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People and Place:

The Making of the Kingdom of Northumbria AD 300-800

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


Funded by: The Leverhulme Trust

People and Place is building on previous advances in early medieval cemetery studies by applying an aggregate of social and scientific approaches to the burial record for the kingdom of Northumbria AD 300-800. A team of four Durham researchers and four post-doctoral researchers are undertaking a full reassessment of all known funerary evidence of early medieval date from the Humber to the Firth of Forth and from the North to Irish Seas.

Together they are charting the evidence for 5000+ individual burials for the entire region, crossing the English and Scottish border and interrogating the data in terms of identity and wealth, health, ethnicity and lifestyle by situating and exploring burials and cemeteries in their landscape setting. The project takes account of all aspects of mortuary data in the kingdom of Northumbria using a comprehensive dataset drawn from published and grey literature, museum archives and sites and monuments records.

New osteological and paleopathological assessments combined with carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and strontium isotopic analyses and AMS dating are being used to create an integrated comparative database which is enabling the team to revisit the chronology for funerary activity and to characterise the social composition of early medieval communities and rethink current understanding of this important frontier region.

The project so far has contributed to a major international conference at Durham in 2018, Grave Concerns: Death, Landscape and Locality in Medieval Society, and number of publications including a major thematic edited volume Life on the Edge: Social, Religious and Political Frontiers in Early Medieval Europe (2017), a recent paper in Cambridge Archaeological Journal (2020) and a Special Issue of World Archaeology 52.2, exploring the topic of Necrogeographies (2020). Three further journal publications are in preparation and a major project monograph with Boydell and Brewer.

Key publications

  • Semple, S. & Brooks, S. 2020. Necrogeography and Necroscapes: Living with the Dead. Special Issue World Archaeology 52.2
  • Semple, S. & Brooks, S. (eds.). 2020. Necrogeographies. Special Issue World Archaeology 52.2
  • Harrington, S., Brookes, S., Semple, S. & Millard, A. 2020. Theatres of Closure: Process and Performance in Inhumation Burial Rites in Early Medieval Britain, Cambridge Journal of Archaeology 30(2)
  • Semple, S., Orsini, C. & Mui, S. (2017). At the Limits: Frontiers and Boundaries in Early Medieval Northern Europe. In Life on the Edge: Social, Political and Religious Frontiers in Early Medieval Europe. Semple, S., Orsini, C. & Mui, S. Braunschweig: Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum. 6: 7-25
  • Semple, S., Buchanan, B., Harrington, S., Oliver, D. & Petts, D. (2017). Power at the Edge: Yeavering, Northumberland, England. In Life on the Edge: Social, Political and Religious Frontiers in Early Medieval Europe. Semple, S., Orsini, C. & Mui, S. Braunschweig: Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum. 6: 91-112.
  • Semple, S., Orsini, C. & Mui, S. (eds.) (2017). Life on the Edge: Social, Political and Religious Frontiers in Early Medieval Europe. Braunschweig: Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum.6.

Postdoctoral Researchers

  • Dr. Brian Buchanan
  • Dr. Sue Harrington
  • Dr. Stuart Brooks
  • Dr. Lauren Walther

Ongoing collaborations are underway with the National Museum of Scotland, Sewerby Hall and Manchester Museum using the project data and outcomes to reframe new displays and exhibitions.

Aerial image of an archaeological excavation

Archaeologist examining human bones and writing on a clipboard


From the Department of Archaeology

  • Professor Sarah Semple
  • Professor Janet Montgomery
  • Dr Andrew Millard

Further information

For further information, please contact Professor Sarah Semple