Chair on Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage

Durham University – Professor Robin Coningham

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Cultural heritage is a key driver for helping to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals but is increasingly at risk from natural and human disasters.

With these sites so vulnerable, Durham’s Chair addresses the social, ethical and economic impacts facing heritage managers. The team co-design solutions and training programmes to encourage protection and inclusive promotion, particularly at living heritage sites.

Chair Themes


Related Chair

UNESCO Chair in Maritime and Coastal Archaeology



“Our new co-produced approaches seek to bring together local communities, schools, site managers and cutting-edge academic research, to break down these barriers. Our collective goal now is to enhance heritage protection alongside increased community social and economic benefits within a framework of stakeholder engagement and shared responsibility of custodianship.”

Professor Robin Conningham

UNESCO Chairs are based within Institutes for Higher Education and specialise in specific research fields. They provide policy advice to the UK National Commission for UNESCO and HM government, as well as reviewing UNESCO applications.


The UNESCO Chair on Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage is hosted by the Department of Archaeology at Durham University and held by Professor Robin Coningham. It builds on thirty years of collaborative archaeological fieldwork and co-designed heritage interventions across South Asia, as well as joint custodianship of Durham’s own UNESCO World Heritage Site.

During this time, it has become clear that heritage offers a sense of identity, maintains social diversity, cohesion, and intercultural dialogue, and forms our basic right to participate in cultural life. Unfortunately, they are increasingly threatened by accelerated development, mega-infrastructure, mass tourism, encroachment, neglect, climate change, natural disasters and targeted destruction. Following Nepal’s devastating earthquakes in 2015, UNESCO mobilised Durham’s Chair to assist with the assessment of damaged monuments across the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage Site to help meet SDG8 and SDG17.

We need bold solutions to stem the depletion of this fundamental, yet finite, resource. By working to protect these sites, the chair plays a critical role in education, conflict mitigation and sustainable development. While many national and international studies and interventions focus on physical protection, few succeed in binding societal contexts with interdisciplinary rigour in a holistic manner.


Robin and his team have co-designed programmes in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Jordan and Egypt. This  has provided heritage and research training to over 1,000 people, helped to strengthen cross-regional partnerships between academics, local communities and heritage practitioners as well as influencing heritage policy and practice to enhance the protection of vulnerable sites.

As part of one of UNESCO’s heritage interventions, for the last ten years Robin has worked with Nepali and international colleagues at Lumbini, the Birthplace of Lord Buddha.  Here, his research has ranged from discovering Asia’s earliest Buddhist Shrine at Lumbini to the mapping, protecting and presenting of over 15 associated sites.

Robin uses his expertise to work with interdisciplinary teams including architects, engineers, historians, conservators, heritage managers, first responders and local communities. These collaborations have forged new methodologies to record and safeguard heritage sites, recycle historic building materials and evaluate the seismic safety of historic urban infrastructure.

Professor Robin Coningham

Professor in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University, and Member of the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Robin has carried out extensive fieldwork in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Professor Coningham is committed to the preservation of cultural heritage and has joined over 30 international missions for UNESCO. Alongside his interests in archaeology, community engagement and cultural heritage protection on a broader scale, Robin’s research has also explored the impact that international trade in illicit antiquities has on our heritage preservation.


University of Durham
Professor in the Department of Archaeology

SINCE 2005


King’s College, Cambridge

Role at UNESCO

Chair on Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage

Since 2014

Research & Events


Read about some of the many projects that Professor Coningham has been a part of during his career.



In role as chair, Robin has disseminated his co-produced research and methods to the academic community and wider public through books, articles, exhibitions and public events.