Photo of Professor Stephen Rippon

Professor Stephen Rippon

Professor of Landscape Archaeology


01392 724353

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, to 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: the evolution of a wetland landscape (1997). This was followed by a major comparative study of North West Europe, published in The Transformation of Coastal Wetlands: Exploitation and Management of Marshland Landscapes in North West Europe during the Roman and Medieval Periods (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, using interdisciplinary analysis of archaeological, cartographic, documentary, place-name and architectural evidence, published in Beyond the Medieval Village: The Diversification of Landscape Character in Southern Britain (2008), and Making Sense of An Historic Landscape (2012).

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 in Mining in a Medieval Landscape: The Royal Silver Mines of the Tamar Valley (2009), and my current Leverhulme Trust funded project 'Planning in the Early Medieval Landscape' is with Professor John Blair at the University of Oxford.  I also work closely with palaeoenvironmental specialists, for example in reconstructing past patterns of land use (eg '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 anysis of what happned to the landscape of Britain at the end of the Roman period - The Fields of Britannia - wa publihed by Oxford University Press in 2015.

I currently hold a major AHRC award to study Exeter: A Place in Time.

I hve 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.

At undergraduate and masters level I teach on the landscapes of Roman and medieval Britain. I supervise research students (PhD, MPhil and MA by Research) across a wide range of topics in the fields of medieval and landscape archaeology.

Research interests

I have research interests across the Roman, medieval and post-medieval periods, particularly in the area of landscape archaeology.

I have a long standing research interest in the Roman-medieval transition, with early papers examining both 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). A recent £241k Leverhulme Trust grant has 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). I have supervised numerous PhD students who have carried out characterisation-based research in Devon and elsewhere, and was involved in the English Heritage historic landscape characterisation of Somerset. I have recently 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 a grant of £75k from the Leverhulme Trust, and has been published by the University of Exeter Press 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.

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). My most recent book on Making Sense of a Historic Landscape has just been published by Oxford University Press (2013). This 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 am currently researching the extent and significance of planning in the early medieval landscape. This project is supported by a £98k grant from the Leverhulme Trust.

Two projects show the impact that my research is having on the management of historic landscapes and their presentation to the public. In a recent £67k Arts and Humanities Research Council Knowledge Transfer Fellowship grant I worked 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).


Research supervision

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 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’. 

Research students

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: North Sea Archaeologies

2008 - 2012: Richard Sandover The Evolution of the Historic landscape of Devon

2009-2013: Duncan Wright (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 The Landscape of Place-names in Cornwall

2009-present (part time): Gill Cobley The history of archaeology in Devon

2009-2013: Fiona Fleming, Field of Britannia Project studentship¨ 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) The The early medieval funerary reuse of prehistoric and Romano-British landscapes in Wessex

2010-2014: Owain Connors The landscapes of lordship in Wales

2011- present (part-time): Maddy Knibb Field-names in Somerset

2011 – present (part-time): Carole Jane-Marie Lomas Early medieval churches in Somerset

2012-present (part-time): Phil Treveil, Local and regional variation in landscape character: the significance of the Tamar Valley.

2013-present (part time): Andy Marggetts, Specialist Grazing Settlements

2015-present: David Marshall,The Landscape of the Isle ofWight

2015-present: Eddie Procter, Monastic Landscapes in the Welsh Marches

2015-present: Saah Stainer, From Tinners to Antiquarians

2015-present: Robert Watrerhouse,The Landscape of Jersey

External impact and engagement

I am the University's lead on the Ipplepen Project that is a partnership between the University of Exeter, Britis Museum, Portable Antiquities Scheme,Cotswold Archaeology, and Devon County Council. The project has places available for local volunteers and for the duration of th excavation has an information centre in Ipplepen village. There is also an Open Day that attracts close to 1,000 visitors.

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.

Contribution to discipline

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.



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.

Modules taught


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, and Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Research. I am also a member of the University Senate, and former member of its Council.

Advisory Appointment:

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)

Editorial Positions:

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 Society of Antiquaries of London

President of the Medieval Settlement Research Group (2011-present)
Treasurer of the Society for Medieval Archaeology (2008-present)

former President of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (2010-11)
Member of the Steering Committe (and former Chairman) of the Severn Estuary Levels Research Committee

Previous positions have included Chairman of the Council for British Archaeology South West, Secretary of the Society for Landscape Studies, Council member of the Society for Medieval Archaeology, and Committee member of the Medieval Settlement Research Group.

Member of the Devon Archaeological Society
Member of the Essex Archaeological Society
Member of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society
Member of the Society for Landscape Studies

Member of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History