Professor Robin Coningham holds the UNESCO 2014 Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage in the Department of Archaeology and is Associate Director (World Heritage) of Durham's Institute of Mediaeval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS)
He studied Archaeology and Anthropology at King's College, Cambridge and, after a six-month appointment as Graduate Scholar of the British Institute in Eastern Africa, returned to King's as a Scholar to complete his PhD under the supervision of the late F.R. Allchin, FBA. He then joined the Department of Archaeological Sciences at Bradford in 1994, becoming Professor of South Asian Archaeology and Head of Department in 2004. He moved to a Chair in Archaeology at Durham in 2005 and was Head of the Department of Archaeology between 2007 and 2008 before becoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Health, a post which he held until 2015. UNESCO and Durham University established the UNESCO Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage with Professor Coningham as first holder in 2014.
Professor Coningham is committed to field research and has conducted fieldwork in Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka aimed at refining Early Historic chronologies and investigating the region's second, Iron Age, urbanization, the genesis of Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea trade and the archaeology of early Buddhism. Past projects range from excavations in the Citadel of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka's earliest capital, and deep sounding at the Bala Hisar of Charsadda in the Vale of Peshawar - one of the great sites on Pakistan's portion of the Silk Road, to reinvestigations of the birthplace and childhood home of the Buddha at Lumbini and Tilaurakot in Nepal. In 2015, he published 'The Archaeology of South Asia: From the Indus to Asoka' with Ruth Young in the prestigious Cambridge World Archaeology Series.
With colleagues from Sri Lankan, Indian and British Universities, he co-directed a major AHRC-funded investigation of the hinterland of Anuradhapura, analyzing the organization and development of the city's extra-mural settlements. This work recognized the centralizing role played by Buddhist monasteries within the hinterland as well as the role of irrigation in sustaining colonization in the island’s Dry Zone.
He has also worked in Iran, where joint excavations supported by the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, The University of Tehran, The British Academy and the British Institute of Persian Studies at Tepe Pardis and Tepe Sialk provided a firm chronology for the spread of late Neolithic communities in the Central Plateau of Iran and their socio-economic developments.
Professor Coningham is committed to the preservation of cultural heritage, joining over 25 international missions for UNESCO and reviewing the Research Framework for the Brú na Bóinne UNESCO World Heritage Site for the Irish Government. He parallels this with an interest in the relationship between identity and cultural heritage in regions of conflict as well as the impact of the international trade in illicit antiquities. Further to this commitment, he launched a Centre for the study of Ethics of Cultural Heritage with the Durham philosopher, Geoffrey Scarre and co-directs the new programme of UNESCO excavations and survey at the World Heritage Site of Lumbini in Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha and at Tilaurakot-Kapilavastu. With the Government of Nepal and funding from UNESCO, AHRC's Global Challenges Research Fund and National Geographic, he has co-directed two seasons of post-disaster archaeological investigation in Kathmandu. This critical research now engages with structural and geotechnical engineers to reduce disaster risk to life and livelihoods by evaluating the seismic safety of Kathmandu's historic urban infrastructure through the British Academy's GCRF Cities and Infrastructure Program.
In addition to these activities, Professor Coningham is a member of the UK National Commission for UNESCO's Expert Network, AHRC-GCRF Strategic Advisory Group, the National Academies Resilient Futures Steering Group, UNESCO's Scientific Committee for Lumbini, an International Expert for NWO's Security and the Rule of Law in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Settings Program and Chair of the Antiquity Trust. Former posts include membership of the British Academy's Sponsored Institutes and Society’s Committee (BASIS), the British Academy's International Engagement Committe, the EC Research Executive Agency's FP7 2012 & 2016 Marie Curie Fellowships SOC Panel, Reviewer for Panel SH6 of the European Research Council, Honorary Secretary of the British Institute of Persian Studies (The British Academy), member of Research Panel 1 of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and a Trustee of the Ancient India and Iran Trust (Cambridge). He is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and the Society of Antiquaries and acted as a QAA specialist in Archaeology for seven Departmental reviews and was a QAA Review Chair for a further five.
Professor Coningham was elected a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1994, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 2016 and a Foreign Corresponding Member of ISMEO – Associazione Internazionale di Studi sul Mediterraneo e l’Oriente in 2017.