Objects, Materials and People Research Cluster

What is OMP?

Objects, materials and people are fundamental elements of archaeology. This research cluster seeks to explore the relationships between all three, investigating the lives of both people and things in the past.

Within the Objects, Materials and People cluster, our research interests are cross-cultural and span the Palaeolithic to the present day. Our research focuses primarily on five inter-related themes:

  • past meanings and social/economic values of materials and artefacts
  • production and deposition of objects
  • how objects provide insight into movement and mobility
  • applications of archaeological science in interpretations of the social and taphonomic histories of material culture
  • representation and display of objects in the contemporary world

In order to investigate these themes, we are currently exploring a variety of theoretical approaches and methodologies: from investigating the 'social context' of deposition of certain artefacts, to re-thinking the widely-used concept of 'structured deposition', and from an investigation of lithic artefact surface polishes using scanning electron microscopy, to the use of a range of micro-analytical and chemical analyses to investigate the sources, production and properties of architectural and artefactual materials. We also interested in exploring the relations between materials, objects and people through experimental archaeology, in studying the representation of artefacts in museums and display, and in enabling the wider community to use archaeological objects in order to find out more about our shared past.

Who is OMP?


John Creighton has research interests in Later Iron Age and Roman north-west Europe, and is currently investigating the impact of commodification as money was adopted. He has published work on Iron Age and Roman coinage, examining their iconography, meaning and use; and he has worked on oppida and towns in Spain, France and Britain.


Hella Eckardt has research interests in theoretical approaches to the material culture of the north-western Roman provinces and she is particularly interested in the relationship between the use and deposition of objects and the expression of social and cultural identities. She has published work on lighting equipment, objects associated with grooming and personal adornment and on the material culture of literacy. Her most recent book in 2017 was entitled 'Writing Power: the material culture of literacy as representation and practice.'


Duncan Garrow has research interests in European later prehistory (with a particular focus on Britain) and archaeological theory. He is currently co-director of the AHRC-funded Grave Goods project, investigating the changing character and meanings of objects in burials during the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age in Britain. He is also researching a book exploring the 'ritual' deposition of material culture in British prehistory, and has been tracking human mobility through archaeological objects as part of his Neolithic Stepping Stones project.


Rob Hosfield has research interests in the earlier European Palaeolithic, with a focus on north-west Europe. He is particularly interested in the causes of stone tool variability and the taphonomy of lithic artefact assemblages, and has recently completed a joint AHRC project with Dr James Cole, Brighton University. He is also re-examining the Lower Palaeolithic artefact assemblage from the British site of Knowle Farm and is currently researching a book on a 'year in the life' of the earliest Europeans, which is partly exploring the role of material culture, both archaeologically visible and invisible, in different survival strategies.


Gabor Thomas researches early medieval archaeology with an emphasis on Britain and its interactions in the North Sea Zone. He has a strong interest in the role played by personal adornment in the construction of early medieval social and cultural identity with particular reference to Anglo-Saxon/Viking-age metalwork and jewellery. He also has interests in the relationship between objects and deposition, object biography and craft technology informed by his fieldwork on Anglo-Saxon settlements, currently in his capacity as Director of the Lyminge Archaeological Project.


Roger Matthews researches ancient societies of the Middle East. He currently co-directs, with Wendy Matthews, the Central Zagros Archaeological Project, investigating the early development of settled farming communities in the Zagros mountain region of eastern Iraq and western Iran. He is also the lead lithics specialist for the project and has recently completed a major study of all the flint and obsidian finds from two Early Neolithic sites in Iraq, of 8th millennium BC date. He is interested in developing use-wear expertise within the Department, and in contextual analysis of tools and implements. He is also interested in the use of seals as elements of administration and bureaucracy in the early complex societies of Mesopotamia and Iran.


Wendy Matthews researches early agricultural and urban communities and lifeways in the Middle East, by social and scientific analysis of the architectural materials and microarchaeological residues within built environments. She is co-director of the Central Zagros Archaeological Project, with Roger Matthews and researchers in Iraq and Iran, and team leader of micromorphological analyses at the World Heritage site of Çatalhöyük, Turkey and the early city of Ur, Iraq.


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.

Post-doctoral researchers:

PhD Students working on OMP topics

  • Emily Blanchard
  • Li-Chi Chiang
  • Matthew Fittock
  • John Ford
  • Guido Guarducci 
  • Owen Humphreys
  • Sara Machin 
  • Claire Nolan
  • Monica Palmero Fernandez
  • Mubariz Rabbani
  • Carolina Rangel de Lima
  • Adam Sutton
  • Lise Tjellesen
  • Adam Turner
  • Katharine Whitaker

Impact & Research

Research focused on Objects, Materials and People in Reading has had considerable impact in a wide variety of contexts in recent years.

Hella Eckardt's Romans Revealed project, for example, has enabled children to explore the huge spectrum of identities in Roman Britain, even giving them an opportunity to excavate some virtual grave goods online.

Duncan Garrow's Neolithic Stepping Stones project has been involving island communities around Britain in the construction of new narratives about their prehistoric past, unearthing some very surprising artefacts in the process.

Duncan's Grave Goods project involves close collaboration with the British Museum in redesigning key elements of the later prehistoric galleries there, along with the production of new resources enabling objects and mortality to be incorporated into the teaching of prehistory in schools.

 Rob Hosfield has been using the department's extensive replica hominin skulls and artefact collection to help Reading schoolchildren to engage with the concepts of prehistory, evolution and deep-time.

Gabor Thomas's excavation at the Early Medieval royal centre and monastic complex at Lyminge in Kent has placed local residents and voluntary organisations at the core of the research process by maximising opportunities for public participation. It has also built strong partnerships with the Kent Archaeological Society and the Canterbury Archaeological Trust to engage and educate public audiences in the results of the excavation through Open Days and Museum Exhibitions and through the creation of a 66-page Curriculum Pack aimed at teachers of Key Stage 2 History.

Rhi Smith is working on a research project (entitled Who cares?) in partnership with the Museum of English Rural Life, The Science Museum and The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust exploring so-called 'unloved' museum collections around the country, including collections of locks, metal slag and historic hand tools.

 Looking to the future, Roger Matthews and Wendy Matthews are working closely with colleagues in Slemani Museum in Iraqi Kurdistan in order to design and construct a new display on early farmers and settled communities of Iraqi Kurdistan, drawing on their excavations at the Early Neolithic sites of Bestansur and Shimshara.

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