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Professor in the Department of Archaeology+44 (0) 191 33 41142
Member of the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies 


After a PhD at Edinburgh University (1988), I spent nine months in Baghdad before moving to Jordan to become Assistant Director of the British Institute for at Amman for Archaeology and History (1989-92). I was briefly a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Archaeology University College, London before taking up a lectureship at Durham in January 1994.

Research interests

My research interests fall into three main areas: landscape archaeology, artefact studies, and efforts to understand nature of early complex societies. All of these themes are explored in the context of my period/region interests which are focused upon the later Prehistory and Bronze Ages of the Middle East.

Landscape archaeology

My interests centre upon long-term aspects of human-environment interaction in the Middle East. From 1999-2010, in co-operation with the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria, I directed a multi-period landscape project in the Orontes Valley around the city of Homs. By examining two distinct environmental zones, we were able to assess the impact of key economic and political developments in adjacent, but contrasting landscapes. In particular we now understand the differences between patterns of development in the prime agricultural zones, where settlement is dominated by mounded tell sites, and "non-optimal" zones, where we have evidence for two main episodes of sedentary activity - the 4th-3rd millennia BC, and the Graeco-Roman-Islamic period: each is associated with quite distinct landscape signatures. In co-operation with Dr Danny Donoghue (Geography) the project pioneered the use of declassified 1960s CORONA space photography and IKONOS high resolution commercial satellite imagery for archaeological prospection and the investigation of past landscapes.

With the aid of a grant awarded by the Leverhulme Trust (2007-10) The Vanishing Landscape of Syria project has assessed the extent to which the patterns observed in the survey area described above are representative of settlement structures and landuse patterns over a wider area of western Syria. This project is currently being prepared for publication, while the database around which it was built now powers the settlement analysis components of both the Fragile Crescent and Persia and its Neighbours. 

Papers arising from this grant have appeared in LevantSyria, Quaternary International, Quaternary Science Reviews and Journal of Arid Environments.

The Fragile Crescent Project

I was co-investigator on this AHRC funded project with Prof. Danny Donoghue, Geography and PI Prof. Tony Wilkinson. The project used satellite imagery, GIS and archaeological survey data to chart long-term changes in settlement, land-use and social organization across northern Mesopotamia, and northern and western Syria during the Bronze Age (ca. 3500-1000 BC). Papers have appeared in Levant, Journal of World Prehistory, Quaternary International, PLos ONE and Quaternary Science Reviews

Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA).

Supported by the Arcadia Fund and based at the Universities of Oxford, Leicester and Durham, EAMENA was established in January 2015 to respond to the increasing threats to archaeological sites in the Middle East and North Africa. The project uses satellite imagery to rapidly record and make available information about archaeological sites and landscapes which are under threat ( I joined EAMENA in October 2016, assuming responsibility for building the dataset for Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and with funding from the Cultural Protection Fund, to train staff in the national heritage agencies of Lebanon and Iraq in remote sensing, GIS and damage assessment techniques. 

In June 2020, we received confirmation of additional funding from Arcadia that will secure the project through to 2024, and a second grant from the Cultural Protection Fund supported our in-country training into 2021.

Persia and its Neighbours

Following the death of Tony Wilkinson in late 2014, I assumed direction of the Durham-based component of this project (the overall PI is Prof. E. Sauer, Edinburgh), which was funded by the European Research Council. The project examines the landscape dimension of the Sasanian Empire (3rd-7th centuries AD), through examination of study areas in Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Oman, using a combination of regional survey, satellite image analysis and selective excavation. The first volume - dealing with the team's work in Georgia - was published in late 2019, and work on the second is now well advanced.

The nature of early complex societies 

Most of the language employed to discuss social and economic complexity in the Ancient Near East draws upon concepts relevant to the developed urban societies of ancient Mesopotamia. These terms tend, however, play down the diversity of developmental sequences elsewhere in the Middle East, such as western Syria and Palestine. These issues are being explored through the analysis and publication of 4th-3rd millennium BC sequences at three sites located in classic ‘lowland basin’ settings, Tell esh-Shuna in the north Jordan Valley, Tell Nebi Mend in the Orontes Valley and Tell Koubba on the Lebanese littoral. Work to date suggests that while none of these regions conforms to models of settlement and economic organization apparent in “Greater Mesopotamia”, there were clear differences in the specific pathways to complexity taken at each site. Thus the notion of “diverse routes to complexity” may provide a valuable corrective to traditional Mesopotamia-centric interpretations.

The Invisible Dead Project

A new dimension has been added to my work on complex societies by my involvement as co-I in the Invisible Dead Project (Templeton Foundation). My section of the project examined long term patterns in burial data in the Levant from the Ceramic Neolithic to the Iron Age, and was designed to ask the ‘big’ questions that are often lost among the detail of studies centred-upon individual sites, regions or periods. Papers have been published in Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory (2016), and in edited volumes, while a volume arising from the project (edited by Chris Scarre and Jennie Bradbury) appeared in 2017.

Artefact studies 

Having researched ancient metalwork for many years, I have developed a keen interest in the social and economic dimensions of material culture and its deployment in the negotiation of status and identity, as an aspect of social reproduction, and the contexts within which the acquisition, production and deployment of artefactual materials are situated.Recent publications on this theme include my contributions to the 2015 monograph on the cemetery from Jerablus Tahtani in Syria. Related ideas are being explored through the Invisible Dead project by mapping the spatial, temporal and ideological dimensions of the use of material culture in burial contexts. 

Since 2012, the evidence from the Homs region has been contributing to an international collaboration funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Computational Research on the Ancient Near East: An Archaeological Data Integration, Simulation, and 3-D Visualization Initiative - CRANE ), which seeks to combine data from surveys undertaken in the Orontes basin over the past two decades, within a single analytical framework. The broad overview that the project will provide, will allow researchers to identify both large-scale trends and local peculiarities. As part of this project the Durham team will collect new palaeoenvironmental evidence, and will use the evidence of ceramic technology and exchange to better understand the economic potential of different parts of the survey area.

The CRANE project supported a two-day workshop in Durham in August 2015 on the Integration of Ceramic and Petrographic Datasets in the Levant. The resulting papers have been published as a Special Issue of Levant (v.52: 1-2) entitled Ceramics, Society, and Economy in the Northern Levant: an integrated archaeometric perspective

Isotopic Projects

Starting in 2018, and working with Prof Janet Montgomery, two new projects are exploring the potential of isotopic data to shed light on the movement of people and animals in the ancient Levant.

Managing Risk in Early Complex Societies

Led by Dr Lynn Welton, and funded through a Marie-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship (2018-20), this project is now at publication stage. It investigated the role of animal movement in the rise of urban societies and large, integrated supra-regional economies in the Jordan Valley and western Syria from the 6th through to the 3rd millennia BC. The project involved the examination of carbon (δ13C), oxygen (δ18O) and strontium (87Sr/86Sr) isotope data from sheep and goats from several sites in the Jordan Valley, and from Tell Nebi Mend in the Orontes Valley region of Syria. Preliminary results provide strong indications for territoriality in herding zones, and for significant changes in the patterns of animal procurement over time.

A multi-isotope base map for Jordan: a tool for re-examining movement and community in the past 

This project began in 2019 and is supported by an AHRC/Newton Research Development Grant. It is operated in partnership with colleagues at Yarmouk University and the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. It aims both to provide a base dataset for carbon (δ13C), oxygen (δ18O) and strontium (87Sr/86Sr) isotopes in the natural environment of modern Jordan, and to use this to undertake an archaeological case study based upon the human remains from the site of Pella in the Jordan Valley, augmented by material from burials on the Jordanian plateau excavated by our Jordanian partners. The aim is to help us understand the diversity of the population of that site at different points in time. The results will be presented through an exhibition at the Pella visitor centre.

Research Students who have been awarded their doctorates in the last six years include:

Stefan Smith (2016) Late Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age settlement patterns in the Greater Western Jazira: trajectories of sedentism in the semi-arid Syrian steppe

Elena Sulioti (2016) The meaning and the function of symbolism in Minoan society: a contextual approach (with Prof. J Chapman)

Jaafar Jotheri (2016) Holocene avulsion history of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the Mesopotamian floodplain (with T. Allen, Earth Sciences)

Michel de Vreeze (2017) Pottery ancestories: comparing ceramic evolution in the eastern Mediterranean and south-east Arabia during the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1550 BC) with the use of phylogenetic methods (with J. Tehrani, Anthropology)

Rune Rattenborg (2017) The scale and extent of political economies of the Middle Bronze Age Jazirah and the Bilad al-Sham (c. 1800-1600 BC) (with P. Wison)

Michelle de Gruchy (2017) Routes of the Uruk Expansion (with R Witcher)

Kristen Hopper (2017) The Gorgan Plan of northeast Iran: a diachronic analysis of settlement and land use patterns relating to urban, rural and mobile populations on a Sasanian frontie (with R Witcher)

Lisa Snape-Kennedy (2018) Wind Water and Walls: developing luminescence and geoarchaeological methods for dating ancient landscape features (with I.K. Bailiff)

Majid Alonasi (2018) A re-evaluation of stratigraphic and ceramic evidence from the Bronze and Iron Age site of al-Sina ’iyyah at Tayma in Saudi Arabia (with D. Kennet).

Martina Massimino (2020) A Tale of Production, Circulation and Consumption: Metals in Anatolia during the Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age (with B. Roberts).

Dan Eddisford (2020) Exchange networks in southeast Arabia in the Early Bronze Age (c.3200-2000 B.C.): An Analysis of Changing Patterns of Exchange in the Hafit and Umm an-Nar Periods (with D. Kennet).

Research interests

  • Archaeology of the Ancient Middle East (Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Cyprus, Israel, Palestinian territories) from the Neolithic to the Iron Age
  • Artefact studies, especially ceramics and metalwork
  • Landscape archaeology, including settlement studies and remote sensing
  • Funerary archaeology

Esteem Indicators

  • 2020: Editor of journal Levant 2008-2020:


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Edited book

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Supervision students