Senior Lecturer

BA Hons (Toronto), MPhil, PhD (Cambridge), FSA Scot


Contact Details

Telephone: +44 (0)1224 273693
Fax: +44 (0)1224 272331
Email: k.milek@abdn.ac.uk
Address: Department of Archaeology, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, St. Mary’s, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen, AB24 3UF, Scotland, UK, Room 201


Originally from southern Ontario, Canada, Karen received her BA in Anthropology and Near Eastern Studies from Victoria College, University of Toronto, in 1995. Her field training began as a seasonal employee with Parks Canada, working on historic sites in Ontario, but two field seasons in Ireland expanded her professional interest to include the early Medieval Period in northern Europe. She went to Peterhouse, at the University of Cambridge, to do an MPhil in World Archaeology (1st Millennium AD) in 1995, which deepened her interest in the Vikings and sparked a new interest in geoarchaeology and soil micromorphology. She stayed at the University of Cambridge to do her PhD at Newnham College, working on Viking Age and 19th-century (ethno-historic) houses and floor sediments in Iceland.

Since 1997, Karen has brought geoarchaeological expertise to numerous Viking Age, Pictish Period, Medieval, and Early Modern projects in England, Scotland, Norway, Iceland, and Siberia. She worked as seasonal excavation staff for the Institute of Archaeology, Iceland (FSÍ), from 2000-2007, becoming Director of the FSÍ / North Atlantic Biocultural Organisation's Field School in North Atlantic Archaeology in 2005, and Project Manager of the Viking Age Vatnsfjörður Excavation Project in 2006, roles she retained until the close of the Vatnsfjörður excavation in 2013. Karen was appointed Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen in 2007, where she helped to establish the new Department of Archaeology and had a key role in the development of its udergraduate degree programmes, serving as Undergraduate Programme Coordinator from 2007-2011. In 2009 the Graduate Program in Anthropology at the City University of New York appointed her as Adjunct Research Professor in recognition of her ongoing research and research-led teaching in the North Atlantic region.

Karen's research is currently focussed on writing and editing the monograph on the Vatnsfjörður Excavation Project, completing the geoarchaeological contributions to Professor Niall Sharples' Bornais Project on South Uist (Western Isles of Scotland), ground-truthing multi-spectral satellite imagery on a possible Viking site in Canada with Professor Sarah Parcak, and exploring new geoarchaeological and bioarchaeological methods such as lipid analysis for the study of human-animal-environment interactions in Siberia and northern Sweden (ESRC-funded HUMANOR Project). She also greatly enjoys collaborating with her colleagues in the Department of Archaeology, the Department of Anthroplogy, National Museums Scotland, and Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, and is currently contributing geoarchaeological expertise and supervising student dissertations that have made or are making important contributions to an Iron Age-Early Medieval project at Clarkly Hill (Morayshire), Pictish projects at Rhynie, the Sands of Forvie, and Glenshee, a historical archaeology project at Bennachie, and an ethnoarchaeological project in south central Siberia (as part of Professor David Anderson's ERC-funded Arctic Domus Project).

Research Interests

Periods and Regions

     Viking and Medieval Periods:

  •  Scandinavia
  •  United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Isle of Man
  •  North Atlantic region, especially Iceland

     Nineteenth and early twentieth century:

  •  Iceland
  •  Scotland, especially the Northern and Western Isles
  •  Canada


  • Social archaeology of houses
  • Migrations and invasions and the relationship between incomers and indigenous peoples
  • The impacts of culture contact on material culture, including residential architecture
  • Gender archaeology, especially gendered work and activity areas
  • Ethno- and ethno-historic archaeology
  • Experimental archaeology, especially reconstructed houses
  • Human-environment interactions
  • Landscape archaeology
  • Archaeological site formation processes


  • Excavation
  • Microrefuse analysis
  • Space syntax analysis
  • Geoarchaeology, including soil survey, soil and sediment chemistry, organic content, magnetic properties, and micromorphology (thin section analysis)

Current Research

Main Excavation Project at Vatnsfjörður, Northwest Iceland

The Vatnsfjörður Project: Evolving Power in an Evolving Landscape (2005-2012)

Co-principal investigator, in collaboration with the Institute of Archaeology, Iceland, the Medieval Westfjords Society, and the University Centre of the Westfjords. The excavation is funded by the Icelandic Parliament. 

The Vatnsfjörður Project explores the reasons for the rise and decline of the chieftain's seat at Vatnsfjörður, northwest Iceland, and seeks to understand the relationship between this farm's evolution and the evolution of its landscape context. It asks why this apparently infertile farm in the Westfjords was chosen as a seat of power, what factors and social processes enabled it to flourish as a social, economic and cultural powerhouse between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries – despite the period of climatic deterioration that has become known as 'The Little Ice Age' – and why the importance of the farm declined after the seventeenth century. The waxing and waning of Vatnsfjörður mirror the changing fortunes of the whole Westfjord region, and by gaining a better understanding of the history of Vatnsfjörður, this project aims to shed new light on the social and economic history of northwest Iceland.


Karen (centre) excavating with students attending the international Field School in North Atlantic Archaeology at Vatnsfjörður.

See a short film on the Field School at Vatnsfjörður.


Houses and Households in the Norse North Atlantic: Investigating Social Space and Social Change using Geoarchaeological Techniques (2006-2012) 

Principal investigator. Architectural plans and geoarchaeological samples obtained through the cooperation of numerous site directors, including Gavin Lucas, Orri Vésteinsson, Guðmundur Ólafsson, Jesse Byock, Ragnheiður Traustadóttir, Niall Sharples and James Barrett. The project is funded by post-excavation grants from Historic Scotland, the Icelandic Parliament, and the Icelandic Research Council.


Viking Age buildings excavated at Vatnsfjörður in 2006. The upper building is a smithy (with a small storage building on its right side), and the lower building is a new type of storage building/workshop, which has not previously been observed in Iceland.

This project examines the timing and mechanisms of social change in the Norse immigrant communities in Iceland and Scotland through a study of residential architecture between the tenth and fifteenth centuries AD. It is an interdiscipinary study, which integrates architectural analysis, space syntax analysis, and the analysis of activity areas using geoarchaeological techniques. The principal case studies in this project are the sites of Vatnsfjörður,  Hofstaðir, Sveigakot, Hrísbru, and Hólar, in Iceland, Bornais in the Outer Hebrides, and Quoygrew in Orkney.

The Identification of Seasonal Occupation in the Archaeological Record

Principal investigator. Geoarchaeological samples obtained through the cooperation of numerous site directors, including Dagfinn Skre, Gavin Lucas, and Howell Roberts. Funded by post-excavation grants from the University of Oslo, Landsvirkjun (Iceland), and the Icelandic Parliament. 

This project is exploring new geoarchaeological methods of identifying periodic occupation in the archaeological record, particularly sediment micromorphology. It involves the micromorphological analysis of house floor sediments on archaeological sites known to be seasonally occupied during the Viking and Medieval Periods, including seasonal market places (Gásir, Iceland, and the earliest phase of Kaupang, Norway), and shielings (Pálstóftir, Kárahnjúkar, Iceland). By identifying characteristics shared by the floor sediments in these buildings, the project is developing a set of criteria to enable seasonal occupation to be identified at other sites, including upland farms that may have seen periods of use as shielings.

West Stow Burnt Grubenhaus Project (2005-2008) 

In collaboration Charles French, University of Cambridge, and Jess Tipper, Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service. Funded by English Heritage. 

This geoarchaeological project is investigating the character of the primary fill and the impacts of a known fire event on one of the reconstructed Anglo-Saxon Grubenhäuser at West Stow, in Suffolk. By comparing the primary fill of the reconstructed Grubenhaus to the fills of excavated Anglo-Saxon Grubenhäuser, the project is shedding new light on the debate about how these buildings had been constructed and used.


Major collaborators on the Vatnsfjörður Project:

Research Grants

2011    Boat Shelters in Viking Age and Medieval Iceland: A Pilot Study of Archaeological Potential. Research grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for field work in Iceland.

2011    Archaeological Soil Micromorphology at Viking Age Sveigakot, Iceland. Post-excavation research grant from the University of Iceland.

2011    Assessment of Soil Micromorphology Samples from Bornais, South Uist. Post-excavation research grant from the University of Cardiff.

2010    Royal Society of Edinburgh International Exchange Programme grant for a bilateral exchange with Dr. Lenka Lisa, Institute of Geology at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, to attend research meetings on a collaborative project on Slavic and Icelandic pit houses.

2010    Social Spaces and Social Structures in Viking Age Iceland. Caledonian Research Foundation European Visiting Research Fellowship for a research trip to Iceland.

2009    Materiality of Mass Migration: Archaeology's Potential Contribution to the Study of European Emigration to Canada. Research grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for field work in Iceland.

2008    Houses and Homefields in Viking Age Iceland: Characterising and Sourcing of Fertilizing Materials. Research grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for field work in Iceland.

Teaching Responsibilities

Course coordinator:

Contributing lecturer:

  • AY1002 The Human Past: An Introduction to World Prehistory
  • AY1502 Archaeology in Action
  • AY2503 Archaeologies of Social Life
  • AY3007 Advanced Archaeological Practice
  • AY3504 and AY4504 Archaeologies of Landscape
  • AY4002 Archaeological Research Project Part II (dissertation supervision)
  • AY4510 Current Issues in Archaeology
  • ME33HA Human Anatomy Dissection with Historical, Cultural and Social Dimensions

External Responsibilities

Adjunct Research Professor, Graduate Programme in Anthropology, City University of New York

Co-Chair, Science Panel, Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF)

Committee Member, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (Northeast Section)

Reviewer for the journals Environmental Archaeology, Antiquity, Viking and Medieval Scandianvia, and Microscopy Research and Technique

Admin Responsibilities

Archaeology Staff-Student Liaison Officer

College of Physical Sciences Ethics Board

Recent Discussion Papers and Interim Reports

Milek, K. (ed.) (2011) Vatnsfjordur 2010: Framvinduskyrslur/Interim reports. Reykjavik: Fornleifastofnun Islands (FS461-030910). Download pdf (23 MB).

Milek, K. (ed.) (2010) Vatnsfjordur 2009: Framvinduskyrslur/Interim reports. Reykjavik: Fornleifastofnun Islands (FS449-03099). Download pdf (7 MB).

Milek, K. (ed.) (2009) Vatnsfjordur 2008: Framvinduskyrslur/Interim reports. Reykjavik: Fornleifastofnun Islands (FS426-03098). Download pdf (7 MB).

Milek, K. (ed.) (2008) Vatnsfjordur 2007: Framvinduskyrslur/Interim reports. Reykjavik: Fornleifastofnun Islands (FS383-03097). Download pdf (11 MB).

Milek, K. (ed.) (2007) Vatnsfjordur 2006: Framvinduskyrslur/Interim reports. Reykjavik: Fornleifastofnun Islands (FS356-003096). Download pdf (7 MB).

Milek, K. (2005) Vatnsfjordur 2005: Area 2 Report. In A. Fridriksson, T. H. Tulinius and G. Gudmundsson (eds), Vatnsfjordur 2005: Fornleifarannsoknir/ Fieldwork at Vatnsfjordur, NW-Iceland 2005. Reykjavik: Fornleifastofnun Islands (FS301-03095), 41-62. Download pdf (3 MB).


update | about Staff Pages