‘Rediscovering Doggerland- latest member of the Lost Frontiers Project’

Below we have a lovely introduction to one of our newest AEA student members and information on her exciting project!! ENJOY!

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Hello everyone, as a new student member of the AEA, I thought I’d write a small introduction to my project- always good to put a voice out there!

I’ve just started a PhD at the University of Warwick, looking at the application of sedimentary DNA (sedaDNA) as a tool for palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. I am very lucky, as I am also part of the Lost Frontiers Project (https://lostfrontiers.teamapp.com), in which my project forms a small part of the wider research within the group.

The Lost Frontiers Project is a project based across the UK, examining the relationship between global climate change during the Early Holocene period and the impact that coastal inundation and the subsequent land-loss had on the plant, animal and Mesolithic human communities of the North Sea plain . From an anthropogenic perspective, the project also aims to explore the relationship between the Mesolithic communities on the Doggerland plain and the known Neolithic communities on mainland Europe, and how this influenced the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic in the UK.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extent of Doggerland (Source: Lost Frontiers Project online)

As part of this team, myself and a fellow sedaDNA PhD student (Becky Cribdon) are looking at the extraction and analysis of sedaDNA taken from cores located in the North Sea (Becky) and the Irish Sea (myself). The overall aim is to provide an additional proxy for palaeoenvironmental reconstruction, as well as examining DNA specific issues such as long-term survival in terms of degradation and bias in the record (as experienced with more traditional proxies such as pollen).

As you all have experienced, starting any new project is a pretty daunting process, and this has definitely been no exception to the rule. I’m an archaeologist by trade (mainly based in near-surface geophysics and a bit of consultancy), in which my undergraduate experience in paleoecology led me to this project; so, trying to get my head certain aspects, in particular coding (using Perl), has been the first major challenge…and I’m still battling on! However, I am so excited to get started with the DNA extraction and analysis, as well as working alongside the rest of the Lost Frontiers team.

I look forward to meeting you all at future events and thanks for reading!

Rosie Everett


To showcase your own research, or to simply introduce yourself to the AEA members then email d.spencer1@nuigalway.ie

We would love to hear from you! Daisy 🙂

Posted in Student blog

STUDENT MEMBERS: share your research with us!!

To all our student members – remember this is YOUR blog which YOU can use to highlight YOUR research!

Show us exactly what you know by contributing to the blog and highlighting what it is you find interesting or exciting about environmental archaeology. Whether it is a summary of your current research, a poster of research past or simply a comment on where this specialism of ours is headed then we want to hear from you!

Send any contributions to our student rep at d.spencer1@nuigalway.ie and you could find your own work on the blog for all to see!

Posted in Student blog

AEA Conference Poster – Natasha Cross

Check out the great poster presented by Natasha Cross of Bournemouth University at the last AEA conference. Her research focuses on the archaeobotanical analysis of the Early Bronze Age settlement site of Caolas an Eilean in Coll, Inner Hebrides. Click the link to view the full poster and find out more about this fascinating research!

Go on.. AEA poster_Final   <– click me!

If you have any research you would like to share please email d.spencer1@nuigalway.ie
Posted in Student blog

Review of AEA conference – Julia Meen

Review of AEA conference – Julia Meen

I’m hoping to bring a dual perspective to the student blog today – my view of the recent AEA conference in Leicester, from my vantage point as both a student and a commercial archaeologist. I’m currently completing an MRes at the University of Reading, but my day job is as an Archaeobotanist at Oxford Archaeology South. The academic and commercial worlds are in many ways quite different, but I’m finding that having one foot in each of them gives me the best of both worlds. At the moment I’m deep into writing my dissertation, which is a study of archaeobotanical approaches to identifying brewing. This is a topic which I’ve been fascinated with for several years, and being back at University has given me the chance to throw myself into researching it fully, as well as giving me the opportunity to explore some of the wider issues in archaeobotany which my study touches upon.

However, on the last Saturday in April I put aside my dissertation and headed up to Leicester to hear all about “New Directions in Data Visualisation in Environmental Archaeology”. The theme of AEA’s spring conference was well summed up by Carol Lang’s presentation shortly after lunch. Addressing specifically her experiences with soil micromorphology, the issues it raised are relevant across environmental archaeology, and she neatly expressed many of the concerns covered by the day’s speakers. Soil micromorphology, she points out, is full of technical jargon which can be impenetrable to non-specialists and, in particular, to the public.  Her paper explored how different approaches can be used to address different audiences: technical, process heavy explanations for an academic audience, and explanations making use of analogy and assuming no prior knowledge for the public. This is such an important topic, and one that I’m really invested in as a commercial archaeologist. There’s great public interest in archaeology, and we need to work to make our work more accessible to everyone.

David Smith gave an equally thought provoking paper, discussing use of multivariate statistics and visual presentations of data, specifically archaeoentomological data. The data sets that can be generated when examining insect remains from archaeological contexts can be large and complex and there can be a temptation to overcomplicate the way they are presented, with patterns obscured behind inappropriate figures and analyses. David Smith demonstrated a range of effective statistical techniques he has applied to his data. I’m currently picking through a vast amount of data for my dissertation, and David Smith’s paper has really got me thinking about the best ways I can present it.

With my commercial hat on, I was really interested to hear about Jonathan Baines’ experiences at Dere Street, in North Yorkshire. This is a rescue excavation being carried out by Northern Archaeological Associates which has so far produced a massive 4400 bulk samples, which means that as the archaeobotanist, Jonathan has his work cut out to make sense of the plant remains they contain! Jonathan discussed the approaches he is taking to interpret this huge data set, and how best to extract useful information under the constraints of commercial archaeology. Jonathan’s talk felt very timely. With big infrastructure projects such as HS2 on the horizon, it’s a good time for commercial environmental archaeologists to review their approaches, to see what does and does not work, and consider how specialists can communicate with fieldstaff about effective sample taking.

Of course, there were many more excellent presentations which I don’t have space to cover here. I thought the ‘Ignite’ 5-minute papers worked really well, and there were some very good posters. I came away from the day feeling encouraged to think about which areas of my own research I might be able to present at a future conference, having been especially inspired by the number of commercial archaeologists represented this time.

Posted in Student blog

A conference first – by Natasha Cross

My first academic conference experience as an Undergraduate student- By Natasha Cross

My name is Natasha Cross and I am in my final year at Bournemouth University, studying BSc (Hons) Archaeology. I was awarded an AEA conference grant to present a poster of my dissertation research, undertaking the first archaeobotanical analysis on samples from the Early Bronze Age settlement site of Caolas an Eilean in Coll, Inner Hebrides.

I was initially very nervous as it was my first academic conference, however I had no need to be! The atmosphere was so relaxed and friendly, with everyone making me feel incredibly welcome and at ease.  To start the day, we were treated to a variety of presentations before the faster paced, ignite sessions later that afternoon. It was fascinating listening to current research, discovering how we, as environmental archaeologists can visualise and improve the presentation of our data. Presenting my poster was enjoyable and was a lot more relaxed than I was expecting! I had fun sharing my dissertation research with others interested in archaeobotany and environmental archaeology. It was also an excellent day to network with other academics and professionals within the field.

Overall, I enjoyed the whole conference. I loved the variety of presentations throughout the day, particularly the faster paced ignite sessions! I highly recommend any undergraduate students with an interest in environmental archaeology to attend as it is so worthwhile. I am so happy to have received the grant, as it made it possible for me to attend and present my research! I would love to attend the next conference as I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and was made to feel so welcome.

Posted in Student blog

Student Blog: ‘Taking the deepest core in Ireland’

As your new student representative I thought I would kick things off by telling you a little about some recent fieldwork undertaken as part of my PhD research ‘People, Land-use and Time’ which is investigating prehistoric human-environment interactions in western Ireland. I am carrying out pollen analysis (which is nearly complete!), chironomid analysis and lake sediment geochemistry on two sediment cores extracted from lakes within County Clare. In this short piece I am going to tell you about the process of extracting a 10.59m long core from Lough Inchiquin. The lough, being around 30m at its deepest part, would push the equipment (and us to be quite honest!) to its limits in order to extract the sediment core.

One of the great things about being involved with the Palaeoenvironmental Research Unit at NUI Galway is the access to the Usinger piston corer and associated platform that has the ability to work at depths of up to 40m (thankfully!). This was going to be the first lake core that I had ever extracted and was the deepest lake that any of the researchers involved had attempted. For those of you that don’t know what this Usinger piston corer looks like – it looks like this..

The first day on site at Lough Inchiquin near Corofin, Co. Clare, was spent putting together the equipment which results in essentially a metal raft which has a hole located in the centre through which the sediment core is taken. This requires quite a lot of organisation and consultation with the manual as to which order things have to be assembled. This kind of fieldwork on large lakes is generally only undertaken in the summer and everyone needs a recap as to what is involved.

For the process of extraction all of the equipment and people needed has to be on the raft which is anchored in place on the lake. We wanted to take the sediment core from the deepest part of the lake and so a quick foray with a small boat and depth sounder was required. The deepest part of the lake was actually located quite close to the northern shore of the lake and the ruins of Inchiquin Castle.  This was measured at 30m and with a resulting 10.59m of sediment eventually taken resulted in, we think, the deepest core ever extracted in Ireland!

Once the location the raft needed to be in had been identified it was a matter of floating the corer and platform out using the boat and attempting to anchor it in position using both anchor bags and ropes to the shore. The equipment is generally not used in windy or wet conditions and so trying to plan ahead for this fieldwork in the west of Ireland, albeit in June, was quite tricky. Despite a good forecast the conditions were less than ideal with strong winds making the anchoring of the raft highly problematic. It floated around for quite some time before we eventually gave up at 10.30pm and decided to try again tomorrow.

The next day we were more successful and got the platform into the correct position. We then began the process of extraction with a team of seven on the raft and two on the lakeshore. Throughout the day we managed five drives – the first three of which resulted in a full 2m segment of sediment. The final two drives were much harder, however, and we couldn’t seem to get the corer through the sediment. Had we hit glacial clay already?! No, no – that would be far too easy! We instead, swapped to a thinner coring tube and managed to extract a further 2m of sediment.

I should really give a breakdown of how the sediment is actually extracted using this equipment. The first stage of the extraction is to lower down metal casing from the raft to the lake floor which will guide the coring tube when making the drive. The coring tube itself is then filled with water and the piston head inserted into it. What is called a transition rod is then attached to this and lowered down the hole using a rope. Extension rods are then attached in succession to get the coring tube down to the required depth. So, after every 2m drive, a further 2m of extension rods have to be attached. What is called a driving rod is then attached last of all. A drive is made by pushing the driving rod down which in turn pushes the coring tube into the sediment – and the end of each drive the driving rod has been pushed down by 2m and a core of sediment has filled the coring tube.

The next (fun) stage is to bring UP the coring tube which is aided by a lever, some rope and a couple of strong individuals! As the coring tube is being pulled up, the extension rods have to be successively removed at quite a quick pace (my job!). The coring tube will then be the last to come up and has to be laid in a horizontal position to ensure the sediment remains inside. The transition rod has to be detached and the piston head removed which can be quite amusing to watch as the piston head inevitably gets a little stuck and has to wiggled free within the confines of a small metal raft floating on a lake…

The coring tube is then sent over to the lakeside, delivered by boat, and the raft team start to take the next drive while the sediment is removed from the tube at the lakeside. The extruder, which consist of a ratchetting mechanism, pulls the coring tube backwards and deposits the sediment itself into plastic half-tubing. The sediment is cut to produce 1m segments and also has to be split longitudinally using another half-tube and a guitar string. This produces an A segment (containing the most/best sediment) and a B segment which will later both be described in the lab. The sediment is then packaged and labelled.

On the third day, we went back onto the raft for one last drive, again having to use the thinner coring tube, which resulted in a final 2m segment taking the total depth of sediment to 10.59m. We had finally hit glacial clay and we had got all that we needed. The raft then had to be pulled back to the lakeside and the process of dismantling the equipment began.

The three days of fieldwork were tough, physically demanding work but aided by great people, attitudes and good pub grub at the end of the day. The sediment we managed to extract is of great quality and has left me with over 3m of prehistoric material to work with. The pollen analysis for this core is now complete and has been done at 4cm intervals resulting in 90 samples. Periods of reduced and increased human activity can be identified in the data and when combined with the archaeological evidence from this region will provide me with a fascinating insight into the prehistoric landscape and human occupation of this area.

Daisy Spencer

—- If you would like to tell the AEA about your own research or fieldwork please email d.spencer1@nuigalway.ie to submit to the student blog. We would love to hear from you! —-

Posted in Student blog

John Evans Prize 2016 Winners Announced

This year’s winners of the John Evans Prize were announced at our annual conference in Rome on 30th September.

The winner of the post-graduate prize was Samantha Louise Presslee, from the University of York, for her dissertation ‘Using ancient proteomics tools to identify the exploitation of birds eggs in archaeological contexts‘.

The undergraduate winner was Nora Battermann, from the University of Leicester, for her dissertation ‘Exotics and Empire. An Investigation into Roman Conceptions of the ‘Wild’‘.

Judging the prize this year was a particularly difficult task, with a lot of very good dissertations entered. We think John would be happy to see the variety of approaches taken to investigating the past human environment and look forward to seeing how the entrants contribute to developing the subject in the future. Both winners have been invited to submit their research for publication in Environmental Archaeology and they and the rest of the entrants should be proud of their work.

Posted in Uncategorized

Student Blog: ‘Geoarchaeology across the ages – the Bradford Kaims, Northumberland.’

Tom Gardner

Carnegie Trust PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh

Within the north of Northumberland lies a large postglacial fenland, stretching at a low incline for 14km north to south, emptying to the north into Budle Bay near the village of Bamburgh. Immediately upon the deglaciation of the area, forest cover encroached upon the area, with oak and elm dominating the higher and drier glacial sand and gravel deposits, or ‘Kaims’, that flank the fenland. Lower down the slopes, alder and hazel grew from the early Mesolithic, and sedges and grasses propagated upon the mire surface as it periodically flooded and dried (Paterson et al, 2015). The formation of peat began soon after the propagation of woodland, and now the extant depths of peat in the lowest basins of the fenland reach above 10m (Boomer, 2007). They were once greater, but land improvement in the Victorian and Georgian period drained this niche environment for pasture, leading to the desiccation of all peat formed after the early Bronze Age (Dixon et al, 2015).

Figure 1: Site Location

Figure 1: Site Location

Into this lush and damp wetland environment, is dropped a massive series of prehistoric activity, beginning in the early Holocene, with tangible evidence reaching into the Iron Age (Young et al, 2014; Gething et al, forthcoming). The focus of the archaeology appears to respect the changing waterlines of the fenland, moving higher upslope as time carried on and the peat formed higher and higher. The Bradford Kaims Project (BKP) has been working at the site since 2010, and has excavated 16 trenches, 80 test pits, and has mapped the geomorphology of the landscape through numerous coring transects. Dr, Richard Tipping of the University of Stirling has reconstructed the palaeoenvironment of the area (Paterson et al, 2015), allowing the archaeologists to focus upon the prehistoric activity on site. The peaks in activity appear to be the early Neolithic and the late Bronze Age, and represent themselves through a series of burnt mound deposits, structures, and middens in and around the bottleneck of the fenland at Hoppenwood Bank.

Figure 2: Site Map

Figure 2: Site Map

Aside from the detailed open-area excavation of the archaeology on site, a suite of geoarchaeological analyses are being conducted in order to bridge the sedimentological gap between the landscape-wide geomorphology and palaeoenvironment as studied by Dr. Tipping, and the archaeology investigated by the field team of the BKP. While this geoarchaeological analyses has assessed a variety of deposits across the site, such as peat deposits, fluvial fans, palaeochannel fills, colluvial sequences, and buried landsurfaces, a central focus has been upon the many burnt mounds on site, with eight of the sixteen confirmed burnt mounds having been sampled.

Figure 3: Micromorphological sampling and sub-sampling of peat deposits in the fenland.

Figure 3: Micromorphological sampling and sub-sampling of peat deposits in the fenland.

These burnt mounds range in dates from between the Early Neolithic and the late Bronze Age, in a range of sizes and morphologies, with some accompanied by impressive structures and trough complex’s. The investigation into the burnt mounds at the Bradford Kaims came as a result of a more widespread lack of knowledge of the formation processes and depositional sequences of these site types across Northern Europe. As the most numerous prehistoric site type across Britain and Ireland, burnt mounds represent a strong facet of the socio-economic underpinnings of Neolithic and Bronze Age societies, yet their artefactual sterility leads to a poor understanding of their function and place within the landscape. The research of the BKP seeks to unpick the minute detail bound up within the sediments and deposits of the many burnt mounds on site, and so far, the results are positive.

Figure 4: Micromorphological sampling of the Early Neolithic Mound 1 and wooden trough fill at the Bradford Kaims.

Figure 4: Micromorphological sampling of the Early Neolithic Mound 1 and wooden trough fill at the Bradford Kaims.

Figure 5: Micromorphological sampling of the Late Bronze Age Mound 2 and trough fill at the Bradford Kaims.

Figure 5: Micromorphological sampling of the Late Bronze Age Mound 2 and trough fill at the Bradford Kaims.

hrough the analyses of micromorphological soil thin sections taken from the burnt mound deposits, trough fills, and buried landsurfaces directly beneath the mounds, clear evidence of internal sequences and depositional episodes has been identified. Micromorphology provides the opportunity to look in-depth at the structure, fabric, taphonomies, and sequence of archaeological sediments which, in the case of the burnt mounds at the Bradford Kaims, shows dense and well-structured sediment matrices of charcoal, alluvial silts, and high quantities of mineralised plant materials. The charcoal content, understandably high due to the highly fired nature of the burnt mound material, is homogenised by large quantities of silicified ash, indicating relatively complete firing events, rather than low-heat intensity and short lived fires. Plant sesiquioxide cast, with identifiable phytolith bodies within them, could evidence the potential for incomplete combustion of other fuels such as grasses and sedges, but may also represent partially fired and mineralised mats of vegetation from potential ‘earth oven’ use.

 

Figure 6: Heavily fired material and macro-charcoal from within a singular event at burnt mound at Mound 1.

Figure 6: Heavily fired material and macro-charcoal from within a singular event at burnt mound at Mound 1.

These deposits of burnt mound material vary, and between the individual events of burning and deposition lie interleaving flood deposits, soil formation lenses, and evidence of organic growth. While it has long been appreciated that burnt mound deposits, although often given a single context in the field, must comprise of multiple individual events of deposition, it has not been possible to identify these events until this point. Interestingly, this allows us to begin quantifying the number of deposits taking place within individual mounds, and to interpret the spaces between them as potential hiatuses in deposition where floods or organic growth cover the mound before deposition continues. The regular appearance of flood deposits between burnt mound deposits, and the evidence of seasonal flooding of the area from geomorphological reconstructions, suggests that single or multiple year hiatuses interrupted the burnt mound deposition, both in the Neolithic and the Bronze Age at the Bradford Kaims. In-washed and fluvially sorted alluvial silts and sands divide many mounds into separate entities when viewed under the microscope, bringing in microfossils that then translocate through the more porous areas of the burnt mound, sadly contaminating any chances of well-defined plant microfossil stratification within the mound deposits.

Figure 7: Flood deposit material within Mound 3

Figure 7: Flood deposit material within Mound 3

Equally interesting, are the subsoil surfaces onto which the burnt mounds have been deposited. Again, in both the Neolithic and the Bronze Age at the Bradford Kaims, the burnt mounds are laid upon desiccated colluvial clay surfaces at the edge of the fenland. As we know of the seasonal flooding during winters on the site, it stands to reason that the burnt mounds are laid during the drier seasons, or Summer and Autumn. That this trend spans both the Bronze Age and the Neolithic, along with the evidence for hiatuses in site use of more a year or more, then we may be coming to a suggestion of the burnt mounds at the Bradford Kaims being interpreted as seasonal monuments within the landscape. While a far larger dataset is needed to assess this possibility across larger areas, it poses many interesting questions about land use and socio-economics throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Age, if the most numerous prehistoric monument type in Britain and Ireland is effectively seasonal.
Excavations at the Bradford Kaims will continue in the summer of 2017, and the geoarchaeological sampling of other sites across the Orkneys, Wester Ross, and Ireland should add mass to the dataset of burnt mound thin sections. Hopefully in the future we will be able to come to a more informed understanding of the role which burnt mounds play in prehistoric Europe, through an idea of their depositional sequences and microscopic characteristics.

Bibliography:
Boomer, I., 2007, ‘Preliminary Report on Coring at Bradford Kaims, May 2007,’ Unpublished report submitted to the University of Birmingham.
Dixon, G., Young, G., Gardner, T., Gething, P., Paterson, D., Pedersen, K. & Tipping, R., 2014, ‘Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Project: Interim Archaeological Report No.2,’ Bamburgh Research Project, available at;    http://bamburghresearchproject.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Bradford-Kaims-Archaeological-Final-Report-2014.pdf
Gething, P., Gardner, T., & Lally, T., ‘Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Project: Interim Archaeological Report No. 3,’ Bamburgh Research Project (Forthcoming).
Gething, P., Gardner, T., & Lally, T., ‘Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Project: Interim Archaeological Report No. 4,’ Bamburgh Research Project (Forthcoming).
Paterson, D., Tipping, R., Young, G., Ross, M., Gething, P. & Pedersen, K., 2014, ‘Environmental Changes at the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition from Embleton’s Bog, near Lucker, Northumberland,’ Archaeologia Aeliana, Vol.43, pp.1-18.
Young, G., Gething, P., Paterson, D., Pedersen, K. & Tipping, R. 2013, ‘Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Project: Interim Archaeological Report No. 1,’ Bamburgh Research Project, available at; http://bamburghresearchproject.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Bradford-Kaims-Archaeological-Report-reiew-Nov-13.pdf

 

If you are a student member of the AEA and would like to write a blog for us, please contact Rhiannon Philp (AEA Student Rep) via philprl@cardiff.ac.uk

Posted in Student blog

Student Blog: student contributors sought!

Are you a student member of the AEA?

If so, we want to hear from you! The student reps (Laura and Rhiannon) would like to start showcasing our student members through the AEA Student Blog.

The blog provides an informal, friendly platform for you to talk about your research, fieldwork or anything remotely related to environmental archaeology.

Past entries have included overviews of courses, interviews with fellow environmental archaeologists and ‘A Day in the Life of…’ inspired posts.

If you would like to contribute to the blog, please email contributions/queries to philprl@cardiff.ac.uk

Posted in Student blog

Nominations are open for a 3-year membership prize for a local/community archaeological society

We are delighted to be able to offer a free membership, with hard copy journals, to be awarded to a community/local archaeology society for a period of three years.

We will be administering this award as a prize, with nominations made by AEA members and the winner voted for.

Closing date for nominations is 30th April 2016.

We will open voting through social media later in the year.

Please email your nominations to the AEA Chair (Richard Thomas rmt12@le.ac.uk) or post a suggestion on our Facebook page or Twitter feed. Please forward and share this information far and wide.

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Posted in Uncategorized