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Professor Niall Sharples

Professor Niall Sharples

Professor of Archaeology

School of History, Archaeology and Religion

Email
sharples@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone
+44 (0)29 2087 4246
Campuses
5.46, John Percival Building

Overview

Research interests

  • Monumentality
  • Material Culture
  • British Prehistory
  • The Norse settlement of the North Atlantic
  • The history of Archaeology in the 20th Century

Biography

I am a graduate of Glasgow University where I did an archaeology degree with a dissertation on the excavations at the chambered tomb of the Ord North in Sutherland. On graduating I spent five years working in the Artefact Research Unit of what was then known as the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. Most of my energies were expended on directing and supervising fieldwork in Orkney and the Western Isles on sites including Pierowall Quarry and Links of Noltland on the island of Westray and Dalmore, on the Isle of Lewis.

In 1985 I was employed to direct the excavations at Maiden Castle in Dorset. This project was completed with the publication of the excavation report and popular book in 1991. I then returned to Scotland and was employed by Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland) to supervise their Monument Warden Scheme, which allowed me to visit many obscure and fascinating monuments all over the country. In 1995 I was employed by Cardiff University and every since then I have been based in the Department of Archaeology in the School of History, Archaeology and Religion. In 2012 I became a Professor and in 2013 I was briefly Head of School.

During my time at Cardiff University I have continued to actively research British Prehistory by undertaking fieldwork on a range of exciting archaeological monuments; including the spectacular hillfort at Ham Hill, Somerset; the causewayed enclosure and hillfort at Caerau, Cardiff; the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age midden at Whitchurch, Warwickshire; and the Iron Age settlement on Orosay, South Uist. However, the main focus for my fieldwork activities has been the important Early Historic and Norse settlement at Bornais in South Uist. Excavations were undertaken on this site between 1995 and 2004 and the final volume that completes the publication of the excavations came out in 2020.

Publications

2020

2019

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

  • Parker Pearson, M., Sharples, N. M. and Symonds, J. 2004. South Uist: archaeology and history of a Hebridean island. Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd.
  • Sharples, N. M., Parker Pearson, M. and Symonds, J. 2004. The archaeological landscape of South Uist. In: Housley, R. A. and Coles, G. eds. Atlantic Connections and Adaptations: Economies, environments and subsistence in lands bordering the North Atlantic. Symposia of the Association for Environmental Archaeology Vol. 21. Oxford: Oxbow Books, pp. 28-47.

2003

2000

1999

1998

1997

1996

1991

1990

1985

1981

Teaching

  • Discovering Archaeology - 20 credits (HS2126)
  • Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain - 20 credits (HS2357)
  • Iron Age Britain - 20 credits (HS2306)
  • Introduction to European Prehistory - 20 credits (HS2206)
  • Later Prehistoric Britain (HST730)

Projects

Hillforts

2007-ongoing. I am currently involved in a number of projects which are attempting to understand the role of hillforts in Later Prehistoric Britain.

  • I am co-manager of the excavations at Ham Hill a joint University of Cardiff and Cambridge Archaeological Unit project that is excavating a large area in the interior of Britain's largest hillfort.
  • I am a consultant for Herefordshire County Council working in particular on the excavations at Credenhill Camp in 2007 and 2008 and in their current project "An assessment of the Archaeological and Conservation Status of Major Later Prehistoric Enclosures in Herefordshire and Shropshire".
  • I am academic leader for the University of Cardiff involvement with the CAER heritage Project, which is designed to understand the hillfort of Caerau, Ely, Cardiff.

These projects will provide an invaluable addition to our knowledge of the large hillforts of western Britain and have the potential to transform our understanding as previous explorations in these areas have been minimal. They build on my work at Maiden Castle in the 1980s and the reconsideration of the hillforts of Wessex in my book Social Relations in Later Prehistory.

South Uist

1995-ongoing. In the 1990s I co-directed a large fieldwork project on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides in collaboration with the University of Sheffield and others. This was designed to explore the history of settlement on the island from its initial occupation through to the clearences.  A detailed account of the project is available on the project web site.

My principal excavations were at the site of Bornais and were undertaken between 1994 and 2004. These revealed one of the largest known Norse settlements in Scotland and a sequence of occupation dating from the 3rd century AD to the 14th century AD at Bornais, South Uist. Two volumes have now been published on these excavations and work is ongoing to complete the final volumes.

The site provides crucial evidence for the development of commercial fishing, the organisation of craft activities and the use of domestic space in the Norse period. The quantity of artefacts and the quality of the stratigraphy provide an unparalleled opportunity for understanding chronological changes during this period.

The project aims:

  • To understand the nature of the Norse settlement of the North Atlantic.
  • To understand the development of domestic architecture in the Atlantic fringe of Scotland.
  • To understand the change nature of agricultural practice in a marginal and fragile ecosystem.

This project is funded by Historic Scotland and Cardiff University, and has a value of £240,000.

Middens and Whitchurch

2006-ongoing. I am working with Kate Waddington (University of Bangor) and Richard Madgwick on the problem of the large middens that appear in southern England in the first half of the first millennium BC. The project aims include:

  • Understanding the conspicuous consumption required to create the large middens that are found at the beginning of the first millennium BC.
  • Reconsidering the social role of metal production, us and deposition at the beginning of the first millennium BC.
  • Examining the taphonomic processes that inform the accumulation of material in these extraordinary sites.

The principal field element of the project was the excavation of the midden at Whitchurch in Warwickshire, an unusual site that lies on the periphery of the distribution. The excavations should provide an important framework for the Late Bronze Age early Iron Age transition in the West Midlands. The project has also obtained a large number of radiocarbon dates from the midden at East Chisenbury which should provide an unparalleled opportunity to precisely date these sites.

This project is funded by the Archaeological Society, the Prehistoric Society, NERC and Cardiff University.