developing objective geometric morphometric methods for recording pathological conditions in human skeletal remains. Canadian; Durham Interdisciplinary Award - with Anthropology

Kirsty McCarrison 2012: Osteological and biomolecular study of prehistoric tuberculosis in Britain. UK; NERC funded

Ryan Franklin 2011 (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; external supervision); The Recognition, Frequency, and Taxonomic Association of Skeletal Pathology from Selected Plio-Pleistocene-aged Sites from the Cradle of Humankind, Witwatersrand, South Africa

Heather Jarrell 2011: (Ohio State University; external supervision) Association Between Skeletal Fractures and Locomotor Behavior, Habitat Use, and Body Mass in Nonhuman Primates

Karen Bernofsky 2010: Respiratory health in the past. A bioarchaeological study of chronic maxillary sinusitis and rib periostitis from the Iron Age to the Post Medieval period in southern England. Canadian; self funded

Jaime Jennings 2010: Stress along the medieval Anglo-Scottish border? Skeletal indicators of conflict zone health. U.S. Self funded

Paola Ponce 2010: A comparative study of activity-related skeletal changes in 3rd-2nd millennium BC coastal fishers and 1st millennium AD inland agriculturists in Chile, South America. Argentinian; Durham Doctoral Award funded

Charlotte Henderson 2009: Musculo-skeletal stress markers in bioarchaeology: Indications of activity levels or human variation? UK; self funded

Rosa Spencer 2008: Testing hypotheses about diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) using stable isotope and aDNA analysis of late medieval populations Canadian/UK; NERC funded

Francisca Alves Cardoso 2008: A portrait of gender in two late 19th/early 20th century Portuguese populations: a palaeopathological perspective. Portugal; Fundação Para a Ciência Tecnologia funded

Alvaro Arce 2008 Health in Southern and Eastern England: a perspective on the Early Medieval period. Venuzuela/ Canada; self funded

McNaught J 2007 A clinical and archaeological study of Schmorl’s Nodes: using clinical data to understand the past. UK; self funded

Groves SE 2006 Spears or ploughshares: multiple indicators of activity related stress and social status in four early Medieval populations from north-east England. UK; AHRC funded

Caffell AC 2005 Dental caries in Medieval Britain (c. 450-1540): temporal, geographic and contextual patterns. UK; NERC funded

Jakob T 2004 Prevalence and patterns of disease in early Medieval populations: a comparison of skeletal samples from 5th-8th century AD Britain and Germany. Germany; self funded

Bernard M-C 2003 Tuberculosis: a demographic analysis and social study of admissions to a children’s sanatorium (1936-1954) in Stannington, Northumberland. Canada; self funded

Montgomery J 2002 Lead and strontium isotope compositions of human dental tissues as an indicator of ancient exposure and population dynamics. UK; NERC funded (B)

Sture J 2002 Biocultural perspectives on birth defects in late Medieval rural and urban populations in Northern England. UK; AHRC funded

Santos AL 2000 (University of Coimbra, external supervision) A skeletal picture of tuberculosis. Macroscopic, radiological, biomolecular and historical evidence from the Coimbra Identified Collection. Portugal; Fundação Para a Ciência Tecnologia 

Keeping D 2000 Life and death in English nunneries: a biocultural study of variations in the health of women during the later Medieval period, 1066-1540. Canada; Commonwealth Foundation funded

Freeth C 1999 Dental health in biocultural perspective UK; self funded (B)

Lewis M 1999 The impact of urbanization: an assessment of morbidity and mortality in British non-adult populations. UK; University of Bradford funded (B)

Margerison B 1997 A comparison of the palaeodemography of catastrophic and attritional cemeteries. UK; SERC funded (B)

Dalby G 1994 Middle ear disease in antiquity. UK; self funded (B)

Recent conferences


Launch of new Centre for Medical History, University of Winchester: Archaeological human remains and the history of infectious disease: possibilities and realities. Invited keynote speaker

Annual Meeting of the Paleopathology Association, St Louis, Missouri, USA: Symposium: Exploring the Theme of Migration in Paleopathology: Past, Present, and Future. Invited paper: The impact of migration on health: past palaeopathological perspectives and future prospects; and two other papers: Assessing leprosy stigmata in medieval England (AD11th-15th centuries); Migrant health, an analysis of prehistoric health in relation to mobility in a Wadi Suq population at Ra’s Al-Khaimah, UAE

Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, St Louis, Missouri, USA: Organisation of Poster Symposium: The Bioarchaeology of Cardiovascular Disease; 3 posters: The impact of bioarchaeological study on understanding the evolution of cardiovascular disease; Calcified structures as potential evidence of atherosclerosis associated with human skeletal remains from Amara West (1300–800BC); Survival of calcified atheromata in the archaeological record - The effect of taphonomy, excavation and curation strategies on preservation and analysis.

Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology, Birmingham: Invited paper for session on Microbial Archaeology: Palaeopathology: using evidence from archaeological skeletons to track the origin, evolution and history of infectious disease

Annual Conference of the Society of American Archaeology, San Francisco, USA: Invited paper for session on the Bioarchaeology of care: The potential and challenges of constructing a bioarchaeology of care for a person with leprosy in the late Medieval period

Health care: supply and demand in prehistory and history, Gothetnburg, Sweden: Assessing the evidence for health care using bioarchaeology: potential, limitations and thoughts for future work. Invited keynote lecture


Annual Conference of the Paleopathology Association, Calgary, Canada: Papers: Co-author: Linking the past to the present: the synoptic results of a palaeo-oncological meta-analysis; Co-author: Cancer in ancient Egypt: a skeleton with metastatic carcinoma from Amera West, Upper Nubia (3200BP); Genotypes of historic strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from archaeological remains; Posters: Co-author: On the cusp of change: impacts of subsistence strategy changes on the health of a Wadi Suq (2200-1300BP) population from Ra's Al-Khaimah; Co-author: Irresistible corruption: a palaeopathological examination of lead poisoning and its shaping of the mortality and morbidity profile of an urban industrial period Quaker population in north-east England

Annual Conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropology, Calgary, Canada: Organised poster symposium on Neglected infectious diseases in palaeopathology and clinical medicine: past, current and future research on leprosy. Symposium dedicated to the memory of Donald J. Ortner: Posters: An overview of the global palaeopathological evidence for leprosy; Concepts of leprosy today in the western world: results of a survey

Society for American Archaeology Annual Conference, Austin, Texas Poster: Disparities in health: An investigation into mobility and dietary impacts on disease prevalence in two Wadi Suq tombs at Ra's al-Khaimah, UAE

Engaging with the dead: exploring changing human beliefs about death, mortality and the human body, Durham University: Paper: Developing and implementing important big picture approaches in bioarchaeology: opportunities and challenges

Dis/ability: Archaeologie und Anthropologie – Funde und Befunde, Bremen, Germany: Paper: Bioarchaeology and “disability”: using the present to inform interpretations of past impairment. Invited paper

Paleopathology Association European Conference, Lund, Sweden: Chair of a session. Paper: Applying the “Index of Care” to a person who suffered leprosy in late Medieval England. Poster: An occupationally related disease in a 19th century skeleton from north-east England? The past and present of “phossy jaw”

 BABAO Annual Conference, Durham, UK: Papers: Climate change and respiratory disease at Amara West, in Sudan – a bioarchaeological perspective; Dietary evolution and cultural change during the 5th to 2nd millennium BC at Tepe Hissar, Iran. Posters: An occupationally related disease in a 19th century skeleton from north-east England? The past and present of “phossy jaw”; Mycobacteria are everywhere: implications for the study of tuberculosis in archaeological skeletal remains; Differential diagnoses of bending deformities in a non-adult skeleton from St Peter’s Church in Riga, Latvia

Royal Archaeological Institute: Science in archaeology, Bradford University, UK: Human remains – the last 40 years. Invited paper

Biomedical sciences and methods in archaeology, Bordeaux, France: Bioarchaeology and biomedical sciences: perspectives on their development. Invited keynote paper

Disease, disability and medicine in Medieval Europe, Nottingham University, UK: Applying the index of care to a person who suffered leprosy in late medieval England.


International Leprosy Congress, Brussels, Belgium: Paper: Dispelling the myths about the global history of leprosy: bioarchaeological perspectives on the treatment of people with leprosy by past communities; Poster: Myths about leprosy: results of a survey of perceptions about the infection

Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference, Bournemouth University Co-author: From grave to grave: mobility, personhood and the role of the living within Bronze Age mortuary practices in the Levant

British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology Annual Conference, University of York. Papers: Co-author: 1. Identification of ancient Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains in human skeletal remains, 2. The invisible dead project. Posters: co-author: 1. Studying “Marvels”: Congenital Defects in 18th and 19th Century Populations from Rural and Urban Northeast England, 2. Myths about leprosy: results of a survey relating to established perceptions about the infection

International Leprosy Congress, Brussels, Belgium: Paper: Dispelling the myths about the global history of leprosy: bioarchaeological perspectives on the treatment of people with leprosy by past communities; Poster: co-author: Myths about leprosy: results of a survey of perceptions about the infection

Death, Dying and Disposal 11th International conference - Theory meets practice Open University, Milton Keynes co-author: The ‘Invisible Dead’ Project

Durham Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (MEMSA) 7th Annual Postgraduate Conference (The Mutilated Body) The bioarchaeology of and history of leprosy: changing views of the treatment of leprosy in past communities (invited keynote paper)

Finnish Medico-Historical Society’s 24th Nordic Medical History Congress, Helsinki, Finland Palaeopathology and medical history: is there a divergence or convergence in the use of different sources of data in understanding the health of our ancestors? (invited keynote paper)

Finnish Medico-Historical Society’s 24th Nordic Medical History Congress, Finland, University of Helsinki: Workshop: Reburial or curation: human remains and ethics (Ethical concerns and human remains from archaeological sites – a British view) – invited 

Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA: Bioarchaeology and “disability”: using the present to inform interpretations of past impairments (invited paper and poster symposium discussant within the Disease Ideologies session); also co-author on poster: Identifying traumatic induced brain injury (TBI) and disability in Medieval England AD1066-AD1600); invited discussant for session on Infectious disease in humans and other primates, and co-author of paper: Ancient tuberculosis DNA revealed by Next generation Sequencing

Annual Meeting of the Paleopathology Association, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA: Co-author of paper: Heterogeneity in lipid biomarker profiles for ancient leprosy

Annual Conference of the Society for American Archaeology, Honolulu, Hawaii: Does migration in life affect your health? Stable isotope and palaeopathological analysis of people buried at early Medieval Bamburgh, Northumberland, England (invited paper)

Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing, Durham University: Research Colloquium: Using the past to provide a time depth to understanding health and disease today


Durham University Archaeology Society: Whose past? An interdisciplinary debate on the repatriation of artefacts and reburial of human remains. 

Paper: Challenges to the survival of bioarchaeology as a discipline due to burial legislation: why human remains are central to our understanding of the past (Invited)

ICEPT -2. The past and present of tuberculosis: a multidisciplinary overview of the origin and evolution of TB, Szeged, Hungary (Invited).

Invited single authored paper: Old World tuberculosis: evidence from human remains with an overview of current research and future prospects

Co-authored paper: Stannington sanatorium for TB children

Co-authored poster: Tuberculosis: a demographic analysis and social study of admissions to a children's sanatorium (1936-1954) in Stannington, Northumberland

Co-authored poster: Tuberculosis across Europe: a ancient DNA study

Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, Portland, Oregon:

Co-authored paper: Understanding re-emerging infectious diseases: contributions on tuberculosis from palaeopatholgoy and biomolecular science

Co-authored paper: The shape of the sponal canal and Schmorl's nodes: two-dimensional shape analysis of lower thoracic vertebrae


Research Students

I welcome PhD student applications from well qualified and enthusiastic people who want to do research in palaeopathology. I have a particular research interest in the infectious diseases but I am willing to discuss being a supervisor in other areas in palaeopathology.

I was given one of Durham University's 'Excellence in Doctoral Supervision' Awards in 2009

I currently supervise the following research students; unless otherwise stated I act as primary supervisor:

Susan Aylard (Does Parasitic Infection Correlate With Stress During Childhood? Exploring the Impact of Poor Living Environments on the Development of Skeletal Indicators of “Stress” and Parasitic Infection in the Bioarchaeological Record); Canadian; self funded

Kori Filipek-Ogden (Illness, Isolation, and Isotopes: Assessing leprosy stigma in late Medieval England (12th-16th centuries AD) and its impact on health and contemporary society). USA; self funded

Marieke Gernay (Urban health in Medieval Belgium, France and England). Belgium; self funded

Claire Hodson (Stressed at birth: metric variation in infants to determine whether stress affects skeletal dimensions); AHRC funded. 2nd Supervisor.

Julie Peacock (Disability and traumatic brain injury (TBI) in Britain: AD 1066-AD 1800). U.K. AHRC funded

Aryel Pacheco (Tuberculosis in Andean communities from the Tarapacá area (North of Chile) between 900 BC to 1450 AD. Chile; government funded

Elina Petersone-Gordina (Living outside the city gate: a palaeopathological, isotopic and comparative analysis of the post-medieval St Gertrude Church cemetery population in Riga, Latvia). Latvia; AHRC and Wenner Gren funded

Kendra Quinn (A bioarchaeological study of the impact of mobility on transmission of tuberculosis). UK; self funded

Samantha Tipper Booth (A Bioarchaeological approach to the analysis of Vertebral Fractures amongst the Ancient Nubians from 5000B.C to 1500 A.D); self funded. UK; self funded

Research Interests

  • Bioarchaeological approaches to the history of disease and medicine worldwide and any period, especially infectious disease
  • Bioarchaeology, or the integration of biological with archaeological data to study past human populations through their skeletal remains
  • The application of biomolecular techniques to answer archaeological questions
  • The history of the infectious diseases, especially tuberculosis and leprosy

Teaching Areas

  • History of medicine (Philosophy) (1 hours/year.)
  • MSc Palaeopathology: Dissertation
  • MSc Palaeopathology: Identification and analysis of the normal human skeleton
  • MSc Palaeopathology: Palaeopathology. Theory and method
  • MSc Palaeopathology: Research and study skills in archaeological science
  • MSc Palaeopathology: Themes in palaeopathology

Indicators of Esteem

  • 2014: Elected a Fellow of the British Academy:
  • 2013: Annual Conference of the Society for American Archaeology, Honolulu, Hawaii: invited paper:
  • 2013: Durham Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (MEMSA) 7th Annual Postgraduate Conference (The Mutilated Body): invited keynote paper:
  • 2013: Finnish Medico-Historical Society’s 24th Nordic Medical History Congress, Helsinki, Finland: invited keynote paper:
  • 2012: Deputy Editor of the International Journal of Paleopathology:
  • 2012: ICEPT -2. The past and present of tuberculosis: a multidisciplinary overview of the origin and evolution of TB, Szeged, Hungary:invited paper:
  • 2011: Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, Oslo, Norway: invited paper:
  • 2011: Arizona State University: IHR Fellows Symposium: invited paper:
  • 2011: Institute of Irish Archaeologists Annual Conference on Science and Archaeology, Dublin, Ireland: : invited keynote paper:
  • 2011: REF (Research Excellence Framework) Panel C:17 - elected member for Archaeology:
  • 2010: 18th European Meeting of the Paleopathology Association: Invited keynote lecture:
  • 2010: Associate Editor of International Journal of Palaeopathology and Member of the Advisory Board:
  • 2010: President of the Paleopathology Association: Elected President for 2011-2013

Selected Publications

Articles: magazine

  • Roberts, CA (2013). Human remains: should we study them? Young Archaeologist 156: 8-9.

Books: authored

Books: edited

Books: reviews

Books: sections

Conference papers

Edited works: journals

Journal papers: academic

Journal papers: online

Other publications: research

Show all publications

Selected Grants

  • 2014: COFUND Round 4, European Commission, £81,311
  • 2014: Wadsworth International Fellowship Renewal, £6665
  • 2013: Natural Environmental Research Council (Palaeopopulation genomics of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Co-I with Terry Brown, Manchester University) - total £486,419 (£44,500 to Durham)
  • 2012: Templeton Foundation (The invisible dead). PI Chris Scarre; Co-Leader with Graham Philip (£211-539)
  • 2011: Durham International Fellowships for Research.... (£83406.97 from European Commission)
  • 2009: Leverhulme Trust: Health and diet in ancient Nubia through political and climate change (Co-I with Neal Spencer, British Museum); £52,066 for tied studentship at Durham plus FEC costs as Co-I
  • 2008: British Aacdemy (Indigenous or incomers. A mobility study of people with pre-Columbian venereal syphilis at Hull Magistrates Court) - PI with Co-Is Dr Andrew Millard and Professor Graham Pearson (£2765)
  • 2008: Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Dating Service Programme - six dates for Bamburgh Castle Project)
  • 2007: Natural Environmental Research Council (Biomolecular archaeology of tuberculosis in ancient Britain and Europe) – Co-PI with Terry Brown, Manchester University (£211,427 – FEC - to Durham for tied PhD studentship and postdoctoral research associate, and research costs)
  • 2005: Arts and Humanities Research Council (The Bamburgh Bowl-Hole Anglian cemetery: a contextual study) - PI with Co-Is Sam Lucy and Graham Pearson (£220,563 – for postdoctoral research associate, and research costs)
  • 2014: 2 year Junior Research Fellowship, Cofund Round 4, European Commission; for Vitale Sparacello
  • 2013: Palaeopopulation genomics of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (£44515.07 from NERC - Natural Environment Research Council)
  • 2013: Renewal of Wadsworth Fellowship, Wenner Gren Foundation, £5845 (for Elina Petersone-Gordina)


Archaeology Staff June 2014