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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Dr David Petts, BA; PhD

Personal web page

Associate Professor in the Department of Archaeology
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41166
Room number: 327

(email at


I am Senior Lecturer in the Archaeology of Northern England and I convene the Department’s North-East England Research Group.

My main research interests focus on the social archaeology of the 1st millennium AD, with a particular focus on the development of Christianity. As part of this I am carrying out fieldwork on the Holy Island on the site of the Anglo-Saxon monastery of Lindisfarne withmy collaborators DigVentures, funded through crowdfunding and a series of other grants including one from National Geographic.

Whilst most of my current work is focused on the north of England, I have significant research interests in Wales and Scotland, as well as the wider North Sea world. I and have written books on the early medieval church in Wales and a more theoretical consideration of the process of conversion in the early medieval world in Britain and elsewhere. Outside Britain and Ireland I have had a particular long-standing interest in the early church in Brittany and Western Normandy.

Other key interests include the archaeology of post-medieval Britain, the history of archaeology, archaeology and 'Englishness', cultural and historic landscapes and issues linked to the curation and protection of Britain's historic environment. I have recently won a £250k Leverhulme Research Grant to develop an innovative new investigation of the impact of the Great Depression of the 1930s on the landscape of Northern England.

In addition to my work on Holy Island I have run a number of field projects. I run the Department’s major field school at the Roman fort of Binchester (Co. Durham). This is a joint initiative being run by Durham University, Durham County Council and a number of US Universities and aims to explore the Roman and early medieval activity at this important cavalry fort and its associated civilian settlement, which formed part of the frontier defences of Roman Britain.

In 2011 I was been chosen as one of the winners of BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) inaugural New Generation Thinkers Scheme. I am secretary of the Institute for Archaeology’s Research and Impact Special Interest Group.

Impact and Engagement

A key element of my work involves extensive work with local community groups to help them understand their heritage. This has involved the major involvement of local groups and individuals in our excavations at Binchester, which has been supported by funding from the AHRC, English Heritage and Durham County Council. This involvement continues all year round with volunteers working with us extensively in our post-excavation programme, and even attending master classes in environmental archaeology.

In 2012 I led a team that won £14k from the AHRC for a project which provides training in heritage skills to the general public. This has also allowed us to offer bespoke support and advice to a range of local history and archaeology groups, including supporting them in grant applications and providing training in a range of archaeological skills.

I also have a close interest in heritage management, growing out of my experience working in local government and my current role in developing a research framework for the Durham World Heritage Site. This has seen my involvement with a number of heritage projects developed with local government and English Heritage in the region, including the North-East and Hadrian’s Wall Research Frameworks and the Durham Archaeology Assessment. I am currently leading a new project to revise and develop the NE Regional Research Framework.

My interest in developing impact and engagement has been recognised through by award of a Beacon North-East fellowship in Community Engagement in 2008, an invitation to sit on the Community Participation committee of the HLF-funded Lindisfarne Peregrini Project and my role as Chairman of the Chartered Institute For Archaeologists Research and Impact Special Interest Group.

I have also carried out some media work engaging with the region’s heritage, including a number of broadcasts on Radio 3’s Nightwaves programme and speaking at the Festival of Freethinking held at the Sage in Gateshead.

Research Projects

  • Lindisfarne: Holy Island Archaeology Project
  • Landscapes of the Great Depression in NE England (Leverhulme)
  • Yeavering Anglo-Saxon Palace (Gefrin Trust)
  • Mapping Early Christianity in Western Normandy
  • Roman Binchester Research Project
  • Durham Medieval Archaeologists

Research Groups

Department of Archaeology

  • Heritage Partnerships
  • Northern Communities

Research Projects

Department of Archaeology

  • Binchester Roman Fort
  • Durham Medieval Archaeologists (DMA)
  • Hadrian's Wall Research Framework
  • Landscapes of the Great Depression in North-East of England
  • Lindisfarne: The search for the heart of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
  • Mapping the early church in Western Normandy: AD400-1200
  • North-East Heritage Partnership
  • Rievaulx Landscapes Project
  • Sockburn Project, Co Durham

Research Interests

  • Early medieval Britain, particularly northern England and Scotland
  • Early medieval Christianity
  • Early medieval to contemporary maritime cultural landscape
  • Post-medieval religion, ritual and belief
  • 20th century archaeology

Selected Publications

Authored book

Edited book

  • Petts, D & Turner, S (2012). Early Medieval Northumbria: Kingdoms and Communities AD450-1100. Brepols.

Chapter in book

  • Petts, D. (2020). Patterns in Monumentality: Characterising sculptural assemblages at early medieval monastic sites in Northern Britain. In Peopling Insular Art: Practice, Performance, Perception. Thickpenny, Cynthia, Forsyth, Katherine, Geddes, Jane & Mathis, Kate Oxbow Books. 127-140.
  • Petts, David (2019). Britain and Ireland, 100–700 CE. In The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. OUP. 601.
  • Petts, D. (2018). Early medieval Carham in its Landscape Context. In The Battle of Carham: A Thousand Years On. McGuigan, N. & Woolf, A. Birlinn. 151-173.
  • Petts, D. (2018). Materializing Morris Dancing. In The Histories of the Morris in Britain. Papers from a conference held at Cecil Sharp House, London, 25 - 26 March 2017, organized in partnership by Historical Dance Society with English Folk Dance and Song Society and The Morris Ring, The Morris Federation and Open Morris. Heaney, M. English Folk Dance and Song Society & Historical Dance Society. 331-362.
  • Petts, D. (2017). ‘A place more venerable than all in Britain’ The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon Lindisfarne. In The Lindisfarne Gospels: New Perspectives. Gameson, R. Leiden, Boston: Brill. 57: 1-18.
  • Petts, D. (2017). Places and spaces: some reflections on reconstructing the spatial organisation of Northumbrian monasteries. In Early medieval monasticism in the North Sea Zone: proceedings of a conference held to celebrate the conclusion of the Lyminge excavations 2008-15. Thomas, Gabor & Knox, Alexandra Oxford: Oxford University School of Archaeology. 20: 43-54.
  • Semple, S., Buchanan, B., Harrington, S., Oliver, D. & Petts, D. (2017). Power at the Edge: Yeavering, Northumberland, England. In Life on the Edge: Social, Religious and Political Frontiers in Early Medieval Europe. Semple, S., Orsini, S. & Mui, S. Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum with the Internationales Sachsensymposion. 6: 91-112.
  • David Petts (2016). Christianity in Roman Britain. In Oxford Handbook of Roman Britain. Millett, M., Revell, L. & Moore, A. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 660-81.
  • Petts, D. (2015). Churches and Lordship in Western Normandy, AD 800-1200. In Churches and Social Power in Early Medieval Europe: Integrating Archaeological and Historical Approaches. Sánchez-Pardo, José C. & Shapland, Michael G. Turnhout: Brepols. 297-328.
  • Petts, D (2015). Late Roman military buildings at Binchester (Co. Durham). In Roman military architecture on the fronties: Armies and their architecture in Late Antiquity. Collins, R & Weber, M Oxbow. 32-45.
  • Petts, D. (2014). Christianity and cross-channel connectivity in late and sub-Roman Britain. In AD410: The History and Archaeology of Late and Post-Roman Britain. Haarer, F., Collins, R., Fitzpatrick-Matthews, K., Moorhead, S., Petts, D. & Walton, P. London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. 73-86.
  • Petts, D. (2013). Late Roman to early medieval settlement at Ingleby Barwick: discussion. In A Roman Villa at the Edge of Empire: Excavations at Ingleb Barwick, Stockton-on-Tees, 2003-04. Council for British Archaeology. 195-200.
  • Petts, D & Turner, S (2012). Introduction: Northumbrian Communities. In Early medieval Northumbria: Kingdoms and Communities AD450-1100. Petts, D & Turner, S Brepols. 1-14.
  • Petts, D. (2012). Place-names and archaeology on a border: churches in Ergyng. In Sense of Place in Anglo-Saxon England. Jones, R. & Semple, S. Shaun Tyas. 130-146.
  • Hewitt, Richard, Brightman, James, Mason, David, Petts, David, Radford, Sally, Vyner, Blaise & Waddington, Clive (2011). . In An Archaeological Assessment of County Durham: The Aggregate Producing Areas. Durham County Council; Archaeological Research Services.
  • Petts, D. & Turner, S. (2009). Multiple church complexes on early medieval ecclesiastical sites in Western Britain. In The Archaeology of the Early Medieval Celtic Churches. Edwards, N. Leeds: Maney.
  • Petts, D. (2009). Variation in the British burial rite: AD400-700. In Mortuary Practices and social identities in the Middle Ages. Sayer, Duncan & Williams, Howard Exeter: University of Exeter Press. 207-221.
  • McOmish, J.M. & Petts, D. (2008). Fey Field, Whithorn: Excavations by David Pollock and Amanda Clarke. In The Archaeology of York Web Series. York: York Archaeological Trust.
  • Petts, D. (2006). Landscapes of Memory in the Colonial City: Building History in Imperial India. In Cities in the World: 1500–2000. Green, A. & Leech, R. Leeds: Maney. 195-212.
  • Petts, D. (2006). The Roman lead tank from Perry Oaks. In Landscape Evolution in the Middle Thames Valley: Heathrow Terminal 5 Excavations Volume 1, Perry Oaks. Framework Archaeology Oxford: Framework Archaeology. 227-230.
  • Petts,D. (2004). Early Medieval or Late Antique?: Burial in Western Britain AD410 to 600. In Debating Late Antiquity AD300–700: Proceedings of the York Conference. Collins, R. & Gerrard, J. Oxford: Archaeopress. 77-87.
  • Petts, D. (2003). Memories in stone: changing strategies and contexts of remembrance in early medieval Wales. In Archaeologies of Remembrance: death and memory in past societies. Williams, H. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum. 193-214.
  • Petts, D. (2002). Cemeteries and boundaries in western Britain. In Burial in early medieval England and Wales. Lucy, S. & Reynolds, A. Leeds: Society for Medieval Archaeology. Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph Series 17: 24-46.
  • Petts, D. (2002). Votive Hoards in Late Roman Britain: Pagan or Christian? In The Cross Goes North: Processes of Conversion in Northern Europe, AD 300–1300. Carver, M. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer. 109-118.
  • Petts, D. (1999). Christianity and the End of Roman Britain. In TRAC 98: Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, University of Leicester, April 1998. Baker, P., Forcey, C., Jundi, S. & Witcher, R. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 86-95.
  • Petts, D. (1998). Burial and gender in late and sub-Roman Britain. In TRAC 97: Proceedings of the Seventh Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, University of Nottingham, April 1997. Forcey, C., Hawthorne, J. & Witcher, R. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 112-124.
  • Petts, D. (1998). Landscape and cultural identity in Roman Britain. In Cultural Identity in the Roman Empire. Berry, J. & Laurence, R. London: Routledge. 79-94.
  • Petts, D. (1997). Elite settlement in late Roman and sub-Roman Britain. In TRAC 96: Proceedings of the sixth annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, Sheffield 1996. Meadows, K., Lemke, C. & Heron, J. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 101-112.

Journal Article

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Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Environment and culture:
  • Medieval history:
  • Middle Ages & Early Modern History:
  • Roman, Greek & ancient civilisations:
  • Museums:
  • Regional Heritage:
  • Medieval history: Archaeology of medieval Britain
  • Middle Ages & Early Modern History: Archaeology of medieval Britain
  • Roman, Greek & ancient civilisations: Archaeology of medieval Britain
  • World perspectives & techniques: Archaeology of medieval Britain


Indicators of Esteem

  • 2014: Chairman, Research and Impact Special Interest Group, Chartered Institute for Archaeology:
  • 2006: Frend Prize for Early Christian Studies: Awarded to young scholars for distinction in Early Christian studies by the Society of Antiquaries of London
  • 2006: Member, Archaeological Advisory Committee: Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust 2006-2007

Selected Grants

  • 2016: Landscape Archaeology of the Great Depression in Northern England (£255085.00 from Leverhulme Trust)
  • 2014: Mapping Holy Island (Hope-Taylor Archive) (£350.00 from The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne)
  • 2014: The Yarrow Stone in its Landscape Context: A Geophysical Survey of the Landscape (£500.00 from The Strathmartine Trust)
  • 2012: Mapping Lindisfarne: the Anglo-Saxon Archaeology of Holy Island (£8158.73 from National Geographic Society)
  • 2012: North-Eastern Heritage Partnership (£14531.22 from Arts and Humanities Research Council)
  • 2011: Geophysics at Binchester (£2000.00 from The Roman Research Trust)
  • 2010: Mapping the early church in Western Normandy (£1077.00 from Society for Medieval Archaeology)
  • 2010: Mapping the early church in Western Normandy (£1500.00 from Society of Antiquaries of London)
  • 2009: Society for Church Archaeology
  • 2008: Mapping the early church in western Normandy (£282.00 from society for church archaeology)