Medieval Social Archaeology Research Cluster

What is MSA?

The Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading has one of the largest clusters of medieval archaeologists in the world, consisting of senior scholars, early career researchers and postgraduates. We address fundamental cultural questions about medieval European societies, from heartland to frontier regions, with interdisciplinary approaches bridging the sciences and humanities. This includes:

  • reconstructing medieval identities, diet, health and mobility through funerary archaeology.
  • innovative approaches in palaeopathology and bone chemistry analysis.
  • the role of material practices in the maintenance and transformation of medieval religious identities, explored within the context of active Christian conversion and the framework of monasticism.
  • the environment as a lens for understanding cultural encounters in frontier societies, particularly associated with crusading and colonisation.

Who is MSA?

 robertasml2 Professor Roberta Gilchrist, whose research addresses a wide range of issues in medieval archaeology, particularly gender and religion. Most recently she has been leading a major project on Glastonbury Abbey, following her study of archaeological approaches to the life course in medieval England and earlier work on Norwich Cathedral, monasticism, cemeteries and the material culture of magic. She is beginning a new project on "The Archaeology of Medieval Monastic Medicine and Healing Magic."
 Associate Professor Gabor Thomas Dr Gabor Thomas has research interests in early medieval material culture, personal adornment and Anglo-Saxon monasticism. He is engaged in a major research project to track the emergence of Christianity in Kent, through an extensive campaign of fieldwork at the site of the early monastery of Lyminge as well as on various aspects of later Anglo-Saxon and Viking artefacts linked to the formation and expression of identities from the 8th-11th centuries.
 AleksP_cluster Dr Aleks Pluskowski specialises in the environmental archaeology of medieval Europe, particularly biodiversity, relations with large carnivores and the use of animals as material culture. His research focuses on the related processes of conquest, colonisation and religious conversion at the frontiers of Europe. He recently finished a major international project in the Eastern Baltic investigating the the environmental impact of the emergence of the crusader states, and is developing a follow-up project on the Reconquest in Iberia.
 Associate Professor Mary Lewis Dr Mary Lewis engages in osteological and palaeopathological research concerned with the medieval life-course, particularly developing new methods to assess puberty in adolescents and identify trauma in children, Mary has supervised innovative PhD research aimed at developing new methods to age the very old in cemetery samples. Her main interests are in the dynamics of disease in children, with a major project focusing on adolescence, health and migration in medieval England, as well as on-going work on the medieval skeletons from St. Oswald's Priory, Gloucester
 gundulasml2 Dr Gundula Müldner specialises in the stable isotope analysis of bone for the characterisation of human and animal diets to reconstruct social mobility, status and husbandry regimes. This has included major regional surveys in north-western Europe, most recently in Belgium, as well as tracking changes in livestock diet following the crusades in the eastern Baltic region.
 RhiSmith_Rsml Rhianedd Smith has research interests in public archaeology, heritage interpretation and museum studies. Her work examines the relationship between spirituality and identity politics and the interpretation of medieval monastic material culture. She is currently Principal Investigator on a collaborative AHRC project entitled 'Who Cares? Interventions in 'unloved' museum collections'. Rhi is also a Co-Investigator on the AHRC follow-on funding project 'Glastonbury Abbey: Archaeology, Legend and Public Engagement'. She has also published on the use of museum collections in university teaching and learning.

Other staff in the Department of Archaeology who work with medieval topics include Dr Nick Branch (the environmental archaeology of moated sites and palace landscapes) and Professor Dominik Fleitmann (climate change and the rise of Islam; the Medieval Climatic Anomaly).

Emeritus and Visiting Staff

Professor Grenville Astill specialises in monasticism, industry, urban and rural settlement in medieval North Western Europe. He leads one of the longest running and most extensive research projects on a medieval monastery at Bordesley Abbey alongside a reconsideration of the process of medieval urbanisation. He has also conducted a research project in Brittany which tracks change in the countryside from the later Bronze Age to the 1920s using a combination of archaeological, documentary and building evidence.

Post-doctoral researchers and visiting scholars

Dr Rowena Banerjea 

Dr Alex Brown

Dr Karen Dempsey

Dr Guillermo Garcia-Contreras Ruiz

Dr Gemma Watson

PhD students working on MSA topics

  • Lisa Backhouse
  • Elaine Jamieson
  • Zoe Knapp
  • Sophia Mills
  • Arica Roberts
  • Charlotte Scull
  • Beatrice Widell


Recent publications

Gilchrist, R. (2014) 'Monastic and Church Archaeology' commissioned for Annual Review of Anthropology Vol. 43: 235-250 (Volume publication date October 2014)

Gilchrist, R. (2012). Medieval Life: Archaeology and the Life Course. Woodbridge: Boydell.

Lewis, M. E. (2013). Children of the golden minster: St. Oswald's Priory and the impact of industrialisation on child health. Journal of Anthropology 2013: 1-11.

Müldner, G., Britton, K. and Ervynck, A. (2014) Inferring animal husbandry strategies in coastal zones through stable isotope analysis: new evidence from the Flemish coastal plain (Belgium, 1st-15th century AD). Journal of Archaeological Science, 41: 322-332.

Pluskowski, A. G. (2012). The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade: Holy War & Colonisation. London: Routledge.

Thomas, G. (2013) Life before the minster: the social dynamics of monastic foundation at Anglo-Saxon Lyminge, Kent. Antiquaries Journal, 93: 109-145.

MSA projects

The following projects have defined the research of the Medieval Social Archaeology group in Reading for the last few years:

The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon Monasticism

Medieval English Monasticism and Landscape

Glastonbury Abbey Excavations

Adolescence, Migration and Health in Medieval England

The Study of Human and Animal Diets in the Middle Ages

The Medieval Religious Transformations Network

MSA at Reading has led the development of an international research network focusing on the topic of medieval religious transformation. Its aim is to draw together a range of European perspectives spanning the 'long' Middle Ages, and promote a new research agenda for understanding the material culture of religious change and heterogeneity. The network has developed from a number of meetings; the first took place in Reading in May 2015, the second in Visby, Gotland in August 2016, and a third is planned for 2017 in Granada. The core members of the network are: Gabor Thomas, Aleks Pluskowski, Roberta Gilchrist, Grenville Astill, Anders Andrén (Stockholm), Andrea Augenti (Bologna), Guillermo García-Contreras Ruiz (Granada), Jörn Staecker (Tübingen) and Heiki Valk (Tartu).

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