The History and Archaeology Department is based in a modern purpose-built building at the heart of the University's main Chester Campus. The Department of History and Archaeology has very good links with heritage, museum and archive agencies within the city of Chester, from which students are able to benefit during the course of their studies. The Department is also one of the leading research units within the University. The research interests and specialisms of the Department are diverse, ranging over the medieval, early modern and modern periods, and over local, British, European, American and international history.

Recent Submissions

  • Discussion: Hunter-Gatherers in the Landscape

    Taylor, Barry; Conneller, Chantal; Lane, Paul; Schadla-Hall, Tim; University of Chester; Newcastle University; University of Cambridge; University of London
    The work of the Seamer Carr project and the VPRT has created an unparalleled record of the human occupation of a North European, early prehistoric landscape. The test-pitting surveys and open-area excavations have recorded evidence for human activity that ranges in scale from discrete hunting events to the long-term, repeated occupation of particular landscape locations. Added to this, systematic augering of large parts of the basin, accompanied by palaeoenvironmental studies at key sites, has produced a detailed account of the environmental context within which these episodes of human activity took place. The purpose of this chapter is to provide an interpretive summary and synthesis of this data, beginning with an overview of the archaeological record of hunting and gathering/foraging around the shores of the former Lake Flixton and the islands near its centre, and what this can tell us about the changing nature of hunter-gatherer settlement, resource utilisation, logistics and material traditions between the Final Palaeolithic and the Late Mesolithic. The second part of the chapter brings together the archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data to explore the changing relationships between humans and their environment.
  • Art on the March

    Williams, Howard; University of Chester (JAS Arqueologia, 2023-10-30)
  • Rethinking Offa’s Dyke as a Hydraulic Frontier Work

    Williams, Howard; University of Chester (JAS Arqueologia, 2023-10-30)
    Building upon a fresh interpretation of Wat’s Dyke as a component of an early medieval hydraulic frontier zone rather than primarily serving as a symbol of power, a fixed territorial border or a military stop-line (Williams 2021), here, I refine and apply this approach to its longer and better-known neighbour: Offa’s Dyke. This linear earthwork’s placement, alignments and landscape context are evaluated afresh using a simple but original comparative mapping methodology. First, on the local level, I show that Offa’s Dyke was carefully and strategically positioned to connect, overlook and block a range of watercourses and wetlands at key transverse and parallel crossing points, thus observing and choreographing mobility on multiple axes. Second, I address the regional scale, showing how Offa’s Dyke interacted with, and controlled, biaxial movement through and between water catchments parallel and transverse to the monument’s principal alignments. Both these arguments inform how the Dyke might have operated on the supra-regional scale, ‘from sea to sea’ and also ‘across the sea’, by controlling the estuarine and maritime zones of the Dee Estuary in the north and the Wye/Severn confluence to the south. Integrating military, territorial, socio-economic and ideological functionality and significance, Offa’s Dyke, like its shorter neighbour Wat’s Dyke (in an as-yet uncertain relationship), configured mobilities over land and water via its hydraulic dimensions and interactions. Together, the monuments can be reconsidered as elements of a multi-functional hydraulic frontier zone constructed by one or more rulers of the middle Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and operative both in times of peace and conflict.
  • Linear Pasts and Presents: Researching Dykes, Frontiers and Borderlands

    Williams, Howard; University of Chester (JAS Arqueologia, 2023-10-30)
    This editorial essay introduces the fifth volume of the Offa’s Dyke Journal (ODJ) by presenting a review of the contents, recent related research published elsewhere, and the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory’s activities during 2022 and early 2023.
  • The symbol carving process as a mnemonic manipulator of ‘deep’ genealogy in early medieval Scotland

    Gondek, Meggen; University of Chester (Taylor & Francis, 2023-11-16)
    Scotland’s corpus of early medieval carved stone monuments is a rich dataset for explorations of cultural connections, power and ideology. This article explores how meaning and significance might be interpreted from the reuse of prehistoric stone monuments in the Pictish period via close examination of the materiality, landscape and transformation processes of one case study from Nether Corskie, Aberdeenshire. Technologies of transformation of the existing stone are considered and contextualized as evidence of contemporary concerns and manipulations of concepts and memories of genealogy, ancestry and place.
  • A Dance with Death: The Imperial War Graves Commission and Nazi Germany

    Grady, Tim; University of Chester (Oxford University Press, 2023-10-12)
    In the mid-1930s, Fabian Ware and the other leading members of Britain’s Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) sought to strengthen relations with Nazi Germany. Their efforts are generally seen as another example of appeasement, misjudging Hitler in a search for international peace. This article, in contrast, places this relationship into a much longer history of wartime death and post-war remembrance. As was the case elsewhere, the IWGC, to the anger of some relatives of the deceased, chose not to repatriate the war dead buried in Germany, and instead concentrated them into four new British war cemeteries. This decision created a clear division between the treatment of the dead of the victors and those of the defeated. While the British and Empire dead in Germany were made more visible, Germany’s war dead buried in Britain remained in their original wartime graves and faded slowly from sight. When Hitler rose to power, the IWGC was suddenly forced to confront these disparities, particularly as Nazis in both Britain and Germany used the war graves to rally support. This article argues that the IWGC started to negotiate with the Nazi regime not to broker peace but purely to defend the cemeteries that it had placed on German soil. However, with Britain and Germany having competing narratives of war and defeat, these discussions were always doomed to fail.
  • Women Suppliers to Medieval Courts: Making Visible Ducal and Royal Power

    Wilson, Katherine A.; University of Chester (Wiley, 2023-09-11)
    This article analyses under-studied women suppliers to medieval courts, with a focus on Burgundian and French courts of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Through its archival research it identifies over a hundred women involved in creating, supplying and repairing objects. Starting from the objects supplied, provisioned or repaired by women, the article seeks to understand women suppliers as significant actors in ducal and royal households through the way in which the objects they supplied became visible and meaningful expressions of ducal and royal power.
  • Treaties, Frontiers and Borderlands: The Making and Unmaking of Mercian Border Traditions

    Capper, Morn; University of Chester (JAS Arqueologia, 2023-06)
    This article explores the complexity and nuance of borderlands and border relations focusing on Mercia. Identifying a host of border maintenance strategies negotiating control over people, places and resources, mitigation of risk and maximisation of opportunity, but also strategic escalation and de-escalation of tensions, the study re-evaluates how Mercian border traditions supported expanded hegemony between the seventh and ninth centuries. The significant departures of the approach presented here are (i) rethinking the traditional focus on military, religious and ethnic identities to integrate these among other activities and experiences defining early medieval frontiers and borderlands and (ii) considering the reimagining not only Mercia’s frontiers and borderlands during its emergence and heyday as a kingdom but also reflecting on how Mercian territory itself became a borderland under the rule of Aethelred and Aethelflaed during the Viking Age, and as such how it was formative in the creation of the Danelaw and of England. The Alfred/Guthrum Treaty and Ordinance of the Dunsaete are here contextualised against other strategies and scales of negotiation and activity framing Mercian/Anglo-Welsh and Anglo-Danish borderlands. Different ‘Mercian borderlands’ are compared in this study and analysed as complex zones of interaction, responsive to geographical factors, but also criss-crossed by multi-stranded pathways of daily life. Mercian borderlands were understood and maintained militarily, physically, spiritually, and ideologically. The article considers how these zones were shaped by convenience but also need and were reinforced or permeable at locality, community and kingdom levels
  • Dying with the Enemy: Prisoners of War Deaths in First World War Britain

    Grady, Tim; University of Chester
    During the First World War, enemy soldiers and civilians died not just on the battlefield, but also on the home front. This chapter considers the case of some 3,000 Germans who lost their lives in wartime Britain. Its starting point is the multiple ways that the enemy died at home. Some of these men died in direct combat, drowning on sinking ships or plummeting to earth on downed aeroplanes, while others succumbed to illness or disease in internment camps. This chapter argues that regardless of the cause, death had the effect of altering British perceptions of the enemy. Where the Germans had once been a threatening faceless mass, the subject of invasion literature or spy fever, death blunted these fears, and the British had to confront their subjugated enemy in a very different way. The Germans now gained an identity, receiving individual funerals, a grave and a wooden cross inscribed with their name. Once interred in local communities throughout Britain, the German dead gradually blurred into rural landscapes, no longer in opposition to this space, but at one with it.
  • Handling Objects in Primary and Secondary Educational Settings: Facilitating Educational Processes and Challenging Heteronormative Gender Constructs: The Case Study of Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries 1000-1700

    Wilson, Katherine A.; Bird, Mike; Egan Simon, Daryn; University of Chester (Transcript Verlag, 2023-12-01)
    Using a case study from a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council Funded project, Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries 1000-1700, this chapter seeks to investigate the way in which object handling sessions of original Museum objects in classrooms from age 6-16 for c.400 pupils can engage students with the discipline of History and challenge hegemonic and heteronormative gender constructs in educational settings.
  • Crafts and Craftwork in Medieval Europe

    Wilson, Katherine A.; University of Chester
    This entry examines crafts and craftwork in Medieval Europe. Through an analysis of craftwork associations, craftspeople and craftworks in medieval Europe, it seeks to explore their growth and complexity reflecting on the explosion of urban centres, an emergence of a commercial society and mass production, diversification and usage of objects from the everyday to the luxurious from the year 1000 onwards. It begins by reflecting on urban guilds, associations of craftspeople who oversaw the various stages of craftwork production, examining their structures, hierarchies and memberships to think about their responses to social, cultural and economic conditions. From guilds, the entry turns to focus on the variety of craftspeoples in Medieval Europe. Here the benefits of guild membership, commercial, spiritual and social are explored, as well as the importance of maintaining product integrity, quality and the management of risk. Finally, craftwork itself is examined, to reflect on the multiple processes and local-global networks behind objects, dispelling notions of one master at work and demonstrating the multiple uses, interpretations and ambiguities of craftworks.
  • Lateglacial to Mid-Holocene Vegetation History in the Eastern Vale of Pickering, Northeast Yorkshire, UK: Pollen Diagrams from Palaeolake Flixton

    Simmons, Ian; Cummins, Gaynor; Taylor, Barry; Innes, James; Durham University; University of Chester (MDPI, 2022-12-08)
    Palaeolake Flixton, in the eastern Vale of Pickering in northeast Yorkshire, UK, existed as open water during the Lateglacial and early to mid-Holocene, until hydroseral succession and gradual terrestrialisation changed it to an area of fen and basin peatland by the later mid-Holocene. The environs of the lake were occupied by Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic people over thousands of years and many Early Mesolithic sites, in particular, have been found located along the ancient lake edge, including the paradigm site for the British Early Mesolithic at Star Carr, where occupation occurred over several centuries. We have analysed eleven sediment cores, distributed in most parts of the palaeolake area, for pollen and stratigraphic data with which to reconstruct lake development and vegetation history. These new diagrams augment earlier pollen studies from the western part of the lake, particularly in the Star Carr area and near other major Mesolithic sites around Seamer Carr. Especially informative are a long core from the deepest part of the lake; cores that document the Lateglacial as well as early Holocene times, and evidence for the later Mesolithic that helps to balance the high density of Late Mesolithic sites known from research in the adjacent uplands of the North York Moors. There are many records of charcoal in the deposits but, especially for the earliest examples, it is not always possible to tie them firmly to either human activity or natural causes. Overall, the new and previously existing diagrams provide evidence for the spatial reconstruction of vegetation history across this important wetland system, including (a) for the progression of natural community successions within the wetland and on the surrounding dryland (b) the influence of climate change in bringing about changes in woodland composition and (c) for discussion of the possibility of human manipulation of the vegetation in the Late Upper Palaeolithic, Early and Late Mesolithic. Results show that climate was the main driver of longer-term vegetation change. Centennial-scale, abrupt climate events caused significant vegetation reversals in the Lateglacial Interstadial. The Lateglacial vegetation was very similar throughout the lake hinterland, although some areas supported some scrubby shrub rather than being completely open. Immigration and spread of Holocene woodland taxa comprised the familiar tree succession common in northern England but the timings of the establishment and the abundance of some individual tree types varied considerably around the lake margins because of edaphic factors and the effects of fire, probably of human origin. Woodland successions away from proximity to the lake were similar to those recorded in the wider landscape of northern England and produced a dense, homogenous forest cover occasionally affected by fire.
  • Relationships with the environment (plants and animals)

    Taylor, Barry; Overton, Nicholas; University of Chester; University of Manchester
    It has been over a century since the first palaeoenvironmental records and animal bone assemblages were recorded from deposits recognised as belonging to the Mesolithic. In the intervening years hundreds of pollen and plant macrofossils profiles have been recorded from lake sediments and peat bogs, while faunal assemblages representing the remains of terrestrial and marine mammals, fish, and birds have been documented from secure Mesolithic contexts across much of the continent. With developments in absolute dating, these records have come to provide a rich account of the changing character of the environment of Mesolithic Europe. The ways in which human communities engaged with this environment has been a key theme in Mesolithic archaeology throughout much of its history, and it is a great strength of our discipline that research has often been grounded in detailed studies of faunal and palaeoecological data, as well as material culture (see also Mithen 1999). Indeed, the development of Mesolithic archaeology has been closely aligned to developments in environmental archaeology, often through collaboration by researchers in both fields. Pollen analysis and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction played a central role in many early studies, both as a means of establishing a relative chronology for the archaeology, and for describing the ecological conditions in which humans lived. Similarly, the analysis of animal remains played a key role in the interpretation of some of the first Mesolithic sites, providing information on hunting economies and the season of occupancy. This tradition of collaboration continued into the second half of the twentieth century as developments in palaeoecology and zooarchaeology, particularly those arising from the economic archaeology of the 1960s and 1970s, drove a new wave of research that continues to this day. As a result, we have a rich body of evidence both for the character of the environment, and the ways in which people engaged with it. However, the way we interpret these records has also been influenced by theoretical models of human-environment relationships developed within archaeology and anthropology. As both disciplines have developed throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, it has led to new ways of conceptualising the relationship between humans, plants, and animals during the Mesolithic.
  • Wetlands

    Taylor, Barry; University of Chester
    Archaeological accounts of wetland landscapes during the European Mesolithic often focus on their economic value, viewing these environments as resource rich areas that provided opportunities for hunting, fishing, and the harvesting of plant materials. However, the relationship between Mesolithic communities and the different wetlands that were present across Europe is far more complex. Inhabiting these environments required specific forms of technology, technical skill, and knowledge adapted to the particular conditions prevalent within those landscapes. This included the ability to make and use specialist hunting or fishing technology, watercraft, and architecture, as well as detailed knowledge of the geography of these landscapes, the behaviours of wetland fauna, and the habitats and properties of wetland plants. Wetlands were also important culturally, with evidence for ritualised acts of deposition and disposal that tied them into broader understandings of the world, and the ontological significance of particular places, animals, and environments. These forms of technical skill and ontological knowledge would have been particular to the human communities who inhabited these environments, learnt and developed through the course of people’s lives, and bound up in their identities. As such, we need to think of wetlands, not just as places of economic importance, but as environments that shaped very particular ways of being during the European Mesolithic. As a number of researchers have argued, wetlands are uniquely placed to study this interplay between environment, economy, technology, and social practice, given the excellent levels of organic preservation that can occur at some wetland sites (Van de Noort and O’Sullivan 2006, O’Sullivan 2007). Excavations at these ‘wet’ archaeological sites have recorded large assemblages of faunal material and organic material culture, often stratified within sedimentary sequences that can be dated using radiometric methods. Where these archaeological records can be coupled with paleoenvironmental data, they provide detailed accounts of people’s lives, and how they relate to the environmental conditions prevalent in and around those locations. While there is a geographic bias in the distribution of ‘wet’ sites to the more northerly parts of the continent, they provide useful models with which we can infer forms of activity in other parts of Europe.
  • Hunter-Gatherers in the Landscape: Surveys and Excavations in the Eastern Vale of Pickering, 1976-2000

    Lane, Paul; Schadla-Hall, Tim; Taylor, Barry; University of Chester
    This monograph represents the results of over twenty years of fieldwork and research on the Late Glacial (Late Upper Palaeolithic) and Early Holocene (Mesolithic) landscape around Lake Flixton, in the Vale of Pickering, North Yorkshire. The area of focus of this research was on the eastern end of the Vale of Pickering, demarcated by the line of the A64 trunk road in the west, and running east as far as the village of Muston (Fig. 1.1-2). This encompasses the basin of Lake Flixton, as originally described by John Moore (1951), and its immediate surroundings, which at its maximum extent measures roughly 5.5 km east-west, up to 2.5 km north-south, and covers approximately 12.5 km2 in toto. The work was initially undertaken between 1976 and 1985 as part of the Seamer Carr Project, and then from 1985 to 2000 by the Vale of Pickering Research Trust (VPRT). Research by the VPRT continued after 2000, with elements being later subsumed within new projects at Star Carr (Milner et al. 2018a, 2018b), Flixton Island (Milner et al. 2017) and Flixton School House Farm (Taylor 2012, 2019; Taylor and Gray Jones 2009), and on the Early Holocene palaeoecology (Taylor 2019) and a recently published summary of the VPRT-sponsored palaeoecological research (Innes et al. 2022).
  • Book Review: British Battles 493-937: Mount Badon to Brunanburh by Andrew Breeze

    Pickles, Thomas; University of Chester (Taylor & Francis, 2023-02-01)
    A review of Andrew Breeze, British Battles 493-937: Mount Badon to Brunanburh (London: Anthem Press, 2021).
  • Stigmatizing Space: Jewish East London at the Fin de Siecle

    Ewence, Hannah; University of Chester (Routledge, 2024-07-25)
    London’s East End – a quarter buttressing the city’s docklands – has long been a place of arrival for migrants both domestic and foreign. Characterised in the 19th century by dense housing, tenement blocks, large factories, and low-grade workshops, it was also an area subject to pervasive stigmatisation by on-lookers. It was a stigmatisation which drew upon the area’s reputation as a ‘notorious’ slum quarter and a ‘hotbed’ for crime, complicated by its established status as a reception centre for ‘foreigners’. The large-scale arrival and settlement of Jews from Eastern Europe after 1880 cemented but also extended and diversified such narratives. The rhetoric of the ‘slum’ was now codified with a new, distinctly antisemitic way of describing and degenerating space. The East End slum quarter became ‘the ghetto’, textile factories became ‘sweatshops’, and the East End itself was imaginatively transformed to become ‘little Jerusalem’. Journalists, philanthropists, politicians, novelists, flaneurs and voyeurs all contributed to this spatial lexicon. So too did members of the established Jewish community in Britain both internalise and regurgitate such language as a means to distinguish themselves from their ‘alien’ brethren. This chapter explores the emergence and evolution of this linguistic landscape within cultural discourse of the period, arguing that it was the pre-existing identity of the East End itself as a place apart which allowed this vocabulary to form.
  • V for Viking

    Williams, Howard; University of Chester (Brepols, 2023-07-06)
    What is the most famous ‘Viking funeral’ in modern popular culture? I present a case for the funeral of V in the dystopian fiction of the 1980s graphic novel V for Vendetta and its 2005 film adaptation. Building on earlier roots, the nineteenth-century creation of the Vikings and the Viking Age (c.750–1050) took place through fiction, literary and historical scholarship but also through prominent and influential archaeological investigations of artefacts, sites and monuments in which funerary practices were central and captured the popular imagination. Tied to concepts of feud, fate and faith, this fascination with Old Norse deathways and concepts of the afterlife focused on the conception that the Vikings burned their dead in boats or ships set adrift on open water. By tackling one manifestation of this modern engagement with this imagined Viking past, this epilogue serves as a case study for rethinking the complexity and entanglement of Viking themes in contemporary arts and media, but also to rethink academic public engagements, teaching and research in both Viking and Vikingist studies, and thus medieval/medievalist scholarship more broadly, to counter extremist appropriations.
  • Public Viking Research in Museums and Beyond

    Williams, Howard; University of Chester (Swedish Archaeological Society, 2022-12-23)
    The popularity of the Vikings remains a mixed blessing for archaeologists and heritage practitioners; they are ‘victims of their own success’ on multiple registers (Croix 2015). This is all the more so because, over the last decade at least, we have been unquestionably living through a global ‘Viking revival’ (Birkett 2019:4). Today, Vikings are a focus of identity, faith, politics, consumerism and escapism in which archaeological sources are drawn upon in rich and complex fashions. I have three critical points to make which aim to support and extend, not detract from or devalue, Sindbæk’s insights and inferences: ‘where’s the evidence?’; ‘what’s the context?’; ‘what do we do about it?’ These points together lead me to propose we must collectively adopt a refreshed and reinvigorated agenda to pursue dedicated and sustained ‘Public Viking Research’ into today’s Vikingisms in museums and elsewhere.
  • Human remains in ‘non-burial’ contexts

    Gray Jones, Amy; University of Chester
    A characteristic feature of the mortuary record of Mesolithic Europe is the variability in the depositional contexts from which human remains have been recovered. As well as clearly defined burials, skeletal material has also been recorded from occupation deposits, middens, caves, stream channels and bodies of water – the ‘non-burial’ contexts of this chapter’s title. The character of this material also varies, from isolated finds of single skeletal elements, to the disarticulated remains of partial bodies, assemblages of specific elements (notably skulls), and the commingled remains of multiple individuals. In some cases, they represent the only evidence for the deposition of human remains at a site, while in others they occur (both spatially and temporally) alongside inhumation and cremation burials. This chapter reviews human remains from a variety of non-burial contexts, defined principally as those remains that were not inhumed as complete bodies, and explores the contribution that this material can make to our understanding of funerary practice and belief in the European Mesolithic.

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