Skip to main content

Material culture and social agency

Material culture and social agency research at Exeter blends theoretical and methodological concerns with interdisciplinary perspectives, aiming at understanding the relationship between people and things both in the past and in the contemporary world.

Our current research covers a range of themes:

  • Organic and inorganic materials and technologies
  • The sensory worlds of prehistoric societies
  • The acquisition and transmission of technical skills and craft traditions
  • The circulation and exchange of artefacts and materials in ancient societies
  • Identity, representation, and material culture
  • Heritage and value
  • The presentation and representation of archaeological materials and artefacts
  • The materiality of socio-political complexity: feasting and monumentality
  • The origins and development of complex stone flaking technologies
  • Identification of tool uses in relation to changing land use patterns 
  • Iron smelting technologies and their relationships to Iron Age interactions across Europe and South Asia 
  • Replacement of Neanderthals by Modern Humans in Eurasia 
  • Early hominin brain development

Many of our research projects involve active collaboration with scholars from other disciplines including classics and ancient history, anthropology, geography, arts and performance, material sciences, and digital technologies.

Honorary staff

Professor Bruce Bradley
Professor Anthony Harding
Mr Jeremy Hodgkinson
Dr Jonathan Prus
Professor Dennis Stanford - Smithsonian Institution
Dr Michael Collins - Texas State University
Mr John Allan - Honorary Research Fellow

Research staff

Dr Szabina Merva

Research postgraduates


Recent research postgraduates

  • James Glover: Chipped-stone Technology and social identities in Mesolithic Southwest England
  • Brice Girbal: The Legend of Wootz: A Technological and Scientific Study of Crucible Steel Production in Northern Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, India
  • Peter Leeming: Fossils in prehistoric contexts
  • Alice Lowson: Routing out Portable Antiquities
  • Sabine Martin: Functional study of Middle Paleolithic vein-quartz industries from the European sites of Payre (France) and from Atapuerca's Grand Dolina (Spain): Construction of a reference collection for diagnostic features
  • Debanjan Mitra: Upper Palaeolithic assemblages in northern India
  • Tathagata Neogi: Ritual, Memory and Material Culture: Charting the archaeometallurgical record through the lives of the last iron workers of Northern Telangana, India
  • Claire Nicholas: Is there any justification or purpose in exporting ancient monuments? Global research including a case study based on the disappearing heritage of Nubia from Egypt
  • Bruce Rusch: Cultural settlement pattern behaviour reconstruction of the Potter Palaeoindian site and its relationship to the Israel River Complex sites using lithic analysis
  • Carlos Salgado-Ceballos: Interpreting regional strategies and interregional dynamics: A study of ceramic production and distribution in pre-Hispanic Colima, Mexico (500-1000 AD)
  • Jemma Singleton: Connecting the Dots with Rock Art: A regional study of rock art sites in South India to identify cultural interaction between humans and landscape
  • Kathryn Bonnet: The Kandyan blacksmith: an assessment of repertoire and skills using archaeological fieldwork, ethnometallurgy, microstructural analysis and experimental re-enactment
  • Ethan Greenwood: Wealdon Iron Research Group Collaborative Doctoral Studentship
  • Kaushalya Gunasena: Cultural, Technological and Ideological Exchange: Sri Lanka – South India Interaction from a Personal Adornment Perspective during the Proto-historic to Early Historic Periods
  • Emmet Jackson: The Irish contribution to the study of Egyptology in the nineteenth century: with specific reference to Lady Harriet Kavanagh
  • Matthew Knight: The intentional destruction and deposition of Bronze Age metalwork in South-West England – an assessment of prehistoric personhood and the relationship between people and objects
  • Alice Oriana La Porta: Stone Projectile Point Technology: does it exist in the Western European Middle Palaeolithic? Techno-functional analysis of Middle Palaeolithic convergent tools
  • Yu Li: The Formation, Development and Transmission of Southwest China's Iron Smelting Technology
  • Tine Schenck: Accessing invisible technology through experimental archaeology: a methodological study
  • Julia Heeb: Social and material changes in the Copper Age of the Carpathian Basin
  • Sam Walls: The archaeology of memory in historic communities of Devon
  • Sue Watts: The Structured Deposition of Querns in the Southwest of England from the Neolithic to the Iron Age
  • Imogen Wood: Clay usage in the 7th century AD in Cornwall and its significance
  • Jodi Flores: The nature of replicative experiments in archaeological research
  • Caroline Jeffra: An experimental approach to the introduction of the pottery wheel in Bronze Age Cyprus and Crete
  • Mark Johnson: Identifying pre-fluted point paleoindian sites in Virginia, USA
  • Landon Karr: Early Paleoindian bone flaking technology in North America
  • Ann Oldroyd: Novice flint knapping in complex bifacial stone tool manufacturing
  • Andrew Young: The ground stone tools of Britain and Ireland: an experimental approach
  • Danielle Davies: A comparative study of the spread of the bow-and-arrow in prehistoric North America
  • Kristine Fischer: Use-wear analysis
  • Theresa Kamper: Determining tanning technologies from microscopic dermal fibre analysis
  • Nada Khreisheh: The Acquisition of Flintknapping Skill: An Experimental Study
  • Nancy Littlefield: Study of flaked stone assemblage from the Gault Clovis Site, Texas, USA
  • Katharine Verkooijen: Amber spacer-plates of Bronze Age Europe
  • Thomas Williams: A functional analysis of Late Upper Palaeolithic flint technology: With Specific reference to technological change and adaptation

Current research projects

Members of the Department of Archaeology are involved in a range of Material culture and social agency research projects.

Current and recent projects Staff member
Warhorse: The Archaeology of a Military Revolution? Professor Oliver CreightonProfessor Alan Outram
Aspects of the archaeology of the Avar Khaganate: the site of Zillingtal in context (7th–8th centuries AD) Dr Hajnalka Herold
Glass Networks: Tracing Early Medieval Long-Distance Trade, c. AD 800-1000 Dr Hajnalka Herold
Linear Furnaces and pan-Asian ferrous metallurgy Dr Gill Juleff
Investigating Neolithic and Bronze Age basketry and cordage Dr Linda Hurcombe; Lucy Williams; Linda Lemieux
The Intellectual development of Egyptology and popular perceptions of Egypt, 1780-1880 Dr Robert Morkot
A social landscape without a centre: The circulation of artefacts, materials and skills in NW Argentina (first millennium AD) Dr Marisa Lazzari 


Past projectsStaff member
The Archaeology of Cultural Revitalization Movements, Clovis Professor Bruce Bradley
The Archaeology of Cultural Revitalization Movements, Pueblo Professor Bruce Bradley
The Lord-Collins Site: A Late Pleistocene Human Use of Southeastern Maine, USA Professor Bruce Bradley
The Gault Project: Palaoindian and pre-Clovis archaeology in Texas Professor Bruce Bradley
The Les Maitreaux Palaeolithic project Professor Bruce Bradley
Extreme archaeology in Polar Siberia: The Zhokhov Mesolithic project Professor Bruce Bradley
Ancient Salt in Carpathian Europe Professor Anthony Harding
Technological traditions of the early Middle Ages in Lower Austria Dr Hajnalka Herold
Trade and technology transfer in central and south-eastern Europe in the Carolingian and Ottonian period Dr Hajnalka Herold
From materials to material culture Dr Linda Hurcombe
Touching the untouchable: increasing access to archaeological artefacts by virtual handling Dr Linda Hurcombe
Gender: Perceptions and material culture Dr Linda Hurcombe
OpenArch Dr Linda Hurcombe
Early stone tools in Pakistan Dr Linda Hurcombe
Lithic analysis: use-wear, experimental work and cultural choice Dr Linda Hurcombe
Experimental investigation of heat damage characteristics for interpreting lithic artefacts Dr Linda Hurcombe; Rachael Durbin
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD): a tool for the analysis of air flows in pre-industrial furnaces Dr Gill Juleff
Monsoon Steel Dr Gill Juleff
Pioneering Metallurgy: the origins of iron and steel making in the Southern Indian subcontinent Dr Gill Juleff
Identities as socio-material networks: Past and present configurations in South America and beyond Dr Marisa Lazzari 


Key recent publications

  • Stanford, D, B. Bradley 2012: Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America's Clovis Culture, Berkely, University of California Press.
  • Bradley, B., M. Collins, C. A. Hemmings 2010: Clovis Technology, Ann Arbor, Michigan, International Monographs in Prehistory.
  • Eren, M., B. Bradley, C. G. Sampson 2011: Middle Paleolithic Skill-Level and the Individual Knapper: An Experiment’,American Antiquity, vol. 76, no. 2: 229-251
  • Aubry, T., Bradley, B., Almeida, M., Walter, B., Neves, M. J., Pelegrin, J., Lenoir, M., Tiffagom, M. 2008: 'Solutrean laurel leaf production at Maîtreaux: an experimental approach guided by techo-economic analysis' World Archaeology 40(1):48-66
  • Herold, H. 2010: Zillingtal, Burgenland – Die awarenzeitliche Siedlung und die Keramikfunde des Gräberfeldes (Zillingtal, Burgenland: The Avar Period Settlement and the Ceramic Finds of the Cemetery – in German), Mainz, Roman-Germanic Central Museum (RGZM) Press.
  • Herold, H. 2010: The Ceramic “Tableware” of the Carolingian Period in Zalavár, South-West Hungary’, Antaeus, Communicationes ex Instituto Archaeologico Academiae Scientiarum Hungariae, Budapest, vol. 31-32, 155-172
  • Herold, H. 2009: ‘Materielle Kultur – technologische Traditionen – Identität, Untersuchungen zur Archäologie des Frühmittelalters in Niederösterreich (Material Culture – Technological Traditions – Identity: Investigations of the Archaeology of the Early Middle Ages in Lower Austria – in German with a summary in English)’, Zeitschrift für Archäologie des Mittelalters, Bonn, vol. 37, 111-134
  • Hurcombe, L. 2008: 'Organics from inorganics: using experimental archaeology as a research tool for studying perishable material culture', World Archaeology 40(1):83-115
  • Iriarte, J., Gillam, C. and Marozzi, O. 2008: ‘Monumental burials and memorial feasting: an example from the southern Brazilian highlands’, Antiquity 82: 947-961
  • Juleff, G. 2013: ‘Invention, Innovation and Inspiration: Optimisation and resolving technological change in the Sri Lanka archaeological record’, in Humphris, J., Rehren, Th. (eds) The World of Iron, Archetype, 137-145
  • Juleff, G. 2013: ‘Metal-working at Mantai’, in Carswell J, Graham A, Deraniyagala SU (eds) Mantai - City by the Sea, Aichwald: Linden Soft Verlag, 277-310
  • Juleff, G. 2009: ‘Technology and evolution: a root and branch view of Asian iron from first millennium BC Sri Lanka to Japanese steel’ World Archaeology 41(4): 557 – 577
  • Juleff, G., P. T. Craddock, T. J. P. Malim 2009: ‘In the footsteps of Ananda Coomaraswamy: Veralugasmanakada and the archaeology and oral history of traditional iron smelting in Sri Lanka’, Historical Metallurgy, vol. 43, no. 2, 109-134
  • Lazzari, M., Pereyra D.L., Scattolin, M.C., Cecil, L., Glascock, M. and Speakman, J. 2009: ‘Ancient social landscapes of northwestern Argentina: preliminary results of an integrated approach to obsidian and ceramic provenance’ Journal of Archaeological Science 36: 1955-1964
  • Morkot, R. 2010: ‘Divine of body: the remains of Egyptian Kings. Preservation, reverence, memory in a world without relics’, Past and Present, vol. 5, Supplement, Oxford University Press, 37-55
  • Morkot, R., P. J. James 2009: ‘Peftjauawybast, King of Nen-nesut: genealogy, art history, and the chronology of Late-Libyan Egypt’, Antiguo Oriente, vol. 7, University of Buenos Aires, 13-55
  • Morkot, R. 2012: From conquered to conqueror: the organisation of Nubia from the New Kingdom until the end of the Kushite rule over Egypt, in Garcia JCM (eds) Ancient Egyptian administration, Leiden: Brill, 911-963
  • Oltean, I.A. 2009: ‘Dacian ethnic identity and the Roman army, in Hanson, W. S. (ed.) The Army and Frontiers of Rome. Papers offered to David J. Breeze on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday and his retirement from Historic Scotland, JRA Supplementary Series 74: 90-101
  • Outram, A. 2008: ‘Introduction to experimental archaeology’ World Archaeology 40(1): 1-6.

Other important publications

  • Bradley, B. Stanford, D. 2004: The North Atlantic ice-edge corridor: a possible Palaeolithic route to the New World. World Archaeology 36(4):459-478.
  • Hurcombe, L. 2007: Archaeological Artefacts as Material Culture. London: Routledge.
  • Hurcombe, L. 2007: A sense of materials and sensory perception in concepts of materiality. World Archaeology 39: 532-545.
  • Jeffra, C. 2008: ‘Hair and potters: an experimental look at temper’ World Archaeology 40(1):151-161
  • Lazzari, M. 2005: The texture of things: objects, people and social spaces in NW Argentina (First millennium AD), L. Meskell (ed) Archaeologies of Materiality. Oxford: Blackwell, 126-161.
  • Morkot, R. 2006: ‘A Kushite royal woman, perhaps a God’s Wife of Amun.’ In K.N. Sowada and B.G. Ockinga (eds),Egyptian Art in the Nicholson Museum, Sydney. Sydney: Meditarch, 147-158.
  • Van de Noort, R. 2006: Argonauts of the North Sea - a Social Maritime Archaeology for the 2nd Millennium BC. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 72:267-287