Landscape and Identities: The case of the English landscape 1500 BC to AD 1086


The English Landscapes and Identities project is exploring the long-term history of the English landscape from c. 1500 BC to AD 1086, from the start of the settled agricultural landscape in the middle Bronze Age to the date of the Domesday Book. The five-year project started in October 2011. It is funded by the European Research Council, with Professor Chris Gosden as the Principal Investigator. The project combines evidence on landscape features, such as track-ways, fields and settlements, with the distribution of certain artefact types (particularly metalwork); to achieve this, we are accumulating a mass of digital data from English Heritage’s National Mapping Programme and NRHE (National Record of the Historic Environment) database, local Historic Environment Records, grey literature, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and other artefact databases (primarily the Celtic Coin Index and the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Early Medieval Corpus of single coin finds). Not only will we analyse a mass of data on a scale not attempted previously, but we will also develop theoretical frameworks for analysing landscape and artefactual changes (and continuities) over the long term as they pertain to issues of identity, community and ontology.

Key aims include:

  • to create a digital map of settlements and landscapes across England through time to identify broad regional patterns and their stability through time
  • to pursue a series of more detailed case studies incorporating grey literature and overlaying distributions of artefacts on contemporary landscape features
  • to create and present information digitally through the web to make it accessible to other researchers and interested parties

Key questions are:

  • how to understand the forms of field systems, settlements and track ways in terms of human action and shared commitments; how to balance continuity and change, but also how various spatial scales of community interacted
  • how to understand changing social ontologies from the rural Bronze Age world into the partially nucleated communities of the Iron Age, the imposition of a foreign state power and its effects on the rural landscape in the Roman period, and its subsequent withdrawal and collapse, from which developed the new organizations of the medieval state

The main outcomes of the project will be a website and a monograph. Through consultation with EH, HERs and other institutions, and in collaboration with the Oxford eResearch Centre, we hope to construct a website that provides a searchable map-based dataset with links to substantial bodies of raw data available elsewhere on the web. This will open up the data for analysis by all in a manner never before possible. The website will also include web-based articles relating to case study areas.

The three doctoral researchers associated with the project (2012-15) will be investigating:

  • the preparation and serving of food over time, as understood from changing pottery assemblages from the Bronze Age to Anglo-Saxon periods in selected regions
  • past dietary practices, by combining isotopic data from human and animal bones with evidence from faunal and botanical remains
  • current methodologies of developer-funded archaeological work in different regions of England

The project artist, Miranda Creswell, works alongside the other project team members, recording the research process, exploring the visualisation of landscape evidence, and developing the project’s public outreach programme.

The English Landscapes project is a uniquely ambitious attempt to understand the social and material forces animating a series of pre-modern societies as they worked themselves out on the extended form of landscapes and the condensed relations contained in artefacts. The project will develop theory concerning the relations between people and the material world. It is also an empirical exercise in the manipulation, analysis and presentation of vast amounts of data, particularly through GIS; regular updates on this work and other aspects of the project are available on the project’s archaeology blog and art blog.  

An image showing an original 1919 OS map of Oxford and Henley on Thames and a drawing by (project artist) Miranda Creswell looking north from Wittenham clumps, between January 2012 and January 2013

Project Members and Contact Details

The English Landscape and Identities (‘EngLaID’) project is based at the Institute of Archaeology, 36 Beaumont Street, Oxford, OX1 2PG.

Project members:

Prof. Chris Gosden - Principal Investigator

Dr Anwen Cooper - Researcher; prehistoric specialist 

Dr Tyler Franconi - Researcher; Roman specialist

Dr Letty ten Harkel - Researcher; Early medieval specialist

Dr Chris Green - GIS specialist

Dr John Pybus - Semantic web development

Dr Xin Xiong - Semantic web development

Ms Miranda Creswell - Artist

Ms Vicky Donnelly – DPhil researcher on methodologies of developer-funded archaeology

Ms Sarah Mallet – DPhil researcher on isotopic data and dietary practices

Mr Daniel Stansbie – DPhil researcher on ceramic assemblages and consumption practices

Dr Laura Morley – Administrator

For any further enquiries regarding the project, please contact Laura Morley at