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 🙂