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

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 or post a suggestion on our Facebook page or Twitter feed. Please forward and share this information far and wide.



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Student Blog: A Week at the Museum: 2015 NERC Palaeoecology Course

My name is Rhiannon Philp and as your newly elected AEA Student Representative, it now falls to me to maintain the student blog, so I thought I would kick off proceedings with an overview of a fantastic course that I recently had the privilege of taking part in.

On the 30th November I joined 11 other researchers on a week-long NERC funded palaeoecology course hosted at the Natural History Museum. The course aimed to address the need to be able to work with complex palaeoecological datasets, introducing participants to a number of different proxies. It had been designed to fill an identified gap in current NERC-led training initiatives for Post Graduate and Early Career Researchers.


A rare tourist free photo of Dippy

Each of the five days of the course was concerned with a different palaeoecological group. The format of the course was split between lectures in the mornings and hands on practical sessions in the afternoon. The course covered five areas of palaeoecological research: Diatoms, Pollen, Vertebrates, Chironomids and Beetles. Each topic was delivered by an expert Natural History Museum staff member. At this point, I should acknowledge the incredibly enthusiastic and informative teaching that was provided by the team behind the course. Each session was engaging and interesting whether you had some prior knowledge or were completely new to the subject matter.

On day one we were introduced to Diatoms by Dr. Tom Hill. Over the morning we were introduced to the basic morphological traits of Diatoms and their environmental preferences. The afternoon consisted of a practical focussing on identification and then interpretation of diatom data, which allowed us to come into contact with some of the museum’s extensive reference collection.

Diatoms under the microscope…

Diatoms under the microscope…

Pollen was the theme of the second day, again with Tom Hill, assisted by Dr. John Tweddle. Approached in much the same way as the previous day, we covered morphology and environment, along with preservation and distribution in the morning. This was followed up by a practical in identification and interpretation in the afternoon. Enjoyment of this session (or perhaps the competitiveness of the course participants) was clearly demonstrated when many forwent their tea break to make sure they had identified all the specimens!

Course participants getting acquainted with pollen (photo courtesy of Tom Hill)

Course participants getting acquainted with pollen (photo courtesy of Tom Hill)

Day three, led by Prof. Adrian Lister, introduced the reaction of megafaunal populations to climate change, focussing predominantly on Mammoth species. After a morning lecture session exploring the climate change vs the overkill theories, the highlight of the day (possibly even course) for the group was definitely the visit to the NHM Megafauna stores (a small cheer went round the room when the visit was announced). This was followed by a particularly interesting practical exercise comparing faunal remains from two quarry sites in order to infer their relevant environments and ages.

Interpreting faunal assemblages from quarry sites (photo courtesy of Charlotte Clarke)

Interpreting faunal assemblages from quarry sites (photo courtesy of Charlotte Clarke)

A change in scale followed on day four, as we were introduced to chironomids by Dr. Steve Brooks and Dr. Angela Self. Once again the first session covered morphology and environmental preferences and was followed by a split practical, covering picking and mounting of chironomid heads with Angela (incredibly fiddly) and identification and interpretation with Steve.

On the final day, Dr Robert Angus introduced us to beetles. Morphology and environment were explored during the first half of the day and were followed by a visit to the museum collection, which, we were reliably informed by the curator, contains between 8 and 10 million different specimens! The highlight of this visit was the viewing of specimens collected by Darwin and Wallace on their respective expeditions and mounted with cards written in their own handwriting. It was interesting to note that Wallace had focussed on larger, more exotic looking species, as he was apparently using them to fund his future expeditions.

Beetles! (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Clarke)

Beetles! (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Clarke)

The week culminated with a Q & A session, which prompted interesting discussions, amongst other things, on the assumptions made about primary drivers in palaeoecology and the use of transfer functions.

It is always interesting approaching these courses from an archaeological point of view. The majority of participants came from the more traditional palaeoecological background subjects and often examples focussed outside of my (suddenly very small seeming) archaeological timeframe. However we were all able to bring something different to the course and it helped to highlight important cross over areas, with a number of potential collaborations developing over the week.

I would like to thank NERC and the organisers at the NHM for such an insightful and enjoyable course. I would highly recommend it to PGR’s and ECR’s researching any aspect of palaeoecology, should it run again in the future.

The NERC Palaeoecology course 2015 participants at the end of a long, but highly enjoyable week! (Photo courtesy of Tom Hill)

The NERC Palaeoecology course 2015 participants at the end of a long, but highly enjoyable week! (Photo courtesy of Tom Hill)

Posted in Student blog

Student blog – Life as an Archaeobotanist at Neolithic Çatalhöyük, Turkey

This month’s student blog post is inspired by the ‘Day of Archaeology’, which took place recently (24th July 2015), where hundreds of participants posted online entries describing their individual days working in the world of archaeology. Here I will present some of my own perspectives as a PhD student working in the field of archaeobotany, by describing my recent fieldwork in Turkey.

I spent two weeks working at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Çatalhöyük, a substantial Neolithic settlement located near Konya in central Turkey. This is one of the main archaeological sites for my PhD research, in which I am investigating the specific methods used in early farming practices in western Asia. This was my fourth visit to the site, and as an archaeobotanist I spent most of my time working inside one of the on-site laboratories. Çatalhöyük is one of the largest research excavations that I have worked on, with over 100 participants working there at once at its peak, and a good proportion of the team are specialists such as myself. I specialise in plant macro-remains, the charred seeds recovered from archaeological deposits by machine flotation, although I also share the lab with other plant specialists working on phytoliths and wood charcoal, as well as the heavy residue team.

A typical day for me consisted of sorting through flotation samples using a light microscope to pick out and identify charred plant seeds. My PhD research focuses on the wild plant species, or ‘weeds’, that accompany dense grain deposits indicative of storage, so I generally work with a lot of very rich and well-preserved samples. Many of these samples were retrieved from burnt buildings, and present some of the best-preserved primary storage evidence for the Neolithic period in the region, so I feel very lucky to be working on them!

Photographing charred 'weed' seeds at Çatalhöyük.

Photographing charred ‘weed’ seeds at Çatalhöyük.

I also spent parts of the day photographing some of the wild taxa that I found, using a special camera that fits onto the microscope, in order for them to be more accurately identified back in the UK. Identifying seeds to species can be very time consuming, particularly for wild taxa, and it often requires a comprehensive modern seed reference collection. Unfortunately this is not something that can be brought along with me, nor did I have enough time this visit, so quality photos of the charred specimens for identification back home are the next best thing. Although an important task, this process can often be quite dull so I made sure that I had plenty of interesting podcasts to listen to (‘TED Radio Hour’ being my favourite) in order to get me through it!

Occasionally I get the opportunity to don my trowel and get stuck into digging. As an archaeobotanist I rarely get to excavate anymore, so I really enjoy the occasional opportunity when I get called onto site. This usually happens when obvious clusters of charred plant material are uncovered, as these need to be taken as separate samples. This year I got to excavate a preserved storage bin feature from a side room area, though once fully excavated the associated pocket of seeds appeared to signify collapsed material rather than its original contents, perhaps representing the remains of a small hanging basket. It is always really exciting to see my samples collected in the field and it helps me to maintain a useful perspective on the varying nature of the contexts where plant remains are recovered.

A more unusual aspect of the fieldwork this year occurred when we were consulted for an Australian TV programme that featured the site. Me and two other archaeobotanists were asked to help prepare examples of Neolithic meals based on what we know from the archaeobotany of the site. It was quite fun to cook and to taste some of the foods that we have studied so closely down the microscope, even if they were not exactly the most delicious of recipes…

Experimenting with Neolithic meals for a TV programme.

Experimenting with Neolithic meals for a TV programme.

Now back in (rainy) Oxford, I am currently processing through the many images taken during my fieldwork and sorting them into different weed types. The lengthy process of identification now begins and I must admit that I am already missing the glorious Turkish sunshine!

Posted in Student blog

Student blog: Interview Geoff Hill

Interview questions Geoff Hill:
Some archaeologists are after Cleopatra, others are more into Coleoptera! This blog entry will host Geoff Hill, a PhD student at Queen’s University Belfast, who has kindly shared some insights from his young career as an environmental archaeologist. In the interview below he gives us a glimpse into the use of beetles as indicators of ancient landscapes, and provides some great advice for young archaeologists looking to develop their career.

– What got you interested in Environmental Archaeology?
It was during my undergraduate degree in Climate Studies at Coventry University, which I undertook as a ‘mature student’ of 26. The combination of being taught climate reconstruction via organic fossils, and being introduced to Ruddiman’s ‘Ploughs, Plagues and Petroleum’ by a really passionate lecturer, Dr Jason Jordan. I wrote my dissertation as a literature review on the spread of agriculture in Britain and any implications for Ruddiman’s ‘Early Anthropocene’ argument, it was amateurish, but it got me hooked.
Following that, I was lucky to secure a place on the Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoenvironment MSc course at the University of Birmingham – lucky, considering I was the only one on the course! Dr Andy Howard kindly took me on and it felt like an apprenticeship, I got a fantastic grounding in many aspects of EA. It was at Birmingham that I was introduced to the use of Coleoptera in EA by Dr David Smith, I prefer the tactile nature of handling the sclerites as opposed to many other organic fossil proxies. I’m not an archaeologist, but I think pulling out the elytra of your first Silphid from the murk of a peaty petri, might be similar to excavating your first Neolithic sherd in the field. Well, maybe.
I also have to thank my older brother, Tom. He’s a Quaternary diatomist and palynologist and loves his field so much, that I think his enthusiasm rubbed off on me.

– How long have you been a member of AEA? How did you hear about us?
I think I first joined during my Masters, and via Andy Howard, but I let it slip over my PhD until recently. Considering it’s such a great price for students and non-students alike, there was no excuse really. It might help if someone from the AEA walks around Archaeology and Palaeoecology departments ringing a bell a reminding us absent-minded types to join.

– What is your current research about?
I’m currently writing up my PhD, at Queens University, Belfast, looking into the effectiveness of using Coleoptera as a proxy for detecting and perhaps measuring the ‘open-ness’ of ancient landscapes. There is still much discussion about this characteristic of the European ‘wildwood’ following Franz Vera’s, hotly contested, publication in 2000 (AD!).
A fantastic ‘property’ of beetles, owing somewhat to the great diversity of their order, is their specificity of habitat, from which we can deduce certain aspects of their host environment, including some anthropogenic activities. Even when they are not so specific they can be lumped together in functional groups which can reflect more general conditions, e.g. woodland, fenland, or drier, open ground, amongst others.

My research involves the analysis of how functional groups differ in their proportions at the present time from a number different landscape types. Finally these modern analogues are compared with palaeo data-sets… the initial results are very promising, but I’ll leave it at that until my initial publications!

Along with my openness project I have been working on the beetle assemblages from a Late Mesolithic site with in-situ brush-wood layers at Lough Kinale. These are intended as one of my palaeo data sets in the ‘open-ness’ project – but has actually turned into a project in its own right. It would seem I have come across a very early ‘house fauna’ which suggests these structures, in amongst a damp fen-like environment, were enclosed spaces kept relatively dry. These findings need to be peer reviewed, but I am incredibly excited by its potential.

– What is the importance of studying the open-ness of ancient landscapes? How does it contribute to our understanding of ancient human lives? Does it relate to modern landscape and environmental issues?

I can think of 3 reasons. Firstly, and harking back to my undergraduate roots, it would play an important role in climate models which incorporate forest cover/density (as a carbon sink) within its algorithm. Secondly, it’s an ongoing concern for conservationists and foresters alike who seek to establish or re-wild ‘natural’ landscapes. Just exactly what is natural with regards to Europe?

Thirdly, and importantly for archaeologists, ‘open-ness’ (or not) of a landscape will affect human relationships with their environment, not only culturally, but also on practical, economically driven terms. It has implications for the Neolithisation of a landscape; how much of the early pasture and arable land was created within a pre-existing open space?
I believe it might also influence our understanding of Mesolithic activity, I’m reminded of this quote by a pioneer of palynology, Johannes Iversen:

“In the Atlantic period … there would scarcely be any natural glades of any size or stability … the comparatively dark character of the forest implied that conditions of living in it were unfavourable for animals, which means man too.”

Maybe life wasn’t so unfavourable in this deep dark Mesolithic ‘Forests-Grimm’?

– How difficult was it to find career opportunities within Environmental Archaeology?

I’m still at the very early stages of my career, so I’m not sure how well I can answer this. I do believe I was fortunate with my PhD; the timing was perfect and it was right up my alley. Following David’s excellent introduction, Dr Nicki Whitehouse has been great in helping me understand our palaeo toolkit and in bringing these and other skills together in a big project such as this. I’ve had great support from so many people at all stages, especially the other PhD students, and I really can’t thank everyone enough. I think this good fortune defines my opportunities thus far.

I was disappointed to see a number of archaeological units and departments close in the UK, in the wake of the austerity and higher education fee’s gamble. I guess this is my main concern for opportunities in Environmental Archaeology at the moment, for all of us.

– What would your advice be for students looking to develop their career in Environmental Archaeology?

I think there are two things which I’ve learnt later on than perhaps I wish I had, for when you apply, or get accepted on to a PhD.
Firstly, ‘stay ahead of the game’. Take the time to consider what other skill or methods you want to learn early on, even before you start, and how you can merge it with your project. Maybe it’s something wholly different to your project but now is a great time to learn – there’s always a course for it! When it comes to applying for postdocs you really want to stand out, hundreds may apply to a post who can count pollen, but can you count pollen and extract and analyse its ancient DNA? I can’t!
Secondly, it’s a bit cliché, but, I think it’s important that whilst you question your findings, try not to question your ability. You’re going to meet some scarily intelligent people along the way, and for many people (myself included) it can be daunting, and you can feel out of place – almost like you’re pretending to be an academic. It’s important to remember that you were accepted for the PhD for a reason, you have the ability, and no one knows your research better than you do.
On a different note, science isn’t a competition, it’s “an exercise in honesty”. So many people have helped me get where I am, so I try to help others when I can – especially with their fieldwork. You can never get enough of it!

I think all of us can benefit from your advice! Thanks a lot for taking your time to share your research experience with us.

Thank you Daniella for the opportunity to talk about my research. If anyone is interested in knowing more, please feel free to email or

Posted in Student blog

2015 AEA conference fund

We are delighted to announce the availability of the AEA Conference Fund to members of the AEA (of at least six months standing) to assist attendance at the York conference (6-8 November 2015). Priority will be given to those with limited alternative sources of funding (particularly postgraduate students and those in the private sector) and those presenting papers or posters. Applications from students must be accompanied by a letter of support from their supervisor. An application form is provided at the end of this Newsletter.

Successful applicants will be required to provide a statement of expenditure and activities undertaken within 3 months after the event has taken place in order to receive reimbursement. Moreover, successful applicants will be requested to provide a report on the conference for the AEA Newsletter or website.

The deadline for applications is 30 September 2015. Any queries should be directed to the AEA Conference Officer: Robin Bendrey (

Conference fund 2015 application form docx

Conference fund 2015 application form pdf

Posted in Uncategorized

John Evans prize 2015

John Evans (1941-2005) was an inspirational environmental archaeologist, responsible for advancing the discipline and fostering many of today’s top researchers in the field.  To honour the memory of John and his achievements within environmental archaeology, the Association for Environmental Archaeology (AEA) has an annual competition for the best undergraduate and Masters dissertations in any aspect of environmental archaeology.

The deadline for submissions is the 31st July.

Posted in Uncategorized

Reminder Annual Conference, 2015 call for papers

The 36th Annual Association for Environmental Archaeology Conference, 2015 will take place in York, UK. This special conference will be a celebration of the career and research of Terry O’Connor. Terry who retired earlier in 2015, has been an influential figure in the field of zooarchaeology and environmental archaeology for more than 30 years, not least as a founding member of the Association of Environmental Archaeology (AEA) and co-editor of its first journal, Circaea.

From Anthrosphere to Lithosphere (and back again): A Celebration of the Career and Research of Terry O’Connor

Friday 6 November, 5.00pm to Sunday 8 November 4.30pm

Abstract deadline 30th April 2015

Conference website

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AEA session at TRAC 2015

The AEA are supporting a session taking place on the Sunday of the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference this year (Sunday 29th March), on “Integrating Environmental and Theoretical Roman Archaeology”.

TRAC 2015 is taking place at the University of Leicester, and further details can be found here (

In order to allow delegates from the nearby AEA Spring Conference (University of Nottingham, Saturday 28th March) to also attend, the conference organisers have kindly offered a discounted Sunday only rate for AEA members.

The Sunday only price is £18, including conference packs and tea & coffee breaks.

If you would like to register for this offer, please contact Deadline is Friday 27th February.

Posted in Conference

Archaeological Reference Resources Project

The AEA has been invited to collaborate with the Archaeological Reference Resources Project. The aim of the project is to enable English Heritage and the wider archaeological community to gain a better understanding of what Reference Resources are being used in the archaeology sector,  current issues with Reference Resources, and the nature of any major gaps in coverage. Below is further information on the project.


The Archaeological Reference Resources Project will collect information about the Reference Resources used by researchers in the study of artefacts and ecofacts. The project will compile a database, and identify gaps in current provision. The project will engage widely with specialist organisations and individual researchers. The following outline explains the aims of the project, and how the project team propose to engage and collaborate with specialist groups and individual researchers. The project has been commissioned by English Heritage and is being carried out by Rachel Edwards (Arboretum Archaeological Consultancy) and Hal Dalwood (Hal Dalwood Archaeology and Heritage).

The project will create a database of synthetic archaeological Reference Resources used in the study of artefacts and ecofacts, including physical reference collections, published catalogues and corpora, and online catalogues. The findings of the project will be documented in a report to English Heritage and disseminated to the profession. This project is an outcome of the broader English Heritage Strategy for Developing Research Resources led by Dan Miles of English Heritage:

The project started in October 2014. We will be collecting data and information up to April 2015, and compiling the report during May 2015.

The Project Design can be downloaded from the project website (


The aims of the project are to:

1. Identify what reference resources are currently available/being used by the archaeology sector.

2. Create a point-in time database of these reference resources and record basic information on their composition, coverage, date, availability, access, etc.

3. Identify and collate information about any barriers to the use of these reference resources. For example if they are out of print.

4. Identify and collate information on threats to existing reference resources e.g. curation and maintenance of reference collections.

5. Assess the costs and benefits of developing and maintaining an online database of these resources as a tool for use by the sector.

6. Highlight major gaps and weaknesses in coverage and currency of reference resources.

Outputs of the project

A project database will be compiled from an extensive literature search. The draft database will be enhanced and expanded through collaboration with specialist groups. The database will include information on the currency of, and any problems with access to, individual Reference Resources, as well as current issues with their future maintenance. The completed database will be a point of reference for English Heritage. Preliminary consultations indicate that members of ALGAO (England) would find such a database useful in assessing project designs and grey literature reports, and that academic archaeologists would find it a useful resource for teaching students. The specialist sector will be canvassed for opinions about making the database both online and easily updateable.

A project report will provide an overview of the use of Reference Resources by the specialist sector and highlight the gaps and weakness in current provision. The identification of gaps will be undertaken in collaboration with specialist groups. The broader issues of curation and maintenance of Reference Resources will also be considered. The project report will also examine the role of Reference Resources in archaeological resource management, including to what extent the use of Reference Resources is a requirement in project briefs. The project report will consider the potential for such requirements to raise standards in fieldwork and post-excavation. This part of the project will be conducted in liaison with ALGAO England. The project report will assess the cost and benefits of maintaining the project database as an online resource.

The success of this project will depend upon good communications with specialist societies and organisations, as well as individual researchers. In the project design stage we contacted committee members of a number of specialist organisations, who agreed that their society would co-ordinate consultation and liaison. The project team  will be attending the AEA Conference in Plymouth and look forward to meeting colleagues there.

Information on the project and updates on progress will available on the project website and blog ( You can contact the project team directly via the website or at

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