Staff Profile:Professor Roberta Gilchrist FBA

Professor Roberta Gilchrist
Job Title:

Areas of Interest:
  • Medieval and Historical Archaeology
  • Gender and Social Archaeology
  • Medieval Material Culture
  • Burial Archaeology
  • Monastic and Church Archaeology
  • Buildings Archaeology
  • Heritage and Medieval Archaeology
Research groups / Centres:

Diet, Health and the Life Course

Objects, Materials and People

Key Facts:

My research addresses medieval social archaeology, with particular focus on gender and belief. I have published widely on the archaeology of medieval burial and religious communities (nunneries, monasteries, hospitals, cathedrals), and I am particularly intrigued by the relationship between Christianity and medieval magic. My research has been funded by AHRC, British Academy and Leverhulme. I held a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship to consider archaeological approaches to ageing and the life course in medieval England. The resulting book was published by Boydell : 'Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course'. Read an interview with Roberta about her book 'Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course' (PDF 374KB).

Throughout my career, I have been engaged outside academia in archaeological conservation and the presentation of archaeology to the public. I was Archaeologist to Norwich Cathedral from 1993 to 2005 and worked closely with Museum of London Archaeology for 20 years, as academic advisor on post-excavation projects on several monasteries. I have been a Trustee of Glastonbury Abbey since 2009 and work collaboratively with the Abbey staff and trustees on public interpretation.

I presented two series of archaeology programmes on Channel Four (‘Down to Earth’), and have appeared on television and radio programmes including with Eddie Izzard, in ‘Speed Archaeology’ (no archaeology was harmed in the making of this programme!) View Speed Archaeology with Eddie Izzard on YouTube.

I was voted Archaeologist of the Year 2016 in the Current Archaeology Awards, in which 14,000 members of the public voted.

I wrote and presented an episode of the BBC Radio 3 series 'The Rise and Fall of the British Castle', speaking on 'The British Castle: A Woman's Place'. To download the podcast or listen online, please click here.

Glastonbury Abbey:
I published a major monograph on Glastonbury Abbey with Dr Cheryl Green and numerous specialist contributors, in partnership with the Trustees of Glastonbury Abbey, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2009-13). We fully analysed the archive of antiquarian excavations that took place between 1904 and 1979 (36 seasons). 

The results of the project have been published by the Society of Antiquaries in a 500-page, colour monograph Glastonbury Abbey: archaeological investigations 1904-79 and the dataset has been made publically accessible through the Archaeology Data Service. The book is also available through Open Access.

A film featuring this research and funded by the AHRC examines the new evidence unearthed by the project and how researchers have worked with the Abbey Museum, conservators and the public to explore the history of this rich and extraordinary site. To watch the film please click here.

The results of the research project were shared with new audiences through a follow-on project funded by the AHRC (1 Oct 2015- 30 Sept 2016). I worked with colleagues at the University of York's Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture to develop digital reconstructions of Glastonbury Abbey based on archaeological and historical evidence. I have worked with the Director and Trustees of Glastonbury Abbey to implement a new interpretation strategy that connects the archaeology more directly to the spiritual and legendary significance of the Abbey.

You can find out about my research on Glastonbury Abbey by visiting Glastonbury Abbey Archaeology.

Postgraduate supervision

I supervise doctoral students engaged in a broad range of research in historical archaeology. I am currently supervising two student projects:

  • Arica Roberts: Gender & Religion in Early Medieval Wales: The Archaeology of Religious Transformation in Wales c. 400-1200 CE.
  • A Crimson Horizon - The Religious Landscapes of Warfare in Northern Britain, c.1050-1500.

Completed theses include: religion and multi-culturalism in Crusader Famugusta (Borowski); multi-vocality and Glastonbury Abbey (Smith); the medieval buildings of Cordoba (Lenton); Anglo-Saxon settlements and belief systems (Knox); masculinity and the palaces of Henry VIII (Goulding); gender and ethnicity in the convents of early modern Ecuador (Nimmo); Native American burial practices in 17th-century New England (Vitelli); isotopic analysis of medieval diet (Lakin); medieval and early modern households in Norwich (King); phenomenological approaches to medieval rural settlement (Altenberg); the medieval Quarr stone industry (Bishop now Green); Hampton Court Palace (Foyle).

My former PhD students have found employment in universities (King: Nottingham; Smith: Reading, Lenton: Australian National University; Vitelli: Ashmolean, Oxford; Knox: Reading) commercial archaeology (Green: Context One) and as heritage managers (Foyle: World Monuments Fund; Goulding: National Trust; Altenberg: Swedish Heritage Board).


I was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2008 and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 2002. I am on the board of trustees for the journal Antiquity and the editorial boards of 'Social Archaeology' and 'Current Swedish Archaeology'. I was on the Archaeology sub-panel for RAE 2008 and REF 2014 and I am deputy sub-panel chair for REF 2021. I previously served as President of the Society for Medieval Archaeology (2004-7),

I was elected an honorary fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge in 2018. I was previously fellow at Wadham College, Oxford (2009), and St Cross College, Oxford (2010). I was the Dalrymple Lecturer at the University of Glasgow (2011), the Rhind Lecturer for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (2017) and the McDonald Lecturer at the University of Cambridge (2018) which can be viewed by visiting Medievalists.

The Rhind Lectures on the topic of Sacred Heritage can also be viewed online:


My major publications include:

  • 'Glastonbury Abbey: archaeological investigations 1904-79' (with C. Green, 2015)
  • 'Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course’ (2012)
  • "Magic for the dead? The archaeology of magic in later medieval burials" in 'Medieval Archaeology' 52 (2008), which was winner of the Martyn Jope Prize;
  • 'Requiem: the Medieval Monastic Cemetery in Britain' (with B. Sloane, 2005), which won the British Archaeological Award for Best Scholarly Publication (2004-6);
  •  'Norwich Cathedral Close: the Evolution of the English Cathedral Landscape' (2005), which was selected as an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice USA,
  • 'Gender and Archaeology: Contesting the Past' (1999), 'Gender and Material Culture: the archaeology of religious women' (1994), and
  • 'Contemplation and Action: the other monasticism' (1995).
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BA, D Phil (York); FBA, FSA

Contact Details

+44 (0) 118 378 6381

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