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Durham University

Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)

Staff and Governance

Core Staff

The day-to-day running of IMEMS is the responsibility of the Core Executive Committee, comprising the Director and Associate Directors and the Administrator. 

Professor Sarah Semple, BA (hons), MSt Hist. Res., DPhil

Professor and Head of Department in the Department of Archaeology
Travel Approver, Department of Archaeology
Travel Reporter, Department of Archaeology
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41115
Room number: 201D

Contact Professor Sarah Semple (email at


My areas of research interest include early medieval Britain and Europe. I am interested in all things early medieval, including objects, monuments and landscapes, but I’m especially enthralled by exploring early medieval interactions with natural and human altered environments, with particular reference to the role of landscape in definitions of identity, religion and cult practice. This has led to a number collaborations and edited volumes and a single-authored monograph Anglo-Saxon Perceptions of the Prehistoric. Ritual, Religion and Rulership that explores the centrality of the physical remains of the past in the shaping of Anglo-Saxon identity and power.

In 2010-13 I joined a collaborative international team exploring the development of administrative and assembly practices in northern Europe from AD 300-1500. The Assembly Project funded by the Humanities in Europe Research Area has examined multidisciplinary evidence for the emergence of assembly sites and administrative frameworks in early historic societies. Results feature in the European Journal of Archaeology (2013), two Special Volumes of the Journal of the North Atlantic and a project monograph is forthcoming in 2018. 

Long-running research interests in death and burial, landscape and identity, also resulted in a successful bid for a major Leverhulme-funded project People and Place. The Making of the Kingdom of Northumbria. This brings together five academic staff researchers and three PDRAs, and is using evidence from burial records to explore the health, wealth, ethnicity and lifestyle of the first Northumbrians, charting the emergence of one of the largest kingdoms in early medieval Britain in terms of migration, mobility, social stratification, and political aggregation AD 300-800. This is also closely allied to collaborative work with Kate Mees, a British Academy Post-doctoral Fellow, who has joined the department to pursue a research on Funerary Landscapes and Social Change in Early Medieval Northwest Europe, c. AD 400-900.

A European focus on early medieval religious landscapes is also underpins a collaboration with Maria Utrero Agudo on CHISEL: Church Building as Industry in Early Medieval Western Europe. While a recent AHRC award for Worked in Stone. Completing the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, is underpinning a final major 3-year programme of research that will bring the seminal and long-running Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Sculpture to completion.

My interests in place and power have also led to participation in the AHRC-funded Royal Residences Network which, via discussions and workshops, is reinterpreting an influx of new evidence for royal or elite palace/central place sites in Britain.

I also currently enjoying my role as Honorary Editor for the internationally recognised journal Medieval Archaeology, which allows me to keep abreast of the latest research findings in the discipline. As a member of the Editorial Board for the journal World Archaeology, I have also recently jointly edited a Debates in World Archaeology issue, and am currently working an issue on Temporary Sites and Gathering Places.

In 2013 I completed a collaborative project funded by English Heritage, exploring the internationally important monastic sites of Wearmouth and Jarrow. One Monastery in Two Places used a combination of non-intrusive survey techniques and digital data resources to explore the fabric of the buildings and the impact of these monasteries on the immediate and wider hinterlands and results were published in 2013 as Wearmouth and Jarrow. Northumbrian Monasteries in an Historic Landscape. Further field involvements include field investigation at Yeavering, Northumberland. The Yeavering Project is in collaboration with The Gefrin Trust and additional fieldwork and survey is planned for 2017-18, along with the publication of a Resource Assessment and Research Agenda for the site.

I’m committed to furthering research of all kinds on early medieval societies and am delighted presently to be supervising PhD students working on a wide range of projects including Anglo-Saxon mortuary theatre, the recycling of Roman objects in early medieval funerary assemblages, naked human imagery in early medieval art and jewellery sets and dress fittings from 7th-century female graves. I am an active member of the Ritual Religion Belief and Place Research, Artefacts and Landscapes Research Groups and the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Durham.

Postgraduate enquiries are all aspects of early medieval archaeology are welcome, particularly on early medieval palace sites and their hinterlands, sculpture in its landscape context, early medieval artefacts - particularly different tool sets, elite funerary rites and burial rites, and in a more modern vein, landscapes and architectures of consensus, power and authority.

Indicators of Esteem

Research Groups

Department of Archaeology

Research Projects

Department of Archaeology

  • Ceramics
  • CHISEL: Church Building as Industry in Early Medieval Western Europe
  • Durham Medieval Archaeologists (DMA)
  • Etal: An Early Medieval Cemetery in Context
  • Seaham Church Recording Project
  • Sense of Place in Anglo-Saxon England
  • Sockburn Project, Co Durham
  • The Assembly Project
  • Wearmouth and Jarrow: One Monastery in Two Places

Research Interests

  • Religion, belief and popular practices in pre-Christian and Conversion Period Europe
  • The archaeology of governance and power in North West Europe
  • Death and burial in early medieval Britain
  • Church archaeology and monasticism
  • Anglo-Saxon Sculpture
  • Interdisciplinary approaches to early medieval research
  • Historiography of Anglo-Saxon Studies
  • Material culture, memory and commemoration
  • Landscape archaeology


Authored book

Chapter in book

  • Semple, S., Orsini, C. & Mui, S. (2017). At the Limits: Frontiers and Boundaries in Early Medieval Northern Europe. In Life on the Edge: Social, Political and Religious Frontiers in Early Medieval Europe. Semple, S., Orsini, C. & Mui, S. Braunschweig: Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum. 6: 7-25.
  • Semple, S., Buchanan, B., Harrington, S., Oliver, D. & Petts, D. (2017). Power at the Edge: Yeavering, Northumberland, England. In Life on the Edge: Social, Political and Religious Frontiers in Early Medieval Europe. Semple, S., Orsini, C. & Mui, S. Braunschweig: Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum. 6: 91-112.
  • Semple, S. & Williams, H. (2015). Landmarks of the Dead: Exploring Anglo-Saxon Mortuary Geographies. In The Material Culture of the Built Environment in the Anglo-Saxon World. Clegg Hyer, M. & Owen-Crocker, G. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. II: 137-161.
  • Semple, S. (2015). The Pre-Christian Landscape in Anglo-Saxon England. In Dying Gods - Religious beliefs in northern and eastern Europe in the time of Christianisation. Ruhmann, C. & Brieske, V. Stuttgart: Niedersächsischen Landesmuseum Hannover In Kommission bei Konrad Theiss Verlag. 5: 101-110.
  • Reynolds, A. & Semple, S. (2012). Digging for names: archeology and place-names in the Avebury Region. In Sense of Place in Anglo-Saxon England. Jones, R. & Semple, S Shaun Tyas. 76-100.
  • Jones, R. & Semple, S. (2012). Making Sense of Place in Anglo-Saxon England. In Sense of Place in Anglo-Saxon England. Jones, R. & Semple, S. Shaun Tyas. 1-17.
  • Reynolds, A. & Semple, S. (2011). Anglo-Saxon non-funerary weapon depositions. In Studies in Early Anglo-Saxon Art and Archaeology: Papers in Honour of Martin G. Welch. Brookes, S., Harrington, S. & Reynolds, A. Oxford: Archaeopress. 40-48.
  • Semple, S. (2011). Sacred Spaces and Places in Pre-Christian and Conversion Period Anglo-Saxon England. In The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology. Hamerow, H., Hinton, D. A. & Crawford, S. Oxford: University Press. 742-763.
  • Semple, S.J. (2010). In the Open Air. In Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited. Carver, M.O.H, Sanmark, A. & Semple, S.J. Oxford: Oxbow.
  • Sanmark, A. & Semple, S. J. (2010). The topography of outdoor assembly sites in Europe with reference to recent field results from Sweden. In Perspectives in Landscape Archaeology. Lewis, H. & Semple, S. J. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports. BAR International Series 2103: 107-119.
  • Semple, S.J. (2009). Recycling the Past: Ancient Monuments and Changing Meanings in Early Medieval Britain. In Antiquaries and Archaists, the Past in the Past, the Past in the Present. Aldrich, M. & Wallis, R. J. Reading: Spire Books Ltd. 29-45.
  • Semple, S.J. (2004). Locations of Assembly in Early Anglo-Saxon England. In Assembly Places and Practices in Medieval Europe. Pantos, A. & Semple, S.J. Dublin: Four Courts Press. 135-154.

Edited book

Edited Journal

Journal Article

Full Executive Committee

Our Full Executive Committee is made up of the Core Executive Committee, listed above, plus a number of executive members including:

International Advisory Board

We are extremely fortunate to have be able to call on the help and guidance of colleagues from around the world who help to shape and guide our direction, strategy and international reach. Our current Advisory Board members are: