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Thornton Abbey Medieval Cemetery Excavation

Location: Thornton Abbey, Ulceby, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

June 12, 2016 to July 8, 2016

Session dates: 
Session 1- 12th to 24th June 2016 Session 2- 26th June to 8th July 2016

Application Deadline: 
Sunday, May 1, 2016

Deadline Type: 
Contact for details

Program Type


RPA certified



University of Sheffield

Project Director:

Dr. Hugh Willmott & Peter Townend

Project Description

Thornton abbey was founded as an Augustinian priory in 1139 by William Le Gros and over the next two centuries expanded into one of the richest houses in England. In 1539 the abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII although it continued to be used as a college of secular priests until 1547 when it was finally suppressed by Edward VI.

Since 2011 The University of Sheffield has been undertaking a five year research programme on the abbey precinct. This not only aims to undertake a complete topographical and geophysical survey of the monastic enclosure, it also include targeted excavation of the identified medieval and post-dissolution features in order to gain a better understanding of the site’s long history.

During the 2016 season we will be continuing our excavation in the cemetery of the medieval hospital of St James and its associated chapel. To date we have excavated around 180 skeletons and this will be our final year excavating on the site.

Students attending the field school play a central role in the excavation of the cemetery and help process the human bones and other artefacts. All work is supervised by experienced staff from the University of Sheffield, volunteers get to take part in all the key activities.

The field school fee is £700 per two week session (approx. $1100 USD but please check on application). This includes supervision, course materials, all meals, camping in tents and pick up & drop off at the local train station (Thornton Abbey). Students can apply to come for one or both sessions.

Period(s) of Occupation: medieval, historical, monastic, human osteology, cemetery

Excavation at the Augustinian Abbey, exploring the medieval hospital cemetery

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 2 weeks

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 

Room and Board Arrangements

Accommodation is provided in the form of basic camping ten minutes walk from the site. Small personal tents and airbeds are available for students to borrow on advance request. Domestic facilities (including hot showers, flush lavatories and access to a washing machine) will be available and all meals are provided.

Participants are welcome to stay on the campsite on the days off, when food will still be avaialble.

Accommodation and all food are included in the fee (see above)

Academic Credit

Number of credits offered None. A full certificate of participation can be issued in lieu of formal credit


Contact Information
Dr Hugh Willmott
Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, Northgate House, West Street
South Yorkshire
United Kingdom
+44 1142222940
Recommended Bibliography: 

Grainger, I. et al. 2008. The Black Death Cemetery, East Smithfield, London. London: Museum of London Archaeology Service Monograph 43.

Horrox, R. 1994. The Black Death. New York St Martin’s Press.

Roberts, C. 2009. Human Remains in Archaeology: a Handbook. Council for British Archaeology Practical Handbook No. 19.

Roberts, C. & Cox, M. 2003. Health and Disease in Britain. From Prehistory to the Present Day. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. (especially Chapter 5).

Look at what we got up to last year (please note we don't post images and details of human remains):

Watch a video where students describe their experiences: