Ralph Mills

Historical archaeology, research, writing, editing


Beginning as a schoolboy volunteer in the mid 1960s, I have accumulated some 30 years of field archaeological experience, most of it in supervisory positions on rescue excavations, from Somerset to Northumberland, Kent to Monmouthshire, Neolithic to C19th. At the same time I was writing and editing, in roles that varied from "Hawkeye" — assistant to Big Chief I-SPY of I-SPY Books — to editing corporate communications at a major London PR agency, subbing a local newspaper to copy-editing scientific journals. In the 1990s I worked in Vancouver, Canada, promoting and selling an advanced educational software system. Recently I followed a freelance path, interrupted by a few years as marketing manager of a PC hardware manufacturer.

During 2009-10 I studied for an MA in historical archaeology at the University of Leicester, and in 2017 I was awarded a PhD by Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design (MIRIAD), the research arm of Manchester School of Art, itself part of Manchester Metropolitan University.

At present I live in Leeds, West Yorkshire.

More of my stuff

Ralph Mills

Last updated 1st February 2018


The Figure Merchant (detail) 1852. Frontispiece for Godey’s Lady’s Book

January 2018


Mills, Ralph (2018). 'A chimney-piece in Plumtree-court, Holborn': Plaster of Paris "Images" and Nineteenth Century Working-Class Material Culture. In Paraphernalia! Victorian Objects. Kingstone, Helen and Lister, Kate (Eds). London: Routledge, pp 99-121.

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November 2017


To The International Conference on the Image, Venice, Italy. I spoke on Italian Image-sellers, Plaster of Paris and Working-class Mantelpieces.

May 2017


At The Working Class at Home symposium, the Geffrye Museum, London. I spoke on Images of taste. The nineteenth-century working class mantelpiece – plaster parrots, Napoleons and Venuses de Milo.

July 2017

Historical Archaeology:

Excavations at Ty Coch, on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.

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January 2017


Awarded PhD by by Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design (MIRIAD), the research arm of Manchester School of Art, part of Manchester Metropolitan University. My thesis title is Objects of Delight: An investigation of miniaturisation focusing on nineteenth century mass-produced miniature objects in working class contexts.

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A life in ruins

My first archaeological experience was on a medieval moated manor house in Kent, one long summer school holiday in the 1960s. Here, with trembling fingers, I exacavated my first sherd of shell-gritted C13th coarse pottery. I also carefully exposed the skeleton of a moorhen, crushed by tumbling medieval masonry.

Bitten, incurably, by the archaeology bug, I went on to help form a local archaeology group, dug on rescuie sites in Faversham, Reculver, Canterbury, beside Watling Street, at Stone Chapel and on the Upchurch marshes.

I studied for a BSc degree in zoology at Imperial College, University of London, but carried on digging, working on the London forum and Mucking excavations. On graduating I decided that although I had enjoyed and gained much from my university experience, life in a laboratory wasn't for me, and I was lucky enough to be offered a supervisiory post with the Kent Archaeological Rescue Group at Dover. Here I helped discover two Roman forts, and the so-called "Painted House" with its plaster-covered walls still standing to shoulder height. I subsequently dug on various sites in Kent, but also Somerset, Yorkshire and Northamptonshire.


Archaeological illustration:

medieval miniature pewter jug

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medieval miniature pewter jug

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