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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Dr Chris Caple, BSc, PhD, ACR, FIIC, FSA

Emeritus Reader in the Department of Archaeology

(email at


Dr Chris Caple was, until July 2018, Associate Professor / Senior Lecturer at Durham University, where he had been director of the postgraduate programme in artefact conservation since 1988. He was appointed Emeritus Reader in Archaeological Conservation in 2018 following his retirement from teaching in the university and remains active; researching and publishing in conservation, analysing and researching ancient artefacts and writing up archaeological excavations.

Chris graduated from University of Wales, College of Cardiff in 1979 with a BSc in Archaeological Conservation. He carried out his doctoral research on the composition and manufacturing technology of medieval copper alloy pins at the University of Bradford and was awarded a PhD in 1986. Between 1984 and 1988 he was the artefacts conservator at the York Castle Museum. In 1988 he became lecturer in Archaeological Conservation and Archaeological Science at the Dept. of Archaeology, University of Durham, becoming a Senior Lecturer / Associate Professor in 1996.

He is an Accredited Conservator Restorer (ACR) and Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation (FIIC). His books Conservation Skills: Judgement, Method and Decision Making (published in 2000), Preventive Conservation in Museums (published in 2011) are widely used as textbooks on conservation and museum studies courses. He has given workshops and invited lectures throughout Europe and North America, from Gothenburg in 2001, Sante Fe 2003 (Getty Reburial Colloquium) and Delaware University (Winterthur Programme) in 2005 to New York (ANAGPIC Conference) in 2012 and Los Angeles in (Getty Round Table on Conservation and Archaeology) in 2017.

The postgraduate conservation courses at Durham; Diploma in Archaeological Conservation (1988-1991), MA in Conservation of Historic Objects (Archaeology) (1990-2004) and MA in Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects (2009-2018), were all taught and directed by Chris. They have all had international reputations, and have produced many of the conservators who are active leaders in the field such as Gordon Turner Walker – Professor in Museum Studies, National Yunlin University of Science and Technology, Taiwan, Jeremy Hutchings – Associate Professor of Conservation at Oslo University, Samantha Beath (nee Sporton) - Head of Conservation Manchester Museum, Christine Murray – National Trust Conservator of the North of England and Dr Emily Williams – Archaeological Conservator Colonial Williamsburg Virginia USA who was recently appointed the new director of the Durham postgraduate conservation programme. In addition to the courses, he ran an active conservation research programme which has produced PhD students, such as Dr Ticca Ogilvie, previously Head of Artefacts Conservation, National Museums of Scotland, now Senior Lecturer at Gothenburg University. There have been a series of key publications, particularly in areas such as preservation in situ and teaching and learning conservation. Chris was briefly an associate editor of Studies in Conservation 2009 – 2010. 

Chris has been actively involved in excavating archaeological sites since the age of 14. He has a long term research interest in Welsh castles and between 1984 and 1995 he directed the archaeological excavations at Dryslwyn Castle in Dyfed. These Cadw funded excavations were one of the most detailed excavations of a Welsh castle ever undertaken. Producing a wealth of environmental remains and evidence of the 1287 siege, they were published as Dryslwyn Castle Excavations 1980-1995, Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph No. 26, in 2007. The only one of the large scale castle excavations taking place in Wales in the 1980’s to have been fully published. Chris subsequently undertook excavations at Nevern Castle between 2008 and 2018, revealing a well preserved 12th century castle built of slate mortared with clay and unearthing a threshold containing hidden apotropaic symbols in situ. Interim reports on every seasons work are available from;

Nevern Castle – The Development of, and Life in, Welsh Castles

He has been a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (FSA) since 2002.

His long standing interests in the preservation of archaeological remains in situ, led Chris to investigate waterlogged burial environments during the 1990’s, attracting grants from English Heritage, he published the first measurements of the waterlogged burial chemistry on archaeological sites; data which is quoted internationally. His most recent book Preservation of Archaeological Remains In Situ (published in 2016) is the first textbook in this subject.

Chris has also been active researching ancient artefacts and analysing the materials of which they are composed, since his PhD on medieval pins (1979-1986). Work has ranged from Durham Cathedral doors to Anglo Saxon pendants and brooches. This experience led him to write Objects: Reluctant Witnesses to the Past (published in 2006) a textbook to aid museum studies and archaeology students studying archaeological artefacts. He has supervised students researching artefacts at undergraduate, masters and doctoral levels such as his PhD student (1991-1995) Dr David Dungworth who was Head of Conservation and Technology for English Heritage and Dr Jocelyn Baker (PhD 2008-2013) who researched the colour and composition of Anglo-Saxon copper alloys. Much of this work has taken place in the artefact materials analysis laboratory and equipment centre supported by the university and department, which Chris established and now reports as DARC and AAFAC.

In addition to being the Chairman of the Board of Examiners in the Dept of Archaeology at Durham (2005-2009) Chris has been external examiner at a number of universities, London Guildhall University (1993-1996), Bradford University (1997-2000), Leicester University (2003-2007), Derby University (2007-2010) and most recently University College London (2010-2014). He was a member of English Heritage’s Science and Conservation Advisory Panel 1997 - 2003 and a member of the Board of Studies of the Textile Conservation Centre (TCC) (Courtauld Institute 1996-1999, University of Southampton 1999-2001) 1996 – 2001.

Chris practices archaeology as a holistic process, actively undertaking all aspects of the work himself from the initial site survey to monitoring the environment of the museum displays containing the excavation finds. He is currently engaged in a number of research and publication projects; Excavations at Nevern Castle, The Yarm Helmet and pins from the Durham River Wear Assemblage. Plans are also underway for second edition of ‘Conservation Skills’ book as well as books with colleagues from Durham on ‘Studies in Archaeological Conservation’ and ‘Teaching and Learning Conservation’.

Research Groups

Department of Archaeology

Research Projects

Department of Archaeology

  • Artefact Studies
  • Burial Environments & Preservation in Situ.
  • Conservation Theory
  • Nevern Castle – The Development of, and Life in, Welsh Castles
  • The Durham River Wear Assemblage Project

Research Interests

  • Ancient Materials and Object Analysis: analysis work done on pins, Saxon brooches, Durham Cathedral doors and many other objects
  • Burial Environments: the preservation of artefacts and materials in burial environments, monitoring burial environments and reburial
  • Conservation: All aspects of conservation work, especially teaching conservation and conservation ethics and practice.
  • Welsh Castles: excavateor Dryslwyn Castle 1984-1995, Nevern Castle 2008-present

Selected Publications

Authored book

  • Caple, C. (2006). Objects: Reluctant Witnesses to the Past. London: Routledge.
  • Caple C (2000). Conservation Skills: judgement, method and decision making. London: Routledge.

Edited book

  • Caple, C. (2012). Preventive Conservation in Museums. Leicester Readers in Museum Studies. Oxford: Routledge.


  • Caple, C. (2007). Excavations at Dryslwyn Castle 1980-1995. London: Society for Medieval Archaeology.

Chapter in book

  • Caple, Chris (2016). Introduction to Preservation in Situ. In Preservation of Archaeological Remains In Situ. Caple, Chris London: Routledge.
  • Caple, C. & Graves, P. (2015). Ex Situ Painted Wall Plaster. In Glastonbury Abbey: archaeological excavations 1904-79. Gilchrist, R. & Green, C. London: Society of Antiquaries of London. 336-340.
  • Caple, C. (2009). The Aims of Conservation. In Conservation: Principles, Dilemmas and Uncomfortable Truths. Richmond, A. & Bracker, A. Abingdon, Oxon: Butterworth-Heinemann. 25-31.
  • Caple C (2001). Degradation, Investigation and Preservation of Archaeological Evidence. In Handbook of Archaeological Sciences. D. Brothwell & M. Pollard Chichester New York: John Wiley. 587-593.

Journal Article

  • Caple, Chris & Garlick, Vicky (2018). Identification and valuation of archaeological artefacts: developments using digital x-radiography. Journal of the Institute of Conservation 41(2): 128-141.
  • Caple, Chris (2016). Pembrokeshire. Nevern Castle 2008–2015: Closing in on the first Welsh stone castle? Medieval Archaeology 60(2): 382-391.
  • Caple, C. (2012). The Apotropaic Symbolled Threshold to Nevern Castle—Castell Nanhyfer. Archaeological Journal 169(1): 422-452.
  • Caple, C. (2011). Nevern Castle: searching for the first masonry castle in Wales. Medieval Archaeology 55(1): 326-334.
  • Caple, C. (2010). Ancestor Artefacts - Ancestor Materials. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 29(3): 305-318.
  • Caple, C. (2009). Nevern Castle – Castell Nanhyfer. British Archaeology 109(November-December 2009): 28-33.
  • Caple, C. (2009). Nevern Castle – Castell Nanhyfer, Nevern. Archaeology in Wales 49: 126-127.
  • Caple,C. & Davies, W. (2008). Surveys and Excavations at Nevern Castle 2005-8. Archaeology in Wales 48: 39-46.
  • Caple, C. (2004). Towards a benign reburial context: the chemistry of the burial environment. Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites 6(3/4): 155-165.
  • Caple, C. & Clogg, P. (2001). Saxon Shakudo. Durham Archaeological Journal 16: 27-32.
  • Caple, Chris (1999). The Cathedral Doors. Durham Archaeological Journal 14-15: 131-140.
  • Caple, Chris (1992). The Detection and Definition of an Industry; The English Medieval and Post Medieval Pin Industry. Archaeological Journal 148(1): 241-255.

Conference Paper

  • Caple, C. (2010), Conservation: Concept and Reality, in Williams, E. & Peachey, C. eds, BAR International Series 2116: Recent Development in Archaeological Conservation. Williamsburg, Virginia, USA, Archaeopress, Oxford, 1-10.
  • Rimmer, M.B. & Caple, C. (2008), Estimating Artefact Loss: A comparison of metal artefact loss rates through in situ decay and loss of ancient monument sites in England, in Kars, H. & van Heeringen, R.M. eds, Geoarchaeological and Bioarchaeological Studies 10 10: 3rd Conference on Preserving archaeological remains in situ. Amsterdam, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, Amsterdam, 65-73.
  • Caple, C. (2008), Preservation in Situ: The Future for Archaeological Conservators?, in Saunders, D., Townsend, J.H. & Woodcock, S. eds, International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, London, 214-217.

Conference Proceeding

  • Caple C. & Hovmand, I. (2001). The Problems of Monitoring Archaeological Waterlogged Anoxic Deposits in Situ. BAR.
  • Caple C, D. Dungworth & P.W. Clogg (1997). Results of the characterisation of the anoxic waterlogged environments which preserve archaeological organic materials.
  • Caple C & P.W. Clogg (1996). Conservation Image Enhancement at Durham University.
  • Caple C (1996). The creation of self-development learning packages (SDLP) and formalised object construction and use sequences (FOCUS).

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