Honorary Research Fellow
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 in Iceland, using geoarchaeological analyses of floor sediments to elucidate living conditions and how living spaces were organised and used.
Since 1997, Karen has brought expertise in archaeological field survey, excavation, and geoarchaeology to numerous Viking Age, Pictish Period, Medieval, and Early Modern projects in England, Scotland, Norway, Iceland, and, most recently, Siberia and Canada (see her Research and Project pages for more details). 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 completion 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. In 2011 she was made an Honorary Curatorial Fellow of University Museums to recognise and further facilitate her use of the University of Aberdeen's outstanding collections for research and teaching.
Karen was thrilled to become a mother on May 1, 2016, and was on maternity leave until November 28, 2016.
Karen and Kristófer at the Craw Stane, a Pictish symbol stone, Rhynie, Aberdeenshire
On August 1, 2017, Karen moved to the Department of Archaeology at Durham University to take up the post of Associate Professor (Reader) in Geoarchaeology. She is very pleased to remain an Honorary Research Fellow with the Department of Archaeology at Aberdeen University.
Early medieval period in: Scandinavia, NW Siberia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the North Atlantic region, including Scotland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Atlantic Canada.
19th and early 20th century in: Scotland, the North Atlantic region, and Canada.
Research methods and methodological development in: excavation; geoarchaeology, including soil survey, soil and sediment chemistry, organic matter, magnetism, and micromorphology (thin section analysis); ground-truthing multi-spectral satellite imagery; GIS; microrefuse analysis; space syntax analysis.
Research themes (cross-cutting the period and regional research interests listed above): human-environment-animal interactions; archaeological site formation processes and the interpretation of activity areas; social archaeology of houses, farmsteads, and transhumant/nomadic pastoralist sites; migrations and invasions and relationships between incomers and indigenous peoples; the impacts of culture contact on material culture, especially residential architecture and objects used in everyday life; gender archaeology, especially gendered work and activity areas; ethno- and ethno-historic archaeology, especially to help develop new methodologies for the interpretation of activity areas; experimental archaeology, especially reconstructed houses.
JPI Climate HUMANOR Project: Social-Ecological Transformations: HUMan-ANimal Relations under Climate Change in NORthern Eurasia. I am co-investigator on this ESRC-funded project, which involves fieldwork in Siberia (2015) and northern Sweden (2016), the supervision of a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Loïc Harrault, who is developing new applications for lipid biomarkers in archaeology, and the supervision of a Geoarchaeology Laboratory Assistant, who is helping to process hundreds of samples.
Within the School of Geosciences:
- Dr Gordon Noble: Co-PI on the Pathways to Power Project: The Rise of the Early Medieval Kingdoms of the North; geoarchaeological contributions to the Northern Picts and Sands of Forvie Projects
- Dr Jeff Oliver: Co-investigator on the Bennachie Landscapes Project
- Dr Kate Britton: Oxygen isotope climate proxy development using phosphates in reindeer mandibles collected from the Yamal Peninsula, NW Siberia
- Dr Ed Schofield: Co-investigator on the FAR North Project: Fragility, Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change in the North
- Prof David Anderson, Department of Anthropology: Co-investigator on the HUMANOR Project: Social-Ecological Transformations: Human-Animal Relations under Climate Change in Northern Eurasia; affiliated researcher on the Arctic Domus Project
- Prof Stefan Brink, Scandinavian Studies: Co-PI on the Pathways to Power Project: The Rise of the Early Medieval Kingdoms of the North
- Prof Bruce Forbes, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland: Co-investigator on the HUMANOR Project: Social-Ecological Transformations: Human-Animal Relations under Climate Change in Northern Eurasia
- Institute of Archaeology, Iceland (Fornleifastofnun Íslands): Numerous collaborations, but most importantly on the Vatnsfjörður Project
- Prof Niall Sharples, University of Cardiff: Geoarchaeological contributions to the Bornais Project (South Uist, Western Isles)
- Prof Sarah Parcak and Prof Greg Mumford, University of Alabama at Birmingham: Ground-truthing satellite remote sensing imagery at Point Rosee, Newfoundland
- Prof Jesse Byock, UCLA, and Dr Davide Zori, Baylor University: Geoarchaeological contributions to the Hrísbrú Project, Iceland
- Prof Orri Vésteinsson, University of Iceland: Geoarchaeological contributions to the Sveigakot Project, Iceland
Current Project Grants
2015-2018 ESRC JPI Climate Grant for the HUMANOR Project: Social-Ecological Transformations: HUMan-ANimal Relations under Climate Change in NORthern Eurasia
(Co-investigator; total budget £398,472 over four years)
Funded through the JPI Climate initiative, HUMANOR is a transdisciplinary, international project investigating climatic and non-climatic drivers affecting human-animal relations in northern indigenous social-ecological systems over timescales of tens and hundreds of years. With field projects in northern Sweden and the Yamal peninsula (northwestern Siberia), the Aberdeen team is contributing palaeo-ecological evidence that is vital to the overall goal of the project: to better understand the livelihoods of contemporary Sámi and Nenets and their potential resilience or vulnerability to future climate change by detailing their historical trajectories. Read more...
2015-2018 Faroese Research Council grant for the project Burials and Landscape in the Faroe Islands during the Viking Age
(PI; total budget £120,000 over three years)
Grant held for PhD student Ann Sølvia Jacobsen, who is conducting a landscape archaeology project aimed at better understanding the locations and character of Viking Age burials in the Faroe Islands. So far only two Viking Age cemeteries have been found in the Faroe Islands, and the project involves re-analysing these known burial sites, conducting archival and oral history research, aerial photograph and satellite imagery reconnaisance work, field surveys and geophysical surveys in order to locate new burial sites. The project is testing different models for locating Viking Age burials, and is comparing the landscape context of Norwegian, Faroes, Icelandic, and Scottish Viking Age burials in order to improve our understanding of how the Norse perceived and viewed the colonial landscapes in which they settled.
Past Project Grants
2012-2015 University of Aberdeen North Theme Grant for the project Pathways to Power: The Rise of the Early Medieval Kingdoms of the North
(Co-PI; total budget £576,568 over three years)
This interdisciplinary project integrates archaeology, palaeoenvironmental studies, and medieval literature studies to investigate how the early kingdoms of northern Europe emerged, and the influences new lifeways, relations with the land and literary cultures had on this watershed period of transformation in the north. The archaeological component of this project, undertaken by Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Dr Jan-Henrik Fallgren alongside Karen Milek's and Gordon Nobles' ongoing research in Iceland and Scotland, is a comparative study of how power was physically manifest in the landscapes of Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia and Iceland during the early medieval period. Read more...
This project culminated in interdisciplinary conference sessions in 2015: 'Pathways to Power in Early Medieval Northern Europe (double session)' at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, Michigan, and 'Pathways to Power in Iron Age/Early Medieval Northern Europe' at the Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists in Glasgow.
See a recording of Karen's EAA conference paper, 'Landscape Agency and the Materialisation of Power in Viking Age Iceland'.
2012-2015 University of Aberdeen North Theme Grant for the FAR North Project: Fragility, Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change in the North
(Co-investigator; total budget £591,297 over three years)
This interdiciplinary project examines the fragility, resilience and adaptation of high-latitude communities and ecosystems to the effects of climate change. Underpinned by new analysis of past, present and future climate changes across the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere, the project investigates ecological and societal impacts of climate changes through studies of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. The archaeological component of this project, undertaken by PhD student Lukasz Mikolajczyk, focusses on coastal activity zones in the North Atlantic region. Over the last three years this PhD project has evolved into a methodological study of how cutting-edge geoarchaeological techniques can enable archaeologists to date and assess the character of coastal activity areas and their relationship to changing sea-levels. Read more...
2013-14 AHRC Research Development Grant for the project Bennachie Landscapes: Investigating Communities Past and Present at the Colony Site
(Co-investigator; total budget £79,729 over two years)
A collaborative venture between the community group the Bailies of Bennachie and the University of Aberdeen, this project investigates past and present community relationships with land, resources and wider societal changes in one of north-east Scotland's most celebrated landscapes: the hill of Bennachie and its environs. Research focuses on the archaeology and history of the 19th-century ‘colony’ – celebrated in the north-east for having been a site of tension between crofter-colonists and neighbouring landowners. Alongside excavations at numerous squaters' farmsteads, the soils within and without the associated fields are being mapped and analysed (and some surprise field drains discovered along the way) in order to better understand how the colonists gained knowledge about and improved the soil resources on the hill. Read more...
2013-2014 Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology Research Grant for the project Geoarchaeological Approaches to the Age of Improvement: Living Conditions in Turf Houses in 18th and 19th century Iceland
(PI; total budget £800 over one year)
A small grant to cover the cost of manufacturing sediment thin sections from floor deposits in two 18th- and 19th-century turf houses, one a relatively wealthy farm (Vatnsfjörður, NW Iceland), and the other a relatively poor one (Hornbrekka, N Iceland). Soil micromorphological analysis is being conducted in order to assess the microscopic composition of the floor deposits, and to provide new insights into the living conditions, cleaning and floor maintenance practices at these two sites.
2011-2014 Research Grants from the University of Iceland for Geoarchaeological Analyses for the Sveigakot Project, Iceland
(PI; total budget £4,189 over three years)
Two small grants from Prof Orri Vésteinsson at the University of Iceland to cover the costs of the manufacture and analysis of thin sections and the analysis of soil chemistry samples from occupation deposits at the Viking Age farmstead of Sveigakot, N Iceland. Analysis of these samples is providing evidence about living conditions, the functions of buildings, and the organisation and use of space within Viking Age buildings.
2013 Research grant from Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for the project Harbours and Boat Havens in Viking Age and Medieval Iceland: A Pilot Study of Archaeological Potential
(PI; total budget £2,500 over one year)
A small grant to cover the cost of travel for fieldwork on the coastline of Vatnsfjörður, NW Iceland.
2013 Research Grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for the project Transhumance and Norse Colonisation in the North Atlantic: A Micromorphological Approach
(PI; total budget £2,480 over one year)
A small grant held for PhD student Patrycja Kupiec, a Carnegie Scholar, to support our fieldwork in the Outer Hebrides to collect micromorphology samples for her PhD.
2013 Research Grant from the Medieval Settlement Research Group for the Survey of Putative Pictish or Norse Shielings in the Outer Hebrides
(PI; total budget £500 over one year)
Small grant held for PhD student Patrycja Kupiec to cover the cost of our fieldwork in the Western Isles to survey and assess the potential of a number of putative shieling sites.
2013 Principal's Interdisciplinary Award
(PI; total budget £3,000 over one year)
A small grant to fund a two-day interdisciplinary workshop at the University of Aberdeen on 'Inscribing Environmental Memory in the Icelandic Sagas: Science Meets Literature'.
2012-2013 Research Grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh for the project Material Culture and Power Polics in Viking Age Iceland
(PI; total budget £7,500 over two years)
Grant to support the post-excavation analysis, photography, and illustration of the Viking Age artefacts from the site of Vatnsfjörður, NW Iceland.
2011-2012 Research Grants from the University of Cardiff for Geoarchaeological Analyses for the Bornais Project, Western Isles
(PI; total budget £5,085 over two years)
Two small grants from Prof Niall Sharples at the University of Cardiff to cover the costs of the manufacture and analysis of thin sections from occupation deposits in Pictish and Viking Period buildings at the site of Bornais, South Uist, Western Isles of Scotland. Analysis of these samples is providing evidence about living conditions, the functions of buildings, and the organisation and use of space within buildings.
2011 Research grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for the project Boat Shelters in Viking Age and Medieval Iceland: A Pilot Study of Archaeological Potential
(PI; total budget £2,200 over one year)
A small grant to cover the cost of travel for fieldwork on the coastline of Vatnsfjörður, NW Iceland.
2010-11 Caledonian Research Foundation/Royal Society of Edinburgh European Visiting Research Fellowship for the project Social Spaces and Social Structures in Viking Age Iceland
(PI; total budget £2,500 over two years)
A small grant to cover the cost of travel for fieldwork on the Viking Age farmstead of Vatnsfjörður, NW Iceland, including the excavation of a pit house.
2010 Royal Society of Edinburgh International Exchange Programme Grant
(PI; total budget £2,330 over one year)
Small 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.
2009 Research Grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for the project Materiality of Mass Migration: Archaeology's Potential Contribution to the Study of European Emigration to Canada
(PI; total budget £2,500 over one year)
A small grant to cover the cost of travel for fieldwork on the Viking Age farmstead of Vatnsfjörður, NW Iceland, and the 19th-century farmstead of Hornbrekka, N Iceland.
2008 Research grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for the project Houses and Homefields in Viking Age Iceland: Characterising and Sourcing of Fertilizing Materials
(PI; total budget £2,500 over one year)
A small grant to cover the cost of travel for fieldwork on the Viking Age farmstead of Vatnsfjörður, NW Iceland, and the Viking Age farmstead of Hrísbrú, SW Iceland.
Postgraduate Research Supervision
- Ann Sølvia Jacobsen - Burials and Landscape in the Faroe Islands during the Viking Age (2014-present; funded by the Faroese Research Council)
- Timothy Carlisle - The Walrus in the Walls and other Strange Tales: Domestic Ritual Deposits in the Viking Age North Atlantic (2013-present)
- Łukasz Mikołajczyk – Geoarchaeology as an Aid to Understanding Human Activity in the Changing Environment of Coastal Zones (2012-present; funded by a University of Aberdeen North Theme PhD Studentship, FAR North Project)
- Barbora Wouters - Geoarchaeological and Micromorphological Approaches to the Formation and Life-cycles of Early Medieval Towns in Northwest Europe (2012-2016; dual degree with the Free University of Brussels; funded by the Research Foundation of Flanders – FWO)
- Candice Hatherley (second supervisor) - Atlantic Roundhouses and the later Prehistoric Settlement Archaeology of the Moray Firthlands (2014-2016; funded by a University of Aberdeen North Theme PhD Studentship, Pathways to Power Project)
- Patrycja Kupiec – Transhumance and Norse Colonization in the North Atlantic: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Identification and Interpretation of Shieling Sites (2012-2016; funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland PhD Studentship)
- Thomas Birch (second supervisor) – The Provenance and Technology of Iron Age War Booty from Southern Scandinavia (2009-2013; funded by a College of Physical Sciences PhD Studentship)
- Dawn Mooney - The Use and Control of Wood Resources in Viking Age and Medieval Iceland (2009-2013; funded by a College of Physical Sciences PhD Studentship)
- Véronique Forbes - Evaluation of Archaeoentomology for Reconstructing Rural Life-Ways and the Process of Modernisation in 19th- and Early 20th-Century Iceland (2009-2013; funded by a Commonwealth Scholarship)
- Martina Bertini (second supervisor) - Novel Applications of Micro-destructive Techniques for the Analysis of Iron Age Glass Beads from North-East Scotland (2008-2012; funded by a College of Physical Sciences PhD Studentship)
- Ágústa Edwald - From Iceland to New Iceland: An Archaeology of Migration, Continuity and Change in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (2008-2012; funded by a College of Physical Sciences PhD Studentship)
Karen is now Associate Professor (Reader) in Geoarchaeology at the Department of Archaeology, Durham Univesity, but, as Honorary Research Fellow, can act as second supervisor to PhD students wanting to study at Aberdeen University. She can act as first supervisor to PhD students at Durham University, and can also help to facilitate joint degrees between Durham and Aberdeen Universities. She is happy to discuss PhD research topics with prospective students seeking supervision in geoarchaeological methods, Viking Age archaeology, ethno- or ethno-historic archaeology (especially in Scotland or the North Atlantic Region), the social archaeology of houses, or experimental archaeology.
- Further Info
Associate Professor (Reader) in Geoarchaeology
- Durham University, Department of Archaeology (August 2017-present)
Adjunct (Honorary) Research Professor
- City University of New York, Graduate Centre in Anthropology (2009-present)
Historic Scotland and Scottish Archaeological Research Framework Advisor
- Scottish Strategic Archaeology Committee (2013-2016) and one of the authors of Scotland's Archaeology Strategy
- (Advisory Board for the Directory of Archaeological Scientists in Scotland (2013-2016))
- (Co-Chair, Science Panel, Scottish Archaeological Research Framework (ScARF) (2009-2013), and the editor and one of the authors of the ScARF Science Panel Report)
Consultant for BBC / PBS / NOVA Programme on the Vikings
- Academic advisor for programme development, script-reading, and fact-checking for the BBC One History Programme 'The Vikings Uncovered' (2014-2016; programme aired in April 2016)
Developing International Geoarchaeology (DIG) Conferences
- DIG Steering Committee Member (2007-present)
Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
- (Committee Member, Northeast Section (2008-2012 and 2014-2016))
Society for Medieval Archaeology
- (Council Member (2012-2015))
- (Laval University, Department of History, MA dissertation (2012))
- (University of Paris West Nanterre la Défemse, Department of Art History and Archaeology, MA dissertation (2011))