STUDENT REVIEW of ‘Grand Challenges in Environmental Archaeology’ – Youri van den Hurk

Another review of the recent AEA conference ‘Grand Challenges in Environmental Archaeology’ hosted by Edinburgh is here!

Keep reading to see what  PhD candidate Youri van den Hurk thought of it all!

My name is Youri van den Hurk and I just entered the third year of my PhD in archaeology at University College London. I am deeply grateful the AEA provided me with a student conference grand to attend the conference. This was already the second I attended an AEA conference and again I greatly enjoyed it! The first time was in Kirkwall at the very beginning of my PhD where I presented my research project and some ideas. Now for the second time I was able to show more results to a comparable audience.

The AEA conferences always cover a wide variety of topics within the environmental archaeology discipline, exposing you to new methods, projects and ideas. As a student at the beginning of my academic career this is highly beneficial to my own current project as well as to future possibilities. The conference also gives the possibility to present your own research and allows you to get critical feedback which is of help for optimizing your research project. Previously, I have been awarded an AEA research grant and this conference provided me with the opportunity to present what I have done with this grant and the results of my research.

Additionally, many researchers I have been in contact with for several years also attended the meeting and I met them in person for the first time. The coffee breaks in between sessions were therefor a great opportunity to meet people, get or answer question or network with other researchers.

Both the AEA meeting I attended so far, were valuable experiences as I received great feedback and tips from other researchers. I am sincerely thankful for both the research grant and the conference grant the AEA provide me with and I will work hard to continue my research on environmental archaeology.


To have your say or to highlight some of your own research email d.spencer1@nuigalway.ie 🙂

STUDENT REVIEW: Grand Challenges at the Edinburgh Meeting of Association for Environmental Archaeology – Abigail Buffington

Another review of the recent AEA conference ‘Grand Challenges in Environmental Archaeology’ hosted by Edinburgh is here!

Keep reading to see what  PhD candidate Abigail Buffington thought of it all!


I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to participate in and attend the meeting this December. Without the generous support of the conference fund, I likely could not have made the trip as a North American graduate student.

I am a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at The Ohio State University. As this is the last year of my degree, I am on the job market and the conference provided me with the opportunity to present my research and workshop my ideas with potential future colleagues and peers. I have presented previously at larger conferences, but this conference was an excellent opportunity to get critical feedback on my work as the attendees are closer to my field of study and methodology than is often the case at larger conferences. One attendee at my talk asked me to expand on how my research applied to the Grand Challenges theme of this conference. This question provided me with the opportunity to think on the relevance of my research beyond questions about how humans behaved in the past and how these results can inform our understanding of the sustainability of human systems in the present and future. The Association for Environmental Archaeology was important for my presentation for the following two reasons: 1) there was only one session at a time so all attendees could attend all talks and 2) Coffee breaks between all sessions provided a lot of time to discuss research beyond the question and answer sessions. As a result of these informal breaks, I made a number of important contacts. I was able to listen to all the presentations and engage all the speakers on their methods and a priori assumptions, which enabled me to contemplate my own research choices. I walked away from this conference inspired to continue my dissertation research and writing. I have since presented these research findings (with improvements from the conference feedback) to faculty and graduate students in my department.

I have encouraged the undergraduate student researchers in my lab and my fellow graduate paleoethnobotanists at The Ohio State University to look into the conference and the organization. I certainly plan to continue contributing to both over my academic career.

To have your say or to highlight some of your own research email d.spencer1@nuigalway.ie 🙂


Student review of ‘Grand Challenges in Environmental Archaeology’ – Nora Battermann

Our first review of the recent AEA conference ‘Grand Challenges in Environmental Archaeology’ hosted by Edinburgh is here!

Keep reading to see what Zooarchaeology PhD candidate Nora M. Battermann thought of it all!


“In recent years pressure on researchers of all disciplines has increased considerably, with an emphasis on ‘impact’. Not only is research now required to lead to new knowledge, but preferably it is to ‘change people’s lives’. In this context, Kintigh et al. (2014, PNAS 111, 879-80) have identified what they term the ‘grand challenges for archaeology’ which include questions around emergence, communities, complexity, movement, mobility and identity as well as human-environment interactions. The AEA Autumn Conference in Edinburgh took up the challenge, and – stretched over three days – magnificently highlighted the powerful tools environmental archaeology offers for those purposes.

To summarise the whole conference goes beyond the scope of this short post, but I would still like to highlight the diversity of disciplines and techniques involved and their very broad application in the context of the grand challenges. Sessions focussed on human-environment interactions; landscape and sustainability; integration of data and interdisciplinary studies; colonisation, mobility and environment; food (oh, wait, sorry that was the conference dinner I was thinking about); archaeology in the contemporary world; climate change and adaptation; environment, identity and society; and approaches in palaeoenvironment studies. This in itself is an impressive summary of what environmental archaeology can achieve and highlights its relevance in the contemporary world. Add to that the diverse methods on which talks were delivered and the list becomes even more impressive: there were several zooarchaeological approaches including the study of mammals, birds, invertebrates; archaeobotanical investigations; isotope studies; phytoliths, pollen and sediments were evaluated; water and salt marshes (among
others) taught lessons about sustainability; and erosion and the management of data addressed problems relevant in the acquisition and subsequent storage/distribution of environmental material. In short, the conference offered an incredibly broad overview of what environmental archaeologists can – and perhaps should – do.

As a first year PhD student I think it is of particular importance to make sure not to lose sight of the ‘bigger picture’ whilst drowning in a heap of reading on a very specific research topic. Thus, the conference was a great opportunity to place my discipline at large as well as my own research in the context of the ‘grand challenges for archaeology’ and I am very grateful to have received funding from the AEA to support me on my trip to Edinburgh.”


To have your say or to highlight some of your own research email d.spencer1@nuigalway.ie 🙂

‘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!


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 🙂

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!

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

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.

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.

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! —-

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.