Institute of Archaeology


Fiona Skinner

The effects of biodiversity on hunter-gatherer behaviour in late Middle and Upper Palaeolithic Britain

Fiona Skinner

Email: fiona.skinner.16@ucl.ac.uk
Section: Archaeological Sciences



Connected to the continental mainland during the late Pleistocene, Britain constituted Europe's most northwestern peninsula. For most of the Palaeolithic Britain formed the edge of the hominin geographical range (Pettitt & White 2012).  Neanderthal and early modern human presence waxed and waned, with successive dispersals into Britain and long periods of absence (Pettitt 2008). Compared to the heartland of their territories, the archaeological record in the British Isles is somewhat sparse. Yet, it is here at the fringe of the Neanderthal and modern human territories that their biological and cultural adaptations were stretched to their very limit (Roebroeks et al. 2011). Thus, understanding the extent to which human settlement patterns and landscape use in Europe's northwest peninsula were linked to faunal biodiversity has broader implications for our understanding of the ecological plasticity of Neanderthals and different modern human groups, their potential interactions with each other, and of how they responded to the oscillating climate conditions of the late Pleistocene. Many of the late Pleistocene archaeological site were excavated in the 18th and 19th Century. Often the zooarchaeological analyses were relatively basic, or for some sites (e.g. McBurney's 1959 excavation of Cat Hole) were never undertaken or published. I propose to integrate available zooarchaeological and archaeological data, and undertake new zooarchaeological and biomolecular analyses from late middle and upper Palaeolithic sites in southwestern Britain.

I intend to utilise ZooMS analysis to screen unidentifiable and fragmented remains alongside a zooarchaeological review of available faunal evidence from key sites in southwestern Britain. This will significantly increase the available data for faunal presence/absence and allow a more detailed analysis of available zooarchaeological data. It is also possible, but by no means guaranteed, that new hominin fossils could be identified during this process. I plan to undertake isotopic analysis of the main prey species (e.g. horse, reindeer, mammoth) to explore climate, habitat and mobility. This will allow exploration of faunal ecology and migratory behaviour in reaction to a changing environment, and further understanding of their availability in the landscape for exploitation by humans. I intend to integrate these various streams of archaeological and scientific evidence in order to see how changes or continuity of biodiversity influence hunter-gatherer behaviour.  Overall, I aim to provide a more nuanced understanding of human-environment relationships in late Middle and Upper Palaeolithic Britain.




  • BA, double major in Anthropology and Classics, University of Otago, 2010
  • MSc, Palaeoanthropology and Palaeolithic Archaeology, UCL, 2017