Dr Mark Gillings

Mark Gillings.jpg

Academic Director and Reader in Archaeology, School of Archaeology and Ancient History

Contact details

Tel: 0116 252 2723

Email: mg41@le.ac.uk


Personal details

  • BSc, PhD (Bradford)

I was appointed a Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Leicester in 1999. After completing my degree and PhD at the University of Bradford, I increasingly specialised in the theory and practice of landscape archaeology, with particular focus on the role that could be played by geographical information systems (GIS).

This research developed through a succession of research posts at the Universities of Durham (1990), Cambridge (1991), Newcastle (1992-1997) and Leicester (1997-1999) and resulted in a number of publications including the major textbook Spatial Technology and Archaeology: the archaeological application of GIS, co-authored with Dr. David Wheatley of the University of Southampton. I am currently working to bring together my existing strands of research into landscape and archaeological theory through the development of a different kind of GIS, which could called a Geosophical Information System.

As well as concerns with GIS, a long standing interest in monumental prehistoric landscapes led in 1997 to the first of a series of fieldwork projects centred on the World Heritage Site of Avebury that have resulted in a series of major excavations and new discoveries in the Avebury landscape (Gillings, M., Pollard, J., Wheatley, D.W. and Peterson, R. 2008. Landscape of the Megaliths: excavation and fieldwork on the Avebury Monuments 1997-2003. Oxford: Oxbow).

My current fieldwork is focusing upon the enigmatic stone settings of Exmoor, southwest Britain (in collaboration with colleagues from Exmoor National Park and the University of Plymouth) and a major new AHRC-funded research programme at Avebury entitled Living with Monuments (in collaboration with colleagues from the Universities of Southampton, Gent, Cambridge; the National Trust and Allen Environmental Archaeology).


I teach modular courses at all levels on a range of undergraduate (UG) and Masters (MA) programmes.


M. Gillings, P. Haciguzeller and G. Lock (eds). (forthcoming). Archaeology and the Map: critique and practice. New York: Springer.

M. Gillings (submitted). Mapping liminality: Critical frameworks for the GIS-based modelling of visibility. Journal of Archaeological Science.

M. Gillings, (in press). Environment and Landscape. In A. Gardiner, M. Lake and U. Sommer (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Archaeological Theory. Oxford: OUP.

M. Gillings and J. Pollard (eds). 2016. Landscape Archaeology (Critical Concepts in Archaeology – 4 vols; 1,600 pages). London: Routledge.

M. Gillings and J. Pollard 2016. Making megaliths: Shifting and unstable stones in the Neolithic of the Avebury landscape. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 26(4): 537-559.

M. Gillings. 2015. Mapping Invisibility: GIS approaches to the analysis of hiding and seclusion. Journal of Archaeological Science 62: 1-14.

M. Gillings. 2015. Fugitive monuments and animal pathways: explaining the stone settings of Exmoor. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 81: 87-106.

M. Gilings. 2015. Betylmania? Small standing stones and the megaliths of South-West Britain. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 34(3): 207-233.

M. Gillings. 2015. Excavation and survey at Porlock Stone Circle and Row, Exmoor. SANHS 158: 1-28.

M. Gillings and Pollard, J. 2015. Authenticity, Artifice and the Druidical Temple of Avebury. In J.C.A. Kolen, H. Renes & R.A.E. Hermans (eds). Landscape Biographies: 117-142. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press.

M. Gillings. 2012. Landscape Phenomenology, GIS and the Role of Affordance. Journal of Archaeological method and Theory 19(4): 601-611.

M. Gillings. 2011. 'Chorography, phenomenology and the antiquarian tradition'. Cambridge Journal of Archaeology 21(1): 53-64.

M. Gillings, J. Pollard & J. Taylor. 2010. 'The miniliths of Exmoor'. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 76: 297-318.

M. Gillings. 2009. 'Visual affordance, landscape and the megaliths of Alderney'. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 28(4): 335-56.

M. Gillings, J. Pollard, D.W. Wheatley & R. Peterson. 2008. Landscape of the Megaliths. Oxbow: Oxford.

M. Gillings, 2007. ‘The Escegfalva Landscape: affordance and inhabitation’ in A. Whittle (ed), The Early Neolithic of the Great Hungarian Plain. Varia Archaeologica Hungarica, Budapest.

C. Frieman and M. Gillings, 2007. 'Seeing is Perceiving?'. World Archaeology 39(1): 4-16.

M. Gillings and J. Pollard, 2004. Avebury. Duckworths, London.

D.W. Wheatley and M. Gillings, 2002. Spatial Technology and Archaeology: the archaeological applications of GIS. Taylor & Francis, London.


My broad research interests are in GIS, Landscape, Archaeological-theory & Prehistoric Monumentality. Within these themes are a number of current research initiatives:

Prehistoric Monumentality and the AHRC-funded Living with Monuments Project (2016 - 2021)

The great ceremonial and funerary monuments of the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (EBA) have attracted considerable academic and public attention, but the wider social worlds of routine, subsistence and settlement within which they were created remain poorly understood and often elusive. The scale and permanence of constructions like the Avebury henge, Stonehenge and Silbury Hill contrast markedly with the ephemeral character of everyday activity during the Neolithic and EBA (c.3800-1500BC), and for this reason archaeological narratives of social life during these periods have often been crafted around 'goings on' at highly visible monuments.

The Living with Monuments Project is addressing this imbalance by examining the record of settlement and related activities within the Avebury landscape. The project aims to identify the extent, scale, density, character and tempo of human settlement in the core of the region during the Neolithic and EBA; the relationship between everyday life in the landscape and its progressive monumentalisation in terms of how monument building may have structured settlement (e.g. drawing people into the region) and the way that settlement imparted a history to places that could lead to their subsequent conversion into monumental spaces; and to better define the environment within which such activity took place.

A subsidiary concern is to understand how life within this landscape was lived in relation to certain natural features which we know received especial attention, such as the distinctive spreads of sarsen stone. The project is co-directed by researchers from the Universities of Southampton and Leicester, supported by colleagues from the National Trust, Ghent University, Cambridge University and Allen Environmental Archaeology.

Miniliths of Exmoor Project (2005 - present):

The earliest archaeological monuments to be identified on Exmoor are settings of local sandstone and slate, taking the form of circles, rows, solitary/paired stones and geometric and semi-geometric arrangements. The latter, of which over 50 examples are known, appear unique to Exmoor. They take a variety of forms, from rectangular settings and quincunxes, to apparently random arrangements of stones. Many are concentrated around the headwaters of valleys, in areas of moorland which lie beyond the limits of medieval and later cultivation.

Two features of these settings are worthy of note: Their diminutive size, with individual stones rarely exceeding 0.5m, leading to their being termed ‘minilithic’; and the lack of basic archaeological knowledge beyond suggested morphology and general distribution. Their assumed late Neolithic/early Bronze Age date is based on loose analogy (i.e. that they are comparable to features such as stone circles and rows), and their physical proximity to round barrows and cairns. Poorly dated and without immediate analogy, it is not surprising that their function remains unknown.

GIS, Landscapes and Archaeological Theory (1990 - present)

Much of my GIS-based research has focused upon the relationship between archaeological applications of GIS and developments in archaeological theory. This has involved a number of critical studies of GIS-based Viewshed and Visibility studies in archaeological landscape research that have explored themes as diverse as perceptual catchments and the study of visibility as an active affordance of animal-landscape relationships.Recent GIS-based research has focused upon the mapping of profoundly relational capacities - such as concealment, hiding and liminality - in the context of an explicitly assemblage-based approach to the application of GIS.  I am currently working to consolidate my research into landscape theory and GIS through the development of what might be termed a 'Geosophical-Information-System'.

CODA: Virtual Avebury

In the 1990s and 2000s I carried out a series of studies into the theoretical (and methodological) basis of VR applications in archaeology with my colleague Glyn Goodrick that resulted in a suite of research publications. For those interested in the history of VR applications in archaeology, one of the earliest outputs of the project (a virtual sarsen stone surveyed and constructed in 1998 using what might be thought of as an early incarnation of structure-from-motion (SFM) has recently been rediscovered in a dark corner of the digital aether and can be accessed below:

Avebury: stone 4 revisited

Back in 1999, Joshua Pollard and I published a biography of one of the standing stones (stone 4) of Avebury's outer circle in the journal World Archaeology 31(2). Entitled 'Non-portable stone artefacts and contexts of meaning: The tale of Grey Wether (museums.ncl.ac.uk/Avebury/ stone4.htm)' the text was accompanied by a virtual stone 4 that could be accessed by any interested readers.  The virtual stone was constructed using methodologies developed by the digital genius of Glyn Goodrick and was originally hosted on the University of Newcastle upon Tyne webspace.

Although no longer available at the published URL, interested readers can access stone 4 by downloading the files below. Originally implemented in VRML, a  second version has been constructed in x3D format - take your pick!

To view the stone you will need to source a VRML/X3D browser (e.g. FreeWRL) - the wikipedia entries for X3D and VRML have some useful links.

Below you can find the (rather portentous) original text that accompanied the stone, beneath that the zipped datafiles needed to view it. Feel free to modify it, host it, or just set it idly spinning....

"The above paper concerns the biographies of immobile things. Central to the discussion is an examination of the detailed life-history of one of the individual megalithic settings within the late Neolithic henge at Avebury, Wiltshire. In an attempt to write a new chapter in this biography a virtual-reality model of the stone in question has been constructed and released into the global information space.

Stone 4 is a blocky rectangular boulder of dense grey sandstone, known locally as sarsen. Over two metres high, it stands adjacent to the busy road running through Avebury, connecting the towns of Swindon and Devizes. Facing into Avebury the surface of the stone is rough, pocked with fossil root-holes. The opposite side in contrast is worn smooth. Along with another estimated 97 stones, it comprises part of the sub-circular outer stone circuit. The largest stone circle in Britain.

As part of the continuing biography of Stone 4, a virtual simulacrum of the sarsen has been released into the inky blackness of cyberspace. Although communicating bulk and physicality, it is a hollow shell of pure form and appearance. Although visually resembling Stone 4, this is a reproduction shorn of any context and aura. It is there to be examined, manipulated and visually devoured. The Stone 4 simulacrum is open to free and unbounded interpretation and negotiation. You are encouraged to save it, examine it, alter it, and incorporate it into your own virtual-worlds and places - in effect writing a new chapter in the biography of Stone 4 and with every engagement generating a new aura."

Stone 4 (VRML) - 695KB zip file

Stone 4 (X3D) - 689KB zip file


I am interested in supervising Doctoral Research topics within the broad themes listed below. If you have an idea and would like to discuss it further, do not hesitate to contact me.

  • Critical development of GIS within archaeological research
  • Critical geomatics
  • Maps and mapping
  • Virtual archaeologies
  • Landscape theory
  • Prehistoric monumentality
  • Critical historiographies of the antiquarian tradition

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