Richard Macphail

  • BSc, MSc, PhD
  • Senior Research Fellow
  • Training Courses in Archaeological Soil Micromorphology
  • Recipient of the Geological Society of America’s Rip Rapp Award for Archaeological Geology 2009
  • Awarded a Leverhulme Trust Fellowship (personal award) for 2008-2009 in Archaeological Soil Micromorphology to revise Courty, MA, Goldberg, P. and Macphail, R.I., 1989. Soils and Micromorphology in Archaeology. Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 344 pp.
  • Awarded a British Academy Small Research Grant ‘Marine Inundation and Archaeology: pilot study at Wallasea Island, Essex 2008’

Collaborative Projects

  • Ancient Desert Pastoralism 2009-2013
    Desert Dung: Rock Shelters, Pastoralism and Environment in Ancient Times in the Negev, partnered by Steve Rosen, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel.
  • Iron Age and Viking Norway 2012-2015 (Combined geoarchaeological and palaeoenvironmental contributions from IoA, UCL and MAL, Umeå, Sweden)

  • Chalcolithic Romania 2012-2015
    Tell-Ul Popina Borduşani (Danube) Project (Balta Ialomiţei) , partnered by Constantin Haită, MNIR - Centrul Naţional de Cercetări Pluridisciplinare, University of Bucharest, Romania
  • Experiments in geoarchaeology
    Integrated microstratigraphic studies of: the effects of soil burial at the UK Experimental Earthworks of Overton Down (rendzinas) and Wareham (podzols); use of space in structures, arable and pasture soils and settlement morphology at Butser ‘Ancient Farm’ (Hampshire, UK); sustainable agriculture in the boreal zone and turf roof structures at Umeå ‘Ancient Farm’ (north Sweden).
  • Current experiments in geoarchaeology (contributing to 2nd edition of Courty et al)
  • Animal husbandry (pigs) at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, Suffolk, England. (Also at West Stow craft building and sunken-feature building studies in association with Jess Tipper [Suffolk County Council] and in collaboration with Drs Charles French [Cambridge] and Karen Milek [Aberdeen]; grubenhäuser studies in association with Professor Joachim Henning [Frankfurt] and his students.)
  • Combined micromorphology, microprobe and FTIR mineralogical studies of reference materials (e.g., ancient human waste), in collaboration with Professor Paul Goldberg and Dr Francesco Berna, Boston University).

Research Directory Records


Fieldwork and post-excavation studies

UK, Europe, the Horn of Africa, the USA and the Near and Far East:

  • Current client list includes Oxford Archaeology, MoLAS, Wessex Archaeology and through Geomarine, the US Navy; Ben Gurion, Boston, Frankfurt, Institute of Archaeology (Beijing), The Museum of Cultural History, Oslo, La Trobe, Tours, and Umeå Universities; and numerous British Universities and English and Welsh ‘City’ and ‘County’ archaeological units. Current research projects in Africa, the Caribbean, China, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Korea, Lebanon, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the UK and USA (e.g., Arizona, California, New Mexico and Virginia)
  • Post-excavation studies include soil micromorphology-led microstratigraphic investigations (with integrated and correlated microprobe, bulk [LOI, fractionated P, magnetic susceptibility including χmax, and the heavy metals Cu, PB and Zn, other standard soil and sediment analyses] and microfossil [e.g., pollen] investigations) – team studies.
  • (Recent examples include the research investigations at the Overton Down and Wareham Experimental Earthworks, and Butser and Umeå Ancient Farms, and the multi-period urban site of the London Guildhall)
  • US based investigations – and worldwide – with Professor Paul Goldberg, Boston University
  • UK and Europe based team investigations with Dr John Crowther, University of Wales, Lampeter 
  • Scandinavian based investigations – with Johan Linderholm, Umeå University

Also available are:

Thin Section Checking and Analysis

A variety of services are available, namely:

  • Thin section checking; (as carried out at workshops); comprises of reading information sent by colleague, and checking of thin section using PPL, XPL, OIL and blue light fluorescence microscopy, and reporting using references. (*It is expected that any advice, identifications and interpretations are acknowledged in any report/publication)
  • Thin section analysis; comprises of reading of information sent by colleague, and full soil micromorphological analysis using PPL, XPL, OIL and blue light fluorescence microscopy; with reporting as full semi-quantitative descriptions (and counts where appropriate), digital images and publication level text, and a reasonable amount of editorial revisions. If instrumental analyses (EDAX, microprobe) are required this should be discussed and costed-in at an early stage, as uncovered thin sections are required (see Macphail et al 2003a and 2004). (**It is expected that this work will be included as an authored contribution)

Meetings & Presentations

  • Colloque "Archéologie urbaine", CTHS , 23-28th  April 2012, Université de Tours François-Rabelais, France

    • Reconstructing past land use from dark earth: examples from England and France (La restitution des usages anciens du sol à partir des terres noires : études de cas en Angleterre et en France) by Richard I. Macphail
    • Nouveaux eclairages sur les terres noires : des processus complexes de stratification aux modalites d’occupation des espaces urbains by Quentin Borderie, Mélanie Fondrillon, Cristiano Nicosia, Yannick Devos and Richard I. Macphail
  • Workshop “Bridging Gaps”, 10th-13th May 2012, Zentrum für Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie (ZNA), Eberhard-Karls Universität Tübingen, Germany
    Attempting to mitigate environmental ‘noise’ complicating and obscuring microstratigraphic information in open-air hunter and gather sites by Richard I. Macphail
  • 14th International Working Meeting on Soil Micromorphology (IWMSM). Lleida 8-14 July 2012

    • Archaeological Soil Micromorphology Workshop (9th-10th July Barcelona) Organisers: Rosa-Maria Poch and Richard I. Macphail
    • Session no. 9 - Site-formation processes in archaeology and cultural landscapes. (13th July); convenor: Richard I. MacphailKeynote presentation: Integrated microstratigraphic investigations and the potential of coastal archaeological soils and sediments to record past land use and cultural activities in Norway and the UK by Richard I. Macphail, Francesco Berna, John Crowther, Johan Linderholm [Abstract available here]

Educational Background

  • BSc Geography and Geology (joint Hons) (Swansea)
  • MSc Pedology and Soil Survey (Reading)
  • PhD "Soil variation on selected Surrey heaths" (CNAA, Kingston)


  • Courty, MA, Goldberg, P. and Macphail, R.I., In preparation. Soils and Micromorphology in Archaeology; 2nd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. [Leverhulme Trust Fellowship]
  • Goldberg, P. and Macphail, R.I. 2006. Practical and Theoretical Geoarchaeology. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 455 pp
  • Courty, MA, Goldberg, P. and Macphail, R.I., (1989). Soils and Micromorphology in Archaeology. Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


  • 2010 Interpretation of Micromorphological Features of Soils and Regoliths (Elsevier, Editors: Georges Stoops et al)

    • Archaeological Materials (Macphail, R. I and Goldberg, P.)
  • Atlas for Archaeological Soil and Sediment Micromorphology (Editors: Karen Milek, et al)

    • European Dark Earth (Nicosia, C., Devos, Y. and Macphail, R. I.)
  • Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology (Springer, Editor: Allan S. Gilbert)

    • Microstratigraphy (Goldberg, P. and Macphail, R. I.)
    • Privies and Latrines (Macphail, R. I.)
    • House Pits and Grubenhausser (Macphail, R. I.)
    • Experimental Geoarchaeology (Macphail, R. I.)

Journal Articles

  • Macphail, R. I., and Crowther, J., 2011, Experimental pig husbandry: soil studies from West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village, Suffolk, UK, Antiquity Project Gallery, Volume 85, 330.
  • Macphail, R.I., Allen, M.J., Crowther, J., Cruise, G.M. and Whittaker, J.E., 2009. Marine inundation: effects on archaeological features, materials, sediments and soils. Quaternary International, ‘Geoarchaeology and Taphonomy’.
  • Barton, R.N.E., Ford, S., Collcutt, S.N., Crowther, J., Macphail, R.I., Rhodes, E. and Van Gijn, A., 2009. A Final Upper Palaeolithic site at Nea Farm, Somerley, Hampshire and some reflections on the occupation of Britain in the Late Glacial Interstadial. Quartär, 56(7-35).
  • Cruise, G.M., Macphail, R.I., J. Linderholm, Maggi, R. and Marshall, P.D. 2009 Lago di Bargone, Liguria, N Italy: a reconstruction of Holocene environmental and land-use history, The Holocene 19, 7: 987–1003.
  • Goldberg, P., Berna, F. and Macphail, R.I., 2009. Comment on “DNA from Pre-Clovis Human Coprolites in Oregon, North America”. Science, 325, 148-c.
  • Macphail, R.I., 2009. Marine inundation and archaeological sites: first results from the partial flooding of Wallasea Island, Essex, UK. Antiquity Project Gallery.
  • Macphail, R.I. and McAvoy, J.M., 2008. A micromorphological analysis of stratigraphic integrity and site formation at Cactus Hill, an Early Paleoindian and hypothesized pre-Clovis occupation in south-central Virginia, USA. Geoarchaeology, 23(5): 675-694.
  • Macphail, R.I., Haita, C., Bailey, D.W., Andreescu, R. and Mirea, P., 2008. The soil micromorphology of enigmatic Early Neolithic pit-features at Magura, southern Romania. Romanian Association of Archaeology. Studies of Prehistory, 5: 61-77.
  • Macphail, R.I., 2007. Soil micromorphology in Prehistoric and Medieval environment in Old Town, Eastbourne: studies of hillwash in the Bourne Valley, Star Brewery site, by M. Allen. Sussex Archaeological Collections, 145: 40.
  • Macphail, R.I. and Crowther, J., 2007. Soil micromorphology, chemistry and magnetic susceptibility studies at Huizui (Yiluo region, Henan Province, northern China), with special focus on a typical Yangshao floor sequence. Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, 27: 93-113.
  • Macphail, R.I., Cruise, G.M., Allen, M.J. and Linderholm, J. 2006. A rebuttal of the views expressed in "Problems of unscientific method and approach in Archaeological soil and pollen analysis of experimental floor deposits; with special reference to Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire, UK by R. I. Macphail, G.M. Cruise, M. Allen, J. Linderholm and P. Reynolds" by Matthew Canti, Stephen Carter, Donald Davidson and Susan Limbrey. Journal of Archaeological Science, 33: 299-305.
  • Macphail, R.I. and Crowther, J., 2006. Soil micromorphology, chemistry and magnetic susceptibility. In: H. Wallis (Editor), Excavations on the site of Norwich Cathedral Refectory. East Anglian Archaeology, Norwich, pp. 78-80.
  • Macphail, R.I., Cruise, G.M., Allen, M.J., Linderholm, J. and Reynolds, P., 2004. Archaeological soil and pollen analysis of experimental floor deposits; with special reference to Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire, UK. Journal of Archaeological Science, 31: 175-191.  (pdf file: 1.8 MB)
  • Macphail, R.I., Crowther, J., Acott, T.G., Bell, M.G. and Cruise, G.M., 2003a. The Experimental Earthwork at Wareham, Dorset after 33 years: changes to the buried LFH and Ah horizon. Journal of Archaeological Science, 30: 77-93.  (pdf file: 2.1 MB)
  • Macphail, R.I., Galinié, H. and Verhaeghe, F., 2003b. A future for dark earth? Antiquity, 77(296): 349-358. (pdf file: 1.5 MB)

Book chapters/Reports

  • Macphail, R. I., Crowther, J., and Macphail, G. M., 2011, Soil micromorphology, chemistry and magnetic susceptibility, in Ford, B. M., and Teague, S., eds., Winchester - A City in the Making. Archaeological investigations between 2002 and 2007 on the sites of Northgate House, Staple Gardens and the former Winchester Library, Jewry St., Oxford Archaeology Monograph No 12: Oxford, Oxford Archaeology, p. 376, CD Part 373.317.
  • Macphail, R. I., 2011, Soil micromorphology, in Fulford, M., and Rippon, S., eds., Pevensey Castle, Sussex. Excavations in the Roman fort and Medieval keep, 1993-95, Wessex Archaeology Report No. 26: Salisbury, Wessex Archaeology and University of Reading, p. 109-121.
  • Macphail, R. I., 2011, Soils and sediments, in Harding, J., and Healy, F., eds., The Raunds Area Project. A Neolithic and Bronze Age Landscape in Northamptonshire. Volume 2 Supplementary Studies.: Swindon, English Heritage, p. 737-838.
  • Macphail, R. I., and Linderholm, J., 2011, Micromorphology in Burch, M., Treveil, P., and Keene, D., eds., The development of early medieval and later Poultry and Cheapside: excavations at 1 Poultry and vicinity, City of London, MOLA Monograph 38: London, Museum of London Archaeology, p. CD Tables 11-12.
  • Macphail, R.I. and Goldberg, P.  2010. Archaeological materials. In: Micromorphological Features of Soils and Regoliths. Their Relevance for Pedogenic Studies and Classifications (Eds G. Stoops, V. Marcelino and F. Mees). Elsevier, Amsterdam.
  • Macphail, R.I., 2010. Dark earth and insights into changing land use of urban areas. In: G. Speed and S. D. (Editors), Debating Urbanism: Within and Beyond the Walls c. AD 300 to c. AD 700. Leicester Archaeology, Leicester.
  • Macphail, R.I. and Crowther, J., 2009. Soil micromorphology, chemistry and magnetic susceptibility. In: M. Phillips, H. Duncan and C. Mallows (Editors), Four Millenia of Human Activity Along the A505 Baldock Bypass, Hertfordshire. Albion Archaeology, Bedford, pp. 84-85, 122-123, CD-ROM Appendix 4 IV Soils.
  • Macphail, R.I., 2008. Soils and archaeology. In: D.M. Pearsall (Editor), Encyclopedia of Archaeology. Academic Press, New York, pp. 2064-2072.
  • Macphail, R.I., 2008. Soil micromorphology of the Late Glacial soil and marls. In: A.P. FitzPatrick, A.B. Powell and M.J. Allen (Editors), Archaeological Excavations on the Route of the A27 Westhampnett Bypass, West Sussex, 1992. Wessex Archaeology, Salisbury, pp. 38-43.
  • Macphail, R.I. and Crowther, J., 2008. Illustrations from Soil Micromorphology and Complementary Investigation. Frankfurter geowiss. Arbeiten, Band 30: 77-83.
  • Macphail, R.I. and Crowther, J., 2008. Soil micromorphology and chemistry. In: C. Ellis and A.B. Powell (Editors), An Iron Age settlement outside Battlesbury hillfort, Warminster and Sites along the Southern Range Road. Wessex Archaeology and Defence Estates, Salisbury, pp. 125-132.
  • Macphail, R.I. and Crowther, J., 2008. Soil micromorphology. In: M. Leivers and C. Moore (Editors), Archaeology on the A303 Stonehenge Improvement. Wessex Archaeology, Salisbury, pp. 17-18, 57.
  • Macphail, R.I. and Crowther, J., 2008. Soil micromorphology, chemistry and magnetic susceptibility. In: N. Cooke, F. Brown and C. Phillpotts (Editors), From Hunter Gatherers to Huntsmen. Framework Archaeology, Salisbury, pp. CD-Rom Chapter 30.
  • Macphail, R.I., Crowther, J. and Cruise, G.M., 2008. Microstratigraphy. In: N. Bateman, C. Cowan and R. Wroe-Brown (Editors), London's Roman Amphitheatre: Guildhall Yard, City of London. Museum of London Archaeology Service, London, pp. 16, 95, 160-164.
  • Macphail, R.I., 2007. Soil micromorphology (Chapter 11). In: A. Whittle and G. Kovács (Editors), The Early Neolithic on the Great Hungarian Plain: investigations of the Körös culture site of Ecsegfalva 23, Co. Békés. Institute of Archaeology, Budapest, pp. 189-226.
  • Macphail, R.I., 2007. A pre-barrow thin section. In: D. Benson and A. Whittle (Editors), Building Memories. The Neolithic Cotswold Long Barrow at Ascot-Under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire. Oxbow, Oxford, pp. 70-73.
  • Macphail, R.I., Crowther, J. and Cruise, G.M., 2007. Micromorphology and post-Roman town research: the examples of London and Magdeburg. In: J. Henning (Editor), Post-Roman Towns and Trade in Europe, Byzantium and the Near-East. New methods of structural, comparative and scientific methods in archaeology. Walter de Gruyter & Co. KG, Berlin, pp. 303-317.
  • Macphail, R.I., Crowther, J. and Cruise, G.M., 2007. Microstratigraphy: soil micromorphology, chemistry and pollen. In: D. Bowsher, T. Dyson, N. Holder and I. Howell (Editors), The London Guildhall. An archaeological history of a neighbourhood from early medieval to modern times. Museum of London Archaeological Service, London, pp. 18, 25-6, 35, 39, 55-6, 57, 59, 76, 90, 97, 98, 134, 154-5, 428-430.
  • Macphail, R.I., Linderholm, J. and Karlsson, N. 2006. Scanian pithouses; interpreting fills of grubenhäusser: examples from England and Sweden. In: Proceedings from the 8th Nordic Conference on the Application of Scientific Methods in Archaeology in Umeå 2001 (Eds R. Engelmark and J. Linderholm), Archaeology and Environment 21, pp. 119-127. Umeå University, Umeå.

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