Professor Stephen Rippon
Professor of Landscape Archaeology
I am a landscape archaeologist with interests focused on the Roman and medieval periods in Britain and mainland North West Europe. My early work focused on the history of wetland reclamation and explored how human communities changed from simply exploiting the rich natural resources that wetlands have to offer, through modifying these environments to make them more suitable for agriculture, to fully transforming them through reclamation. My initial projects were in and around the Severn Estuary in SW Britain and were published in The Gwent Levels: The Evolution of a Wetland Landscape (1996) and The Severn Estuary: Landscape Evolution and Wetland Reclamation (1997). This was followed by a major comparative study of NW Europe, published in The Transformation of Coastal Wetlands (2000). Major fieldwork projects include Landscape, Community and Colonisation: The North Somerset Levels During the 1st to 2nd Millennia AD (2006). More recently I have worked on the South Essex Marshes (that included an AHRC Knowledge Transfer Fellowship) the results of which have been published in the journal Landscape Research vol 38.ii (2013).
My current research is exploring the origin and development of regional variation in landscape character from the Roman period through to the present day. I use interdisciplinary analysis of archaeological, cartographic, documentary, place-name and architectural evidence, with examples published in Beyond the Medieval Village: The Diversification of Landscape Character in Southern Britain (2008), Making Sense of An Historic Landscape (2012), The Fields of Britannia (2015), and Kingdom, Civitas and County (2018).
I am also developing a range of interdisciplinary approaches to studying the landscape, some of which are included in Historic Landscape Analysis (2004 [reprinted 2008; Second, revised Edition 2013]). I have worked collaboratively with historians, for example with Peter Claughton in Mining in a Medieval Landscape: The Royal Silver Mines of the Tamar Valley (2009), and John Blair in Planning in the Early Medieval Landscape (2020). I also work closely with palaeoenvironmental specialists, for example in reconstructing past patterns of land use (eg my current project Manifestations of Empire with Tudur Davis and Andy Season; and see 'Beyond villages and open fields: the origins and development of a historic landscape characterised by dispersed settlement in South West England': Medieval Archaeology 50, 2006).
My recent major AHRC-funded Exeter: A Place in Time project was a collaboration with the University of Reading, Cotswold Archaeology, Exeter City Council, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. We have written up four of the major excavations carried out in Exeter during the 1970s, and carried out programmes of modern scientific analysis on a range of artefact types including pottery, archaeometallurgical debris, and animal bones. Other contributions to the two volumes (published by Oxbow Books in 2021) include an overview of the dendrochonological work carried out in Exeter, studies of the Roman animal bones, coins, querns and pottery, and the medieval pottery and human remains from four cemeteries.
I also hold a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to support public engagement in achaeology through the Understanding Landscapes Project.
I have served as the University's Dean of the University's Faculty of Graduate Research, President of the Medieval Settlement Research Group, Treasurer of the Society for Medieval Archaeology, and Chairman of the Severn Estuary Levels Research Committee and the Council for British Archaeology South West Region. I am currently President of the Society for Medieval Archaeology.
At undergraduate and masters level I teach on the landscapes of Roman and medieval Britain. I supervise research students (PhD, MPhil, MA by Research, and research degrees by Publication) across a wide range of topics in the fields of medieval and landscape archaeology.
I have research interests across the Roman, medieval and post-medieval periods, particularly in the area of landscape archaeology.
I have a particular interest in the Roman-medieval transition, with some of my earliest research examining landscapes South East and South West Britain (eg Essex Archaeology and History 22 (1991) and in The Severn Estuary: the Evolution of a Wetland Landscape (1997). More recently, a Leverhulme Trust grant funded a major overview of the palaeoenvironmental analyses that cover the Roman to early medieval periods, and the relationship between excavated Romano-British and medieval field systems (The Fields of Britannia project).
The exploitation of physically 'marginal' landscapes is another major research theme, which has been explored in the contrasting landscapes such as the uplands of the Greater Exmoor region, and wetlands such as the North Somerset Levels (see Landscape, Community and Colonisation, 2006) and Glastonbury Abbey's manor at Meare in the Somerset Levels.
I also have a long standing interest in the characterisation of historic landscapes, having undertaken the Gwent Levels Historic Landscape Study for Cadw and the Countryside Council for Wales (published in 1996 as The Gwent Levels: The Evolution of a Wetland Landscape), with fiuther work on that landscape published in Beyond the Medieval Village (2008). I have supervised numerous PhD students who have carried out characterisation-based research in Devon and elsewhere, and advised the English Heritage historic landscape characterisation of Somerset. I have published a revised second edition of the Council for British Archaeology Handbook on Historic Landscape Analysis: Deciphering the Countryside. I was awarded an AHRC KTF grant in 2009 for a project called Our Wetland Heritage, working with Essex County Council and the RSPB in the development of a new nature reserve in southern Essex (a paper from which has recently been published in the journal Landscapes (vol 38.ii, 2013).
Along with Research Fellows Peter Claughton and Chris Smart, I have also also undertaken research into medieval silver mining in Devon, notably at Bere Ferrers by the Tamar Valley. This strongly inter-disciplinary project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and was published as Mining in a Medieval Landscape: the Royal Silver Mines of the Tamar Valley (2009). An exciting but unexpected discovery at Calstock was only the third fort to be found in Cornwall,and more fieldwork there is being carried out as part of he Understanding Landscapes project funded by the Hertitag Lottery Fund..
I was co-director of a major collaborative project, funded by a substantial Arts and Humanities Research Board grant, looking at the origins and development of dispersed medieval settlement patterns in the Whittlewood region of the West Midlands. Since then I have broadened my interest in the origins and development regional variation in landscape character to consider why villages and open fields were only found in a broad swathe of central England (running from the Dorset coast, up through the East Midlands, to the North East), and how landscape developed in areas to the east and west of this. These ideas are published in ‘Beyond the Medieval Village’ (2008) and Making Sense of a Historic Landscape (2013). The latter is part methodological – exploring how a landscape archaeologist and historian goes about their trade – and partly thematic, in investigating when and why a major boundary in landscape character – the Blackdown Hills on the Devon/Dorset/Somerset borders – came into being.
Alongside historian Professor John Blair at the University of Oxford, I have researched the extent and significance of Planning in the Early Medieval Landscape (2020). This project was supported by another major grant from the Leverhulme Trust.
Three projects show the impact that my research is having on the management of historic landscapes and their presentation to the public. An Arts and Humanities Research Council Knowledge Transfer Fellowship allowed me to work with Essex County Council and the RSPB to study the historic landscape of a new nature reserve on the South Essex Marshes, on the north back of the Thames Estuary east of London. Interest in that project led Southend-on-Sea Borough Council to commission a similar study of the Stonebridge area where there are plans to enhance public access to the countryside. I also advised the Olympic Legacy Company, Essex County Council and Wessex Archaeology on future plans for one of the Olympic venues (the Mountain Biking venue at Hadleigh Farm in Essex). I currently hold a major National Lottery Heritge Fund grant to support public engagement in archaeology at Ipplepen in South Devon and Bere Ferrers and Calstock in the Tamar Valley through the Understanding Landscapes project.
I have had interdisciplinary research collaborations with geographers, palaeoenvironmentalists, and historians (for example through the Whittlewood Project, and his work on pollen sequences in Devon).
My recent Leverhulme Trust funded project - Planning in the Early Medieval Landscape - was a collaboration with Professsor John Blair at the University of Oxford.
My current AHRC-funded project Exeter: A Place in Time is a collaboration with the University of Reading, Cotswold Archaeology ,Historic England, Exeter City Council and the Royal Abert Memorial Museum.
My current AHRC-funded project Manifestations of Empire is a collaboration with Dr Andy Seaman of Canterbury Christ Church University.
The HLF-funded Understnding Landscapes project has two foci for its public engagamnt activity:
1. The work at Ipplepen is carried out in partnership with the British Museum/Portable Antiquities Scheme, Cotswold Archaeology, Devon County Council, and the Devon Learning Recobery Community.
2. The work in Bere Ferrers and Calstock is carried out in partnerhip with Calstock Parish Council, the National Trust,and local community groups supporting assylum seekers and refugees based in Plymouth.
I supervise research students studying a range of topics across a broad range of fields including:
- Romano-British, medieval and post medieval landscapes
- The archaeology of South West Britain
- The Roman to medieval transition
- Wetland archaeology and landscapes
- Historic landscape characterisation
Please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in undertaking research.
To find out more about studying for a research degree with us, please see our Graduate School pages at http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/graduateschool/’.
1996 – 1999: David Musgrove, PhD, The Medieval Exploitation of the Peat Moors of the Somerset Levels (co-supervised with Prof Bryony Coles)
1998 – 2002: Martin Gillard, PhD, (co-supervised with Dr Bob Higham) The Medieval Landscape of the Exmoor Region: Enclosure and Settlement of an Upland Fringe
2001 – 2005: Judith Cannell, PhD, The Archaeology of Woodland Exploitation in the Greater Exmoor Area in the Historic Period
2002 – 2006: Adam Wainwright, PhD, Created Landscapes: Using the Past in Post-medieval Designed Landscapes (AHRC studentship, co-supervised with Dr Oliver Creighton)
2001 – 2006: Brynmor Morris, PhD, The Roman-Medieval Transition in the Essex Landscape: A Study of Persistence, Continuity and Change
2001 – 2007: Lucy Ryder, PhD, Change and Continuity: A Study in the Historic Landscape of Devon (co-supervised with Prof Tony Brown in Geography)
200 2 – 2008: Chris Smart, PhD, Continuity over Crisis: The Landscapes of South Gloucestershire and South East Somerset in the Late and Post-Roman Periods (AHRC studentship)
2004 – 2008: Alan Lambourne, PhD: A Puzzle Indeed: A Study of the Incidence and Origins of Regional variation within the Historic Landscape of Southern England
2011 (June-November): Robert van de Noort, PhD by Publication: North Sea Archaeologies
2008 - 2012: Richard Sandover, PhD: The Evolution of the Historic landscape of Devon
2009-2013: Duncan Wright, PhD (AHRC BGP studentship) The landscape of Middle Saxon England
2011 – 2012: Bob Silvester (PhD by Publication): Landscape Archaeology in Wales
2007 – 2014 (part time: Lesley Harding, MPhil: Water as a Resource: The Significance of Milling in the Early Medieval Landscape of the South-West Midlands of England (co-supervised with Prof M Aston)
2009 (April) – present (part time) Jo Pye, PhD: The Landscape of Place-names in Cornwall
2009-2016 (part time): Gill Cobley, PhD: The history of archaeology in Devon
2009-2013: Fiona Fleming, Field of Britannia Project studentship, PhD: A Persistence of Place: A Study of Continuity and Regionality in Roman to Early Medieval Settlement Transition across the Rural Provinces of Britannia
2010-2014: Kate Mees (AHRC BGP studentship), PhD: The The early medieval funerary reuse of prehistoric and Romano-British landscapes in Wessex
2010-2014: Owain Connors, PhD: The landscapes of lordship in Wales
2011- 2018 (part-time): Maddy Knibb, PhD: Field-names in Somerset
2012-2020 (part-time): Phil Treveil, PhD: Local and regional variation in landscape character: the significance of the Tamar Valley.
2013-2020 (part time): Andy Margetts, PhD: Specialist Grazing Settlements
2015-2019: Eddie Procter, PhD: Monastic Landscapes in the Welsh Marches
2016 -present: Stephen Armstrong, Landscape and Identity on SW Britain During the Roman and Early Medieval Periods
2016-present: Peter Northover, Landscapes of Late Enclosure in Dorset
2016-present: Nikki Vousden: The Early Medieval Church in SW Wales and SW England
2020-present: Jess Vining: The Cistercians at Buckland Abbey
2021-present: Wil Partridge: Romano-British pewter
I am the University's lead on the Ipplepen Project, that is a partnership with the British Museum, Portable Antquities Scheme, Cotswold Archaeology and Devon County Council. This Iron Age, Romano-British, and early medieval settlement is being investigated though geophysical survey, metal detecting, and an annual excavation season during which students from the University were joined by mmebers of the local community (supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund). The excavation phase of the project has now ended, and I am currently undertaking post-excavation analysis.
External impact and engagement
I am the University's lead on the Ipplepen Project that is a partnership between the University of Exeter, British Museum, Portable Antiquities Scheme, Cotswold Archaeology, and Devon County Council, and is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The annual community excavation had places available for local volunteers and for the duration of the excavation had an information centre in Ipplepen village. There was also an annual Open Day that attracted 1,000+ visitors, and a temporary exhibition at Torquay Museum attracted 11,000+ visitors. I am currently writing up the fieldwork for publication.
I have held an Arts and Humanities Research Council Knowledge Transfer Fellowship to work with RSPB and Essex County Council of the development of an extensive new nature reserve on the South Essex Marshes. This has led to further contract research for Essex County Council, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, Wessex Archaeology and the Olympic Legacy Company in projects that aims to increase understanding of the history of the countryside on the part of planners, countryside managers and the public. This included writing the Urban Habitat Historic Landscape Character Assessment for Southend-on-Sea Borough Council.
An unexpected discovery during his investigation of medieval silver mining in the Tamar Valley was a Roman fort at Calstock. This has since become the focus for a community based excavation that is part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund-funded Understanding Landscapes project.
Contribution to discipline
I am currently President of the Society for Medieval Archaeology, and a member of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) National Environment Isotope Facility Peer review Panel A - Radiocabon.
I have served as President of the Medieval Settlement Research Group, chairman of the Severn Estuary Levels Research Committee and CBA South West, Treasurer of the Society for Medieval Archaeology, secretary of the Society for Landscape Studies, and as a member of the AHRC's Peer Review College.
Medie appearances include:
September 2012: interviewed on ITV Westcountry News about Making Sense of an Historic Landscape
January 2008: interviewed on BBC Radio Devon morning news and ITV Westcountry News about the discovery of a Roman fort at Calstock
September 2007: Great British Journeys, BBC2 [discussing John Leland’s travels in Somerset]
May 2006: How the West Was Made: The Nation Conquered, ITV1 [discussing drainage of the Somerset Levels]
November 2003: Landscape Mysteries (The Terraces of Avalon), BBC 2 [discussing the impact of Glastonbury Abbey on its surrounding landscape]
February 14th 2000: Breaking the Seal: Domesday, BBC2 [discussing the Devon landscape in the 11th century]
July 1999: Fruitful Earth (Seeds of Power), BBC2 [discussing Romano-British landscape and the Gwent Levels]
My teaching covers landscape archaeology in the Roman and medieval periods, and is characterised by its interdisciplinarity.
- ARC1030 - Investigating British Archaeology
- ARC2400 - Understanding the Landscape of Roman Britain
- ARC2401 - Understanding the Landscape of Medieval Britain
- ARC3400 - Understanding the Landscape of Roman Britain
- ARC3401 - Understanding the Landscape of Medieval Britain
- ARCM200 - Field Study
- ARCM225 - Landscape Archaeology: Understanding the Historic Environment
I studied for my BA(hons) in Archaeology at the University of Reading where I stayed to undertake my PhD under the supervision of Professors Grenville Astill and Michael Fulford. The title of my thesis was "Landscape evolution and wetland reclamation around the Severn Estuary" (which was published in 1997 as The Severn Estuary: Landscape Evolution and Wetland Reclamation). I then became a Research Fellow in the Department and completed the pioneering Gwent Levels Historic Landscape Study (published in 1996 as The Gwent Levels: Landscape Evolution and Wetland Reclamation). I then took up a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship which entailed a comparative study of the changing ways in which human communities first exploited, then modified, and ultimately transformed (through reclamation) wetland landscapes in southern Britain and mainland North West Europe (published in 2000 as The Transformation of Coastal Wetlands).
I was appointed to a lectureship in Archaeology at the University of Exeter in 1996, and am now Professor of Landscape Archaeology. I have been a member of the University Senate and Council, and Dean of Graduate Research.
Panel member of for the Uk Natural Environment Research Council (Isotopes Panel) (2020-present)
Panel member for the Polish National Science Centre (2021-present)
Chair the advisory board for the Leverhulme Trust/English Heritage funded Roman Rural Settlement Project at the University of Reading (2012-15)
Peer Review College Member, Arts and Humanities Research Council (2004 to 2013)
Member of the editorial committee of Medieval Archaeology
Previous editor of Archaeology in the Severn Estuary
Member of the editorial board of Landscape History
Member of the editorial board for the Brepols Monograph Series Environmental Histories of the North Atlantic World, c.500-1900
Memberships of Societies and Professional Bodies:
Fellow of the Higher Education Acdemy
Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London
President of the Society for Medieval ARchaeology (2020-22)
Previous positions have included:
President of the Medieval Settlement Research Group (2012-14)
Chairman of the Council for British Archaeology South West
President of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (2010-11)
Chairman of the Severn Estuary Levels Research Committee
Treasurer of the Society for Medieval Archaeology (2008-14)
Secretary of the Society for Landscape Studies,
Council member and Treasurer of the Society for Medieval Archaeology,
Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society
Cambridge Antiquarian Society
Cornwall Archaeologoical Society
Devon Archaeological Society
Essex Archaeological Society
Medieval Settlement Research Group
Norfolk Archaeological Society
Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society
Society for Landscape Studies
Society for Medieval Archaeology
Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History