Dr Gillian Juleff
I have two fields of interest. Firstly, I have specialised for many years in early ferrous technology (the archaeology of iron and steel), with a focus on Asia. My primary research has been in Sri Lanka where, under the umbrella of Monsoon Steel, I discovered through field survey and excavation evidence for a previous unknown wind-powered technology of the late first millennium AD capable of smelting direct to steel. The construction and operation of furnaces of this technology were demonstrated through experimental archaeology. Subsequent research has identified technologies across Asia that share traits with the Sri Lankan furnaces, which are the earliest in a technological lineage. My work has lead me to projects in India and collaborations with research teams in China and Japan.
My second field of interest is post-conflict archaeology and heritage in Sri Lanka. Having worked in Sri Lanka for over three decades, I have experienced the island during times of civil war and ethnic unrest. During the 1983-2009 civil war, between Tamil minority separatists and, majority Sinhalese, government forces, archaeology and heritage became increasingly politicised as a symbols of Sinhalese ancient primacy across the island. An uneasy peace now prevails but archaeology and heritage continue to fuel political nationalism. Since 2016 I have been working with UK colleagues and an interdisciplinary team in the Arts Faculty of Jaffna’s University to explore alternative, everyday archaeologies of the recent past in coastal communities of the Jaffna peninsula. The work supports identity and sense of place and belonging.
I am currently based in Exeter’s Cornwall campus and work within HaSS, an interdisciplinary department that aligns with my post-conflict work.
In recent years my work has taken an applied focus both in UK and Asia: working with museums, social enterprises and professional institutions to share and co-create knowledge. My current research engages with socio-political issues of critical heritage in post-war Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and also the mining heritage in vulnerable coastal environments in Cornwall.
Archaeologies of the recent past in post-war Jaffna, Sri Lanka - This work focuses on the Jaffna Peninsula of Sri Lanka, where I have been collaborating with colleagues in the Arts Faculty of the University of Jaffna and University of Leicester, UK, for several years. The aim of our partnership is to develop community-based approaches to exploring, recording and disseminating the archaeological heritage of the last 500 years of Jaffna’s history. This is a period of multiple histories and rich material culture, but also includes episodes of repression and civil war. Our interests lie in the archaeologies of everyday life and draws on oral traditions and living memory alongside physical and built environments. Against a background of 30 years of civil war and uneasy peace during which archaeology and heritage have been aligned with elite monumental sites of the Buddhist majority, we work locally to articulate the multiplicities of non-elite heritage, including the unsettling archaeologies of conflict.
The work has been supported through three funded projects.
2018: GCRF QR funding (Exeter) for Walking Heritage into Future Cities (https://walkingheritage.blog/).
AHRC network grant (Leicester) for Exploring community and identity: a role for archaeology (publication under review with Public Archaeology).
UKRI-block grant (Exeter) for Identity, place and community: archaeologies of the recent past in post-wat Jaffna, Sri Lanka, included an exhibition by six Jaffna artists on the topic of Home/Land (
Arts & Culture Exeter | Home/Land (artsandcultureexeter.co.uk) and exhibition discussion panel video Home/Land March 2023 - YouTube )
Heritage related work – aligned with my work in post-war Jaffna, I contributed to the 2021 Geneva-Exeter Collaborative Seed Grant initiative (with PIs Marisa Lazzari and Peter Larsen) workshop on Heritage and Decoloniality. A joint contribution with Sri Lankan colleagues is under review (Haputhanthri, H., Juleff, G. and T. Sanathanan. 2023, Heritage and Decoloniality: reflections from Sri Lanka – a conversation. In: Lazzari, M., Larsen, P. B. and Orlandi, F. (eds) Heritage and Decoloniality Dossier World Anthropologies Forum, American Anthropologist)
Taking Tea (2021-22) - Also related to Sri Lanka, this project examined the production and consumption of tea in India, Sri Lanka and UK from the perspective of worker and environmental impact and resistance. My contribution was an overview of the creation of plantations in Sri Lanka. The project was funded by a British Academy small grant and culminated in a web-site and virtual tour of tea plantations in India and Sri Lanka (https://takingtea.exeter.ac.uk/).
Archaeometallurgy in UK and Asia
My work in archaeometallurgy extends from Asia and the Indian Ocean to Southwest Britain and are underpinned by the thesis that metallurgy and the possession of metallurgical knowhow is one of the central drivers of cultural change and that understanding the development of metallurgy is a route to elucidating complex social dynamics.
Time and Tide - This collaboration, with Camborne School of Mines (CSM), Perranzabuloe Museum and the community of Perranporth (Perranzabuloe) in Cornwall, has been raising awareness of the mining heritage of the iconic Droskyn cliffscape of Perranporth. Visitors to the beach largely unaware that the cliffs and caves they look up at and explore are ancient mineworkings, or that the great rock arch once contained a waterwheel to pump out mine shafts below beach level. Work has included Heritage on the Beach events in 2017-18-19 for which our collaborators were awarded the first Cornwall Heritage award for Audience Initiative in 2018.
Exmoor Iron (ExFe) - is a multi-disciplinary, multi-period, multi-site exploration of the impact of past iron production on the environmental and cultural landscapes of Exmoor. The fieldwork component of the project took place between 2002 and 2006 and was funded by English Heritage and run in partnership with Exmoor National Park Authority (http://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/) and the National Trust at Holnicote (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/holnicote-estate/ ). Excavations took place on four large iron smelting sites, a mining site and a woodland charcoal-burning platform. The sites span from the late Iron Age/Romano-British period to the post-medieval and witness a continuum in exploitation of high-grade local iron ores, which extends into the 19th and early 20th centuries. The annual fieldwork seasons are described in a series of newsletters. Fieldwork is now complete and the project is in its analysis and interpretation phase.
Early mining in Southwest Britain - One of the sites excavated under Exmoor Iron was the multi-period iron ore mining site known as Roman Lode. The site comprises an openwork trench extending over 600m. An RCHME earthwork survey of the trench and spoil dumps lining either side revealed an area of small ‘hummock and hollow’ terrain at one extreme of the trench. Geophysical survey and small-scale excavation in an area of small ‘hummocks and hollows’ uncovered evidence for shallow pit mining. Unexpectedly, charcoal from an ephemeral burnt hearth feature stratigraphically below the mining pits gave radiocarbon dates in the Early Bronze Age. A paper on these discoveries (Juleff and Bray, 2007) discusses the possibility that Roman Lode was exploited for copper long before if became an iron mine.
Research in Sri Lanka, India, South and East Asia
My long term research involvement in the development of ferrous metallurgy in Sri Lanka and South Asia has been through collaborative projects with international institutions and colleagues.
Monsoon Steel - From its origins as the Samanalawewa Archaeological Project in the late 1980’s, Monsoon Steel continues to act as an umbrella under which research and related activities can take place. Exeter’s Annual Fund enabled two seasons of fieldwork in Sri Lanka (2007 and 2008). In 2007 a further series of experimental smelts was carried out to consolidate and extend the original fieldwork of the 1990’s. In 2008 a student team constructed a permanent museum display based on the project at the Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Museum at Koggala, on the south coast of the island. Mrs Rupa Wickramasinghe, daughter of Martin Wickramasinghe, Sri Lanka’s leading early 20th century writer, had previously, unbeknownst to me, produced an illustrated comic book for children telling the story of my discoveries and, on meeting Rupa, she requested a life-size reconstruction of the furnace with explanatory display posters in English, Sinhala and Tamil for the museum.
In 2013, in collaboration with Dr Premala Sivaprakasapillai Sivasegaram (Sri Lanka’s first female engineer) and the Institution of Engineers of Sri Lanka (IESL), a further full-scale model of a wind-powered furnace with an accompanying animated video was put on permanent display in the National Museum in Colombo as one of five examples of ancient Sri Lankan technology. Also in 2013, a further series of experimental smelts were conducted in collaboration with the IESL and sponsored by Colombo Dockyard Plc.
Linear Furnaces and pan-Asian traditions - The long-range transmission of the Sri Lankan technological traditions of smelting and steel-making, and the development of linear furnaces, has become a new phase of research. Potential but hitherto unrecognised connections between Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, Sarawak and, most significantly, Japan, have been identified in a paper in World Archaeology. Careful analysis and interpretation of the evidence has indicated strong similarities between the wind-powered furnaces of Sri Lanka and the world famous tatara furnace of Japan, in which the steel for Samurai swords was made. The models for possible transmission of technology across Asia have been well received in Asia and new collaborations with colleagues in Japan and China have emerged.
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) - Also a spin-off from my Sri Lankan research, I have collaborated with colleagues in the Engineering Department at Exeter to explore the novel application of CFD to archaeometallurgy. In a first paper on the subject in Journal of Archaeological Science we used CFD to model the airflows and pressures through our experimental monsoon wind-powered furnaces. Our experience suggests the CFD has significant potential as a tool to help model and understand ancient pyrotechnologies and there has now been further work by researchers in China, UK and Sri Lanka.
Pioneering Metallurgy: origins of steel-making in the southern Indian subcontinent - In collaboration with colleagues at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Bangalore, the aim of this project, funded by UKIERI (UK India Education and Research Initiative), was to investigate the field evidence for early iron and steel production in southern India. Field survey began in 2010 and concentrated on the four districts that make up Northern Telangana, which was then within the state of Andhra Pradesh but is now part of the new state of Telangana. This area is known for its large numbers of both iron smelting and crucible steel-making sites. Crucible steel, better known as wootz steel, is the steel of Indian and Early Islamic weapons. The fieldwork has resulted in a published interim report on the survey and two PhD theses by Brice Girbal and Tathagata Neogi.
I am not accepting new research students but I remain happy to consider co-supervision of research projects in the following subject areas –
- archaeometallurgy (in any region)
- ethnometallurgy (in any region)
- early mining and mineral exploitation
- archaeology and material culture of South Asia (including particularly Sri Lanka)
- Asian technological traditions (especially metallurgy)
As first supervisor I have seen the following research projects to successful completion.
Jack Cranfield (2023) The Medieval Iron Industry of the Weald: Centres of Production and Manorial Ironworks (Wealden Iron Research Group, collaborative PhD studentship)
Carlotta Farci (2022) Technological change and innovation: Ausewell Wood, Dartmoor - an early industrial metallurgical laboratory (Exeter-Cranfield split-site PhD)
Kathryn Bonnet (2021) God's Own Blacksmiths: workign with Keralan blacksmiths to investigate microstructural analysis (Exeter-NIAS Bangalore split-site PhD)
Ethan Greenwood (2020) Organisaion of Roman iron production in the Weald (Wealden Iron Research Group, collaborative PhD studentship)
Kaushalya Gunasena (2018) Sri Lanka-South India Interactions (600BC-AD1000): a personal adornment perspective (Exeter-NIAS Bangalore split-site PhD)
YuNiu Li (2018) Iron smelting technology in South West China. Yuniu is Assistant Professor at Sichuan University
Brice Girbal (2017) The Legend of Wootz: a technological and scientific study of crucible steel production in Northern Telangana, India (Exeter-NIAS Bangalore split-site PhD). Brice is now Assistant Professor, Department of Cultural heritage and Conservation, National Yunlin University of Science and Technology.
Alice Lowson (2017) Routing out Portable Antiquities: a biographical study of the contemporary lives of Tamil antiquities (Exeter-NIAS Bangalore split-site PhD)
Tathagata Neogi (2017) Technology an Identity: an ethnoarchaeological study of the social context of traditional iron-working in Northern Telangana, India (Exeter-NIAS Bangalore split-site PhD) Tathagata founded Heritage Walk Calcutta and is now CEO and Creative Director of Immersive Trails
Lee Bray The archaeology of iron production: Romano-British evidence from the Exmoor region. (Lee is now Archaeologist at Dartmoor National Park Authority)
Chris Carey Geochemical survey and ancient metal working. (Chris is now Principal Lecturer in the School of Applied Sciences at the University of Brighton)
Fieldwork is at the heart of archaeology and, like all archaeologists, I enjoy getting out into the field to gather new data. This may be through surveys and excavations, or through experimental work. Generally, if funding allows, I enjoy taking students with me, whether they are from Exeter or the country I am working in. Most recently, I have been working with colleagues at the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka exploring the everyday archaeology of the last 500 years. We are looking at settlements and buildings and other forms of material culture, combined with living memory of the communities in Jaffna. The work is not involving excavation but follows the principles of archaeological investigation and recording.
External impact and engagement
Heritage on the Beach
As part of our Time and Tide collaboration with Perranzabuloe Museum in Cornwall, we jointly initiated a public event to raise awareness of the unrecognised mining heritage of the iconic cliffscape of Droskyn at Perranporth. With Exeter's Annual Fund support we brought together Exeter and Cornwal campus students with local museum volunteers to run a day of pop-up talks and walks on the beach and a public survey. The event won Perranzabuloe the first Cornwall Heritage award for Audience Initiative in 2018. Two further Heritage on the Beach events were held before the pandemic disrupted activities.
As part of this small British Academy project I contributed to a public online presentation created by Immersive Trials, spanning India, Sri Lanka and UK and a public-facing website (https://takingtea.exeter.ac.uk/).
A public exhibition of the work of six Sri Lankan artists on the subject of displacement and dispossession in Jaffna as a result of conflict and war, held at the Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI Cornwall campus) creative space in 2023. The exhibition was part of the reciprocal visit to UK by four Sri Lanka colleagues under the Identity, plaec and community: archaeologies of the recent past in post-war Jaffna, Sri Lanka. The exhibition is also availoable permanently online.
After 30 years of research into the wind-powered iron smelting furnaces of 1st millennium AD Sri Lanka the work has reached a wide national and international audience. In the summer of 2013 a third series of smelting experiments were conducted in the field in Sri Lanka. The work then was initiated and sponsored by the engineering community of Sri Lanka. The success of the work lead to a submission to the Exeter Impact Awards in the category of outstanding public engagement (http://www.exeter.ac.uk/impactawards/shortlist/publicengagement/ ). Here are extracts from the text of our submission.
Sri Lanka, famous for some of the world’s oldest and largest Buddhist monuments, is also home to one of the most novel and sophisticated early iron and steel production technologies recorded. Discoveries made by Gill Juleff, first published in Nature (1996, 379), underpin continuing research (World Archaeology, 2009) and widespread public dissemination of ‘Monsoon Steel’ in a country emerging from civil war and competing in the rapidly developing Asian sphere.
The research described here has matured over two decades and through public engagement its impact now extends far beyond archaeology. Monsoon Steel began as an impact survey of an area due for inundation by a hydro-electric scheme. Subsequent archaeological excavation evidenced a large-scale iron and steel smelting industry of the first millennium AD using a technology that harnessed monsoon winds to power furnaces the design of which departed radically from known examples across the world. Experiments in reconstructed furnaces established the veracity of the data and led to a paradigm shift in archaeometallurgy.
Following the initial fanfare of publicity, dissemination within Sri Lanka gathered momentum. In 2007, Exeter’s Annual Fund supported a second series of field experiments. Open to the public, these were widely covered on national television and in the press, with public lectures at the British Council, Royal Asiatic Society and the principle universities.
In 2008, with joint support from the Annual Fund and the Martin Wickremasinghe Trust, the first permanent furnace replica and display was constructed at the popular Koggala Folk Museum which has the highest attendance figures in Sri Lanka with coach-loads of school children visiting daily. In addition, a senior member of the museum’s trust popularised the Monsoon Steel story in a children’s comic book, published in the three official languages, Sinhala, Tamil and English.
More specific impact is seen in the partnership developed with Sri Lanka’s professional engineering institution (IESL; http://www.iesl.lk/). Through its newsletter, circulating to over 10,000 members, editors have used Monsoon Steel to invigorate a dialogue on indigenous development. The wind-powered furnaces were included in the IESL centenary publication on the History of Engineering and the Sri Lankan Government’s Sustainable Energy Authority’s Energy Balance of 2010 opens its 75-page analysis of energy sector performance with an introduction drawing on the use of monsoon winds to smelt iron as evidence of the potential for power generation (http://www.energy.gov.lk/pdf/Energy_Balance_2010.pdf).
In  the National Museum, Colombo, in collaboration with IESL, opened a new permanent gallery dedicated to Ancient Technology showcasing five major engineering achievements, including Monsoon Steel, with a replica furnace and animated explanatory video created by the Open University of Sri Lanka (http://www.htv.lk/).
In  IESL members instigated a further campaign of experimental smelts sponsored by Colombo Dockyard Plc, Sri Lanka’s largest heavy engineering company (with 2% of the island’s exports). Personally led by CEO Mangala Yapa, the project saw collaboration with CEB (Ceylon Electricity Board), IESL, Gill Juleff and members of the original archaeological team. The three smelts conducted were attended by over 100 industrialists, metallurgists, environmental engineers, academics, students and the media. Continuing television and press coverage is largely in Sinhala thus not accessible to English speakers but bears testament to the grassroots reach of the research within Sri Lanka.
In 2022 I gave the inaugral Heritage lecture for the IESL.
Monsoon Steel is now included in the national school curriculum history text books of Sri Lanka.
Contribution to discipline
I have been editor of The Crucible, the newsletter of the Historical Metallurgy Society
I am a council member of the Historical Metallurgy Society and was their National Chair between 2001-03.
I have been a member of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission panel of Academic Advisors.
I am adjunct faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), IISc, Bangalore
I am visiting professor at Sichuan University, China
Peer review and referee activities
Journals, books and conferences: including Journal of Archaeological Science, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, Historical Metallurgy, World of Iron, Beginnings of the Use of Metals and Alloys (BUMA)
My work in Sri Lanka and India has been widely covered in the local media in both countries and in both print and television. Here are some links to newspaper articles and videos in Sri Lanka.
I have been interviewed by both Chinese state television and Korean television (Educational Broadcasting System) for a documentaries on ancient technology.
My teaching is largely inspired by my own engagement in archaeology. This may mean it is related to my own research or background knowledge of the archaeology of Asia, archaeometallurgy and experimental archaeology, or it may draw on encounters, observations and experiences, both expected and unexpected, over the years. In this way I try to bring a little adventure and inspiration to my teaching. In the classroom I enjoy using novel teaching methods and students may find themselves making medieval 'Dragon's Den' type pitches for investment in new ventures in the metals exploration business or unravelling a Roman incident scene. On a serious note, I encourage students to bring scientific rigour and consistency to their work by distinguishing between methods used, data gathered and the analysis and interpretation of data. I especially enjoy the continuity between classroom and fieldwork, and always feel that I gain, as well as students, when we are able to work together in the field. I have taken student teams to work on Exmoor, to Sri Lanka and to India. In 2012 I was shortlisted for a University award in Research Inspired Teaching. More recently, moving to HaSS Cornwall and developing my research interests in post-conflict heritage has allowed me to bring these elements into teaching in political geography.
- ARC1010 - Themes in World Archaeology
- ARC2003 - Archaeological Fieldwork Project
- ARC2117 - The Archaeology of the Indian Subcontinent
- ARC2507 - Archaeometallurgy
- ARC3117 - The Archaeology of the Indian Subcontinent
- ARCM102C - Experimental Archaeology in Practice 2
- ARCM120 - Themes in Archaeological Theory and Practice
- ARCM200 - Field Study
- ARCM300 - Material Culture
- HIC2034 - Iron and Steel and Society
I have over thirty years of experience working in archaeology in Britain and Asia. I gained a BSc (Hons) in Archaeological Conservation and Materials Science from the Institute of Archaeology, London University (now UCL). From London I moved to Bristol to become English Heritage’s first Archaeological Conservator for Southwest England. In 1984 I moved to Sri Lanka and became the head of artifact conservation for the UNESCO/Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle. In that post I was also coordinator of the conservation of cultural property course of the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, Colombo. From 1986 to 1990 I was also coordinator of an ODA/British High Commission/British Council/Cultural Triangle Heritage Management project which supported archaeological heritage management in Sri Lanka with funding of £350k.
In 1988 I began PhD research at UCL on the topic of ‘Early Iron and Steel of Sri Lanka: a study of the Samanalawewa Area’. With the discoveries made during field survey and excavation, the project mushroomed in scale beyond a PhD and transformed into Monsoon Steel, supported by funding from Balfour Beatty, ODA and the British High Commission (total £90k). In 1996 the first results were published on the front cover of the journal Nature, a rare single-authored paper by a female researcher.
Returning to UK in 1996 coincided with maternity leave and a period as a Field Monument Warden for English Heritage and freelance consultant in archaeology and archaeometallurgy, before joining Exeter in 2001. Until 2022 I was based on the Streatham campus in Exeter and taught modules in artefacts, world archaeology, archaeometallurgy, experimental archaeology and the archaeology of the Indian sub-continent. I am now based at Exeter’s Cornwall campus at Penryn where I teach in both the history and politics disciplines within Humanities and Social Sciences (HaSS).
I am a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities of London (FSA)
I have given over 45 international invited lectures (not including conference presentations)