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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)


The list below shows Durham University research staff who are members of IMEMS. Click the member's name to see a more detailed biography and department.

We also welcome anyone from outside the University with an interest in our work to join. Membership is free of charge. You will receive invitations to our programme of events, with a weekly emails digest about what is happening in the Insitute and further afield. To join IMEMS contact:

Dr Karen Milek, BA (Hons) Toronto, MPhil and PhD (Cantab), FSA Scot

(email at


Originally from southern Ontario, Canada, Karen received her BA in Anthropology and Near Eastern Studies from Victoria College, University of Toronto, in 1995. Her field training began as a seasonal employee with Parks Canada, working on historic sites in Ontario, but two field seasons in Ireland expanded her professional interest to include the Early Medieval Period in northern Europe. She went to Peterhouse, at the University of Cambridge, to do an MPhil in World Archaeology (1st Millennium AD) in 1995, which deepened her interest in the Vikings and sparked a new interest in geoarchaeology and soil micromorphology. She stayed at the University of Cambridge to do her PhD at Newnham College, working on Viking Age and 19th-century (ethno-historic) houses in Iceland, using geoarchaeological analyses of floor sediments to elucidate living conditions and how living spaces were organised and used.

Since 1997, Karen has brought expertise in archaeological field survey, excavation, and geoarchaeology to numerous Viking Age, Pictish Period, Medieval, and Early Modern projects in England, Scotland, Norway, Iceland, and, most recently, Siberia and Canada. She worked as seasonal excavation staff for the Institute of Archaeology, Iceland (FSÍ), from 2000-2007, becoming Director of the FSÍ / North Atlantic Biocultural Organisation's Field School in North Atlantic Archaeology in 2005, and Project Manager of the Viking Age Vatnsfjörður Excavation Project in 2006, roles she retained until the completion of the Vatnsfjörður excavation in 2013.

Karen was appointed Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen in 2007, where she helped to establish the new Department of Archaeology and had a key role in the development of its udergraduate degree programmes, serving as Undergraduate Programme Coordinator from 2007-2011. In 2009 the Graduate Program in Anthropology at the City University of New York appointed her as Adjunct Research Professor in recognition of her ongoing research and research-led teaching in the North Atlantic region. Karen was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2015.

On August 1, 2017, Karen moved to the Department of Archaeology at Durham University to take up the post of Associate Professor (Reader) in Geoarchaeology. She remains an Honorary Research Fellow with the Department of Archaeology at Aberdeen University.

International Collaboration

  • JPI Climate Project: Human-Animal Relations under Climate Change in Northern Eurasia, with project partners at the Universities of Lapland and Aberdeen, Ájtte Swedish Mountain and Sámi Museum, Scientific Research Centre of the Arctic, Salekhard
  • Institute of Archaeology, Iceland (Fornleifastofnun Íslands): Numerous collaborations, but most importantly on the Vatnsfjörður Project
  • Prof Orri Vésteinsson, University of Iceland: Geoarchaeological contributions to the Sveigakot Project, Iceland
  • Prof Jesse Byock, UCLA, and Dr Davide Zori, Baylor University, USA: Geoarchaeological contributions to the Hrísbrú Project, Iceland

Indicators of Esteem

Research Interests

  • Geoarchaeology, including soil survey, archaeological soil micromorphology, geochemistry, magnetic techniques, and lipid biomarkers
  • Early medieval period, especially the Viking Age, in: Scandinavia, the North Atlantic Region, NW Siberia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Isle of Man
  • 19th and early 20th century in: Scotland, the North Atlantic Region, and Canada
  • Excavation and environmental sampling methods
  • Ground-truthing of remote sensing anomalies, including multi-spectral satellite imagery
  • Microrefuse analysis
  • Space syntax analysis in archaeology
  • Human-environment-animal interactions
  • Social archaeology of houses, farmsteads, and transhumant/nomadic pastoralist sites
  • Migrations and invasions and relationships between incomers and indigenous peoples
  • Impacts of culture contact on material culture, especially residential architecture and objects used in everyday life
  • Ethnoarchaeology and ethno-historic archaeology, especially to help develop new methodologies for the interpretation of activity areas
  • Experimental archaeology

Teaching Areas

  • Archaeology Practicals (10 hours/year.)
  • Environmental Archaeology (Convenor) (10 hours/year.)
  • Research and Study Skills in Archaeological Science (Convenor) (8 hours/year.)
  • Scientific Methods in Archaeology 1 (4 hours/year.)
  • Scientific Methods in Archaeology 2 (Convenor) (11 hours/year.)
  • Scientific Methods in Archaeology 3 (4 hours/year.)
  • Topics in Archaeological Science (4 hours/year.)

Selected Publications

Book review

  • Milek, Karen (2008). Review of Smith, D. N., Brickley, M. B. and Smith, W. (eds). 2005. Fertile Ground. Papers in Honour of Susan Limbrey (Symposia of the Association for Environmental Archaeology No. 22). Environmental Archaeology 13: 190-192.

Chapter in book

  • Kupiec, Patrycja & Milek, Karen (2018). Ethno-geoarchaeological study of seasonal occupation: Bhiliscleitir, the Isle of Lewis. In Historical Archaeologies of Transhumance Across Europe. Costello, Eugene & Svensson, Eva Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 6: 75-92.
  • Carlisle, T. & Milek, K. (2016). Constructing society in Viking Age Iceland: Rituals and power. In The Farm as a Social Arena. Dommasnes, L. H., Gutsmiedl-Schumann, D. & Hommedal, A. T. Waxmann Verlag GmbH. 245-272.
  • Kupiec, Patrycja, Milek, Karen, Gísladóttir, Guðrún & Woollett, James (2016). Elusive sel sites: the geoarchaeological quest for Icelandic shielings and the case for Þorvaldsstaðasel, in northeast Iceland. In Summer Farms: Seasonal Exploitation of the Uplands from Prehistory to the Present. Collis, John, Pearce, Mark & Nicolis, Franco J.R. Collis Publications. 221-236.
  • Wouters, Barbora, Milek, Karen, Devos, Yannick & Tys, Dries (2016). Soil micromorphology in urban research: early medieval Antwerp (Belgium) and Viking Age Kaupang (Norway). In Objects, Environment, and Everyday Life in Medieval Europe. Jervis, Ben, Broderick, Lee G. & Grau Sologestoa, Idoia Brepols. 279-295.
  • Simpson, Ian & Milek, Karen (2016). Thin section micromorphology of soils and sediments from the Phase 2 church chancel at Reykholt. In Reykholt: The Church Excavations. Sveinbjarnardóttir, G. National Museum of Iceland. 224-229.
  • Kupiec, Patrycja & Milek, Karen (2015). Roles and perceptions of shielings and the mediation of gender identities in Viking and Medieval Iceland. In Viking Worlds: Things, Spaces and Movement. Eriksen, Marianne Hem, Pedersen, Unn, Rundberget, Bernt, Axelsen, Irmelin & Berg, Heidi Lund Oxbow. 102-123.
  • Milek, Karen, Zori, Davide, Connors, Colin, Baier, Waldraud, Baker, Kate & Byock, Jesse (2014). Interpreting social space and social status in the Viking Age house at Hrísbru using integrated geoarchaeological and microrefuse analyses. In Viking Archaeology in Iceland: The Mosfell Archaeological Project. Zori, Davide & Byock, Jesse Brepols. 143-162.
  • Milek, Karen (2014). Micromorphology of occupation deposits on archaeological sites. In Soil Micromorphology in General and Archaeological Context. Lisá, Lenka Mendel University. 60-79.
  • Oliver, Jeffry, Noble, Gordon, Shepherd, Colin, Knecht, Richard, Milek, Karen & Sveinbjarnarson, Oskar (2013). Historical archaeology and the ‘Colony’ Reflections on fieldwork at a 19th-century settlement in rural Scotland. In Chapel of Garioch: The Bailies of Bennachie. Shepherd, Colin The Bailies of Bennachie (Chapel of Garioch). 2: 103-124.
  • Milek, Karen (2012). Micromorphology. In A Late Iron Age Farmstead in the Outer Hebrides: Excavations at Mound 1, Bornais, South Uist. Sharples, Niall Oxbow. 54-61.
  • Barrett, J.H., Farr, L.R., Redhouse, D., Richer, S., Zimmermann, J., Sharpe, L., Ovenden, S., Moore, J., Poller, T., Milek, K.B., Simpson, I.A., Smith, M., Gourley, B. & O’Connor, T (2012). Quoygrew and its landscape context. In Being an Islander: Production and Identity at Quoyrew, Orkney, AD 900-1600. Barrett, James McDonald Institute, Cambridge. 25-46.
  • French, Charles & Milek, Karen (2012). The geoarchaeological evidence. In Experimental Archaeology and Fire: The Investigation of a Burnt Reconstruction at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village. Tipper, Jess Suffolk County Council Archaeology Service. 146: 77-89.
  • Milek, Karen (2009). Micromorphological analysis. In The Anglo-Saxon Settlement and Cemetery at Bloodmoor Hill, Carlton Colville, Suffolk. Lucy, Sam, Tipper, Jess & Dickens, Alison Cambridge Archaeological Unit. 152-161.
  • Lawson, I.T., Milek, K., Adderley, W.P., Casely, A. F., Church, M.J., Duarte, L., Dugmore, A.J., Edwards, K.J., Gathorne-Hardy, F.J., Guðmundsson, G., Morrison, S., Newton, A.J. & Simpson, I.A. (2009). The palaeoenvironment of Mývatnssveit during the Viking Age and Early Medieval Period. In Hofstaðir: Excavations of a Viking Age Feasting Hall. Lucas, Gavin Fornleifastofnun Islands (Reykjavik). 26-54.
  • Milek, Karen & French, Charles (2007). Soils and sediments in the settlement and harbour at Kaupang. In Kaupang in Skiringssal. Skre, Dagfinn Aarhus University Press. 321-360.
  • Milek, Karen (2005). Soil micromorphology. In Sharples, Niall 98-104.
  • Milek, Karen & French, Charles (2002). Sediment micromorphology. In Deeply Stratified Medieval and Post-Medieval Remains at Market Mews, Wisbech. Hinman, Mark Cambridgeshire County Council. 38-48.
  • Milek, Karen (2001). Environmental archaeology and the interpretation of social space. A comment on ‘Reconstructing house activity areas’. In Environmental Archaeology: Meaning and Purpose. Albarella, Umberto Kluwer. 271-281.
  • Milek, Karen (1999). Settlement in thin section: the application of sediment micromorphology to the interpretation of Norse farmsteads in Iceland. In Settlement and Landscape. Proceedings of a Conference in Århus, Denmark, May 4-7, 1998. Fabech, C. & Ringtved, J. Jutland Archaeological Society. 497-498.
  • Milek, Karen (1997). Soil micromorphology and the medieval urban environment: examples from Ely and Peterborough, England. In Environment and Subsistence in Medieval Europe. De Boe, G. & Verhaeghe, V. Institute of Archaeological Heritage (Zellik, Belgium). 9: 155-168.

Edited Sources, Research Data Sets, and Databases

  • Milek, Karen & Jones, Richard (2012). Science Panel Report. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (Scottish Archaeological Research Framework).

Journal Article

Show all publications

Related Links

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • History & Archaeology: Geoarchaeology -- the application of earth sciences to archaeological research
  • Environment and culture: Geoarchaeology -- the application of earth sciences to archaeological research
  • World perspectives & techniques: Geoarchaeology -- the application of earth sciences to archaeological research
  • History & Archaeology: Viking Age archaeology, especially in Iceland and the North Atlantic region
  • Environment and culture: Viking Age archaeology, especially in Iceland and the North Atlantic region
  • European Prehistory: Viking Age archaeology, especially in Iceland and the North Atlantic region

Selected Grants

  • 2017: Social-Ecological Transformations: HUMan-ANimal Relations Under Climate Change in NORthern Eurasia (HUMANOR). ESRC under the JPI Climate Initiative, £97,000, 01-08-2017 to 31-12-2018