Palaeoenvironmental Analysis and Reporting

Palaeoenvironmental seed library for comparative analysis with archaeological soil samples

Environmental Archaeology encompasses the study of organic remains of plants, animals and sediments to examine past environments and human interactions and influences upon this environment. At Archaeology South-East we have a range of in-house specialists trained in archaeobotany, archaeozoology and geoarchaeology, and work with established external specialists to provide a comprehensive range of explorative and analytical services.

Archaeology South-East provides palaeoenvironmental and geoarchaeological services utilising a range of specialist techniques from project design, throughout fieldwork and on to analysis and publication. These may include sample recovery, hand auger surveys, borehole and test pit surveys, and sediment analysis.

A wide range of approaches are employed including analysis of plant remains, bone and marine shell as well as microscopic remains such as pollen, ostracods, foraminifera, diatoms, snails and insects. Our analyses are used to contribute to the interpretation of a site’s former environment, the surrounding landscape and the diet and economy of past peoples. We aim to place these outputs within the context of current research agendas, adding to regional and national debates.

Archaeobotany

Archaeobotanical, or ancient plant, remains may arise via human or natural means and are recovered from soil samples taken on archaeological sites where they have been preserved through a variety of processes such as charring, mineralisation, or in waterlogged or anoxic conditions.

Both the Portslade and Essex offices are equipped with custom designed processing facilities for flotation and wet-sieving of bulk samples. These techniques are used to separate surviving plant and animal remains as well as artefacts from the sediment matrix.

In-house specialists have expertise in identifying and analysing macroplants, charcoal and wood arising from these samples using microscope and reference collection facilities both at the Portslade office and at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. These remains can be used to inform on human activity and/or environmental conditions at a site and in the surrounding area, providing information about agricultural economies, industry, landscape and woodland management, and procurement of resources such as fuel.

Archaeozoology

Archaeozoology is the analysis and interpretation of animal bones recovered from archaeological sites.  They can provide valuable information regarding economic activity, the environment and beliefs, and frequently contribute to the overall site interpretation. Archaeology South-East provides mammal, bird and fish bone identification and analysis to publication and assessment level using in-house reference collections as well as the extensive collection held at the University College London.

Geoarchaeology

Geoarchaeology investigates the processes which form the archaeological record and how humans interacted with their environment in the past.  In many cases some of the most important archaeological evidence comes not from objects and structures in the ground but from the sediments which cover and surround archaeological sites. Where sediments with this kind of potential are known or thought to exist, it is necessary to have input from a geoarchaeological specialist. A geoarchaeologist can make a correct assessment of potential and importance, design and implement and appropriate sampling strategy, and then coordinate a specialist team to interpret the record.

Geoarchaeological investigation leads to detailed knowledge about the past environment (palaeoenvironment), the processes which led to the preservation of the archaeological record and how humans have influenced their local environment in the past.

Geoarchaeological assessments and analyses are tailored to individual sites depending on the nature of the deposits encountered and the range and variety of remains recovered. They are likely to include multi-proxy analysis of environmental remains, such as pollen, mollusca, microfossils (foraminifera and ostracods for example) and insects, and a programme of absolute dating that will inform the stratigraphic interpretation and discussion.

Structural wood and wooden artefacts

Structural wood and wooden artefacts are often recovered from waterlogged or anoxic deposits on archaeological sites. The form of these artefacts and timbers can reveal information about construction and woodworking techniques in the past. The type of woods used also provides data about material selection, woodland management and environmental change. To identify the type of wood small subsamples are taken from the artefact or timber and examined under a microscope.

Absolute dating

Our specialists are able to advise upon scientific dating strategies and can facilitate a program of dating from selecting and identifying suitable material through to submission for dating at various world recognised laboratories with whom we have built strong relationships.

Explorative and Analytical Services

  • Sampling strategy design and implementation
  • On-site Sampling (bulk samples, columns, augur and borehole surveys, micromorphology sampling)
  • Sample processing (flotation and wet sieving)
  • Dating advice, sample identification and submission
  • Macrobotanical remains analysis (charred, waterlogged and mineralised)
  • Wood and charcoal analysis
  • Bone analysis (large and small mammal, fish, bird and human)
  • Marine shell
  • Stratigraphic interpretation and deposit modeling
  • Pollen analysis
  • Land snail analysis
  • Micromorphology
  • Ostracods, foraminifera and diatoms
  • Insect analysis

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General Contact: Lucy Allott

Page last modified on 11 aug 14 15:57