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Durham University

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Bioarchaeology Research Group

A research group of the Department of Archaeology.

The Bioarchaeology Research Group at Durham undertakes cutting edge, internationally renowned research on past human lifeways using biological remains. Members of the group have a broad range of expertise in biomolecular archaeology, zooarchaeology, archaeobotany, palaeoecology, palaeodemography and palaeopathology. Major collaborative projects exploring diverse geographical and temporal scales are a hallmark of the Bioarchaeology Research Group. We believe that the academic environment for bioarchaeology within the Department of Archaeology at Durham is currently unsurpassed in the UK.

The group focuses on a number of related research themes, addressing major archaeological questions with the development of new techniques, alongside established methods:

  • Foodways and the Origins of agriculture
  • Dispersals and diasporas
  • Origins and evolutionary history of disease
  • Environmental change and chronologies
  • Society and identity

Foodways and the Origins of Agriculture

A variety of projects have focussed on domesticated animals and plants, and later innovations in husbandry and cultivation practices. The ‘Pig Project’ has had a number of grants and involves Peter Rowley-Conwy, and Greger Larson in wide-ranging studies of pig domestication and exploitation, which have had a major impact in this field. Peter Rowley-Conwy continues his high profile work on the Mesolithic of Denmark and Southern Sweden as well as revising our understanding of the nature and timing of plant and animal domestication in the near East. Dietary research on animal and plant remains (Mike Church and Peter Rowley Conwy) as well as stable isotopes (Andrew Millard and Janet Montgomery), encompasses the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition to the post-medieval period, and is changing our understanding of past foodways, particularly at times of transition and socio-economic stress.

Dispersals and Diasporas

Our group uses a variety of analytical methods to investigate the movement of people via the direct analysis of their skeletal remains as well as animal proxies. Andrew Millard, Mike Richards, and Janet Montgomery are experts in the application of lead, strontium and oxygen isotopes to identify mobility, with projects examining the Beaker period (AHRC funded), Crusaders (British Academy funded), the Dutch Neolithic (NWO funded) and Minoan Crete (Wiener Foundation funded). Charlotte Roberts has applied similar methods in collaboration with colleagues from NCIET in Earth Sciences to the people buried at the Bowl-Hole Anglian cemetery at Bamburgh (AHRC funded).

Greger Larson uses both modern and ancient genetics alongside geometric morphometric methods to study the domestication and dispersal of animals across Europe, East Asia and the Pacific. Greger is currently involved in a high profile projects examining the domestication of dogs (NERC) and chickens (AHRC) and has recently been awarded a ERC starting investigator grant.

Origins and Evolutionary History of Disease

Charlotte Roberts and Becky Gowland, investigate past human health and place it in a socio-cultural context. Major projects focus on specific diseases and include studies of the origin and evolution of tuberculosis using biomolecular analysis, the bioarchaeology of leprosy, malaria, and syphilis in skeletal remains. More general approaches to palaeopathology form the basis of studies of health in the Roman Empire, the Global History of Health project, and health during political and climatic change in the Sudan (Health and Place).

Environmental Change and Chronologies

Mike Church uses innovative approaches to dating and charcoal production in Norse and medieval Iceland to investigate the timing and impact of Norse landnám in the North Atlantic. Mike Church’s research and active field projects in the North Atlantic have changed our understanding of human/environment interactions in the marginal environments, resulting in fundamental revisions to the archaeological chronologies of the region. Andrew Millard’s research on the chronologies of fossil hominids has also led to a substantial review of the timescales for human evolution. Janet Montgomery is using isotope analysis of humans from Black Death plague pits to investigate human dietary and residential responses to climate change, famine and disease in 14th century Britain (NERC and AHRC funded).

The Body and Society

In addition to broader biocultural approaches, Roberts and Gowland also seek to examine the relationship between social identity and health. For example, health and marginalised identities, including leprosy, malaria, impairment and stigma. Much of Gowland’s research seeks to integrate sociological and biological understandings of the human body in order to explore past identities such as disability, gender and the life course.


The impact of the Bioarchaeology Research Group extends well beyond the academic community through a variety of activities including museum exhibitions (e.g. Skeleton Science), outreach (e.g. Celebrate Science, British Science Festival), Continuing Professional Development (‘Body Location and Recovery’ aimed at forensic practitioners), and frequent, high profile media engagement (e.g. Larson, Roberts and Church).

Research Projects


Academic Staff

Research Staff

Technical Staff

Antiquity Staff

Archaeological Services Durham University

Honorary Research Staff

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From other departments

Publications by staff in this group

Other (Print)

Authored book

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Conference Paper

  • Lewis, M. E. & Gowland, R. L. (2009), Infantile cortical hyperostosis: cases, causes and contradictions, in Lewis, M. E. & Clegg, M. eds, BAR International Series 1918: Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Conference of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology. Reading, Archaeopress, Oxford, 43-52.

Journal Article


Book review

Other (Digital/Visual Media)

Chapter in book

Conference Proceeding