• r.whitehouse@ucl.ac.uk
  • Direct: +44 (0)20 7679 1532
  • Internal: 21532
  • UCL Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY UK

Ruth Whitehouse

  • MA, PhD, FSA, MIFA
  • Emeritus Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology
  • Chair of Departmental Publications Committee

Research Interests

My main research area since I graduated has been prehistoric Italy, situated within a wider interest in the West Mediterranean in general. Within this area, I have pursued a wide range of different topics, but which generally share an emphasis on societal aspects of the past. One of the broad themes is absolute chronology, involving especially the acquisition, publication and discussion of radiocarbon dates. For the last fifteen years I have developed a special interest in prehistoric religion and ritual, focusing on a series of 'underground' sites used for ritual activities. More recently I have developed an interest in gender in archaeology, both at a general level and in connection with prehistoric Italy. My most recent interest is in writing and literacy in first millennium BC Italy, developed in the context of two successive AHRC-funded research projects:

  1. Developmental Literacy and the Establishment of Regional and State Identity in early Italy: Research beyond Etruria, Greece and Rome , which dealt with the three areas of Northwest Italy, Southeast Italy, and Northwest Italy and ran from 2003 to 2005
  2. Etruscan Literacy in its Social Context 800–400 BC, concerned with Etruria and the neighbouring areas in which Etruscans settled and with which they had close contact (principally Latium, Campania and Umbria, but also the Po plain), which ran from 2005 to 2008. [Literacy in Early Italy website]

In particular I have developed an interest in the materiality of writing, which was the focus of a conference on Writing as Material Practice: Surface, Substance and Medium, held at the Institute of Archaeology 15-17 May 2009.

I have been involved in field projects in Italy and elsewhere since the 1960s and have jointly directed three major projects (see below). I am interested in the theory and methodology of archaeological fieldwork, especially survey. Most recently I have been involved, with Sue Hamilton and others, in the development of methods for practising phenomenologically-oriented fieldwork. 

Current project

The Tavoliere-Gargano Prehistory Project ran fieldwork seasons from 2002 to 2008 and is currently in the writing-up stage. Several articles have been published and the final two-volume report is scheduled for publication in 2010. It is funded by the British Academy, the Institute of Archaeology, UCL and the National University of Ireland, Galway, while a companion project concerned with the archiving of WWII aerial photographs is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The project is concerned with the investigation of the relationships between the adjacent but contrasting zones of the Tavoliere plain and the Gargano promontory in southeast Italy in later prehistory (Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages). It concentrates on the social use and organisation of landscape and taskscape locales and the relationships of domestic, specialist and ritual sites of these areas at three different scales: regional, inter-site and intra-site. The work combines innovative and traditional surface survey and mapping methods and aims to isolate both period specific and inter-period trajectories of space as it was utilised, understood and experienced by later prehistoric societies and individuals.

Earlier projects

1. 1978-1985. Excavation and survey at the Iron Age site of Gravina in Puglia in southern Italy. This large inland hilltop settlement site was occupied throughout most of the first millennium BC. It offers the opportunity to study a local community through a thousand years which witnessed the arrival first of Greek settlers in the area and later the military power of Rome. The aim of the work at Botromagno was directed at elucidating the nature and impact of relationships between the local community and these external groups in the context of concerns with issues of identity, ethnicity and local dynamics of state formation and urbanism. The final report was published in 2000 as Botromagno. Excavation and Survey at Gravina in Puglia, 1979-1985 (jointly with John Wilkins and Edward Herring).

2. 1986 - present. Surface archaeology in the Po plain. This project (the Alto-Medio Polesine -Basso Veronese Project) is jointly organised and directed with colleagues from the University of Padua. Its dual aims are, on the one hand, to develop the theory and methodology of surface archaeology and, on the other, to throw light on the environment and archaeology of an area of the eastern Po plain south of Verona. Occupation of the survey area seems to have been mainly in the Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC) and the Roman period, with a virtual abandonment in the intervening Iron Age and only sparse post-Roman occupation before the land drainage schemes of recent centuries. In fact successful exploitation of this wetland area, characterised in the past by frequently changing river formations and major flooding episodes, seems to have depended on active water management. Not only do we have much information on the Roman centuriation system of land division and drainage in the survey area, but we also have evidence of water management in the Bronze Age (definitely drainage and probably also irrigation). Interim reports have appeared annually in Quaderni di Archeologia del Veneto (in Italian) and Accordia Research Papers (in English) and a monograph on the project is currently in preparation.


Accordia Research Institute

My long-term concern with developing interest in Italian archaeology in Britain, and especially in supporting young scholars working in this and related fields, led me to become a founder member in 1988 of the Accordia Research Centre, then based at Queen Mary and Westfield College, University of London. Accordia is concerned with the encouragement of a wide range of research into early Italy (including archaeology, history, art history and historical geography); it organises lectures, seminars, conferences and exhibitions and is also a publishing house, producing an annual journal, the Accordia Research Papers, as well as monographs and collected papers. Since the closure of the parent department at QMW in 1993, Accordia, renamed the Accordia Research Institute, has functioned as a quasi-independent research centre, based at the Institute of Archaeology. I continue to be closely involved with the work of Accordia: I am on the management board, and am an editor of the journal and chair of the publication committee. [Accordia website]

British School at Rome

I have had a long association with the British School at Rome since my time as a research student. The Gravina excavation was a BSR project and we spent several summers at the School (during the period when it is formally closed), using its facilities for post-excavation projects (in exchange for some care-taking duties!). I sat on the Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters (responsible for the academic side of the School's activities) through much of the 1980s and was its Chair from 1988-1992. In autumn 1998 I was in the School for three months as Balsdon Senior Fellow (jointly with Dr John Wilkins), working on the Gravina publication. I am currently once again on the Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters, from 2008.

University of Padua

My main current collaboration in Italy is with Dr Armando de Guio of the Dip. di Scienze di Antichità of l'Università degli Studi di Padova and with other colleagues who work with him in CISAS (Centro Internazionale di Studi di Archeologia di Superficie). Our main joint research project is in the Alto-Medio Polesine - Basso Veronese Project, but we also collaborate in publication and the organisation of seminars and conferences. Further collaborative projects are planned for the future.

Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria

In 1997 I was elected a member of the Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria, based in Florence, the main professional body for Italian prehistory and publisher of the journal Rivista di Scienze Preistoriche.

Educational Background

  • BA in Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, 1964
  • MA Cambridge, 1967
  • PhD Cambridge, 1968

Current Students

  • Simonetta Losi The Gifts of Death: Mortuary practises and ideology in Neolithic Sardinia (second supervisor David Wengrow)

Second Supervisor

  • Katharine Griffiths An investigation of gender in juvenile burials using dental morphometrics to assign biological sex (principal supervisor Simon Hillson)

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