School of History, Classics and Archaeology

Staff Profile

Dr Ashley Coutu

Lecturer in Medieval/Historical Arch



I specialise in the analysis of African material culture, specifically using biomolecular methods to map people and materials across the landscape to understand exchange networks of the last 2,000 years.


I was a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellow between the University of Cape Town, South Africa and the BioArCh laboratories at the University of York, UK, between 2014-2017.  The project, entitled Tembo: Tracking Elephants: Mapping pre-colonial African ivory trade networks using Bioarchaeological techniques, analysed bone and ivory working deposits, ivory objects, and other small finds from over 20 sites in southern Africa dated to the Iron Age (700-1300 AD).  Using biomolecular methods such as stable and radiogenic isotope analyses, ZooMS, ancient DNA as well as non-destructive methods such as FTIR and SEM, the project highlighted early connections and trade networks between people across southern Africa. I also have been involved in a project with collaborators from the University of Illinois, USA and the University of Cape Town, South Africa, researching the remains of ivory and bone artefacts from a 16th century shipwreck excavated off the southern Namibian coast.

Prior to the Tembo project, I worked as a postdoctoral researcher on the Entrepot project between Aarhus University, Denmark and BioArCh, University of York, tracing trade in Viking antler combs.  From 2007-2011, I worked as part of the Historical Ecologies of East African Landscapes (HEEAL) project at York using a combination of archival, archaeological, and biomolecular data to understand the impacts of the 19th century ivory trade on elephants, humans, and landscapes along caravan routes in East Africa.

Academic background

  • 2017 Visiting Research Fellow, Sainsbury Research Unit, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, UK
  • 2014 – 2017 Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellow, Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town, South Africa/Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK
  • 2013 – 2014 Claude Leon Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Archaeology, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • 2012 – 2013 Postdoctoral Researcher, Entrepôt Project, Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, University of Aarhus, Denmark
  • 2012 Teaching Fellow, Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK
  • 2011 – 2012 Research Assistant, Department of Chemistry, University of York, UK
  • 2007 – 2011 PhD in Archaeology, Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK
  • 2006 Historical Archaeology Technician, Wake Forest University, USA
  • 2006 – 2007 MPhil in World Archaeology, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, UK
  • 2005 – 2006 Environmental Archaeology Technician, Department of Geography, University of London, Royal Holloway, UK

Areas of expertise

  • Medieval/historical archaeology
  • African archaeology
  • Biomolecular archaeology
  • Historical ecology


Google scholar: Click here.
ORCID: Click here.


My research is interdisciplinary, reflecting training across various fields such as historical and medieval archaeology, isotope ecology, zooarchaeology, and historical ecology. Because a significant focus of my research has been on the ivory trade across Africa and beyond, I am also involved in interdisciplinary research with historians, ecologists, and geneticists. This research builds on historical ecology to understand the relationship between humans and elephants in the past and applies that knowledge to modern elephant conservation as well as preserving cultural heritage in protected landscapes.



ARA 3013 Early Medieval Northern Europe

ARA 1030 Archaeology of Britain from the Romans to the 20th century


ARA 8113 Early Medieval Northern Europe