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Roberta Gilchrist

Roberta Gilchrist Profile Photo

Areas of interest

  • Medieval archaeology
  • Gender and social archaeology
  • Medieval material culture
  • Burial archaeology  
  • Medieval beliefs (religion, magic, monasticism)
  •  Heritage and medieval archaeology.

Postgraduate supervision

I supervise doctoral students engaged in a broad range of research in medieval archaeology. My former PhD students are employed in universities and learned societies, commercial archaeology, and as heritage managers.

Completed theses include: religious landscapes of warfare in Northern Britain (Widell); 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); and Hampton Court Palace (Foyle).


Research projects

My research addresses medieval social archaeology, with particular focus on gender and beliefs. I have published widely on the archaeology of medieval burial and religious communities (nunneries, monasteries, hospitals, cathedrals), and am particularly intrigued by the relationship between Christianity and medieval magic. My research has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), British Academy and Leverhulme.

The Medieval Ritual Landscape: Archaeology, Material Culture and Lived Religion

My current research project is in collaboration with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (British Museum) and funded by the AHRC. The Medieval Ritual Landscape Project (MeRit, 2023-6) will reveal the deep history of ritual practices in medieval England (c. 1000-1600 CE), performed by ordinary people as part of their everyday lives. It will deliver methodological innovation, integrating archaeological, historical and digital humanities analyses to bring original perspectives to the burgeoning field of medieval lived religion.

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). The team 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 publicly accessible through the Archaeology Data Service. The book is also available Open Access.

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

The results of the project were shared with new audiences through two separate follow-on projects funded by the AHRC (2016 and 2022). 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. In 2022-3, I worked with Creative Industries partners Arcade and Thread to co-create an AR app, Glastonbury Stories, and complementary heritage trail.  I also collaborated with the Director of Glastonbury Abbey on a new Interpretation Strategy for the site (2023).

Watch a video about Roberta's Glastonbury Abbey research

Read more about Roberta's research on Glastonbury Abbey


Throughout my career, I have engaged with archaeological conservation and heritage interpretation outside academia. 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 London’s religious houses. I have been a Trustee of Glastonbury Abbey since 2009 and work collaboratively with the Abbey staff and trustees on public interpretation.

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 a member of the Archaeology sub-panel for RAE 2008, REF 2014, and deputy sub-panel chair for REF 2021. I served as President of the Society for Medieval Archaeology (2004-7) and am currently Chair of the British Academy Projects Committee. 

I have delivered prestigious lecture series including

  • Dalrymple Lectures at the University of Glasgow (2011)
  • Rhind Lectures for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (2017)
  • McDonald Lecture at the University of Cambridge (2018).

Watch Roberta's McDonald Lecture

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

Academic qualifications

  • BA, D Phil – University of York.

Awards and honours

  • Voted Archaeologist of the Year 2016 in the Current Archaeology Awards, in which 14,000 members of the public voted.
  • Elected an honorary fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, in 2018.
  • Honorary Research Fellow, The British Museum (2020)
  • Fellow at Wadham College, Oxford (2009), and St Cross College, Oxford (2010).

Professional bodies/affiliations

  • Fellow of the British Academy
  • Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

Selected publications

  • Sacred Heritage: Monastic Archaeologies, Identities, Beliefs (2020) available open access at:
  • Glastonbury Abbey: archaeological investigations 1904-79 (with C. Green, 2015) available open access at:
  • 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) – winner of the Martyn Jope Prize
  • Requiem: the Medieval Monastic Cemetery in Britain (with B. Sloane, 2005) – winner of the British Archaeological Award for Best Scholarly Publication (2004-6)
  • Norwich Cathedral Close: the Evolution of the English Cathedral Landscape (2005) – 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)
  • Contemplation and action: the other monasticism (1995).

Media appearances

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

I also wrote and presented an episode of the BBC Radio 3 series ‘The Essay’, speaking on 'The British Castle: A Woman's Place'.

Watch 'Speed Archaeology' with Eddie Izzard on YouTube

Download Roberta's BBC podcast





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