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Roberta Gilchrist


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.

Postgraduate supervision

Roberta supervises doctoral students engaged in a broad range of research in historical archaeology. She is currently supervising two student projects:

  • Gender & Religion in Early Medieval Wales: The Archaeology of Religious Transformation in Wales c. 400-1200 CE
  • Reading Abbey: Connecting Archaeology, Heritage Management and Placemaking

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).

Roberta's 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).

Research projects

Roberta's research addresses medieval social archaeology, with particular focus on gender and belief. She has published widely on the archaeology of medieval burial and religious communities (nunneries, monasteries, hospitals, cathedrals), and is particularly intrigued by the relationship between Christianity and medieval magic. Her research has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), British Academy and Leverhulme.

Roberta 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.

Glastonbury Abbey

Roberta 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 through Open Access.

A film featuring this research, 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.

The results of the project were shared with new audiences through a follow-on project funded by the AHRC (1 Oct 2015 to 30 Sept 2016). Roberta 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. She also 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.

Watch a video about Roberta's Glastonbury Abbey research

Read more about Roberta's research on Glastonbury Abbey


Throughout her career, Roberta has been engaged outside academia in archaeological conservation and the presentation of archaeology to the public. She 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. She has been a Trustee of Glastonbury Abbey since 2009 and works collaboratively with the Abbey staff and trustees on public interpretation.

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

She has 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

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

Roberta also 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'.

Watch 'Speed Archaeology' with Eddie Izzard on YouTube

Download Roberta's BBC podcast