Professor Howard Williams

Professor of Archaeology


BSc (Sheffield), MA (Reading), PhD (Reading), FSA


I am an archaeologist with research interests in death, burial and commemoration. I began my interest in archaeology at school by joining excavation projects on sites in England, Scotland and France. My inspiration for studying the early Middle Ages was furthered by digging at the famous princely burial ground of Sutton Hoo (Suffolk) and the Anglo-Saxon settlement at West Heslerton (Yorkshire). 

I read for a BSc in Archaeological Science at the University of Sheffield (1992-1995) where I developed an interest in funerary archaeology as well as doing more fieldwork in France, England and Scotland.

I studied for an MA in Burial Archaeology (1995-1996) and PhD (1996-1999) at the University of Reading before being appointed as Lecturer in Archaeology at Trinity College Carmarthen (1999-2002), Cardiff University (2002-2003) and the University of Exeter (2003-2007).

I joined the Department of History & Archaeology at the University of Chester in February 2008 where I continue to pursue both teaching and research focusing on the archaeology of historic periods. Details of my research can be found below, but further details can be viewed on my SelectedWorks and websites. You can also follow me on Twitter. Read my blog here.


I contribute to the teaching of the following undergraduate modules:

  • Introduction to the Archaeology of the British Isles, 10,000 BC - 1900 AD
  • Debates in World Archaeology
  • The Archaeology of Medieval Britain, AD 400 - AD 1500
  • Archaeology and Contemporary Society
  • Vikings

Postgraduate supervision

I contribute to the teaching of the following postgraduate modules:

  • Investigating the Past
  • Research Skills in Archaeology and Heritage
  • Mortuary  Archaeology
  • Archaeologies of Memory

I currently supervise five postgraduate research students ( Anna Davenport, Joanne Kirton, Ruth Nugent, Alison Smithson and Rachel Swallow.  I welcome contact from prospective students wishing to study the archaeology of death, burial and commemoration, medieval archaeology, contemporary archaeology and the history of archaeology. 


I am Honorary Editor of the Archaeological Journal, a leading national journal for the archaeology of the British Isles and neighbouring regions published by the Royal Archaeological Institute.

My research interests are mortuary archaeology, archaeologies of memory and the history of archaeology. I focus these interests on the study of the British Isles and Scandinavia in the early Middle Ages (c. AD 400 - 1100).

In addition, I have published on the theory of mortuary archaeology, exploring case studies from later Prehistory, the Roman world, as well as the later Middle Ages and modern times. I have recently developed research interests in public and community archaeology.

My research has always involved aspects of independent fieldwork but I have also directed a number of larger field-based projects including excavations. These include work on a burial mound at Roundway Down, Wiltshire (co-directed with Sarah Semple, 2000) as well as excavations of a Viking-period boat grave at Skamby, Sweden (co-directed with Dr Martin Rundkvist, 2005). I have also been conducting excavations and fieldwork at Stokenham, Devon (2005-2007).

I am co-director of Project Eliseg.  I also direct the Kingskerswell Archaeology Research Project, investigating the history of commemoration in a Devon church and churchyard.

I am the archaeologist on the interdisciplinary project The Past in its Place: Histories of Memory in English and Welsh Locales

Published work


Williams, H. 2006. Death & Memory in Early Medieval Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Edited Books

Williams, H (ed) 2011. Archaeologists on Contemporary Death: Mortality Special Issue, 16.2.

Sayer, D. & Williams, H. (eds) 2009. Mortuary Practices & Social Identities in the Middle Ages: Essays in Burial Archaeology in Honour of Heinrich Härke. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.

Semple, S. & Williams, H. (eds) 2007. Early Medieval Mortuary Practices: Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology & History 14. Oxford: Oxbow.

Recent Book Chapters

Meyers, K. and Williams, H. 2014. Blog Bodies: Mortuary Archaeology and Blogging in D. Rocks-McQueen and C. Webster (eds) Blogging Archaeology. E book:

Nugent, R. and Williams, H. 2012. Sighted surfaces: ocular agency in early Anglo-Saxon cremation burials, in I-M. Back Danielsson, F. Fahlander and Y. Sjostrand (eds) Encountering Imagery. Materialities, Perceptions, Relations, Stockholm: Stockholm Studies in Archaeology 57, pp. 187-208.

Williams, H. 2013. Death, memory and material culture: catalytic commemoration and the cremated dead, in S. Tarlow and L. Nilsson Stutz (eds) The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.195-208.

Williams, H. 2012. Ash and Antiquity: Archaeology and cremation in contemporary Sweden, in A.M. Jones, J. Pollard, M.J. Allen and J. Gardiner (eds) Image, Memory and Monumentality: Archaeological Engagements with the Material World, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 207-217.

Williams, H. 2011. Remembering elites: Early medieval stone crosses as commemorative technologies, Boye, L., Heidemann Lutz, L., Kleingärtner, S., Kruse, P., Matthes, L., Sørensen, A.B. (eds) Arkæologi i Slesvig/Archäologie in Schleswig. Sonderband “Det 61. Internationale Sachsensymposion 2010” Haderslev, Denmark. Neumünster: Wachholtz, pp. 13-32.

Williams, H. 2011. Mortuary practices in early Anglo-Saxon England, in H. Hamerow, D. Hinton and S. Crawford (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 240-267.

Williams, H. 2010. Engendered bodies and objects of memory in Final Phase graves, in J. Buckberry & A. Cherryson (eds) Later Anglo-Saxon Burial c. 650 - 1100 AD, Oxford: Oxbow, pp. 24-36.

Content, S. & Williams, H. 2010. Creating the Pagan English, in M. Carver, A. Sanmark & S. Semple (eds) Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited, Oxford: Oxbow, pp. 181-200.

Williams, H. 2010. At the funeral, in M. Carver, A. Sanmark & S. Semple (eds) Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited, Oxford: Oxbow, pp. 67-83.

Williams, H. & Sayer, D. 2009. Halls of mirrors: death & identity in medieval archaeology, in D. Sayer & H. Williams (eds) Mortuary Practices & Social Identities in the Middle Ages: Essays in Burial Archaeology in Honour of Heinrich Härke. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, pp. 1-22.

Williams, H. 2009. On display: envisioning the early Anglo-Saxon dead, in D. Sayer. & H. Williams (eds) Mortuary Practices & Social Identities in the Middle Ages: Essays in Burial Archaeology in Honour of Heinrich Härke. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, pp. 170-206.

Williams, H. 2008. Towards an archaeology of cremation, in C.W. Schmidt & S. Symes (eds) The Analysis of Burned Human Remains, London: Academic Press, pp. 239-269.

Williams, H. 2007. "Burnt Germans", Alemannic Graves and the origins of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, in S. Burmeister, H. Derks and J. von Richthofen (eds), Zweiundvierzig. Festschrift für Michael Gebühr zum 65. Geburtstag, Internationale Archäologie - Studia honoraria 25 Rahden: Westf, pp. 229-238.

Williams, H. 2007. Introduction: Themes in the Archaeology of Early Medieval Death and Burial, in S. Semple & H. Williams (eds) Early Medieval Mortuary Practices: Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology & History 14, pp. 1-11.

Williams, H. 2007. Transforming body and soul: toilet implements in early Anglo-Saxon graves, in S. Semple & H. Williams (eds) Early Medieval Mortuary Practices: Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology & History 14, pp. 66-91.

Williams, H. 2007. Forgetting the Britons in Victorian Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, in N. Higham (ed.) Britons in Anglo-Saxon England, Woodbridge: Boydell, pp. 27-41.

Recent Journal Articles

Williams, H. 2014. Monument and material reuse at the National Memorial Arboretum, Archaeological Dialogues 21(1): 75-102.

Williams, H. 2014. Antiquity at the National Memorial Arboretum, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 20(4): 393-414.

Williams, H. 2013. Saxon Obsequies: The Early Medieval Archaeology of Richard Cornwallis Neville, Bulletin of the History of Archaeology 23(1):2, DOI:

Williams, H. 2011. Ashes to asses: An archaeological perspective on death and donkeys, Journal of Material Culture 16(3): 219-39.

Williams, H. 2011. Cremation & present pasts: A contemporary archaeology of Swedish memory groves, Mortality 16(2): 113-30.

Williams, H. 2011. Archaeologists on Contemporary Death, Mortality 16(2): 91-97.

Williams, H. 2011. The sense of being seen: ocular effects at Sutton Hoo, Journal of Social Archaeology 11(1): 99-121,

Williams, H., Rundkvist, M. & Danielsson, A. 2010. The landscape of a Swedish boat-grave cemetery, Landscapes (2010) 1: 1-24.

Walls, S. & Williams, H. 2010. Death and memory on the Home Front: Second World War commemoration in the South Hams, Devon, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 20(1): 49-66.  

Rundkvist, M. & Williams, H. 2008. A Viking Boat Grave with Gaming Pieces Excavated at Skamby, Östergötland, Sweden, Medieval Archaeology 52: 69-102.

Simpson, F. & Williams, H. 2008. Evaluating Community Archaeology in the UK, Public Archaeology 7(2): 69-90.

Williams, H. 2008. Anglo-Saxonism and Victorian Archaeology: William Wylie's Fairford Graves, Early Medieval Europe 16(1): 49-88.

Rundkvist, M., Stilborg, O. and Williams H. 2007. Copper alloy casting at Skamby in Kuddby parish, Östergötland, Fornvännen 102, 279-281.

Williams, H. & Williams, E.J.L. 2007. Digging for the Dead: Archaeological Practice as Mortuary Commemoration, Public Archaeology 6(1): 45-61.

Williams, H. 2007. Depicting the Dead: Commemoration Through Cists, Cairns and Symbols in Early Medieval Britain, Cambridge Archaeological Journal 17(2): 145-64.

Williams, H. 2007. The Emotive Force of Early Medieval Mortuary Practices, Archaeological Review from Cambridge. 22(1): 107-23.