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Prof James Whitley  -  FSA

Dr James Whitley
Position:Professor in Mediterranean Archaeology

Telephone:+44 (0)29 208 76681
Location:John Percival Building, Room 4.37

Research Interests

  • Early Iron Age and Archaic Greece, particularly Crete
  • Ethnicity and material culture
  • Eastern Crete and Praisos
  • Archaeological History
  • History of Archaeology, particularly Classical Archaeology
  • Art and Agency in the Greek World.
  • Ancient literacy
  • Mortuary Practices and Tomb Cults

My principal research and scholarly interest lies in the art and archaeology of the Mediterranean world in the Early Iron Age and Archaic periods. Though my work has been focussed primarily upon the Aegean, I also have interests in Iron Age Italy, particularly relating to my participation in the Gubbio project.  My principal aim has been and is to use archaeology to gain a better understanding of Greek society in the Early Iron Age and Archaic period. My principal contribution however has been (and is) to help to open up two related, ‘interdisciplinary’ debates:  the first concerns the relationship between archaeology and history in the ancient world in general and Greece in particular, the second the relationship between an explicitly theoretical prehistoric archaeology and a Classical archaeology which has, traditionally, disdained ‘theory’.   So, while my published work embraces specifically archaeological topics such as burial archaeology, other contributions cover subjects and themes, such as tomb cults, hero cults and ancestors, the relationship between art and society, and early literacy in Greece, which straddle the traditional boundary between ‘archaeology’ and ‘history’.  I have always argued that the contribution of archaeology to our understanding of antiquity lies not so much in addressing questions or problems arising from the study of ancient texts, but rather in throwing up ‘strange cases’, such as the disappearance of rich female graves in Archaic Athens, or the ubiquity of written laws in sixth-century Crete, which in their turn require historical explanation.   My interests in archaeological theory are therefore not subsidiary, but stem from a belief that interpretations of Greek material should be informed by anthropological concepts such as object biographies and social agency, gender, and ethnicity. Equally, my interest in the history of archaeological thought arises from a desire to explain the different paths taken by Classical and prehistoric archaeology respectively.

There is not point in theory unless it has an impact on archaeological practice, including fieldwork. In recent years, my particular research focus has lain in Early Iron Age and Archaic Crete , and in the site of Praisos in Eastern Crete in particular. Since 1992 I have been directing a survey project in and around this site, which is of particular interest as it was the political centre of the ‘Eteocretans’, an ethnic group which maintained an identity distinct from their Greek speaking neighbours to the West and North.  Topographical survey of the site in 1992 has been followed by three seasons of intensive fieldwalking.  Study has  revealed sharp differences between the material culture of this ‘Eteocretan’ area with those of its neighbours. Work on the publication of the Praisos survey is now at an advanced stage. In 2007, the first season of renewed excavation of this important Early Iron Age to Hellenistic site took place on the First Acropolis, yielding evidence of several Classical and Hellenistic houses.

Excavation and topographical study of Praisos has also had a direct bearing on the other Cardiff research project with which I am directly involved, namely  Strategies, Structures and Ideologies of the Built Environment 2000-100 B.C.

This variety of research interests has provided the basis for my general book on Archaic and Classical Greece which has recognised as the standard textbook on the subject in Britain, North America and Scandinavia. This in turn provided a firm foundation for the general digest of all archaeological work in Greece, from the Palaeolithic until Ottoman times, that (with much help) I have been contractually obliged to write, compile, edit and produce every year – ‘Archaeology in Greece’. Since 2002, this has been the only such digest produced annually in any language.


Research projects

The Praisos Project

Pottery Production and Consumption in Iron Age Crete: Knossos and Sybrita


Part two BA/BSc undergraduate modules

HS2350 History of Archaeological Thought

HS2389 Art and Archaeology of Classical Greece

HS2386 Art and Archaeology of Archaic Greece

HS2387 The Aegean Bronze Age: Emergence to Collapse


HST203 Themes in Classical Archaeology

HST536 Interpreting the Past