Niah caves
Niah Cave, Borneo

Prehistory is the study of the human past from the production of the first stone tools, 3.2 million years ago, until the modern era. Unlike other branches of archaeology, prehistory does not have a rigidly defined time period. In Britain prehistory ends with the coming of the Roman army, while in Australia, the land was occupied by communities of hunter-gatherers at the time of European invasion, a mere 220 years ago. Historically prehistory was defined as the subject of archaeology that concerned itself with preliterate societies, but practically it is more concerned with particular lifeways, primarily of hunters & gatherers and early agricultural societies, and of interpreting the character of those societies from the material culture and other traces left to us in the archaeological record.

At Leicester we carry out research over the full reach of human prehistory from the earliest traces of human action in the archaeological record during the Lower Palaeolithic until Later Prehistory in Europe that includes Bronze and Iron Age agricultural societies. Recent major projects have included the AHRC-funded Avebury project. A specific current focus of research in the School and with ULAS centres is on Iron Age settlement and change, along with contacts with Rome and transitions after Roman conquest.  The School's Fieldschool project at Burrough Hill is key in such combined research.

Core Staff

Jo Appleby; Huw Barton; Mark Gillings; Oliver Harris; Colin Haselgrove; Terry Hopkinson; Jeremy Taylor; Ian Whitbread.

Our staff have a wide range of research interests and period specialisms including the emergence of behavioural modernity; lithic technology; hunter-gatherer archaeology; the origins of agriculture; Bronze Age mortuary practices and Bronze Age social identity; monumental landscapes of the Bronze Age; the British Iron Age; and geophysical approaches to landscape analysis.

Key Research Projects


Publication Highlights

Appleby, J. (2013). Temporality and the Transition to Cremation in the Late Third Millennium to Mid Second Millennium BC in Britain. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 23(1), pp. 83-97.

Appleby, J. (2011). Bodies, burials and ageing: the temporality of old age in prehistoric societies. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 30(3), pp. 231-246.

Barton, H., Piper, P.J, Rabett, R., and Reeds, I. (2009). Composite hunting technologies from the Terminal Pleistocene and Early Holocene, Niah Cave, Borneo, Journal of Archaeological Science 36: pp. 1708-1714.

Barton, H. (2009). The social landscape of rice within vegecultural systems in Borneo. Current Anthropology 50(5): pp. 673-676.

Bradley, R., Haselgrove, C., Vander Linden, M. and Webley, L. (2015). The later prehistory of North-Western Europe: the evidence of development-led fieldwork. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gillings, M. (2010). Chorography, phenomenology and the antiquarian tradition. Cambridge Journal of Archaeology 21(1).

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

Harris, O. and Robb, J. (2013). The Body in History: Europe from the Palaeolithic to the Future. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Haselgrove, C. and Kmnicek, S. (2016). The Archaeology of Money. Leicester: Leicester Archaeological Monograph 24.

Hopkinson, T. (2007). The Middle Palaeolithic Leaf Points of Europe: Ecology, Knowledge and Scale. BAR International Series 1663. Oxford: John and Erica Hedges Publishing.


Exploring Prehistory at postgraduate level at Leicester

The School is very proud of its record in completing some excellent dissertations by Distance Learning including, Subsistence patterning of Prehistoric Coastal California (Judith Porcasi); Colonizer Geoarchaeology of the Pacific Northwest Region, North America (Brett Lenz); Rejuvination and life history in Great Basin Projectile points (Al Spencer). Some recent and current campus based PhD students include: Creating and Negotiating Identity in a Changing World: Late Iron Age Brooches in Northern France (Melissa Edgar); At the edge of empire: the exchange and deposition of Iron Age metalwork in the East Midlands (Julia Farley); Using radiocarbon to (re)write the history of later Iron Age settlement in northeast England and beyond (Derek Hamilton); Arable practice in the Iron Age and Roman East of England (Kate Parks); Farmers in transition: the archaeobotanical analysis of the Carpathian Basin from the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age (5000-900 BC) (Kelly Reed). For further details see our list of postgraduate research students and their topics.

We welcome applications from UK, EU and International students for doctoral research with the School. PhDs in Ancient History  can be undertaken by both campus-based study and Distance Learning, or a blend of the two. See also further information on our Postgraduate Study programmes.

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